Naturopathy, or Naturopathic Medicine, is a
distinct, integrated system of primary health care offered by
licensed physicians. It consists of the diagnosis, treatment,
and prevention of human disorders by the therapeutic use of natural
methods and materials. These might include Clinical Nutrition,
Herbal Medicine, Hygiene, Homeopathy, Naturopathic Manipulation, or
ancient medical systems like those of China or India.
Naturopathic Medicine in practice considers the
fundamental components of health - biochemistry, biomechanics, and
the emotional predisposition - in order to help a person restore the
balance that we describe as good health. This philosophy
empowers the individual as being responsible for the level of health
they experience. Naturopathic Medicine offers safe,
cost-effective solutions for many of our nation's healthcare
problems. Competance and respect for tradition, the scientific
method, and innovation are hallmarks of a naturopathic medical
Naturopathic treatments originated as the use of
herbs and foods for medicine, exposure to fresh air and sunlight,
and hydrotherapy (the use of hot and cold water application) as
steam or sauna. These techniques and methods have long been
respected throughout the world. While modern allopathic
medicine is a youngster of less than 200 years old, Natural Medicine
has been the primary medicine used by most of the human community
even into the 21st Century. Herbal and traditional medical arts
remain the primary medical choice of over 65% of humanity.
Naturopathic Medicine was first established as a
distinct profession in North America at the turn of the 20th century
by Benedict Lust, a German immigrant. Lust had been a student
of Father Sebastian Kneipp, famous in Europe for being involved with
a movement known as "Nature Cure." That was the system
of employing clean food, water, air, sun, and exercise with
hydrotherapy as healing agents to restore health.
Lust and his wife founded the Yungborn Nature Cure
Health Resort in New York state. There they incorporated other
disciplines and therapies compatible with the basic principles of
"Nature Cure." In 1902, Lust began using the term Naturopathy
to describe the mixture of disciplines and therapies he used to
treat illness. Three years later he founded the first school
of Naturopathic Medicine under the laws of the State of New York.
Throughout North America in the early 1900s, this
movement blossomed with the opening of more than 20 schools offering
programs in Naturopathic Medicine. In 1925, Ontario formally
recognized Naturopathic Medicine under the Drugless Practitioners
Act. Arizona followed with their act in 1935. British Columbia
enacted the Naturopathic Physician's Act in 1936, followed by
Alberta and Manitoba in the 1940s. After World War II,
antibiotics and advanced surgical techniques created a growing
belief that medical science and technology would soon cure most if
not all known sickness and disease. Naturopathic profession,
with its emphasis on self-healing and independence from profitable
drugs and heroic procedures, declined rapidly in post WWII America.
A renaissance in Naturopathy began in North America
and Europe in the late 1970s and early 1980s. People and
governments became aware of the limitations of science and medical
technology. A growing public interest in alternative or
complementary medicine to maintain and restore health has led to a
resurgence of belief in the importance of diet, lifestyle, personal
choice to ideal health. This validated the original principles
and teachings of the Naturopathic profession.
Living things have an innate ability to heal
themselves. Our vital force promotes self-cleansing,
self-repair, and therefore self-healing. This process can be
achieved by focusing on the immune, hormonal, nervous, and
detoxification/elimination systems of the body. Once these
systems are in balance, restored health is a probability.
Naturopathic doctors treat their patients
holistically, taking into consideration the individual's
biochemistry, biomechanics, and emotional predispositions. The
body's self-healing ability can be better understood if one takes
into account the fact that homeostasis, or biological
balance, is the main characteristic of any healthy system.
A good example is fever. When the body is
invaded by a pathogen (a substance capable of producing
illness or disease), the body will usually respond by producing a
fever to fight the invader. If the body is properly supported
through nutrition and rest, the fever will turn up the immune system
and permit the recovery of health.
Other examples are the immune system, hormonal
system, nervous system, and detoxification/elimination pathways,
which all work as a unit to ensure our survival. If given the
proper support, care, and the chance to function freely without
suppression, they can bring the system back to a state of balance or
"ease" (as opposed to "dis-ease").
There are no panaceas or magic bullets. Each
individual has his or her own unique set of symptoms and reactions
which will, in turn, dictate the approach the Naturopathic doctor
takes to treat them. This is why each person seeking help from
a Naturopathic doctor will receive an individualized treatment
protocol. Naturopathic medicine is practiced either as a
primary system of medical care, or as a complementary adjunct to
conventional medical treatment.
The goal of Naturopathic Medicine is to develop
optimal wellness for each patient, and to teach the principles of
ideal health. Although Naturopathic doctors are educated and
trained to treat acute and chronic disease, prevention is the
ultimate goal. This is based on the Naturopathic philosophy of
wellness enhancement -- not disease management.
The dynamic relationship between disease and
nutrition is well known. Many conditions can be improved
through changes in diet alone, and others respond well to proper
supplementation of specific nutrients. In most cases of
disease or wellness, nutritional counseling and support are a major
component of Naturopathic treatments.
Botanical medicine, or phytotherapy, was a
cornerstone of traditional medicine long before the development of
synthetic pharmaceuticals. Most of today's drugs were derived
from medicinal plants. Modern scientific investigations have
substantiated many of the early uses of medical plants, and have
increasingly found ways to use them in treating modern diseases.
The World Health Organization has encouraged
programs in herbal medicine, especially in developing countries, as
a means of providing affordable primary health care and of creating
agricultural markets for those economies. Herbs are
characterized by their low toxicity and lack of accumulation in the
body. When appropriately selected, botanical medicines offer
powerful, safe, and effective approach to healing, with few side
Homeopathy is a holistic form of treatment that has
been integrated into naturopathic medicine. Virtually all
homeopathic medicines are produced from natural sources-plants,
animals and minerals. The success of homeopathic treatment has
been recognized in many countries around the world including France,
Germany, India, Latin America, the United Kingdom, Australia, and
North America. Traditional Chinese and herbal medicine are
often confused with homeopathy, but in fact, they are all different
systems of holistic medicine.
Homeopathy was standardized in 18th century
Germany by Samuel Hahnemann, MD. This chemist and physician
discovered that when quinine, an effective treatment for malaria,
was taken by a healthy individual, it produced symptoms similar to
those found in people stricken with malaria. This was noticed
with other medicines, too. That is to say, he noticed that:
"Substances that are specific for certain
illnesses, cure or aid the body because they actually cause
similar symptoms to the disease process they are being employed to
This in turn stimulates the patient's vital force to
help resolve the disease. The true mechanism behind this
phenomenon is as unknown today as it was then. This process is
referred to as the Principle of Similars.
It is important to note that homeopathy is not based
on the same principle as immunization, which uses substances that
cause the same disease, not similar symptoms. Immunization is
based on isopathy -- giving a substance known to cause the
exact disease in question. Also, immunization has an
immunological bases to it; that is, the production of T-memory
cells. The mechanism of action of homeopathy is unknown at
this time. There are several models that try to explain it,
but none are sufficient. In short, homeopathic medicines have
no relationship to the disease in question, but rather the symptoms
The skilled practitioner finds a substance that
causes similar symptoms to that of the patient's, physical or
emotional. This therapy is nontoxic and can be safely be used
with pregnant women, infants, and children.
Hahnemann also noted that after treatment, many of
his patients' conditions worsened for a short period of time before
improving. He termed this phenomenon aggravation.
Through systematic experimentation, Hahnemann learned that this
process could be avoided by diluting the medicines. When used
in a homeopathic context; that is, when the substance in high
doses causes similar symptoms to that of the disease in question,
the diluted medicines were surprisingly more effective than
full-strength medicines. This led Hahnemann to further
experiment with dilutions until he learned that surprisingly small
amounts of the active ingredient in a remedy resulted in treatments
free from side effects but also increased their effect. This
phenomenon he called the Principle of Infinitesimal Dose.
What is the difference between a Naturopath and a Homeopath?
In brief, homeopaths use only the homeopathic
approach, whereas Naturopaths train in several forms of diagnosis
and treatment, one of which is homeopathy. Training in
homeopathy varies from a several-hundred-hour correspondence course
to a three-year course for which candidates need not be university
graduates. In contrast, Naturopaths must complete a minimum of
three years of university training prior to beginning their
four-year residential medical school training in Naturopathic
Tongue and pulse diagnosis, Chinese herbs,
nutrition, and acupuncture comprise the ancient practices of
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Although this medical
system dates back some 3,000 years, it was only introduced to North
America at the turn of the century. TCM has even more recently
become a respected alternative therapy in the West during the last
A TCM diagnosis is holistic in nature. The
practitioner trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine will take into
consideration all the aspects of the individual, including special
observation of the tongue and the wrist pulses. These two
areas (among others), according to TCM, tell the practitioner about
certain characteristics of the person regarding their overall
constitution. These findings tell the practitioner what
treatment is needed.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine
needles through the skin and tissue at specific points on the body.
There is no injection of any substances, and the treatment itself
causes minimal discomfort. Acupuncture has been found to be
effective in treating a variety of painful disorders, both acute and
chronic. The World Health Organization in 1979 drew up the
following provisional list of disorders that lend themselves to
acupuncture treatment. The list is based on clinical
experience and not necessarily controlled clinical research:
Digestive disorders such as gastritis,
hyperacidity, spastic bowl, constipation, and diarrhea.
Respiratory disorders such as sinusitis,
Neurological and muscular disorders such as
headaches, neck and back pain, neuralgia, frozen shoulder, tennis
elbow, sciatica, and arthritis.
Urinary, menstrual, and reproductive disorders.
Addiction and substance abuse.
Sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea.
According to TCM, acupuncture works due to its
effect on the essential substance that makes up the human body and
enables it to sustain life activities and functions. This
"substance," for a lack of a better word, is known as Chi or
Qi (pronounced "chee"). Western biomedical research has
learned that acupuncture works in certain situations by stimulating
the body to produce endorphins, a morphine-like chemical that
helps block pathways that relay pain messages. The result is
relief from pain, general relaxation, and restoring the body's own
internal regulatory system.
Often in conjunction with other treatments, bodywork
uses a variety of systematic movements to help heal musculoskeletal
and neurological conditions. Manipulation of bone alignment is
used, similar to both osteopathic and chiropractic adjustments.
One technique in particular, "strain/counter-strain," is very gentle
and effective, especially for pain and injuries of the neck and
The cornerstones of Naturopathic philosophy are
prevention and responsibility for one's own health.
Naturopathic treatments often are based on assessing risk factors
connected to the patient's lifestyle, diet, and environment.
Each of these factors is taken under consideration when developing a
treatment plan with a client. The goal is to remove obstacles
to the patient's own state of optimal health.
Once the patient's history has been taken, the
Naturopath may do a screening physical, which is a standard physical
examination supplemented by in-depth questions, and may seek
laboratory testing or diagnostic imaging of the complaint.
After the intake and physical are completed, the Naturopath will
discuss the treatment plan or protocol with the patient.
If needed, the patient will be referred for
laboratory or other diagnostic tests, or to their medical doctor for
further consultation. Follow-up visits are scheduled from one
to four weeks after treatment has begun. If a chronic illness
is being addressed, the patient can expect to undergo at least one
month of treatment for every year of illness.
There is a wide range of conditions that
Naturopathic doctors treat, either alone or in combination with
other complementary or usual medical treatments. These
Acute conditions such as headaches, sore throats,
ear infections, intestinal upsets, colds and flu, etc.
Chronic illnesses such as migraines,
musculoskeletal pain, gastrointestinal, gynecological, arthritis,
heart disease, etc.
Inherent tendencies before they become a serious
illness or degenerative disease.
Mental and emotional problems to reduce the
effects of recent stresses and long-term patterns of anger,
depression, or anxiety.
Physical injury and trauma, including possible
referral to appropriate specialists.
Naturopathy does not offer a magic cure, although
many report very rapid results. Truly great results come from
positive behavior changes and the persistence it requires
to maintain these changes long enough for the body to respond..
The Naturopathic physician is trying to stimulate
and support the patient's own system to address the imbalance(s)
that have damaged their health. Often, long-term underlying
disturbances such as nutritional deficiencies or excesses, rather
than the presenting health problem, must be corrected in order to
allow the body to reassert its natural state of optimal health. Our
elders called these "Impediments to Cure."
There are five Naturopathic colleges in North
America, one of which is located in Ontario, Canada. The U.S.
schools are located in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon;
Tempe, Arizona; and Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Each program enrolls students who have completed at
least three years of university study with a minimum of one
year-equivalent in pre-medical studies.
The institutions providing these medical programs
are given in our
Links section. Those medical schools' websites list their
curricula, location, and contact information.