What is it?
Naturopathy is a system of healthcare that focuses on the body’s own healing power and addresses the underlying causes of disease, rather than just treating or alleviating symptoms. More technically, the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) defines naturopathic medicine as:
“A distinct system of primary health care – an art, science, philosophy and practice of diagnosis, treatment and prevention of illness. Naturopathic medicine is distinguished by the principles upon which its practice is based. These principles are continually re-examined in the light of scientific advances. The techniques of naturopathic medicine include modern and traditional, scientific, and empirical methods”.
The naturopathic approach to healthcare also emphasizes patient education and self-card. Naturopathic medicine can be used in conjunction with conventional medical therapies to support the body’s healing processes – an approach referred to as “integrative medicine”. In some clinics and hospitals, NDs work in collaboration with MDs, DCs, DOs, acupuncturists, and other healthcare practitioners, and they refer patients for energy and other situations when necessary.
According to the National University of Natural Medicine, the practice of naturopathic medicine emerges from six principles of healing. These principles are the foundation of naturopathic medical practice and guide how naturopathic physicians think about and treat their patients. These principles are:
The healing power of nature
Naturopathic medicine recognizes an inherent self-healing process in every individual person, which is ordered and intelligent. Naturopathic physicians act to identify and remove obstacles to healing and recovery, and to facilitate this inherent self-healing process.
First, do no harm
Naturopathic physicians follow three guidelines to avoid harming the patient: i) minimize the risk of harmful side effects, ii) avoid when possible the harmful suppression of symptoms, and iii) acknowledge, respect and work with the individual’s self-healing process.
Identify and treat the cause
Naturopathic physicians seek to identify and remove the underlying causes of illness, rather than to merely eliminate or suppress symptoms.
Treat the whole person
Naturopathic physicians treat each patient by taking into account individual physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social and other factors. Since total health also includes spiritual health, naturopathic physicians encourage individuals to pursue their personal spiritual development.
The doctor as teacher
Naturopathic physicians educate their patients and encourage self-responsibility for health. they also recognize and employ the therapeutic potential of the doctor-patient relationship.
Naturopathic physicians emphasize the prevention of disease – assessing risk factors, heredity and susceptibility to disease, and making appropriate interventions in partnership with their patients to prevent illness.
While these principles set naturopathy apart from other practices, many people associate Naturopathy and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as very similar or sometimes the same thing. The simplest way to explain the difference is East versus West. Naturopathy is western natural medicine, using western diagnostic techniques, western herbs and western terminology when describing how the body and disease works.
A naturopath learns modalities like western herbal medicine, massage, homeopathy, Bach flower remedies and western nutrition. Traditional Chinese Medicine is of eastern origin. TCM is based on traditional Chinese medicine theory and uses traditional Chinese diagnostic techniques and treatment methods.
The term “Naturopathy” was first coined in 1885 by Dr. John Scheel, a German homeopath practicing the methods of Kneipp and Kuhn at his Badekur Sanitarium in New York. Later on, Benedict Lust purchased the name in 1902 to describe the eclectic practice of “nature doctors”. At the time, this embraced all known means of natural therapeutics, including diet, herbs, hydrotherapy, as well as psychological and spiritual counseling.
In 1901 Dr. Lust opened the American School of Naturopathy in New York, the first naturopathic college in America. He also opened what could be considered the first health food store or Kneipp store. Dr. Lust believed in the inherent ability of the body to heal itself, that it was able to restore its own balance and function and that it was able to adapt to environmental changes.
From 1918 to 1937, great interest and support for naturopathic medicine emerged from the public. In the early 1920s, naturopathic movement reached its peak in terms of public awareness and interest. The naturopathic journals of the 1920s and 1930s provide much valuable insight into the prevention of disease and the promotion of health. Much of the dietary advice focused on correcting poor eating habits, including the lack of fiber in the diet and over reliance upon red meat as a protein source.
From 1938 to 197o, growing political and social dominance of allopathic medicine, fueled by the drug industry’s financial backing, led to the legal en economic suppression of naturopathic healing. In the mid 1920s, the editor of the journal of the American Medical Association made a mission of attacking naturopathic physicians, accusing them of quackery. Public infatuation with technology, introduction of “miracle drugs”, the development of surgery and other high-tech medical interventions, the growing power of AMA and the death of Benedict Lust all combined to cause the decline of naturopathic medicine in the United States.
The back-to-nature movement of the late 1960s, the growing awareness of nutrition and the general disenchantment with organized institutional medicine resulted in increasing respect for naturopathy. A new wave of students identified with the philosophical precepts of the naturopathic profession, bringing and appreciation for the appropriate use of science and modern college education.
However, in order for naturopathy to regain popularity there was a need for more institutions, research and overall participation in the healthcare system. In 1978, after twenty years with only one legitimate college graduating naturopathic physicals (National College of Naturopathic Medicine), the first new naturopathic medical school was opened. In 1987, Bastyr University became the first naturopathic college to become accredited. the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME) is the federally recognized accrediting agency for naturopathic medical colleges.
Naturopathic medicine is now at the forefront of the paradigm shift occurring in medicine. The scientific tools now exist to assess and appreciate many aspects of natural medicine. It is now common for conventional medical organizations that in the past have spoken out strongly against naturopathic medicine to endorse such naturopathic techniques as lifestyle modification, stress reduction and toxin reduction.
Benefits and uses
While naturopathic therapy is gaining popularity around the world, many people don’t believe in the various benefits of naturopathy. While there are many benefits to cite, the main virtues of naturopathy are:
- It focuses on the prevention of the disease: conventional medicine treats a disease but does little to prevent its cause. Naturopathic treatment focuses on holistically improving your health. It takes a comprehensive and investigative approach to the illness while also considering aspects of your lifestyle to suggest a treatment plan which eliminates its root cause.
- It helps you understand your body: naturopathy teaches the patient about his/her body’s needs and encourages the patient to adopt a healthy lifestyle. A balanced body will be better equipped to fight disease and illness.
- It takes a personalized approach to treatment: naturopathic treatment is customized to every patient’s unique needs. Naturopaths work closely with patients to identify the root cause of health issues. Once a plan is developed, it is crucial that the patient complies and gets involved in the healing process.
- It works with Western medicine: naturopaths routinely work with doctors who practice Western medicine to develop plans for patients with chronic and severe illnesses. As the disease is treated using conventional medicines, naturopathic treatment can awaken the body’s innate healing powers.
Who practices it
According to AANP, naturopathic practitioners are trained as general practitioners specializing in natural medicine. They cooperate with all other branches of medical science, referring patients to other practitioners for diagnosis or treatment when appropriate.
Naturopathic practitioners have a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (ND) degree from a four-year graduate medical college with admission requirements comparable to conventional medical schools. The ND degree requires graduate-level study in conventional medical sciences, such as cardiology, biochemistry, gynecology, immunology, pathology, pharmacology, pediatrics and neurology.
In addition to the standard medical curriculum, naturopathic students must do extensive coursework in natural therapeutics. This includes therapies from the sciences of clinical nutrition, botanical medicines, homeopathy, physical medicine, exercise therapy, lifestyle counseling and hydrotherapy.
After graduation, individuals with an NMD or ND degree must pass the NPLEX before taking the state licensure exam. The requirements for certification include successful completion of an approved naturopathic physician degree program and passing the NPLEX exam. The certification is valid for a year. In order to re-certify, the NMD/ND must complete 20 hours of approved continuing education each year.
Licensure requirements for NMD/NDs vary by state. Generally, states require the applicant to have graduated from an accredited school; to submit fingerprints and pass a criminal background check; to have no mental health or substance abuse issues; and to pass either the NPLEX exam or a state-sponsored exam in naturopathic medicine. In states that do not license naturopathic doctors, NDs/NMDs generally hold another professional health care degree and corresponding state-recognized license and offer naturopathic services to clients under their state-recognized license.
After graduation, some naturopathic physicians choose to complete a residency program. Although most jurisdictions do not require naturopathic residencies, they provide essential experience and enhance skills. In lieu of a residency, many new graduates practice with or shadow an experienced ND for a year or two to gain more extensive hands-on experience in naturopathic medicine. Such opportunities provide naturopathic physicians with the edge needed to obtain employment in the field.
What to expect
Naturopathic physicians work with patients to encourage their body’s built-in healing abilities and encourage health-promoting and disease-preventing practices through education. The first visit is usually 60-120 minutes and follow-up visits are 30-60 minutes, although this varies depending on the ND. During the first appointment, the doctor will review medical history, discuss current symptoms, perform physical exams and provide patient education. Depending on the health situation, the ND may order diagnostic tests or imaging.
While everyone’s goal might be to “feel healthier”, many patients have specific ailments bothering them, or certain goals they’d like to achieve. The ND will tailor the consultation and treatment plan based on these expectations. By the end of the visit, the ND will provide a custom treatment and answer any questions. The ND will also ensure that the treatment doesn’t interfere with any other medications, so it is important to bring the names and dosage of any medications the patient is taking at the moment.
Below are some interesting facts about naturopathy:
- States that regulate naturopathy require completion of an accredited, in-residence, doctoral level program that includes hands-on, supervised, clinical training.
- ND schools are leaders in developing primary research in natural medicine.
- Naturopathic doctors are not anti-drug/anti-pharmaceuticals. NDs study the intersection and efficacy of conventional medications with supplements and herbs and drug/herb, drug/nutrient interactions.
- Naturopathic physicians are an integral component of the health care team and work alongside conventional physicians in academic, clinical settings and research.
- There is growing insurance coverage for naturopathic medicine in a number of states in the US, which helps make naturopathic care more accessible. For patients who may be unable to afford care, NDs often offer income-based sliding scales.
- Naturopathic doctors and homeopaths are not the same. Homeopathy is one of many tools in a naturopathic doctor’s therapeutic toolbox.
- Just because something is “natural” does not necessarily mean it is safe. Natural products may have side effects and contraindications. It is important to consult a licensed naturopathic doctor before beginning treatment.
Naturopathy has gained substantial popularity in a short period of time and has a growing base of followers. Usually patients end up at naturopathic doctors after they have exhausted “conventional medicine.” Only after trying everything else out and finally doing their own research do most patients discover the potential and surprisingly long history of natural medicine.
Consumers are now demanding a wider range of health care services. Patients want to start with the least invasive of techniques. Naturopathic physicians fill a gap and bring a “bilingual” provider with an understanding of both natural and allopathic medicine. They are the knowledgeable gateway to integrative medicine, a true “health” care system.