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Naturopathic medicine

What is it?

Naturopathic medicine is a system of healing that comes from other cultures, including Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, Native American, and Western European. The principle belief system that guides naturopathic medicine is that nature heals. Naturopathic doctors support this belief by using remedies and techniques that are natural and non-toxic. They prefer treatments that minimize the risks of harmful side effects.

Naturopathic medicine integrates all healing methods that agree with this philosophy. Some examples include nutritional medicine, whole food diets, herbal medicine, and detoxification and cleansing. Homeopathy, hydrotherapy, stress management, manipulation of joints and soft tissues, therapeutic exercise, and lifestyle counseling are also part of naturopathic medicine. Other methods can be included as long as they support the body's healing processes.

Although naturopaths use natural remedies, the profession is not defined by the types of treatments the doctor uses. Naturopathic medicine is best defined by its six principles:

1. The healing power of nature. The body has the ability to heal itself, restore health, and prevent future diseases.

2. Treat the whole person. Health is an interaction of physical, mental, genetic, spiritual, environmental, and social factors. The naturopathic doctor must understand these influences and keep them in mind when considering treatments.

3. First, do no harm. The doctor must choose therapies that limit the possibility of harmful side effects. Treatments that suppress the symptoms should be avoided because this interferes with the healing process.

4. Identify and treat the cause. Symptoms are the body's attempt to heal itself. When only the symptoms are treated, the causes remain and the patient may develop a more serious condition.

5. Prevention is the best cure. The doctor assesses risk factors and uses therapies that will help prevent future diseases.

6. Doctor as teacher. The doctor's role is not to supply the patient with a magic bullet that cures them. The doctor's role is to educate the patient and help him take responsibility for his own health.

An initial visit to a naturopathic physician (ND) may take 90 minutes. During this visit, the doctor will ask many questions about your past and present health. Not all naturopaths practice the same way. Like a medical doctor (MD), many naturopaths can order blood tests, x-rays, and other tests. If you have a certain type of treatment that you are interested in, make sure you ask the doctor if he uses that treatment.

Naturopaths are trained as primary care doctors so are able to treat a variety of health problems. People with acute life threatening illness, trauma, or surgical emergencies should go to the hospital. After the acute emergency has passed, naturopaths can provide treatments to help with the recovery.

To become a licensed ND, you must attend a naturopathic medical school for 4 years. ND's are currently licensed in 12 of the 50 states in the United States.

For more information:


1. Burton Goldberg Group: Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Future Medicine Publishing, Puyallup, WA; 1994.

2. Cassileth BR: The Alternative Medicine Handbook, 1st ed. WW Norton & Company, NY, NY; 1998:16-21.

3. Inglis B & West R: The Alternative Health Guide. Alfred A. Knopf, NY, NY; 1983: 120-132.

4. Sifton DW: The PDR Family Guide to Natural Medicines and Healing Therapies. Three Rivers Press, NY, NY; 1999.

5. Woodham A & Peters D: Encyclopedia of Healing Therapies, 1st ed. Dorling Kindersley, NY, NY; 1997:90-94.


Last Updated: 9/15/2016

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