Naturopathic medicine, or naturopathy, is an alternative approach to health care. It emphasizes preventive measures to maintain health; patient educationand active participation in therapy; and noninterference with the body's natural healing processes. In most states of the United States, naturopaths (practitioners of naturopathy) do not prescribe synthetic drugs or practice majorsurgery. Naturopathy is not one particular approach to health care. Rather itis a collection of treatment methods that share a common philosophy.
The term naturopathy, or nature cure, was first used in 1895 by Dr. John Scheel, a physician practicing in New York City. Scheel combined natural healingtechniques that dated back to Hippocrates (c. 400 BC) with more recentpractices, such as the 19th century German custom of vacationing at hot springs or health spas. Bennedict Lust, who popularized naturopathy in the UnitedStates around the turn of the century, defined naturopathy as a discipline covering a range of natural healing techniques, including hydrotherapy, herbal medicine, and homeopathy. Lust maintained that disease could be cured naturally when patients adopted what he called corrective habits andnew principles of living, as well as giving up the "evil habits" of overeating, the use of tea and coffee, and consumption of alcohol. In 1951, Dr. Paul Wendel published a book titled Standardized Naturopathy, which described nearly 300 different forms of naturopathic treatment. Naturopathy was popular in the United States until the mid-1930s, when legislation was passed thatrestricted the licensing and practice of naturopathic practitioners.
There has been a revival of interest in naturopathy in the United States andCanada since the 1970s. Most of today's naturopathic practitioners have beentrained in family practice or general medicine. As of 1998, four accredited colleges in the United States and Canada that offered degrees in naturopathicmedicine. Ten states (Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon,Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, and Washington) had licensing procedures for naturopathic practitioners.
Naturopathic treatments are holistic--intended to benefit all dimensions of the patient's being, rather than focused on a specific physical condition or organ--and as noninvasive as possible. Naturopaths define health as a condition of positive well-being, not as the absence of disease. The philosophy thatunderlies naturopathic medicine is called vitalism. Vitalism is the belief that life cannot be reduced to a collection of physical and chemical data, andthat the human body has an innate wisdom or inner drive toward vitality and health. Following this belief, naturopaths expect patients to be active participants in recovering or maintaining their health, rather than passive recipients of medications or surgical procedures.
Naturopathic treatments are directed toward removal of the underlying causesof illness and not simply relief of symptoms. Symptoms are regarded as signsthat the body is healing itself and showing "interior wisdom" in responding to disease agents. The naturopathic physician tries to assist the body in thisprocess rather than suppressing or fighting the symptoms.
Naturopaths may use one or more types of therapy in treating patients. Most practitioners regard diet and nutrition as the core of naturopathic treatment,although some choose to specialize in specific approaches. Naturopathic diets emphasize beans, grains, vegetables and fruit. Patients are not required tobe vegetarians, but are encouraged to substitute chicken and fish for red meat.
Naturopaths in the United States have borrowed elements of Native American, Ayurvedic, and Chinese herbal medicine in their treatments of specific diseases. Naturopathic practitioners receive training in traditional herbalism as well as standard medical pharmacology. Herbal medicines are frequently used innaturopathy to strengthen weakened immune systems, as tonics, and as nutritional supplements. Most naturopathic physicians also are trained in the philosophy of homeopathy.
Hydrotherapy (the use of water to treat diseases and injuries and to cleansethe digestive tract) has been an important part of naturopathic medicine since the 19th century, particularly in the German-speaking parts of Europe. Detoxification therapy is another key principle of naturopathic medicine. Naturopaths maintain that a person's basic level of health is largely determined bythe body's ability to rid itself of toxic substances. Fasting is a commonly recommended feature of a naturopathic detoxification program. Many patients undertake periodic fasts of three to five days during which they are allowed only water or unsweetened herbal tea. Other features of naturopathic detoxification include the use of vitamin C, fiber and mineral supplements, and botanical preparations. Exercise, massage, joint manipulation and other physical techniques are used to treat patients with muscle, bone and joint problems.
The holistic orientation of naturopathy includes an emphasis on the psychological and spiritual dimensions of human life. The patient's general "life stance" is considered a major factor in the prevention and treatment of diseases,particularly those that affect the immune system. Naturopathic physicians receive formal training in psychology and counseling techniques, including the use of hypnosis, guided imagery, and family therapy.