Alternative Medicine - Naturopathy

Naturopathic medicine, or naturopathy, is another alternative form of medicine that differs from allopathic medicine. Naturopathy, like most alternative medicine, has been around for thousands of years and is one of the oldest types of medical practices. In fact, naturopathy is more a combination of various healing practices than a single method; it encompasses homeopathy as well as other alternative health care practices, such as acupuncture (see section below) and therapeutic exercises, such as yoga (see section below). Naturopathy focuses on the body's inherent (natural) healing powers and works with those powers to restore and maintain overall health.

Six Principles of Naturopathy

Naturopathic doctors, or N.D.s, do not use artificial drugs or perform surgery. Rather, the practice of naturopathy is based on six main principles that take into account many different aspects of a person's body and lifestyle.

NATURE'S HEALING POWER. Naturopathic physicians believe that the body has the power to heal itself by using its own life force. The role of the naturopathic physician, however, is very important to help the body in its healing process. The naturopathic physician tries to uncover any factors preventing good health or recovery from an illness and tries to combat those factors. In addition, the physician helps a person create a lifestyle and an environment that promotes good health.

IDENTIFY AND TREAT THE CAUSE OF ILLNESS. Naturopathic physicians know that an illness does not occur without a cause. Causes, however, must not be confused with symptoms. Symptoms are signs that the body is trying to heal itself. For example, when an illness is present in the body, a symptom will appear, such as a fever, stuffed-up nose, or a cough. These symptoms are signs that the body is trying to fight the illness. The philosophy behind conventional medicine is to suppress and, therefore, relieve symptoms, but an important doctrine of naturopathic medicine is that symptoms should be left alone so that the causes of an illness can be uncovered. Causes may be rooted in physical, spiritual, or emotional problems. By identifying the cause and then treating it, proper healing and recovery can occur.

FIRST DO NO HARM. Because naturopathic physicians believe that the body will heal itself once the cause of the illness is identified and treated, trying to suppress symptoms is considered harmful. Physicians are committed to treating a person in a way that is complementary with the body's own healing process. Any practice that does not support the body's natural healing process is avoided at all times by naturopathic physicians.

TREAT THE WHOLE PERSON. Naturopathic physicians aim to treat the whole of a person, not just the part that is ailing. For this reason, healing involves the examination of many different factors in a person's life. These factors can be environmental, social, genetic, spiritual, mental, and/or physical in nature. The physician must address each of these factors to heal an illness. It is not until all these factors are working together in harmony that a person can be assured good health.


Benedict Lust (1872–1945) is considered the father of naturopathic medicine. Even though the practice has been around for thousands of years, it was Lust who established the first official school of naturopathic medicine in the United States. In fact, he coined the term naturopathy in 1902.

Lust learned about naturopathic medicine by studying in Europe under Father Sebastian Kneipp. Kneipp had pioneered a philosophy of health, which was referred to as the "nature cure." This philosophy believed that good nutrition, exercise, and regular exposure to sun and air were essential to good health. These factors later became the basis of Lust's naturopathic medicine. In fact, Lust recovered from a bout of tuberculosis by following Kneipp's philosophy of hot- and cold-water treatments. When the cured Lust returned to America, he and his wife started the Yungborn Nature Cure Health Resort in New York. The resort was very successful, and three years later Lust opened the first school to teach others naturopathic medicine.

The popularity of naturopathic medicine grew in the next few years and more than twenty schools opened by 1925. The outbreak of World War II (1939–45), though, contributed to a reliance on medicine based more on science and technology. Prescription drugs, such as antibiotics, and surgical procedures became the preferred method of medical treatment in part because of their effectiveness in treating the soldiers who were wounded or fell ill during the war. Many believed at the time that medical science would soon find cures for most known diseases. As a result of these developments, naturopathic medicine suffered, and its popularity declined sharply as the American Medical Association (AMA) worked to establish itself as the main authority of medicine.

A resurgence in naturopathic medicine occurred in the late 1970s. At this time, many people became discontented by science and technology and more interested in all things natural and organic. As a result, more conventional medical schools began to offer courses in alternative medicine and naturopathy. In the 1990s, Americans spent billions of dollars on alternative health care, believing that good health involves one's diet and lifestyle and that one should take an active role in maintaining good health. Currently, there are approximately one thousand practicing naturopaths in the United States.

DOCTOR AS TEACHER. While naturopathic physicians are important in promoting good health, they have a responsibility to their patients to educate them in the practices of maintaining health. The role of the patient is equally as important in achieving good health because it is the patient who ultimately must accomplish the healing. As a result, the relationship between physician and patient must be caring, understanding, and respectful. Through education and encouragement, the naturopathic physician can give the patient the wisdom and hope he or she needs to embrace and practice good health.

PREVENTION IS THE BEST CURE. The final principle focuses on prevention (preventing illness before it strikes), which is at the root of naturopathic medicine. By promoting health through prevention, instead of working to combat disease and illness after the fact, naturopathic physicians can help their patients achieve good health. The naturopathic physician helps the patient identify any risk factors, such as genetic predisposition to disease or environmental hazards, that can be avoided. With the proper steps, a physician can help a patient avoid these risk factors and prevent illness and disease.

What Happens During a Naturopathic Doctor Visit?

Naturopathic doctors handle their patients differently from allopathic doctors. When a person makes an appointment with a naturopathic doctor, the N.D. will spend a few hours with the patient, during which time the N.D. takes a complete medical history. The N.D. will also discuss the details of the patient's symptoms and then proceed with a physical examination.

The N.D. will also conduct what is called a constitutional intake. This is a series of in-depth questions that explore the patient's lifestyle and diet. The constitutional intake will allow the N.D. to better understand the patient in order to recommend the right treatment for that person.

Once the questioning is complete and the physical examination has taken place, the N.D. will discuss treatment and a course of recovery. The patient is encouraged to take an active role in promoting good health. The N.D.'s responsibility is to make sure the patient has the information needed to heal. It is also normal for future visits to be scheduled so that the N.D. can monitor the patient's progress.


Naturopathic medicine has many different specialties which include:

  • Clinical nutrition: Uses food and nutritional supplements to treat illness.
  • Physical medicine: Focuses on the muscles, bones, and spine, using massage, exercise, heat, water, and cold to heal.
  • Homeopathy: Works to strengthen the body's immune system by giving natural medicine that produces similar symptoms to what the body is already feeling in order to treat an illness.
  • Botanical medicine: Uses plants as medicines to treat illness.
  • Naturopathic obstetrics: Offers natural alternatives before, during, and after childbirth that do not involve any drugs and take place outside of a hospital.
  • Chinese medicine: Follows ancient beliefs that unify the body and the mind and restore balance to the body's energy force, referred to as Qi. Includes acupuncture and acupressure.
  • Psychological medicine: Uses counseling and different types of therapies to achieve mental and emotional health.
  • Environmental medicine: Focuses on helping people deal with the toxic elements that are part of their environment and may be causing certain illnesses.

The Benefits and Limitations of Naturopathy

Naturopathy has many different benefits, from physical and mental to financial. Sometimes, patients find that conventional medicine isn't providing them with the care they need or that conventional therapies are failing as treatment. For these patients, naturopaths can offer a different type of treatment—one that is nontoxic and noninvasive. Because naturopaths focus on prevention and a holistic approach to treatment, patients may find better results with naturopathic methods. Naturopathic treatments are less expensive than conventional treatments because natural drugs do not cost as much as prescription medicines, which are manufactured by pharmaceutical companies, and because naturopaths do not rely on high-technology medical equipment to treat their patients.

Because naturopaths must learn a great deal about their patients' lives, they tend to be more involved with their patients. Part of their training involves counseling and communications skills, which enables them to develop a strong relationship with patients and, therefore, be in a better position to help them.

Naturopaths do have their limits, however. Sometimes naturopaths must refer their patients to allopathic doctors, especially when patients need surgery. Naturopaths are not licensed or trained to perform surgery. For example, if a patient breaks a bone, an allopathic doctor has to set the bone, while the naturopath doctor can assist with the recovery process.


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