Within the next 100 years, Vancouver will have its own naturopathic hospital. That’s according to Jonn Matsen, the founder of the Northshore Naturopathic Clinic and author of the Eating Alive book series. But even though more people on the West Coast embrace so-called alternative medicine than in other parts of the country, practitioners like him still face skepticism and opposition.
“Hospitals today kill hundreds of thousands of people every year—”˜Oops! Wrong drug!’—but nobody harasses them. Can you imagine if we did that? If we killed one person, we’d be executed,” Matsen says in an interview at his bustling Lower Lonsdale clinic.
Matsen—who says he’s treated almost 50,000 patients since he opened his clinic in 1983—was introduced to natural healing methods when he was in his early 20s and met Norma Meyers, a Mohawk medicine woman. She invited him to Alert Bay, and he ended up staying for a month. (At the time, the then–self-described ski bum was planning on becoming a journalist, and she seemed like a colourful character to write an article about.) Although he had his doubts about the healing power of herbs, he says he witnessed her curing people whom doctors had said were incurable.
“She really was pulling people out of the grave,” Matsen says. “It made me realize that there were a lot of people that doctors didn’t understand.”
Meyers made such an impression on him that he went on to become a certified herbalist. From there, he studied naturopathic medicine at Seattle’s Bastyr University.
Eventually, he met his mentor, the late Harold Dick. The Spokane-based naturopathic pioneer taught Matsen the principles upon which he bases his practice today: address people’s diet, digestion, and liver, and everything else will resolve.
“We see dramatic results almost right away,” Matsen claims. “By treating people’s digestive system and getting the toxins out of their blood, the body can heal itself.”
A prime source of those toxins, according to Matsen, is mercury. He doesn’t buy mainstream medicine’s view that mercury fillings are safe. Conversely, he says that about 50 percent of the amalgam in dental fillings is made up the metal, which leaks into the body and gradually accumulates in the kidneys, liver, and brain.
Mercury, he contends, can react with stomach acid and ultimately contribute to yeast overgrowth, digestive problems, and neurological and immunological disorders.
Matsen will be giving a talk called “Digestion, Mercury, and Your Health” on October 20 at a fundraiser for the Health Action Network Society. (It takes place at the Firefighters’ Club banquet and conference centre [6515 Bonsor Avenue] in Burnaby. For more details, see his Web site.)
Another way mercury ends up in people’s blood is through vaccines, some of which contain mercury in the form of thimerosal, a preservative. Matsen rejects prevailing medical opinion that vaccines with thimerosal are safe.
“In spite of billions of dollars of profit for the pharmaceutical companies that make the vaccines, no studies have been done on long-term side effects,” Matsen writes in Eating Alive II: Curing the “Incurable” (Goodwin, 2004).
Mercury is not the only harmful substance in vaccines, Matsen says. Aluminum hydroxide, in lab tests using mice, has been linked to neurological symptoms similar to those seen in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease), multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Besides mercury and aluminum hydroxide, people today are exposed to more metals and chemicals than ever before, Matsen says, from pesticides and herbicides to automobile exhaust and preservatives. But people’s organs simply aren’t able to handle such a toxic onslaught. Add in prescription medications, antibiotics, tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, food additives, radiation from X-rays, and industrial pollutants, among other substances, and it’s no wonder that chronic disease plagues North Americans.
“A lot of times, doctors just prescribe different drugs that may or may not work,” Matsen says. “They might forget to take a drug away and then there are interactions, and drugs have side effects. People taking six, eight, 10 medications are impeding their ability to heal. That’s why we see lupus, IBS [irritable bowel syndrome], rheumatoid arthritis, reflux, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, Crohn’s, colitis”¦”
To get people better, Matsen designed what he calls the Eating Alive program. Besides providing nutritional guidelines to help people find the right balance between eating poorly and eating “too well”, it focuses on improving intestinal flora and liver function—as he puts it, “getting yeast out of your gut and metals out of your liver and other organs”. Healthy lifestyle choices, like getting regular exercise and fresh air, are also vital to well-being.
The validity of naturopathic doctors as primary-care providers got a boost in B.C. in April 2009, when they were granted the right to prescribe certain medications as well as high-dose vitamins, amino acids, hormones, botanicals, supplements, and herbs. Naturopaths in Ontario acquired similar prescribing rights late last year.
Visits to a naturopathic doctor aren’t covered by the B.C. Medical Services Plan.
When—not if—the day comes that B.C. opens a naturopathic hospital, Matsen envisions a place where naturopathic doctors have referral rights to specialists and access to diagnostic imaging.
“And there will be real food,” he says. “It will be a place where real healing can take place.”