Approaches to health promotion that are outside mainstream “allopathic” medicine, such as naturopathic medicine, have not been looked upon favorably by the establishment. While the concept of “the healing power of nature” has been well regarded since before Hippocrates, it is only more recently that the mainstream medical community has been conceding that diet and lifestyle are indisputably significant in health maintenance. Naturopathic medicine is increasingly recognized as playing a role that is complementary to allopathic therapies. 

The part played by York Downs Chemists in the development of naturopathy and “alternative” therapies is recounted here by a leading practitioner in British Columbia, Canada    

Dr. Garrett Swetlikoff, ND, has been a tireless advocate for naturopathy helping secure scope of practice recognition and prescription rights for naturopathic doctors in British Columbia. He is past President of the British Columbia Naturopathic Association and sits on the BC Naturopathic Pharmacy & Scope of Practice Committees.

Dr. Garrett Swetlikoff, NDwas among the first licensed ND’s in British Columbia. His exposure to what he terms “biological methods” came early as his father was trained in England for osteopathy and naturopathy and practiced registered massage therapy, acupuncture and other therapies in Castlegar, BC.

As past President of the British Columbia Naturopathic Associationcurrent member on the BC Naturopathic Pharmacy & Scope of Practice Committees, Dr. Swetlikoff has helped secure scope of practice recognition as well as the prescription rights for naturopathic doctors in British Columbia.

Dave Garshowitz of York Downs Chemists, at the age of 88 passed away recently. “He spent many of his last number of decades in the background working to encourage changes in laws and changes in integrative medicine acceptance,” recounts Dr. Swetlikoff. “Doctors today can now place a phone order, get a package in the mail and use the products. But they forget the history of what’s happened, and how these types of therapies and modalities are now in the consciousness not only of the governments and the medical community, but also the public. Now they are available, used in a safe, reputable way, and in many regards, an affordable way.”

“When I graduated naturopathic school in 1988 and started practicing in January of 1989… the laws in Canada were not properly established and our profession was viewed as fringe.” Dr Swetlikoff recalls, “In the early days, we had to import all of our IV fluids, IV vitamins, minerals and amino acids from the United States, which was hit and miss. We started having to search out for a compounding pharmacist in Canada that would provide our profession with products that we felt were of high quality, safety, purity, and in the forms that we wanted them with, like hypoallergenic requirements and so on. And low and behold, that’s how we came across York Downs. And this is really where York Downs came into the picture. Boyana and David had the intestinal fortitude, knowledge  and the courage to provide (the products) to us.”

“Other pharmacies have sprouted up (supplying these new therapies) now, but they weren’t 25 years ago. Conventional pharmacists just weren’t thinking that way, even though it was their traditional history. And now you see that the pharmacy field has changed to a point where they are not just counting out pills for big drug companies.”

“Pharmacists are now going back to their roots and making compounds independently and specialized for individual patients.” Mentioning the specific example of a bio-identical hormonal topical cream, “I can’t write a prescription for my patient to go to a (major drug store chain)… where it is not available. So who makes it? York Downs makes it, a pharmacy that has invested in the proper equipment, the sterile rooms, the staff, and the training.”

“There’s one more thing I must say about York Downs. Boyana (the lead pharmacist at York Downs Chemists) probably attends more continuing education seminars than anyone else I know. She is constantly learning, and is constantly training, not only in her field of pharmacology and pharmacy, but in the whole medical field. Boyana knows her stuff. We trust that the materials she uses and that when I get a vial of something, what is on the label is in it.”

When new preparations are not available Dr. Swetlikoff describes how York Downs will either “make it… or find a way to make it… or do the research on why (they) can’t make it. And if (they) can’t make it, then (they will) find someone else that does.”


An advocate for naturopathic medicine

Attitudes towards alternative medicine and naturopathic medicine have been changing. “I’ve been in practice for 30 years and there have been huge leaps and bounds inter professionally, and inter governmentally with new legislation. It is still changing. Back then many MD’s in our community would have liked to have seen me strung off a flagpole. They didn’t know my name, my training or anything about what I did. To this day a percentage of the medical community still feels that way and say, “You guys use unproven methods. You’re wasting people’s money. Patients should only get conventional care.””

“Then there’s going to be a middle ground, which is probably the majority, who are non-committal one way or the other if it doesn’t interfere with their individual practices. They’ll say, “Well, they’re licensed. They’re legal. We don’t really know what they do. There’s nothing we can say to change this.”

“And then there’ll be a small percentage that are very supportive and cooperative and who sometimes practice like holistic MD’s.”

“On the public level, I’ve been booked solid for 30 years and my colleagues’ practices are full. Why are we busy?

“There are two reasons. First, patients aren’t getting the answers or the help that they need from conventional methods. Second, they’re in tune philosophically with that whole concept of body, mind, and spirit. They believe in proactive health and wellness, and that health promotion should not just be reactive crisis management.”

“The young people today have so much access to internet and information. They can look up a drug. They can look up a vitamin. They can look up an herb. They can look up treatments and anything they want and find answers, or at least opinions. Sometimes right, sometimes wrong. So it is impossible to pull the wool over their eyes. It is not like in the 1940’s and 50’s where doctors were treated as gods and no one dared question them. Now, young people are not loyal to anything except results. When you get results, they’re loyal to you.”

“And people themselves, even within families today, have differences of opinion. Women tend to be more proactive, holistic and open minded. Many men still are conservative, saying “I don’t want to change anything, just give me the pill and let me out of here.””

Broadly, the practice of medicine is becoming more inclusive. The politics are changing with a model of “shared scopes of practice, which basically means that there’s more than one type of practitioner that is able to diagnose and able to treat conditions.” Dr. Swetlikoff explains, “It is not just MD’s and ND’s, it is also chiros, dentists, as well as nurse practitioners, midwives and psychologists that are getting power that was traditionally restricted to MDs.

“At the end of the day, I tell this to a lot of my students, “It would be nice to be accepted. It would be nice to be acknowledged like an MD is. It would be nice to not be questioned. It would be nice to have all of those things. But at the end of the day, the only people we really are here to get approval from is our patients.””