02 Aug What Are NCDs? How Can Naturopathic Medicine Help?
NCDs (Non Communicable Diseases) quite literally stands for diseases you can’t catch. The reason is because they were once the ‘waste bin’ of global health, they were the things that didn’t cause major concerns. So if we go back 100 years, NCDs weren’t big problems for global health. Diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer, lung diseases, mental illness – these were the big challenges where we were focusing big resources and attention around. The focus during that time was really on maternal child health, nutrition, under nutrition, child health, food security, water and sanitation, and infectious diseases. This was all back in a time when we thought about global health (previously borne from public health), and as we moved forward and bilateral relationships between the traditional colonial nations and the colonizers (north and south relationships) gave way to international health (how rich countries could help poor countries with their major public health challenges), the focus shifted to infectious diseases.
Over the last 30 – 40 years we’ve seen a huge transition with modern society with globalization of trade, globalization of information, marketing of foods, and globalization of even cultural systems. Another change with this modernization is an aging population: as people live longer, they’re getting different types of diseases. Finally the urbanization piece of modernization is also important because for the first time in history more than half the planet lives in cities. These 3 major changes at the global level has led to an epidemiological transition where there’s been a change in life span, the number of babies being birthed, and importantly, changes in the types of diseases people are acquiring. So the non-‘big things’ are now the leading causes of global deaths and this is true in almost every country on the planet. Every region and country is facing rising levels of overweight and obesity.
NCDs are put into a 4×4 table because these are the 4 shared modified risk factors that we could really place a lot of our resources around, they are: exercise, nutrition, alcohol, and tobacco. But there are also others such as mental illness, dementia, etc. With NCDs the focus is on addressing the shared determinants of disease and going after those.
Naturopathic medicine can be of invaluable help because we of our expertise in clinical nutrition and ability to improve the length and quality of people’s lives. By focusing on vulnerable groups like mothers, pregnant women, children in the first thousand days of life, Naturopathic doctors are in a great position to help people live a healthy life free of disease.
I feel when it comes to physical activity and diet we need to also be thinking about how society is structured and the policies that are put into place, that is, the social determinants of health. Health needs the path of least resistance and physical activity needs the path of least resistance in order to affect long term changes in people’s behavior. Coppenhagen is an excellent example of city where people are physically active because biking to work is cheap, safe, and convenient. Compared that to Melbourne, where a big part of the city has no bike lanes and cars as well as petro are cheap and public transport is not fantastic and quite expensive. As a result a much smaller part of the population cycles.
At the end of the day we are responsible for the food we put into our mouths and the decision to get on a bike or not. But there are much larger determinants at play that can either make that really easy or really hard. As countries/cities develop, I feel we need to think about how we should be building societies and cultures so that physical activity isn’t just for the health nuts but for the masses by making it easy or the easiest option.
Naturopathic physicians focus a lot on prevention and aim to encourage and support our patience on the path to wellness. One of the best ways we accomplish this is through tailoring treatment plans to a patient’s unique needs – without shame or instilling fear. We take time to make health easy for our patients.
If you or someone you know could benefit with naturopathic medicine, feel free to drop me a line on the “contact us” page on this site. I treat patients locally in Vancouver, B.C. and worldwide via phone or Skype.
To your best health!
Dr Tasnim Adatya
Naturopathic Physician, Menopause Clinician, Acupuncturist, and Health Educator