Dr. Christina Bjorndal, ND
One way to cure illness is with pharmaceutical pills and medical procedures. Another is to not get sick in the first place. The bonus with the latter option is that it is cheaper in the long run on our strained health care system and it is easier and more likely to prolong your life. Perhaps the time is now for you to take a serious look at proactive health care. That might mean ditching bad habits, eating better, breaking up with fast food, exercising and recognizing danger signs early. When it comes down to it, optimal health is really a matter of choice – your choice. Remember that the cornerstone of prevention is early detection. Minor problems caught early – from infections to mild hypertension to a suspicious lesion – may never turn into a major problem. Also, I think you would agree that physicians should stress prevention but during an appointment, there is probably only 5 minutes spent with a patient. That is why, adding a Naturopathic doctor is a must. We spent more time with patients, and are trained in health promotion and prevention.
When I first went to see an ND in 1996, I balked at having to pay for the visit, cost of testing and prescriptions. Despite having extended health coverage for Naturopathic medicine, I somehow felt that I didn’t want to pay to get well. I think this comes from the belief that health care in Canada is “free” and we aren’t required to pay for visits to see a Medical Doctor. This is a faulty assumption and health is not free. As they say in economics “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. We all pay for Health Care through our tax dollars. I think we need to examine this belief about not having to pay for health care and what this belief is actually costing you in the long run.
Commitment to Health
A key question that we have on our intake form is, “What is your level of commitment (%) to address your health concerns” and “what obstacles do you see?” I often see a low commitment level, which concerns me, as essentially I will be more committed to my patients’ health than they are. The most common answer I see as an obstacle to health is finances and cost. I get it. As I mentioned, I also had a hard time justifying the expense at first. However, now my health is what I value the most. Having faced so many years where I did not value my health, my self-worth, my life, or myself my current view is that my health, and that of my family, is a #1 priority. I think the Dalai Lama quote sums it up quite well. When asked what surprised him about humanity the most, the Dalai Lama replied:
“Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”1
Health is Wealth
Health truly is the greatest wealth. I think we have our priorities wrong in Western society. We strive to have material items – big houses with rooms that go empty, expensive cars that pollute our beloved planet, designer clothes, the latest technological iThis or iThat, and when it comes to eating organic meat, produce and grains we say we can’t afford it. And pay for herbs, homeopathics, supplements, a massage, or ND consult that will benefit your health in the long run – forget it! If you stop and ask yourself which of the aforementioned items is going to benefit your health, I think you would agree with me that the food you eat and taking care of your health is more important than the type of car you drive, square footage of your house or brand of clothes you wear. I often hear patients say “I won’t be able to come see you anymore because my benefits ran out”. To me, this translates into, “I don’t value my health enough to make it a priority. Someone else is responsible and should pay for my health.”
A quote that is important to keep in mind is “genes load the gun but lifestyle pulls the trigger.” In order to achieve optimum health, you need to make lifestyle changes that are in support of your health – like adding a Naturopathic doctor to your health care team. At the end of the day, it is not climbing the corporate ladder, stuff, things, material possessions or keeping up with the Jones’ that is important. No one on his or her deathbed has ever said “Boy, I wish I had spent more time at the office”. One in twenty patients come to see me for prevention. Ultimately, I’d much rather talk to you about staying healthy in the first place. The best time to have that conversation is when you are already healthy. But, our current Western medical system is in the business of acute care medicine or in the sickness business, not the health business. Here is a novel idea: reward people for being healthy. Many of my patients, as well as my family, and myself rarely seek support, advice or care from our traditional medical system. Yet, we pay for it in our taxes. Why not reward those that pay for their own health care with a tax incentive. In fact, the Cleveland Clinic in the US does just this – healthy behaviour is rewarded (with cash incentives if necessary) and people have started to think about health as an investment and a responsibility.2
Ideally, the type of change I am talking about would be supported at the corporate level with companies and insurance providers. Today, corporations are paying in lost productivity due to disability claims from many health concerns (i.e. mental health, cancer, heart disease, etc) and this affects them where they care most – their bottom line. Perhaps instead of the stock market rewarding corporate income levels, value should be placed on corporations that have no employees on long or short-term disability due to “stress” leave or mental health concerns. What if we valued THAT in corporate North America? Health consciousness doesn’t come naturally to the average CEO. The only way to justify wellness at the corporate level is to demonstrate that it will lower costs in the long run. Paying for smoking cessation programs or gym memberships only makes sense if a company is reaping some return on its investment. But, if you improve your employees health and decrease sick days, that leads to a boost in productivity. Disability costs for sick leaves decrease for a minimal upfront investment by the employer. In some cases, it doesn’t cost anything to develop a walking program at work. Or to encourage your staff to take the stairs instead of the elevator. Or to park at the opposite end of the parking lot away from the door and walk further to and from work.
As a Naturopathic doctor, I coach people to a healthier lifestyle by teaching:
- nutrition & how to read labels
- about the role of the environment,
- stress management techniques (i.e. meditation and mindfulness)
- proper exercise
- how to shift core beliefs that may be sabotaging their health
Many patients are able to lose weight, quit smoking and reduce or eliminate their dependence on medications. Ultimately the next step will be to see if lifestyle changes can not only hold off disease, but actually reverse it, transforming preventative medicine into a fully developed treatment option on par with prescription and surgical procedures.2
Dr. Dean Ornish has done just that – he created the Preventative Medicine Research Institute in California and developed a lifestyle program for prostate cancer. He showed that the course of prostate cancer could be positively influenced by diet. Men at low risk of prostate cancer were asked to choose either Ornish’s lifestyle program – which involves eating healthier, exercising and reducing stress – or continuing with their current habits.2 After three months, Ornish studied the activity of the men’s genes and found that the healthier behaviours turned on cancer- suppressing genes and turned off cancer-promoting ones.2 Despite these results, it took Dr. Ornish 14 years to convince Medicare to cover his lifestyle program for avoiding heart disease.2
Make Positive Changes
Don’t wait until you get diagnosed with cancer or have a heart attack to make changes. Make your health matter today! Don’t wait for someday to make the changes you need to make. No one knows how long they have on the planet – life is fragile, precious, a gift and can be gone with a blink of an eye. Pema Chodron wrote: “A cancer diagnosis. Loss of livelihood, wealth, power. The unexpected end of a relationship. A broken promise, a shattered dream. Sometimes impermanence smacks us in the face without much warning. It was always there, of course, lurking in the background, we’ve just been distracted, or fallen into illusions of permanence, or turned our backs in horror. Impermanence comes, sometimes out of the blue, to remind us of what is essential and true, to shatter our spiritual laziness and remind us of the true path.”
So, I ask you – what can you do without, live without or return to the store so you can afford Naturopathic care? Maybe it’s that daily coffee, maybe it is eating out for lunch or dinner 2-4x/week, maybe it’s getting a lower data plan on your cell phone, maybe it’s cancelling cable, maybe it’s quitting smoking, maybe it’s shopping second hand, maybe it’s walking or biking to the store instead of driving, maybe it’s downsizing from a 3000 sq. ft. home to a 1500 sq. ft. home, maybe it is buying a second hand vehicle instead of a new one or maybe it is planting a garden to reduce your grocery bill. What will it take for you to realize that your health is in your hands? The current medical model is a crisis care system not a health promoting system. The best option is prevention and being proactive with your health. It is a timeless idea, one that our species has always practiced: pioneers preserved food to prevent starvation in the winter; modern workers invest in RRSP plans to prevent destitution when they are older.2 Applying the same principles to medical care should not be that hard – especially since our country’s health, economic and otherwise, may depend on it.2 If you want to promote your health, see an ND. It truly is the best investment you will ever make. You are worth investing in your health.
Christina Bjorndal, B.Comm, ND, graduated from UBC in 1990 with Bachelor of Commerce Degree with honours. She was Valedictorian of her graduating class. She completed her Doctorate in naturopathic medicine from CCNM in 2005. She is a specialist in Canada in the treatment of mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, eating disorders, ADD/ADHD, OCD and schizoaffective disorders. Having overcome many challenges in the sphere of mental health, Dr. Chris is a gifted motivaltional speaker on mental health and shares how to overcome barriers in life and to encourage others to achieve their full potential. She is currently completing a book on mental health titled “Beyond the Label: Moving from the stigma and shame of mental illness to mental wellness”. For more information please visit her website at: naturalterrain.com
- Time Magazine. The Health Issue. How Not to Get Sick. Page: 60-67, June 22, 2009