Promoting Health Equity: Addressing Societal Inequalities in Naturopathic Medicine

by | Aug 30, 2023

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In this episode of The Modern Vital Podcast, Dr. Ben Reebs hosts a conversation with Dr. Cyndi Gilbert, a naturopathic doctor and founder of Heal All Consulting, which focuses on promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion in healthcare and other businesses. The conversation begins with Dr. Gilbert sharing her journey into naturopathic medicine and her realization of the impact of societal factors such as racism and homophobia on health and well-being. She discusses the importance of acknowledging and addressing these issues at both an individual and societal level and highlights the role of education and inclusive language in promoting equity and inclusion. Dr. Gilbert also touches on the principles of naturopathic medicine and the importance of acknowledging the disconnect between these principles and the realities of societal inequalities.

The discussion then delves deeper into the implications of societal factors on health, emphasizing the importance of considering the source and impact of natural health products, supporting indigenous and black-led businesses, and considering cultural considerations in dietary recommendations. Dr. Gilbert stresses the importance of viewing health as a whole system, considering the individual in the context of their community and environment, and applying principles of equity and inclusion in all aspects of healthcare practice. She also shares insights into the work of Heal All Consulting in promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion from an anti-oppressive practice perspective.

In summary, this episode of The Modern Vital Podcast highlights the importance of acknowledging and addressing societal inequalities and their impact on health and well-being. It emphasizes the role of healthcare professionals in promoting equity and inclusion at both individual and societal levels and underscores the importance of considering the source and impact of natural health products, supporting indigenous and black-led businesses, and considering cultural considerations in dietary recommendations. Additionally, it highlights the importance of viewing health as a whole system and the work of Heal All Consulting in promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion in healthcare and other businesses.

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Complete Transcript of Episode 13501231

Dr. Ben: Our topic is how health intersects with environmental justice. And today’s special return guest is Dr. Cyndi Gilbert, Naturopathic doctor in Toronto, Canada and faculty member at Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. Prior to becoming a doctor, Cyndi worked for several environmental NGOs. They also develop, coordinate, and deliver antiracism, antioppression curriculum and policies to naturopathic schools, private clinics and nonprofits and they are cofounder of Heal All Consulting, providing care to those who are all too often stigmatized or ignored in wellness circles. 

Dr. Gilbert has a primary clinical focus working with LGBTQ2SIA_ and racialized communities, people who use drugs are homeless, living with disabilities, et cetera. And they advocate for a collaborative antioppressive and harm reduction approach that centers patient’s voices and experiences. Welcome back to the show, Dr Gilbert.

Dr. Cyndi: Thanks. Thanks, Doctor Ben. It’s great to be back.

Dr. Ben: It’s so good to have you. And I feel like this topic is so important. It’s near and dear to my heart. And I think of this initial or original teaching, we learn in naturopathic medicine about the healing power of nature basically. And we never really talk about nature as being that important. We talk about what can it do for me, how can it heal me or how can it heal my patients when it’s a relationship.

And I feel like we’re reminded by all of these indigenous cultures about this relationship, how we are a strand in the web of life, not just the web itself. Anyway, I’d love to hear your thoughts about that.

Dr. Cyndi: Yeah, I mean, I think it ties nicely into our last conversation on forest bathing and how that relates to the healing of power of nature and our relationship to land and you know, where we are. So I, I know you mentioned, I’m you know, talking to you from Toronto, Canada. But you know, we could alternately, I could also talk about how I and my family are a settler to this land.

You know, my family came over around the turn of last century and landed here. I’m on Treaty 13 land, which is another way of talking about it. I could also share that. I’m currently, you know, talking to you from the land of and territories of the Mississauga of the credit. But, but this land, you know that Toronto stands on or what we call Toronto now is also the, the territories of the, the and and, and the Anisha peoples and you know, really home much like Turtle island to many indigenous people from across this continent. 

And you know, when we talk about that healing power of nature, you’re so right, we often talk about it as this, like unidirectional. What can nature do for me as opposed to what can I give back or, or even separating us as humans from nature in that kind of framing and really, it takes away from so much of how important that relationship is, how many people have been dispossessed from their land over generations and how that has impacted their health and continues to impact through intergenerational trauma and resilience. And, and how we can work towards reconciliation on an individual level or on a professional level and how that work translates into what we’re doing as naturopathic doctors with our patients.

And I think that’s the exciting thing for me about all of this is that as much as I can say, I’m doing antioppressive naturopathic care. Like, what does that actually look like? Right. And I think, you know, that’s one of the difficulties because our medicine is often founded on appropriation of indigenous health knowledge. Both from here in North America or Turtle Island as well as from lots of other indigenous cultures around the world. And how those have meshed together into what we now call naturopathic medicine. Or some people generally are just referred to as like health and wellness industry here, and how that has played out by, by distancing or not acknowledging those connections, that history and, and how we work to rethink our relationship to our own practice…I think is so critical and really quite exciting because there’s like, it’s kind of you know, a new way of being, a new way of thinking about how we think about health even and on the more like positive patient side, it’s a way of building up and taking those patients stories, their experiences and really acknowledging, validating, and then building on strengths, resiliency, acknowledgement and reconciliation and undoing harm and it’s like a topic that’s so huge.

And so sometimes I’m like, ok, what, what does this really mean? And how did I get into doing this? And I, I don’t know if I’ve shared this with you before, but maybe not your listeners. But, in my first very first year of practice and this is like over 15 years ago, I had a patient intake form like a very basic, what I would consider a basic questionnaire, you know, what are the barriers, what’s stopping you from achieving your health goals?

What are those barriers that you see? And I had a patient in my first year who wrote down racism and homophobia, and it’s not that I didn’t know that those obviously have an impact on health, right? Like I think as naturopathic doctors we’re really attuned to the sense of how stress impacts our bodies, not just our, our emotional health, but our physical health and our psychological health.

And how that can apply in situations of chronic illness in terms of any immune, you name it, whether it’s high blood pressure or autoimmune conditions, it doesn’t really matter, it can manifest in different ways. But I hadn’t really reflected on like, how, what can I do about that? Right? If my patient says to me, like, one of the biggest things in the way of me being healthy is racism and homophobia.

It would be really easy for me to be like, sorry, I don’t know what I can do about that. And instead, I think I saw it as an opportunity, like, what can I do both on that individual level to kind of invite more conversation into what that might look like to ask questions and be curious to not make assumptions about what that might mean.

But also, what can I do as a physician or a naturopathic doctor in society at large, within the healthcare world? You know, it’s partly why I founded All Heal Consulting so that I can kind of use some of the research that I’ve done with some colleagues and help to translate that into more education for other NDs around things like inclusive language or just rethinking how we talk about risk factors that are related to identity.

But it’s so critical that we don’t ignore what’s…just because something’s hard to talk about or we’re not sure about it or it doesn’t necessarily apply to us or we’re you know, or we don’t consider ourselves having the same lived experiences as some of our patients, that we acknowledge that and then kind of move towards what we can do.

Dr. Ben: Gotcha. Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s so interesting too, looking at the principles of naturopathic medicine and, and not really seeing this piece there. I mean, it’s just, we’re not really, including, others and nature and we get these teachings from indigenous cultures about how we’re part of the web of life and we need to take care of the web.

And if we don’t, then we’ve actually become sick, but it’s not really, it’s there in our medicine, but I feel like it needs to be acknowledged that there is a disconnect there. You know, that it starts with acknowledging this disconnect. Would you agree? Or where does one start? Like how does one actually begin?

Dr. Cyndi: I mean, I think part of it is even thinking about that disconnect. I think it’s a lot easier to see if you’re using natural health products that like have a more direct connection to how, where they come from. You know, if we’re starting at that place of like, what can nature do for me often people are like, oh, I think about herbs, right?

And I think about herbal medicine or botanical medicine and how I use that. And I think one way I always think about it is like, ok, well, how can I, how can I help to ignite that relationship both within myself, so that I know where the herbs are coming from. I care about their source. I care about where, how they’re grown or who’s growing them or who’s caring for them and how they’re manufactured if I’m using a product that’s on the market.

But also in building that relationship on a 1-to-1 level. So, you know, I’m often like pulling up pictures of plants that I think would be appropriate for a patient to be like, hey, this is what it looks like so that it’s not just I’m taking a tincture or even a dried tea, but like here’s what the plant looks like in it’s like living form and maybe even you want to like, get to know it a little bit better if you can.

And so I think there’s some simple ways of kind of bridging that gap. Thinking about that, that sourcing is something endangered, is an endangered species? How is it, how is it being collected? How are things being manufactured that we’re using or the same thing we can talk about with food, or where we choose to exercise or move our bodies in different ways and what those relationships are,

There’s other pieces about looking at how do you take things like small things like working with indigenous led businesses or black led businesses and as part of that reconciliation process in thinking about,  if I am going to use something that has like a traditional Chinese medicine origin, then, because that’s part of our practice of naturopathic medicine here, then what does that look like? And, how am I using that or how do I think about that in the context of traditional Chinese philosophy of medicine as a whole system, right? As opposed to just like we think of our bodies as naturopaths, we’re often talking about, health as a whole system like you know, treat the whole person, another naturopathic principle.

And that whole person, is in community, that whole person is in the environment that they’re in, right? You’re in a different place than I am. We might have a different relationship to things. It might even extend to like what are the kinds of cultural considerations we might have when working with somebody on adding some therapeutic foods to their diet.

Or considering how to apply some dietary principles that might benefit their health and how do we choose the foods or how do we make those recommendations? Right. And so much of that is individualized, but we can kind of begin to think about how does that work when we’re thinking about the whole person in the context of equity and inclusion?

Dr. Ben: Well, where can people learn more about Heal All Consulting?

Dr. Cyndi: Yeah. people can, I mean, we’re online, at, but also on on social media @HealAllConsulting on Instagram and Facebook. And certainly, we do a lot of work primarily with practitioners of health and wellness, to do education and even look at guiding social media in terms of representation and inclusion. But we also work with other kinds of businesses to work on equity diversity and inclusion.

But from that kind of anti oppressive practice perspective. 

Dr. Ben: Well, thanks so much for joining us again, Dr. Cyndi, 

Well, that concludes this episode of The Modern Vital Podcast. We’d love to hear from you. We value your feedback, and if you have any questions or suggestions, please reach out to me at Also, please leave us a review on Spotify or Apple if you enjoyed this episode, and we look forward to having you join us next week for another exciting episode of The Modern Vital Podcast.


About Me

Dr. Ben Reebs, ND, is an award-winning, naturopathic physician with a focus in environmental medicine, which looks at how environmental factors can cause chronic disease. He specializes in chronic infections, autoimmune disease, and digestive health.

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