by Tracey Hogan, ND DBM Dip Nutr. Dip Hom, DRT

If you’re interested in taking a more natural approach to better health and keen to get someone who will consider the whole picture – taking into account your diet, medical conditions and lifestyle – think about making an appointment to see a naturopath.

Just make sure you check their qualifications and experience so you know that you are getting good quality advice.

Be prepared to put in the effort 
Before your initial visit, your naturopath will usually ask you to keep a diet diary to help them assess your eating habits.

Be diligent with this and write in everything, including little indulgences as well as meals during the day. It’s also helpful to note down foods you crave, even if you resist the temptation. Your fluid intake, including hot drinks and alcohol, needs to be recorded as well.

Have a clear outcome in mind 
Your naturopath will spend an hour or two taking detailed case notes about every body system. Each will be looked at individually, and then considered as a whole.

Firstly though you need to explain what outcome you are hoping for. Do you have specific health issues that you want to resolve? Or are you after a more general improvement in your overall health and to increase your energy levels?

A naturopath will tailor the consultation and any future recommendations based on these expectations.

The next part of the appointment will cover your previous health history. This includes any childhood illnesses, accidents, health issues you have currently or have had in the past, and how often you get sick. To help determine any genetic predisposition to illness or health problems, you will also be asked about your family’s health history on both sides of the family.

You are what you eat 
Questions about your digestion can supplement the information provided in your diet diary. In particular, if any foods disagree with you and whether you experience discomfort like bloating or flatulence after eating.

Details of your bowel movements will help determine your bowel transit time (the time it takes for the food you eat to pass through the digestive system and the waste excreted at the other end). This may seem a little bizarre, but if you have a transit time that is too fast it may impair absorption of nutrients from your food. Or if you have a sluggish digestive system and your transit time is too slow, you may experience constipation. In either case, treatment can be recommended that will help.

Are your other body systems functioning well? 
Your respiratory system is another important body system to consider. Are you prone to coughs, colds, chest infections, hay fever or sinusitis?

As the largest organ of your body, your skin is an important eliminative organ. Your naturopath will want to know if you are prone to skin breakouts, dermatitis, eczema or other skin problems, so that they can make appropriate suggestions on how to address these issues.

If you are female you will be asked about your menstrual cycle and if you experience any symptoms pre-menstrually or during your period. It’s important to check whether there’s any chance you are pregnant as, like many medicines, herbal treatment is not generally prescribed in pregnancy.

How well do you sleep and cope with stress? 
Irregular sleep patterns, and having difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep can have a big impact on your overall wellbeing. A naturopathic approach can be particularly helpful for insomnia.

Your naturopath will want to hear about your stress levels, and how you deal with stress. They will be able to make some valuable suggestions on coping with stress from a more natural perspective.

It’s all in the eyes, nails and tongue  It’s amazing just how much a qualified person can deduce about your health from different parts of the body, so don’t be surprised if they want to look at your fingernails, your tongue or the skin under your eyes. Some naturopaths use iridology (checking the markings in the iris of your eye) as an added tool to get an overall picture of how your body is functioning.

Working in harmony with traditional medicine 
Certain herbs and nutrients interact with other medications, so it’s vital that you discuss any medications (pharmaceutical or recreational) that you are taking. A naturopath will not suggest that you come off prescribed medications, but if this is one of your goals they will be able to provide support while you work with your doctor to do this.

They may also refer you to a doctor to have any potentially more serious health issues checked out.

Your individualised treatment plan 
After this extensive consultation, your naturopath will be well placed to provide your individual treatment program. This may include dietary modification as well as herbal medicine or nutrient supplementation. Lifestyle advice will be tailored to your situation and they may recommend bodywork (such as remedial massage) if that can help.

It’s then usual to be asked to return after two weeks so they can to see how you are progressing and provide follow up recommendations.