What is naturopathy?
Naturopathy, or naturopathic medicine, is a system of
medicine based on the healing power of nature. Naturopathy is a
holistic system, meaning that naturopathic doctors (N.D.s)
strive to find the cause of disease by understanding the patient
as a totality of body, mind, and spirit. Most N.D.s use a wide
variety of therapies and techniques (such as nutrition, herbal
medicine, homeopathy, and acupuncture).
There are two areas of focus in naturopathy: one is
supporting the body's own healing abilities, and the other is
empowering individuals to make lifestyle changes necessary for
the best possible health. While N.D.s treat both short bouts of
illness and chronic conditions, their emphasis is on prevention
of disease and patient education. Many different therapies are
What is the history of naturopathy?
The modern form of naturopathy can be traced to 18th- and
19th-century natural healing systems. Such systems include
hydrotherapy (water therapy), which was popular in Germany and
nature cure, developed in Austria, and based on the use of food,
air, light, water, and herbs to treat illness.
Benjamin Lust, a German immigrant, first introduced
naturopathy to the United States in 1902 when he founded the
American School of Naturopathy. The school emphasized the use of
natural cures, proper bowel habits, and good hygiene as the
essential tools for health. This was the first time that dietary
principles, like increasing fiber intake and minimizing
saturated fats, became popular.
In the mid-1920s to 1940, while allopathic medical training
and pharmaceuticals and medical technologies gained notoriety,
the use of naturopathic medicine declined. It was not until the
1960s that naturopathic-style holistic medicine regained
popularity. Today, naturopaths are licensed primary care
providers in many states offering information and advice on a
variety of alternative and complementary therapies, including
homeopathy, vitamin and mineral supplements, Traditional Chinese
Medicine, relaxation techniques, and herbal remedies.
What should I expect from a visit to a naturopath?
A visit to a Naturopathic doctor, or N.D., will be similar to
a visit to your family doctor. Your first visit may take more
than an hour. During this time, a very thorough history is
taken, including questions about diet, lifestyle, stress, and
environmental exposures. Next, the N.D. will perform an
appropriate physical examination, which may require laboratory
tests. In addition to conventional tests, N.D.s may use unique
laboratory techniques such as the Comprehensive Digestive Stool
Analysis (CDSA). This technique allows naturopaths to assess the
digestive process as well as specific nutrient absorption,
amongst other things.
Naturopathic doctors treat the whole person, which means they
consider a variety of factors before they diagnose and treat an
illness. Factors an N.D. might consider in making a diagnosis
include your mental, emotional, and spiritual state, your diet,
your family history (whether or not your parents or grandparents
suffer [or suffered] from the same condition), your environment,
and your lifestyle.
Some of the more common treatments used by a naturopath
Naturopaths consider patients to be partners in their
healthcare, so you may be asked to make lifestyle changes (such
as changing your sleeping, eating, and exercise habits).
What illnesses and conditions respond well to naturopathy?
Because naturopaths successfully combine so many therapies it
is difficult to single out specific illnesses for which
naturopathy is recommended. In fact, naturopaths treat both
acute and chronic conditions from arthritis to ear infections (otitis
media) to HIV to asthma to congestive heart failure to
hepatitis. N.D.s treat the whole person (rather than simply
treating a disease or its symptoms), striving to maintain a
balanced state of good health in their patients. Because of this
holistic approach, chronic conditions may be particularly suited
to an N.D.'s care.
Is there anything I should look out for?
Be sure to share the details of your treatment with your
medical doctor (M.D) and let your N.D. know of any conventional
medications you are taking. Some treatments can negatively
interact with each other, and your healthcare practitioners will
be better able to treat you if they are aware of every therapy
that you are using. High doses of nutrients and herbs should be
administered only by an experienced practitioner, due to the
possibility of toxicities and drug-herb interactions. Please see
the monographs on individual herbs and supplements for detailed
information regarding specific substances. Significant dietary
changes can also undermine good health (especially in the very
young, the elderly, and those with certain medical conditions,
such as diabetes).
How can I find a qualified practitioner?
Naturopathic doctors are licensed in 11 states—Alaska,
Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire,
Oregon, Vermont, Utah, and Washington—and have a legal right
to practice in Idaho and the District of Columbia. To locate a
qualified N.D. in your area, contact the American Association of
Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) at 206-298-0125 (or visit their
website at www.naturopathic.org).
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