Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Naturopathic Way to Good Health

Naturopathy is not one single remedy or therapy. Rather, it is a complete therapeutic system. As such, it is an approach to health care that is based on a set of beliefs. Naturopathy is based on the idea that good health is dependent on clean air, clean water, clean food from good earth, and exercise. Naturopathy also holds that the body has the ability to heal itself, and that treatments and therapies should work to encourage this process. Natural cures, good bowel habits, and good hygiene are all important for health. Numerous complementary and alternative practices, such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, homeopathy, massage, and clinical nutrition also have a role in naturopathy.

The ideas behind naturopathy date back to ancient times. However, they were introduced in the United States only about 100 years ago. The story is that a German named Benedict Lust had been living in the United States when he contracted tuberculosis. He decided to go home to Germany to research a cure. There he studied the ideas of fellow German researcher Vincent Preissnitz and Austrian Dominican friar Father Kneipp. As a result, he found not only a way to personal recovery and health but also the basis for a complete system of health and healing. Lust returned to the United States and introduced "naturopathy" to this country. He founded the American School of Naturopathy in New York in 1902.

Today, naturopathic doctors are trained and licensed in the U.S. They take four years of graduate level courses in a naturopathic medical school recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Naturopaths receive training in the same areas of study in conventional medicine as medical doctors. In addition, they learn about holistic approaches, with a strong emphasis on disease prevention. Their studies include clinical nutrition, acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal medicine, natural childbirth, hydrotherapy, and manipulative therapy. They must pass a professional board exam to become a licensed Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (N.D.).

Naturopaths can treat a variety of health conditions. These include colitis, asthma, menopause, flu, obesity, chronic fatigue syndrome, earaches, and allergies. If a health problem requires the care of a medical specialist, most naturopaths will refer you to a more conventional medical doctor.

If you decide to visit a naturopathic doctor, here's what you should understand before you go. All naturopaths consider the mental, emotional, and social aspects of their patients as well as the physical. A naturopathic doctor will examine your strengths and weaknesses in all of these areas to see how these influence your health. He or she will also perform a physical exam and ask you to provide a thorough health history. If you are sick, you will need to give a complete description of your symptoms. You may need standard medical tests, elimination diets, or supplements to focus the diagnosis.

Relaxation, massage, yoga, herbal remedies, or homeopathy are some standard treatments that may be prescribed. You may also be advised to try vitamin and mineral supplements, hydrotherapy, traditional Chinese medicine, or stress management. Natural treatments such as fresh air, exercise, and massage are common prescriptions as well. Be wary of recommendations for excessive diet changes or fasting, and enemas. Although some naturopathic therapies have been shown to have health benefits, others lack scientific evidence (for example, detoxifying treatments like enemas).

Naturopathy is currently licensed in only 11 states: Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. In 1999, state legislation to license naturopaths was introduced in Colorado, Idaho, Massachusetts, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas. Tennessee and South Carolina are the only states that prohibit naturopathy.

Since not all states require licenses, make sure that you seek out a trained naturopath. Look for someone who is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. To find one in your area, call the AANP's referral line at 206-298-0125 or visit the Web site at And be sure to let your physician know that you are interested in pursuing naturopathic treatments.

Suggested Resources

Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (Revised Second Edition) by Michael T. Murray and Joseph E. Pizzorno (Prima Publishing 1997)


Hydrotherapy: the use of water to promote healing. This includes things like drinking natural spring water, taking baths, and exercising in water.


American Association of Naturopathic Physicians Web site. "What is Naturopathic Medicine?" and "What Is a Naturopathic Physician?" Available at

American Medical Association Web site. American Medical News. "'New kind of doctor' seeks wider roles." Available at

An Integrative Medicine Primer. "Naturopathy." Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, pp. 11-12.

Shealy, CN. The Complete Family Guide to Alternative Medicine: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Natural Healing. New York, New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc.; 1996.

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