We are happy to present an interview with Nkey Obiwulu-Chibuzor, a naturopath whose passion for natural medicine and botanical research has defined her career. Nkey’s journey began in childhood, listening to radio programs about herbs and natural medicine with her mother. These early experiences, particularly influenced by a renowned naturopathic doctor who specialized in the doctrine of signatures, sparked a deep interest in her that would shape her future.
In this interview, Nkey shares her educational path, which started with a degree in botany and culminated in a master’s degree in pharmacognosy and natural medicine. Her approach to naturopathy is unique; while she does consult with patients, her primary focus is on research. She is dedicated to understanding the fundamentals of naturopathic practices, verifying their efficacy, and uncovering potential herbal drugs.
Join us as we explore Nkey Obiwulu-Chibuzor’s fascinating journey from a curious child inspired by radio talks to a researcher committed to advancing the field of naturopathy through evidence-based practices.
1. Could you share a bit about your journey into naturopathy/nutrition? What inspired you to pursue this field?
As a little girl of 6, I would usually join my mother to listen to one of her favorite radio programs, a talkshow about herbs and natural medicine. The presenter, a renowned naturopathic doctor, was really into doctrine of signatures. I found her audio lectures really interesting and this birthed in me a great interest in natural medicine. Years later I would study botany in my first degree and went on to get a masters degree in pharmacognosy and natural medicine.
Although I’m a naturopath and do consult patients from time to time, my essence of going into the field was not solely to treat patients but basically as a researcher. I yearn to learn more about the rudiments of naturopathic practices, authenticate their efficacy, discover potential herbal drugs and make evidence available for research-based decision-making in the field of naturopathy.
2. How do you approach treatment plans for your patients? What role do you believe natural supplements play in these plans?
Generally, I tailor treatment plans to suit the particular needs of the patient. After patient examination and evaluation, treatment plan can follow two or more of these modalities – prescription of herbal drugs, dietary changes, nutritional supplementation, water therapy, essential oil treatment, massage therapy, and of course education and counseling.
I often would recommend nutritional supplements to my patients, as a means of preventing certain diseases or as treatment for existing disease conditions. Vitamins, minerals, botanicals, hormones, probiotic supplements, etc are important in naturopathic treatments. These supplements are effective, and I dare to say, essential to maintenance of a health and wellness. The reason being that a lot of people observe poor nutrition, supplementation is one of the easiest way to meet the body’s nutritional demands.
Natural supplements contain active phytochemicals and other chemical compounds with medicinal properties that improve health. They offer several amazing benefits which include reducing pain, aches and inflammation, boosting our immune system and enhancing our body’s ability to fight infections and diseases, eliminating harmful radicals from your body, replenishing nutrient deficiencies, and maintaining your cells in perfect condition. When the right supplement that meets a patient’s unique needs is prescribed in the right dose, it delivers amazing results.
3. In your view, how important is a holistic approach to health and wellness, and how do you integrate this into your practice?
Let’s look at it this way, an individual who is physically fit but battling depression cannot be described as healthy. The person is healthy physically, but psychologically out of balance. Sound health is about wellness of body, mind and spirit. There’s an imbalance when you have one without the others. A holistic approach to health and wellness takes an individual’s physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, social and intellectual health into consideration. It embraces the whole person, leaving nothing behind.
Consequently, a holistic approach allows an individual take charge of their health and make lifestyle decisions that is in the best interest of their wellness. When an individual understands that health and wellness encompass every aspect of their being and that discrepancies in any of the areas affect their overall health, they would be more inclined to live healthy all round. This makes for better disease prevention and optimum health.
Another example, a patient who is facing stress may manifest psychosomatic symptoms of stress such as headaches and migraines, high blood pressure, skin rashes, digestive problems, weight changes, insomnia, etc. The underlying condition is stress, which could be mental or physical, but it goes on to affect the individual’s overall health. Therefore, approaching health holistically, by caring for the whole person, is the best approach to wellness.
Bringing it down to practical level, I integrate a holistic dimension to my naturopathic practice by incorporating into my treatment plans herbal-based therapy, exercise, massage therapy, aromatherapy, mind-body-spirit interventions and some aspects of conventional medicine (as part of an integrated approach). I always encourage my patients to make lifestyle choices favourable to their health and wellness, connect with their spiritual side, and make sure they carefully consider what goes into their mouth as food.
Good nutrition, treatment of ailments through natural means like use of herbs, natural supplements, essential oils, hydrotherapy and exercises, meditations, prayer, mindfulness and positive affirmations form a major part of my treatment strategies.
4. What are some common health issues you encounter in your practice? How do you address these with natural therapies?
Different patients present with different ailments, but the group of people I encounter most in my course of work are couples who are trying to conceive.
Infertility, in my opinion, cannot be regarded as a health condition, it is not a disease or an ailment but a result of other underlying causes. For some couples perhaps it’s as a result of hormonal imbalance, for some STIs, obesity, poor diet, age, decreased sperm quality, uterine defects, smoking, stress, weight issues, you name it . Evaluation of family and medical histories, lifestyle habits, stress level, weight, and sleep patterns of the couple can provide insight on what factors might be behind their infertility challenge.
Subsequently, addressing this challenge from a holistic, patient-centered perspective has helped seen many women successfully achieve conception. The modalities I apply to help couples overcome infertility include herbal treatment, lifestyle counseling, dietary changes, natural supplements for conception, exercises, prayer and meditation, stress management, and massage therapy. For some couples it may just be a matter of education and counseling to enlighten them about the reproductive system and the best period in a woman’s cycle to try for a baby.
Other common health issues I encounter in this practice are anaemia, digestive issues, insomnia, malaria and stress-related disorders.
5. How do you perceive the connection between gut health and overall wellness? Could you share your insights on this?
By way of definition, your gut (also called gastro-intestinal system) comprises your mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus. These organs help you digest and absorb nutrients from your food and excrete the waste out.
Naturally, millions of microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi) live in your intestines. These organisms residing in your gut are referred to as your gut microbiome. Most of these microorganisms in the gut are beneficial to your body; although some are harmful, especially when out of balance.
Your gut microbiome helps to break down the food in your gut into nutrients your body can use. The nutrients absorbed by your gut support your body’s physiological functions. A healthy gut means good nutrient absorption and a properly functioning body, while an unhealthy gut impacts your body functions negatively.
Correspondingly, your gut health plays a crucial role in your overall health. Gut health refers to the balance and functionality of microorganisms in your digestive tract. A healthy gut is one that houses a healthy gut microbiome and is devoid of digestive problems. Your gut health definitely influence your overall wellness, as your gut is not only responsible for food digestion, but also functions in regulating hormones and immune system activity in your body.
The health of your gut has a direct impact on both your physical and your mental health. An imbalance in your gut microbes could lead to high blood sugar levels, excessive weight gain, mood swings, depression, anxiety, lethargy, etc. Research shows that over 70% of the immune cells in your body are located in your gut.
Another significant aspect is that the wall of your intestines acts as a barrier, bouncing off harmful viruses, fungi, and bacteria. An unhealthy gut may fall short in carrying out this function, and so harmful bacteria and viruses may gain entrance into your bloodstream. This condition commonly referred to as leaky gut causes diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive problems.
Moreover, studies suggest that the state of your gut directly affects your mental health. Your gut communicates with your brain, and can stimulate your nervous system. Scientific evidence shows that bacteria in your gut produce a good amount of neurotransmitters that your brain uses to regulate your mood and drive cognition. A study even suggest that a healthy gut promotes longevity.
In view of these crucial roles gut health plays in the overall health and wellness of an individual, it’s important to keep your gut in the best shape possible by maintaining a healthy balance of microorganisms in your gut.
Ways you can improve your gut health include eating fiber-rich diet and fermented foods, exercising regularly, keeping your alcohol intake at the minimum, and manage stress. effectively getting regular exercise, limiting your alcohol consumption and effectively managing stress. Probiotic supplements are great for improving gut health, too.
6. What general dietary and nutrition advice do you often find yourself giving to your patients?
Nutrition is one of the major bedrocks of naturopathic healing. What you eat can make or break your health. Your food has tremendous effect on your overall health. Like I would always tell my patients – make your food your medicine so that you don’t end up making medicine your food. Making the right dietary choices protects you from sicknesses and diseases that could make your existence dependent on drugs and medical interventions.
Many of the complaints patients present with can be treated by just making certain dietary changes and adjustments. Nutrition and how one’s diet influences disease conditions is a major discussion I engage my patients in during consultations.
Most importantly, dietary plans and recommendations should be individualized and patient-based, in accordance to personal nutritional status and dietary needs.
7. When introducing supplements into a patient’s regimen, what key factors do you consider?
Sometimes changing a patient’s diet may not be enough to improve their health outcome. There may be need to augment their nutritional needs with dietary supplements. There are several reasons it may become necessary to enhance patients’ nutritional status using targeted supplemental therapy. Some may require supplementation because their body is having difficulty in absorbing nutrients from food, lack enzymes to properly digest and break down the foods, impaired gut health, due to hereditary factors or simply need increased levels of certain nutrients.
Key factors that determine what supplements I recommend include the patient’s health condition, medical history, current medication, nutritional status, dietary needs, and age.
8. Without disclosing personal details, could you share a memorable success story from your practice involving natural treatments?
We’ve recorded a lot of successes in the course of practice, and many patients have recovered from ailments that previously defied conventional medical interventions. Patients suffering insomnia, depression and anxiety disorder have found their way back to living a normal, healthy and balanced life.
One memorable success story that I can’t forget in a hurry, (probably because of the great joy it brought to the woman, a close family friend) is the case of a middle aged woman who was having recurrent miscarriages. She was placed on a treatment course that involved dietary changes, belly massage, supplements for hormonal imbalance, stress management, counseling to get her in tune with her reproductive health and help her regain confidence in her body’s ability to carry a pregnancy, physical and spiritual exercises.
Few weeks into the treatment she conceived and went on to carry the pregnancy to full term and birthed her baby successfully. Today she is a proud mother of two healthy boys.
9. What are some challenges you face in the field of naturopathy/nutrition, and how do you overcome them?
Currently, there are a couple of challenges naturopaths face. Some of these challenges are general and cut across every clime, while some are peculiar to locations. The greatest challenge naturopathic practitioners face in Africa is discrimination by conventional medical professionals. Many conventional medical practitioners are reluctant to cooperate with naturopathic doctors. This makes integration of naturopathic medicine and Western medicine an almost impossible mission. Although I won’t totally blame them for approaching naturopathic medicine with antagonism and distrust, as lack of standardization and uniformity of practice is one of the major setbacks for naturopathic medicine in Africa.
However, there is urgent need to officially integrate naturopathy into existing medical/health care system. Especially when you consider the fact that a large percentage of the African populace depends on naturopathy for their healthcare. Integration of natural medicine with modern health practices will be of immense benefits to the sick, and build a medical system that synergizes conventional medical treatment methods with the individualized and holistic philosophy of naturopathic medicine. The expected outcome will be a formidable health care system that not only alleviates symptoms of diseases but aims at maintaining overall health and wellness of the patient.
In my opinion, the solutions to the aforementioned challenge are government intervention and an adoption of evidence-based naturopathy by practitioners. It is true that naturopathic medicine of every country/geographical region has vestiges of folk medicine incorporated into it. However, a science-based approach to naturopathic practices will reduce quakery and make integration of naturopathy with conventional medical practices achievable. Adequate research and validation of indigenous traditional medicinal practices, and proper education of naturopaths will aid standardization of naturopathic medicine, make regulations possible and facilitate integration with other branches of medical science.
The challenges notwithstanding, naturopathy is still gaining huge promotion globally and more people are embracing this holistic, patient-centered approach to health care. More efforts need to be dedicated to evaluating and validating naturopathic medical practices. As more naturopathic practitioners make a paradigm shift and adopt evidence-based naturopathic medicine, people will repose more confidence in naturopathy and the global health care will record outstanding success.
10. Where do you see the future of naturopathy and functional medicine heading?
Modern naturopathy is evolving, attention is shifting to evidence-based practices, and as such the notion of regarding functional medicine as fictional medicine is fast fading away.
Over the last decade, evidence implementation has gained increasing attention in healthcare. Evidence implementation refers to application of strategies that assist medical practitioners to make decisions based on research evidences. Through this process the quality of healthcare offered to patients is optimised because it follows best available evidence.
Research interest in the field of naturopathy is growing, and evidences from these research will be implemented into practice. I foresee evidence implementation as a major pathway to reducing inefficiencies and inconsistencies in naturopathic practices in future.
11. What personal wellness practices or routines do you follow to maintain your own health?
These days, it is quite easy to allow the daily hustle and bustle of life dwindle one’s health and wellness. The solution to this neglect orchestrated by present economic realities is to live consciously. Consciousness of what I do, what and when I eat, and how I react to things.
Healthy eating is a must for me. I do fast intermittently, but I make sure I eat healthy and balanced diet regularly. I eat more of whole grains, greens and proteins. I personally believe drinking enough water is a medicine on its own, and so I drink a lot of water.
Also, I try to stay fit by being physically active and exercising daily. This helps to keep me mentally alert and in high spirits. The human body needs at least 6 to 7 hours of sleep to recoup and replenish, so I make sure i get my daily quality sleep.
Decluttering my space and prioritizing my goals help me manage stress effectively. Playing, laughing and dancing with my family are things I do regularly and intentionally to ease off mental stress. In addition to these, I strive to maintain a deep spiritual connection with God through prayer and meditation.
12. Finally, what advice would you give to individuals aspiring to enter the field of naturopathy or nutrition?
My advice to those aspiring to venture into the field of naturopathy is that they shouldn’t jump into naturopathic practice just because they have interest in the field or because “it runs in the family”. Get the relevant education needed to fit into the modern concept of naturopathic medicine. A good level of formal education and training is essential. Patients’ confidence level in receiving naturopathic care from you becomes more pronounced when you are an educated naturopathic practitioner.
In addition, interest in naturopathy should not only be in medical practice and patient consultation alone, but should be extended to research and new discoveries. Not much attention is paid to evidence implementation in naturopathy, and other aspects of alternative medicine. Hopefully, the gap between research and practice in naturopathy will be bridged in the nearest future as more naturopaths develop more interest in research.
Connect with Nkey Obiwulu-Chibuzor
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of CanXida. The content provided is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Readers are encouraged to consult their healthcare provider for any health-related questions or concerns.