Natural Prevention Urgently Required

Prevention, chronic disease, and naturopathic medicine

Last Friday I was honoured to speak at Queen’s University as a panelist at a Preventive Healthcare conference. I encouraged delegates to more deeply consider the value of complementary and “traditional” approaches in preventing disease because, without it, our precious but over-stressed Canadian public care system won’t survive.

As a province, we spend just over 40% of our budget on healthcare. Upwards of 80% of this is used to manage chronic disease, which kills nearly 75% of all Ontarians.[i] With advances in acute-care medicine, an aging population, and progressive environmental degradation, some researchers estimate that in as few as 10 years we’ll need to designate an impossible 80% of our entire provincial budget to healthcare to meet these demands.[ii] Prevention of chronic illness is very possible and urgently required.[1]


Individual Resiliency

Our current Canadian approach to prevention in healthcare typically includes “lifestyle” medicine (diet and exercise, for example), vaccines, screening tests to identify signs of early disease, and identifying and treating people’s risk factors for illness.[2] In an ideal model, I’d love to see the approach expanded to include one more category: Interventions that improve an individual’s resiliency and adaptability. At a quick glance, the previous categories might appear to capture this strategy already. But if we apply a broader lens and consider historical approaches that are designed to help the body heal, I think many of us will be surprised at the as-of-yet untapped resources in each of us.


Resiliency Evolves from a Whole Body Approach

Our ancestors gifted us with “complementary” or “natural” approaches that more closely perceive the body as an ecosystem – a natural system where everything is connected – rather than a linear system where single organs or tissues can be affected in isolation. These historical approaches to healing are shaped by trial and error over thousands of years and they reflect the cumulative wisdom of how humans adapt and heal in various environments and in the face of different stressors. We have much to learn from these approaches. We can apply them to influence how stress (whether emotional, physical, or otherwise), contributes to the development of chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.

When we consider historical approaches from within the current scientific Western paradigm, the newer field of Epigenetics offers some curious insight. Our DNA changes in response to stressful experiences such as trauma, or environmental exposures such as pesticides. These changes – or adaptations – are heritable, meaning that they can be passed along from one generation to the next. Some of them are adaptations to stress that reflect an historical record of our ancestors’ emotional, physical, and environmental experiences.[iii] Science is also recording positive epigenetic changes associated with many traditional healing approaches, including healthy diet, exercise, yoga, meditation, and use of botanical (herbal) medicines.


Natural Prevention by Addressing Underlying Factors

Blending these traditional methods with mainstream approaches and science, is what Naturopathic Medicine is designed to do. It’s where we really see great impact and potential for reducing personal risk factors for chronic illness. For example, if you’re someone who catches 4 colds each year or strep throat twice each year despite a reasonably healthy lifestyle, you’ll want to explore from a “holistic” perspective why your immune system appears fragile. A naturopath might help you explore how your digestive health, hormone balance, perception of stress, vitamin D levels, and sleep quality, all play into your risk of acquiring illness. And if we address these underlying causes, which each are correlated to numerous other chronic concerns, then imagine the implications for preventing development of other illnesses.

Another real-life example includes a family and extended family that continues to experience high rates of heart disease despite following public health guidelines for a healthy lifestyle. We have so much science and historical knowledge now to explain the various mechanisms behind these risks, so that saying “it’s genetic” is no longer a valid excuse.


If you’d like one-on-one support for quitting smoking or eating more veggies, I work with a team of people who can help (because as simple as it sounds, it’s anything but easy). But if you’d like to better understand why you’re at risk for certain health conditions or why you’re progressing along a chronic disease path despite a healthy lifestyle, then please consult with a Naturopathic Doctor for some guidance about preventive measures and reversal of chronic disease.


[1] For example, according to research cited by the Ontario Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance, 1 in 2 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Up to 50% of these cancers are preventable by reducing certain behavioural, occupational, and environmental exposures (i.e. there’s more we can do than simply eating well and exercising).ii

[2] Risk factors include attributes or exposures like weight, gender, blood sugar levels, and alcohol use. For example, a 50 year-old man has a 50% increased risk of a heart “event” compared to a 50 year-old woman. But we’d rather target “modifiable” risk factors, such as high cholesterol and blood pressure, in hopes that addressing the risk factor lowers the person’s risk of acquiring the disease (but this isn’t always clear in the research or in practice).



[i] CCO and Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion (Public Health Ontario). The burden of chronic diseases in Ontario: key estimates to support efforts in prevention. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario; 2019.

[ii] Ontario Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance. Prevention Matters: Why Ontario needs a chronic disease prevention strategy. May 2018.

[iii] Skinner MK. Environmental Epigenetics and a Unified Theory of the Molecular Aspects of Evolution: A Neo-Lamarckian Concept that Facilitates Neo-Darwinian Evolution. Genome Biol Evol. Apr 2015;7(5):1296-302. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evv073.


Naturopathic medicine, nutrition

Dr. Sonya Nobbe, ND

Dr. Sonya Nobbe is a Naturopathic Doctor and Director of Kingston Integrated Healthcare Inc. She has been practicing in the Kingston area since 2007. Dr. Sonya maintains a family practice, with a clinical focus on complex chronic disease, including Lyme disease and Fibromyalgia.


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We respectfully acknowledge that Kingston Integrated Healthcare is situated on ancestral Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee Territory. Since time immemorial they have cared for these lands and waters, and we are grateful. We recognize that a healthy environment is essential to the wellbeing of all people and all life.

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