Naturopathy: ‘We look deeper than face value’

Naturopath Dr Faryal Luhar is used to being dismissed as a crank or “not a proper doctor” and even a witch doctor, even though she has 16 years of experience treating patients with all kinds of illnesses and conditions.

This seems not only personally insulting to her but also ridiculous, since it was not that long ago – a couple of hundred years at most –  that ALL medicine was naturopathic, in the sense that it all derived from plants or other naturally-occurring substances.

The main gripe against naturopathy seems to be that practitioners believe in the body’s ability to self-heal and therefore treat the whole patient, rather than a set of symptoms. Despite the skeptics, it’s an idea that has steadily been gaining ground with and support from the conventional branch of medicine.

“Naturopathy is a very holistic, very comprehensive way of looking at health,” says Dr Luhar. “It’s root cause medicine. It’s about removing the obstacles to cure and it’s also about empowering the patient to take charge of their own health. People come to me and say ‘I have a problem – can you fix me?’ I say, ‘Actually no, I can’t, because you’re going to fix yourself, with my support, because I need you to be accountable for your health.”

This doesn’t mean not using standard diagnostic tools such as blood tests and the like. But Dr Luhar also looks at hormones, toxins in the body, gut health, nutrient deficiencies and even your DNA, to see what kind of genes you have inherited and whether there is anything that predisposes you to a disease.

“We look deeper than face value. There’s no blood test that can show you the interplay between hormones,” she says.

“Inflammation is the key driver behind so many chronic diseases, like cancer. If you’ve inherited genes that are not functioning well in terms of inflammatory processes, that means you’re prone to developing other inflammatory conditions.”

So someone whose genetic make-up means they do not metabolize certain fats and sugars is a likely candidate for diabetes, for example.

Diabetes is always to the forefront of any health discussion in the UAE and perhaps even more so right now as we have just emerged from Diabetes Month and pandemic data shows that diabetics have been particularly hard hit by Covid-19.

“Diabetes is an inflammatory condition,” says Dr Luhaar. “It’s linked to obesity, which ties into insulin resistance and poor lung function. Covid is a respiratory disease so by being overweight you are already creating vulnerability.

“Diabetics tend to have thicker blood, indicating the clotting factors are not in balance. If the clotting is faster or happening more often, it can occlude the arteries and lung tissue.”

It’s well known that the high prevalence of diabetes in the UAE is largely due to unhealthy eating habits. A less well known consequence of a bad diet, which has become very common, is gallstones, a painful condition which usually leads to removal of the gall bladder. But Dr Luhar says gallstones are neither the real root of the problem, nor is surgery the only option.

“Gallstones are not the reason the gall bladder stops functioning; the real issue is bile.”

Bile – that bitter, acrid-smelling stuff you taste when you vomit or experience a bit of reflux – is actually pretty essential to our well-being. Bile breaks down the fats we eat, making them absorbable so that they in turn can absorb key nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E and K, all of which are crucial to our immune system, cardiac health, vision, skin and even our moods, as well as containing powerful antioxidants which give protection against cancer. Bile is made by the liver and stored in the gall bladder. But it can sometimes become sticky, creating a clay-like sludge in the gall bladder.

“And you know what happens with clay if you leave it out – it hardens into a stone,” says Dr Luhar. “But if I give a patient something to dissolve that bile, like apple cider vinegar, that sludge will go away and you might not even need surgery to remove small stones.

The cornerstone of her practice is diet, says Dr Luhar. “Because food is also medicine. I need to see what’s going into the body and what’s coming out.”

For diabetics it’s about keeping a tight control on glucose, not eating refined carbs, increasing fiber and removing “white” high-GI foods, such as pasta, white rice and bread.

“I would also look at prescribing natural medicines that have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, like chromium and zinc.” The latter also inhibits viral replication –  in other words, it will stop a virus from reproducing itself, which is extremely important during a viral pandemic.

“Cinnamon is important – every diabetic should have two teaspoons of it every day. Fenugreek and turmeric are really helpful for driving down inflammation, as that’s the underlying issue.”

Dr Luhar always wanted to become a doctor and assumed she would study conventional medicine. But she grew skeptical as she saw family members develop one illness after another which entailed swallowing a multitude of pills.

“I felt intuitively that this couldn’t be healthy. There had to be some other way to appeal to the body to heal itself,” she says.

She did a course in reflexology and then met a naturopathic doctor  “He blew me away and I never looked back,” she says.

She faced fierce resistance to her choice of career. “A lot of people – and I really mean a lot – said things like ‘Why don’t you become a real doctor?’ Those same people are now my best patients. There’s such a shift in consciousness in health care now. Being a naturopathic doctor is seen as a good thing.

Dr Faryal Luhar was a guest on the podcast on December 16, 2020. is for every body and mind in the UAE. This magazine is all about moderation, making small changes, little additions and the odd subtraction.



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