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 (ND) or naturopathic medical doctors (NMD) strive to find the cause of disease by understanding the body, mind, and spirit of the person. Most naturopathic doctors use a variety of therapies and techniques  including: nutrition, lifestyle changes, herbal medicine, homeopathy, and acupuncture.

There are two main areas of focus in naturopathy:
1. Supporting the body's own healing abilities, and
2. Empowering the patient to make lifestyle changes necessary for the best possible health.
Naturopathic doctors treat both short-term/acute disease as well as chronic conditions, however, the emphasis is on long-term health preventing disease and patient education.

herbal remedies

What is the history of naturopathy?

The modern form of naturopathy can be traced to 18th and 19th century natural healing systems. These systems include hydrotherapy (water therapy) from Germany. As well as Nature Cure (developed in Austria) 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 tools for health. This was the first time that principles of a healthy diet, like increasing fiber intake and reducing saturated fats, became popular.

In the mid 1920s to 1940, the use of naturopathic medicine declined. It was not until the 1960s that naturopathic-style holistic medicine became popular again.

Today, naturopaths are licensed care providers in many states. They offer a variety of natural therapies, including homeopathy, vitamin and mineral supplements, Traditional Chinese Medicine, relaxation techniques, and herbal remedies.

 

fresh herbs

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 one hour. The doctor will take a very thorough history, asking about your diet, lifestyle, stress, and environmental exposures. Next, the N.D. will do a 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 test allows naturopaths to examine your digestive process, as well as see which nutrients your body is absorbing, among other things.

Naturopathic doctors treat the whole person, which means they consider a variety of factors before they diagnose an illness. An N.D. might look at your mental, emotional, and spiritual state; your diet; your family history; your environment; and your lifestyle before making a diagnosis.

Some of the more common treatments used by a naturopath include:

  • Nutritional counseling
  • Herbal medicine
  • Homeopathic medicine
  • Acupuncture
  • Hydrotherapy (water therapy) -- These therapies include drinking natural spring water, taking baths, alternating hot and cold applications, and water exercise, all of which are thought to stimulate healing and strengthen the immune system.
  • Physical 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.
  • Detoxification -- This therapy removes toxins from the body by fasting, using enemas, and drinking lots of water.
  • Spirituality -- Personal spiritual development is encouraged as part of an overall health program.
  • Lifestyle 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 participants in their health care, 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?

Naturopaths treat both acute and chronic conditions from arthritis to ear infections (otitis media), from HIV to asthma, from congestive heart failure to hepatitis.

N.D.s treat the whole person, rather than only treating a disease or its symptoms, aiming to help their patients maintain a balanced state of good health. Because of this holistic approach, naturopathy may be well-suited for treating chronic illnesses.