What Is Naturopathy

Treating your body and enhancing your health naturally is an important goal for many people today. Naturopathy offers many options for natural remedies and preventative care that can be an alternative to conventional medicine. If you have ever wondered just what naturopathy is or what it includes, we have compiled this complete guide to help you understand it all. 

Naturopathy, also known as naturopathic medicine, is a system of healing and prevention that utilizes natural remedies to allow the body to heal itself. Naturopathy takes a holistic approach to health and healing that looks for ways to keep the mind, body, and soul balanced and healthy. 

The goals of this tradition are to treat the whole person and to address the cause of illness, not just the symptoms, through techniques such as acupuncture, exercise, nutrition, herbal medicine, and mental health exercises. 

The promotion of wellness is key to naturopathy, and you as the patient will receive a unique wellness plan that employs non-toxic and natural therapies. These are designed to target your individual physiological and psychological needs. 

Because of a focus on education and prevention, naturopathic practitioners will spend time with you supplying education on a number of critical issues that concern your health, including nutrition, exercise, stress management, and habits that create a healthy lifestyle. 

Naturopathy is used in several ways around the world. Some people use it to treat specific health issues while others turn to naturopathy for their primary care. You may use naturopathic techniques in conjunction with conventional medicine, as well. 

A Brief History of Naturopathy

Naturopathic medicine finds its roots in traditional herbal practices that have been used for thousands of years. As a study of practice, though, naturopathy evolved into a medical system in Europe during the 19th century. 

 Early naturopaths were trained in Europe to use techniques such as herbal medicine and hydrotherapy. 

As naturopathic traditions grew in various countries, and these were shared among practitioners, the modern practice of naturopathy began to appear. 

Today’s practices incorporate not only traditional practices from all over the world but also various theories and modalities that are all aligned with the naturopathic principles, which we will discuss soon. 

As a modern medical practice, though, naturopathic medicine is grounded in North America, as the US and Canada both have accredited education programs and structured licensure and regulation requirements that have standardized and legitimized the naturopathic traditions. 

Within the naturopathic practitioner community, there are many professional associations, governing boards, and specialized groups that provide continuing education today. Naturopaths in North America were the practitioners that created most of the established theories used today. They also codified the naturopathic principles that guide all practices used around the world. 

From humble roots in herbal medicine, today’s naturopathy is a modern system of medicine that combines healthcare with science and philosophy to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness. The principles that guide naturopathic care are continually reviewed and refined, based on new scientific understanding, and they are applied through both modern and traditional methods. 

Six Principles That Guide Naturopathic Care

Now that we know where naturopathy comes from, it is helpful to understand the principles that guide its practice. Nearly all medical traditions have a guiding philosophy or set of beliefs, and naturopathic care is no different.

Beginning in 1989, the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, known as the AANP, released a definition of naturopathy that also includes six naturopathic principles. 

Over time, these principles have been embraced by nearly all international organizations and schools of naturopathic care. While they have been adjusted slightly over time, their primary ideas still are the same. The following are the critical principles of naturopathic medicine in use today. 

1. First, Do No Harm

Naturopathic practice uses treatments and therapies that are non-invasive, gentle yet effective, and have no adverse side effects. Healing should not lead to more illness or symptoms. Naturopathic caregivers make a concerted effort not to suppress symptoms with treatment techniques, either. 

2. The Healing Power of Nature

Our bodies have an inherent ability to restore and maintain our health, and a naturopathic practitioner’s role is to facilitate that natural healing process. This is carried out by removing obstacles that are impeding the healing process as well as enhancing these natural capacities. 

3. Treat the Cause

The goal of naturopathy is to treat the underlying cause of your illness, not just the symptoms of your disease. By addressing the internal imbalance and issues, not just the external manifestation, you can become healthier overall. The cause of any illness is likely due to interconnections between your emotional, physical, and mental health, not just one part of your well-being, as well.

4. Doctor as Teacher 

The primary role of any doctor should, according to its Latin roots, “to teach.” Naturopathic doctors are dedicated to empowering, educating, and motivating their patients to take personal responsibility for their health. This means adopting healthy habits in their outlook, diet, and lifestyle. Teaching rather than treating patients is an important goal of naturopathy. 

5. Treat the Whole Person 

When designing a treatment plan, a naturopathic practitioner will examine each patient’s specific needs, problems, and areas of strength. The whole patient is addressed in the treatment plan, not just a specific disease or set of symptoms. 

Treatments are designed to address the mental, emotional, and physical needs of the patient, and each patient’s lifestyle and characteristics are taken into account when recommending therapies. 

6. Prevent Disease, Don’t Just Cure It

Naturopaths know that disease prevention is easier and better than disease treatment. Your practitioner will evaluate your health and provide you with recommendations based on your susceptibility to various disease. Because of the emphasis on education, naturopathy focuses on lifestyle and nutrition that supports long-term health and wellness. 

7 Typical Benefits of Naturopathy

So, why should you choose naturopathic care? Many conditions respond very well to this form of therapy, and because naturopathy emphasizes healthy living and preventative care, it can improve your health and quality of life in many other ways beyond treating a specific disease. Here are some of the many benefits to naturopathy. 

1. Promotion of Overall Health

The focus of all naturopathic medicine is the promotion of one’s best possible health, and all practices are based on the notion that the body has innate abilities to heal disease, illness, and injury.

Naturopathic treatments, therefore, focus on removing the obstacles that interfere with this healing ability. By enhancing the natural healing ability of the body, and focusing on long-term wellness, you will enjoy better overall health. 

2. Focus on Disease Prevention

Inherent in all naturopathic practice is the prevention of diseases and their progression. By finding the causes of disease and ailment, and addressing these underlying sources, naturopathy treats all the many factors that affect patient health and can help keep you healthy and avoid illness. 

3. Individualized Treatment

Naturopathic therapies are highly individualized and created to address each patient’s unique lifestyle, health concerns, dietary habits, risk factors, and health goals.

Wellness plans address the underlying causes of your problems, and they are focused on stimulating your own ability to heal yourself.

Part of your wellness plan will be individualized education and recommendations that can inform your self-care choices now and in the future. 

4. Practices Supported by Research

Many of the therapeutic practices that are used by naturopathic practitioners have been confirmed by research as well as a rich history of anecdotal evidence.

Herbal medicine, for example, has been used successfully for centuries to treat many types of illnesses, diseases, and maladies. Indigenous people all over the world have long known the power that herbs have to heal. 

Current research supports these claims, showing a direct link between certain medical disorders and diet or lifestyle influences. Naturopathic treatments address these factors, while conventional medicine often ignores them. Scientific research related to the use of natural remedies and therapies continues to grow. 

5. Naturopathic Practitioners Focus on Patient Care

Rather than just dispensing “cures” or pills to patients, naturopathic doctors take time to get to know each patient and address their many healing needs. Patience and effective communication are pivotal to good naturopathic care. 

While many patients know something may be wrong with them or can articulate some of their needs, it often requires effective questioning and active listening on the part of the practitioners to translate this information into the right wellness plan. A typical office visit with a naturopathic healthcare provider lasts much longer than the standard doctor’s appointment. 

6. Naturopathy Often Costs Much Less

When compared to the costs of waiting to treat diseases until they are a problem and relying on prescription medications and medical procedures to address issues after they have started, the cost of naturopathic care is significantly less. The cost savings extends to patients, insurance companies, and our society as a whole. 

7. Naturopathy Can Complement Conventional Care

Many naturopathic doctors work with conventional practitioners, referring patients to other MDs and specialists when appropriate for the patient’s care. Naturopathy can be in addition to, not in spite of, other forms of healthcare to address all your needs. 

Conditions Treated By Naturopathic Methods 

→ Naturopathy can be used to treat a wide range of health problems in addition to promoting overall good health practices. Naturopathic doctors are trained to handle a wide range of acute and chronic conditions, and they address issues ranging from physical to emotional to psychological. Naturopaths can treat everyone from children to the elderly.

→ Naturopathy is a possibility for many different types of patients. If you are looking for recommendations on health promotion and disease prevention, naturopathic care can support those goals. 

→ If you have many different health concerns but no real diagnosis for your problems like fibromyalgia, a naturopathic doctor can help you uncover the underlying cause or causes. If you have a chronic or severe illness that is not responding to treatment, naturopaths are often able to help where other medical traditions have failed. 

→ Many chronic conditions do not respond to conventional medical intervention. Conditions that result in chronic pain, fatigue, sleeping disorders, and digestive problems are often difficult to diagnose or treat using conventional medical practices that often rely on prescription medications. Naturopathic treatments are often able to help patients with these chronic problems. 

→ Some of the common issues that are easily treated with naturopathy include allergies, fertility issues, headaches, chronic pain, hormonal imbalances, obesity, digestive disorders, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Many of these problems are directly tied to nutrition and lifestyle habits but can also be improved through other forms of natural treatment. 

→ Depending on where you live, your naturopathic doctor may be able to perform minor surgery, such as apply stitches, and they may even be able to deliver your child naturally. Some naturopathic practitioners can prescribe certain medications. Each state regulates naturopathic doctors a little differently, so talk with your practitioner about their regulated capacity in your area. 

→ Many people seek out naturopathy to remain healthy, which is an excellent time to see this type of healthcare provider. A naturopath can also work in conjunction with your conventional doctor to support your overall healthcare plan and needs. We will discuss this more below. 

Naturopathic Therapies

The treatments that naturopaths use vary by patient need, training of the provider, state regulations, and many other factors. Among the more traditional therapies naturopaths use are Ayurvedic medicine, practices from Traditional Chinese Medicine like acupuncture, and herbalism. 

Naturopaths may recommend various forms of nutritional counseling and information. This can include clinical nutrition, dietary supplements, and prescribed fasting. In addition to what to eat, your naturopath may recommend different treatments to address physical movement. These could include hydrotherapy, exercise or physical therapy, or manual manipulation treatments.

To address specific diseases, your naturopath may use homeopathy, guided detoxification, stress reduction techniques, or hygiene therapy. In addressing your overall health and wellness, your naturopath will supply prevention and lifestyle counseling as well as provide guidance about psychotherapy and other forms of mental health counseling. 

Naturopathic doctors often use a broad range of treatments, and this is because they embrace all successful and proven techniques for healing. They are open to strategies with a record of success from all cultures and traditions, not just those grounded in Western medicine. 

Naturopathic doctors know that many of the most ancient traditions have survived these thousands of years because of their history of success, despite the lack of empirical evidence in some cases. 

This holistic, thorough approach, which starts with diagnosis and continues through treatment and evaluation, is what makes naturopathy so appealing and helpful to many patients. When treating the whole person, not just a narrow complex of symptoms, naturopathic practitioners promote balance and healing throughout the body, mind, and spirit. And using a wide range of techniques allows them to tailor their approach to each unique individual. 

6 Naturopathic Techniques Defined

Many people are unfamiliar with the terminology sometimes used to describe these various techniques, so we have compiled a short dictionary of naturopathic therapies to help you understand what they are.

1. Botanical Medicine

The use of plants to heal the body. This includes the use of herbs in teas, tincture, capsules, and as essential oils. Plants are used for their healing effects and medicinal properties. 

2. Clinical Nutrition

This includes diets, food elimination, fasting, and other nutritional supports that influence the relationship between food and health. 

3, Homeopathic Medicine

The use of minute dilutions of substances made from mineral, animal, and plant compounds. These are designed to stimulate the body’s natural healing process and life force as well as strengthen its ability to heal itself. 

4, Physical Medicine

Therapy and exercise that involves manual or personal manipulation of the bones, muscles, and soft tissues. This includes massage, hydrotherapy, electrical impulses, exercise, physical therapy, chiropractic, or other forms of body manipulation. 

5. Prevention and Lifestyle Counseling

Assistance with making effective lifestyle choices by identifying and addressing the impact of various stressors and influences in the patient’s life. 

6. Traditional Chinese Medicine 

Based on the balancing of life energy, or chi, which runs through meridians in the body. Herbs, acupuncture, and acupressure can be used to influence the flow of this energy, releasing blockages that affect balance and overall health. 

What Evidence Supports the Use of Naturopathy

Within conventional healthcare, evidence-based medicine is considered the gold standard for methodology when evaluating claims. The foundation of nearly all evidence-based research studies is what is known as the randomized controlled trial. This technique is valuable when examining the effectiveness of single treatments on single illnesses or diseases. 

Many randomized control trials provide evidence to support the use of naturopathic treatments. These include studies on the treatment of depression, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, migraine headaches, asthma, and fibromyalgia. In addition, the diagnostic and therapeutic tools used in naturopathic treatments are supported by evidence from a wide range of disciplines, including psychology, homeopathy, clinical nutrition, complementary medicine, and phytotherapy, to name a few. 

There becomes a tension, though, when relying too heavily on randomized controlled trials for claims regarding effectiveness. These types of research studies do a poor job of testing multiple treatments or examining treatments for patients with more than one disorder. In other words, it is research methodologies that do a poor job of testing holistic methods of healing. 

Some have suggested that a better measure of effectiveness is to include not only data from these sorts of randomized controlled trials but also from clinical expertise and patient self-reports and preferences. When clinicians are encouraged to include more information about patient needs and treatment options in their reports, it can better inform our understanding of effective therapies. But these data sources have little place in randomized controlled trials. 

New ways of thinking about clinical outcomes and assessment may be the answer to providing the evidence many people look for about naturopathic treatments. Clinical research is growing in its importance for naturopathic doctors, and new protocols and information technology tools could also for increasing understanding about this important tradition in healthcare. 

One way to consider whether naturopathy is effective is to see how it works for yourself. Every person responds to treatments differently, so until you are sure something is a good fit for your needs, all the randomized trial data in the world is not really going to matter. Actual clinical application to your life is going to be what provides you with the ultimate answer of whether or not it works for you. 

Who Are Naturopathic Practitioners

Around the world, naturopathy is practiced by a wide range of medical professionals. In the US, the most common practitioners include naturopathic doctors, traditional naturopaths, and others in the medical fields who provide naturopathic services. Each of these groups has diverse levels of expertise and certification, so knowing this can help you select the provider that is right for you. 

Naturopathic doctors (NDs), doctors of naturopathic medicine (NMDs), and naturopathic physicians all generally mean the same thing. These doctors have received a degree from an accredited institution that includes the same science training as a conventional medical degree (MD). This medical training includes coursework in biochemistry, gynecology, pediatrics, neurology, pharmacology, pathology, and immunology, to name a few. 

Naturopathic doctors, though, receive added training in psychology, nutrition, and other complementary treatments. They are likely to take extensive coursework in exercise therapy, homeopathy, lifestyle counseling, physical medicine, and botanical medicines, as well. Many states require these doctors to pass exams and become licensed to practice in addition to engaging in ongoing education in their field. 

Traditional naturopaths are not licensed, nor do they receive training from an accredited institution. Traditional naturopaths’ experience and ability may vary, and since there is no regulation on their education, their knowledge levels will vary as well. 

Many in the medical field have some training in naturopathic medicine. Your chiropractor, osteopathic doctor (OD), medical doctor (MD), dentist (DDS), or nurse could have training in various aspects of naturopathy that they incorporate into their patient care. Be sure to check with your healthcare providers about their background, training, and licensing in naturopathic care. 

Most naturopathic doctors are trained as general practitioners who also specialize in natural medicine. These healthcare providers can and will coordinate with other branches of medical science as needed for the patient’s health and well-being. 

If you are trying to find a licensed, fully qualified naturopathic doctor in your area, the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians keeps a database of NDs and NMDs for patient referrals. 

Using Naturopathy As A Complement To Conventional Medicine

Many people choose to integrate their naturopathic care into their conventional medical treatments to get the best of all possible medical traditions. This is known as integrative care, which is when two or more medical practitioners are working together to support the holistic health and wellness of a patient. 

If you are working with both a naturopathic and conventional doctor to manage your health needs, it is crucial that you inform all of your healthcare providers of all your treatments and therapies. 

For example, all medical personnel should know about any prescription, over-the-counter, or dietary supplements that you are taking. Some vitamins and herbs can interfere with certain medications and vice versa. Taking large doses of some supplements can be dangerous with certain medical conditions. 

When making major changes to your diet or exercise routine, talk with your healthcare providers first. Your naturopathic and conventional doctor should be included in significant changes to your lifestyle so that they may make recommendations about what is best for your overall health. 

What Should I Expect At A Naturopathic Appointment

When you visit a naturopathic doctor or traditional naturopath for the first time, your consultation will last much longer than your standard office visit with a conventional doctor. You may spend up to two hours with your naturopathic provider on a first visit, and later visits can be lengthy, as well. 

Most naturopathic doctors ask you to complete paperwork before your visit that will serve to guide your first appointment extensively.

Your provider will ask you lots of questions and spend time listening to the story of you and your health. When sharing your story, your doctor may probe for further information and encourage you to reach farther back in your history, as all these details are significant data points for your wellness plan. 

Naturopathic practitioners use standard laboratory tests and other forms of diagnostic testing, combined with your personal history, to determine the most effective treatment for you. 

Some of this formulation of a plan will include trial and error, as the doctor works to tailor the approach to you and your health. Your plan may include many different techniques and therapies that may differ based on the specialty of your doctor. 

There will always be a time in any visit with a naturopathic doctor to ask questions. You will likely need at least one follow-up appointment to evaluate how well your plan is working and to see if you have any added concerns or health goals. 

Final Thoughts

Naturopathic medicine is a modern-day medical tradition grounded in ancient roots. It is a holistic approach to health and wellness that values patient self-responsibility, disease prevention, education, and natural approaches to wellness.

Those who practice naturopathy will opt for non-invasive, non-toxic therapies and treatments whenever possible, preferring not to subject the body to adverse side effects. 

Those who practice naturopathic medicine can be highly trained or completely uncertified, so be sure you know the credentials of your healthcare provider. 

Naturopathic healthcare can be used as a primary source of healing or in conjunction with more conventional medical treatments. Regardless, the goal is a healthier mind, body, and spirit that is focused on staying healthy through natural and beneficial practices.