By: Megan Pasche | Photos: AJ Harlond

From the dawn of time, there have always been healers. Those that believe in the healing power of the world around us. Hippocrates, a Greek physician living over 2400 years ago, was the first to delve into this concept, and ever since, it has remained at the core of which naturopathic medicine revolves around. The practices have obviously changed in the last several thousand years, evolving to include things such as botanical medicine, homeopathy, nutritional therapy, acupuncture and lifestyle counseling, and just in the last decade, it has become a more widely accepted form of medicine. People have begun to embrace the idea of being more in control of their own health, and more informed about how their bodies work.

Dr. Ana Gabriela Lara, one of Niagara’s own naturopath’s has been practicing naturopathy since graduating from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in 2004. She has set up her practice in St. Catharines, and will soon be moving to a tranquil location (still in St. Catharines), that will be sure to put all clients into a calm and relaxed state.  I recently caught up with Dr. Lara to chat all about naturopathic medicine and the journey it has taken her on thus far.

MP: Can you talk about naturopathic medicine and how it differs from traditional medicine?
AL: “Basically, naturopathic medicine is a form that covers all methods of alternative medicine, we are like the general practitioners of natural medicine. The best way I can describe the difference, is that we aim to treat more of the underlying cause of a condition. So for example, headaches are often due to pressure changes or vitamin deficiencies, so rather than just give something that is going to take the pain away, what I want to do as a naturopathic doctor is to always look at what the underlying reason is, and continuously aim at balancing that person and monitoring their state of health.”

MP: Can you talk about your background and how you became a naturopath?
AL: “I actually studied at Brock University and did my undergrad in biochemistry. I was always thinking about going into health sciences, as well as considering conventional medicine. Then I worked at a health food store, and I liked the approach very much. I ended up finding was an advertisement for a naturopathic college in Toronto, and it just completely caught my attention. I researched it, and I just thought, ‘how amazing that you can practice medicine this way?’ and I completely fell in love with it.”

MP: Are there areas that you specialize in?
AL: “I don’t necessarily agree with specializing as a naturopathic doctor, because I see people holistically. For me, because I’m always looking for the underlying cause, there are so many causes for any disease. Areas that I tend to treat a lot of patients in are skin issues, digestion issues, cancer, hormonal issues, a lot of anxiety and depression, and a lot of mood disorders.”

MP: Is naturopathic medicine something that all people can benefit from?
AL: “Definitely. I do believe it is useful for every life stage, whether it is to support, maintain, balance or prevent.”

MP: Are you finding that more and more people these days are seeking out naturopathic alternatives?
AL:”I do. I’ve been practicing for close to ten years and it’s so much more accepted and so many more people know about it. I think when MDs are actually referring patients that says a lot. In my questionnaire/intake form, I have a question that says, ‘how did you hear about this clinic?’, and sometimes it will say, ‘referred by Dr. so and so’. They look at it as a piece of the puzzle, which is how we can all work together. Yeah, you find resistance at times, but overall, people are so much more aware and open.”

MP: What do you think the catalyst was for this openness and awareness?
AL: “I think its education. The more that people learn and the more that people become involved in their health, then they are going to begin to look at different avenues and figure out what else they can do. We are all moving towards that. We are more conscious of our choices, what we eat, what we drink, and what we expose ourselves to. Honestly, even things like what we watch and what we listen to, all those things make an impact. With how much is out there now, and through different sources of media and more accessibility, people are become more educated about it.”

MP: What would a typical first appointment involve if someone were to call you up for a consultation?
AL: “I guess it would depend on what their main concern is, but once I find that out, as well as their medical history and their family history, there are basic questions I usually ask to every single patient. And they are: what is their energy level, are they tired or sleepy, what is their sleep quality like, are they getting enough sleep, if there are any digestive issues. With women, I always want to find out what their cycle is like, whether they are on birth control or not, their mood and their sense of well being. Somebody who is beginning to get to a place where they might get sick, there is often a change you will see. So aside from those questions, I do a bit of a physical just to help me put together all the pieces of the puzzle. It’s pretty individual, it changes, but a typical first consultation would go like that.”

MP: Is naturopathic medicine helpful for conditions that are considered long-term?
AL: “I think it’s actually where we thrive. I think as much as I see acute things…because we work on lifestyle and the overall state of health of the patient, when you are dealing with chronic pain, when you are dealing with high blood pressure or cancer, you always need support to go through that and regain your health. So that is where I think naturopathic doctors are brilliant. To me, I think it’s the part of the puzzle where we really fit into the entire medical system.”

MP: What would be your five main health tips?
AL: ” I would say, clean eating, that’s important. Maybe 80/20 rule of eating clean and that means little to no processed foods, and I know not everybody feels like they have time, but it’s about priority. Another one would be exercise. Move…whether it’s dancing, yoga, running, cycling, what it is that you like, move. People don’t move enough. We are very much stuck in our desk jobs. Our bodies are made to move. And I actually think, what you don’t use, you lose. Sleep is another huge one. People tend to not sleep very well, they go to bed really late, or often watch TV, or fall asleep watching TV, so there tends to be a lot of disruption of sleep. Probiotics is a food I think we should all have, not necessarily every day, but at least a few times a week would help immensely with digestion and overall resistance. And essential fatty acids, I don’t think people get enough of them.

MP: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
AL: “I think regardless of who your doctor is, having a good relationship with them, and being able to open up to them in significant, and that’s something I always strive for. No matter whether it’s your oncologist or your MD, always look for somebody that you actually feel comfortable, safe and actually heard by, that’s when medicine starts, so it’s that connection that is very important.”

The Six Principles of Naturopathic Medicine

Primum No Nocere: First, do no harm
Vis Medicatrix Naturae: The healing power of nature
Tolle Causam: Identify and treat the root cause
Tolle Totum: Treat the whole person
Docere: Physician as teacher
Praeventio: The best cure is prevention

Dr. Lara’s Top Beauty Picks

1.Dr. Hauschka Rose Day Cream – it is excellent for drier skins and also fantastic as makeup base.  Plus it smells so good. You can find it at Naturopathic Clinics or at Spas in Burlington, Oakville, Toronto, etc.)

2. Ascenta Skin – oil supplement (liquid or capsules) made specific for skin.  Honestly once you try it – you’ll see what I mean.  Your skin glows because of all the good fatty acids! (Right now I’ve only found it at the Spa at White Oaks!)

3. The Healthy Deodorant – by Lavanila.  It isn’t an antiperspirant (so it won’t stop you from sweating) but for those that have made the wonderful transition to deodorant world – it will help you smell good even after a long run or an intense yoga class. You can find it at Sephora.

4. L’Occitane – Hand Cream – with the shea butter base it is one of my fave hand creams when hands are parched. You can find it at any L’Occitane location, there is one at The Outlet Collection in NOTL)

5. Clarisonic – Fantastic for making sure skin responds to any treatment you put on – moisturizer or serums (especially Vitamin C).