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Naturopathy

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 used to

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 include:

bulletNutritional counseling 
bulletHerbal medicine
bulletHomeopathic medicine
bulletAcupuncture
bulletHydrotherapy (Water therapy) -- Therapies in this category include drinking natural spring water, taking baths, and exercising in water, all of which are thought to stimulate and support healing and strengthen the immune system.
bulletPhysical Medicine -- This natural approach to healing involves using touch, hot and cold compresses, electric currents, and sound waves to manipulate the muscles, bones, and spine.
bulletDetoxification -- This therapy removes toxins from the body by using techniques such as fasting, enemas, and drinking water in large amounts.
bulletSpirituality -- Personal spiritual development is encouraged as an important part of an overall health program.
bulletLifestyle and Psychological Counseling -- An N.D. may use hypnosis, guided imagery, or other counseling methods as part of a treatment plan.

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).

Supporting Research

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Review Date: December 2002
Reviewed By: Jacqueline A. Hart, MD, Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Boston, Ma and Senior Medical Editor A.D.A.M., Inc.; Anne McClenon, ND, Compass Family Health Center, Plymouth, MA; Elizabeth Wotton, ND, private practice, Sausalito, CA.