As a Down syndrome (DS) parent and a Naturopathic doctor, I find that the two often don't mix, at least not in the minds of the general public. I believe that's because most everyone knows that Down Syndrome is a genetic condition and we all know that we can't change our genes, right?
Of course we can't change our genes and a naturopathic approach won't "cure" Down syndrome but can it better it?
I think that there's an intrinsic sense of pain when society and even those in the DS community talking about "bettering" or "helping" our kids with DS. After all, they are "down right perfect" and our "homies with extra chromies" and we all love our children with every fiber our being.
In fact, "treating" Down syndrome almost makes many in the DS community feel as if we're trying to change something that is innate about our children, that treating DS means changing them.
I can understand that sentiment even though I disagree.
It's a proven fact and a lived experience that individuals with Down syndrome tend to suffer from health related conditions more than a typical individual. This is because Down syndrome is a genetic condition that affects the entire body.
It's not something that should be celebrated, applauded, insulted, or denigrated. It's a medical condition nothing more and certainly nothing less.
That's why I take a naturopathic medical approach to Down syndrome. Let's take a look at what exactly a naturopathic medical approach looks like with 4 things that you need to know about naturopathic medicine for Down syndrome.
1. Naturopathic Medicine for Down syndrome is Whole Person Centered
When using a naturopathic medical approach for Down syndrome, the naturopathic doctor (ND) looks at the whole person. Our conventional medical system likes to compartmentalize the human body, mind, and experience into neat little boxes that can only be unpacked by a specialist.
For example, a kidney specialist might not understand that low potassium can cause fainting because fainting deals with cardiovascular system (true story). Or a primary care doctor might not realize that chronic stress leads to back pain and vice versa.
A naturopathic approach takes the opposite view. Our bodies are intricately and innately interconnected. When one part of the body is in distress, it affects the body as a whole. This principle isn’t just applied physically but spiritually and emotionally as well. The mid affects the body and the body affects the mind.
This leads me to an important point. Some of the responses seen in Down syndrome behavior, like aggression or regression, could very well be due to nutritional deficiencies. For example, people with DS tend to be deficient in B vitamins like vitamin B1 or thiamine.
When given enough thiamine to support their bodies nutritional needs, the troublesome behavior subsides or even disappears. This is how naturopathic medicine works. When a parent tells me that their child with Down syndrome is struggling with a certain behavior, it’s my job to discern whether that behavior is due to nutritional and physiological needs not being met or is it due to an unmet emotional need.
Sometimes its neither and often its both.
Naturopathic medicine offers a holistic approach for people with Down syndrome looking at them as individuals and offering personalized solutions to their issues.
2. Naturopathic medicine is a support not a cure all
I’m sure there are skeptics and critics that try to insult naturopathic medicine by insinuating that naturopathic doctors believe we can cure Down syndrome.
That couldn’t be farther from the truth. As a naturopathic doctor, I recognize that people with Down syndrome have a genetic condition and genes can't be changed. But they can be expressed differently.
Let me explain. Let's take the example of a male and female. Typical females have 2 X chromosomes whereas males have 1 X and 1 Y chromosome. There is nothing that naturopathic medicine or any type of medicine can do to change those chromosomes, that DNA.
But with a condition like Down syndrome, while the genes can't be changed, the way the body follows their instructions can.
Let's take a gene that makes fictitious protein A. In Down syndrome, this gene might make too little of protein A or too much of protein A because of 3 copies of the gene telling the body to do so.
A naturopathic approach will give a person with DS the nutrients and supplements needed to either make more or less of protein A. Conversely, supplements may be given that counteract the effects of protein A so that protein shouldn't be expressed widely in the body.
Now let's look at a real life example. People with Down syndrome are significantly more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than the general population. In fact, the vast majority of people with DS start showing signs of dementia by the age of 40 years old .
This is due, in part, to the triplication (3 copies) of the APP gene which creates amyloid beta protein that is deposited into the brain. Too much of this protein becomes plaques that disrupt and destroys brain tissue.
Curcumin, the active component in the golden spice turmeric, helps to prevent this amyloid beta deposition in the brain . Therefore, prolonging a person with Down syndrome's cognition.
A naturopathic approach would recommend that the majority of individuals with Down syndrome incorporate a curcumin supplement into their wellness routine starting early in life.
This is how naturopathic medicine supports individuals with DS. By looking at the body's unique genetics and biochemistry, a naturopathic approaches maximizes the body's health.
3. Naturopathic Medicine for Down syndrome is backed by Science
Now this one may or may not be important depending on your background and beliefs. Some individuals that I've worked with wanted to see all the research and science while others just wanted their child to feel better.
Whatever camp you're in, just know that naturopathic medicine is very much based in science and evidence. Naturopathic medicine is herbal medicine, mind-body medicine, wellness medicine, integrative medicine, hydro-therapeutic medicine, nutrition, and exercise medicine all wrapped into one.
Oh and then there's homeopathy which is something I'll discuss in another topic.
Don't believe me?
Check out the references section of my posts.
Naturopathic medicine takes the best approach to helping a person with DS on their journey to optimal health using science and the individual's unique needs.
4. Naturopathic Medicine for Down syndrome requires your participation
I know that being a parent of a child with DS has its unique challenges. Sometimes, a parent can be so tired that they just want something, anything, that will get their child better in a hurry.
I get that completely.
But naturopathic medicine for Down syndrome is a long haul strategy.
When you invest in a naturopathic approach for your child with DS, it's more of a permanent lifestyle change than a one and done deal.
This is because naturopathic medicine seeks to build up the foundation of health by giving the body what it needs like proper sleep, nutrition, and movement.
No naturopathic doctor can motivate you to make the necessary changes that bring about health. Only you can do that.
This is why naturopathic medicine is so powerful. Instead of the conventional medical model that takes away your power by putting you at the whim of your doctor, a naturopathic approach challenges you to take responsibility for your health and change your life in the process.
These are the 4 things that everyone should know about naturopathic medicine for Down syndrome. If you're ready to see how a naturopathic approach can better your loved one with Down syndrome's life, make an appointment and we'll start the wellness journey together.
I'm Dr. Candace Mathers, naturopathic doctor and mom to 2 amazing kiddos, one who has Down syndrome. I'm also an author. Pick up your copy of Fight the Flu, RSV, and Colds Naturally: Vitamins, Minerals, and Natural Substances that Boost Immune Health today.
Fortea J, Zaman SH, Hartley S, Rafii MS, Head E, Carmona-Iragui M. Alzheimer's disease associated with Down syndrome: a genetic form of dementia. Lancet Neurol. 2021;20(11):930-942. doi:10.1016/S1474-4422(21)00245-3
Chainoglou E, Hadjipavlou-Litina D. Curcumin in Health and Diseases: Alzheimer's Disease and Curcumin Analogues, Derivatives, and Hybrids. Int J Mol Sci. 2020;21(6):1975. Published 2020 Mar 13. doi:10.3390/ijms21061975