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What is Naturopathic Medicine?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Naturopathic medicine refers to a range of medical practices and practitioners, with most practices based on the concept that the body has innate abilities to heal. There are a number of alternative therapies that fall under the heading of naturopathic medicine. Depending upon the type of practitioner, naturopathic medicine may include traditional western medical care in addition to alternative therapies, or it may be practiced as an alternative specifically to western care.

It’s important to understand the training of those who practice naturopathy. Those designated naturopathic doctors or naturopathic physicians have been trained in a medical school and their training is evaluated by licensing boards. These are MDs and are sometimes called NMDs or NDs. Many of them work as primary care providers.

In contrast, naturopaths are not MDs and depending upon location may have had less training, though this varies. Professional organizations a naturopath belongs to, in the opinion of many, don’t provide the necessary checks and balances on licensing naturopaths or on accrediting schools. Other health professionals may take classes to study naturopathic medicine, but they usually retain their professional titles and simply use such classes to help expand the options of treatment they can offer to patients.

The initial naturopathic medicine movement is often traced to Hippocrates. Obviously he didn’t use the term, but he did advocate particular emphasis on the use of herbs and on diet. His ideas were incorporated into the work of John Sheel and Benedict Lust. They developed the term naturopathy and used a variety of alternative therapies to treat patients in the early 20th century. The movement lost some steam however with the discovery of penicillin but interest resurged in this field in the mid-1950s.

Emphasis in naturopathic medicine is on treating the whole person, educating patients on healthful ways of living, and recognizing the innate ability of each person to heal. A variety of therapies are employed to promote healing.

These treatments certainly include attention to diet with naturopathic practitioners recommending many different nutritional paths to promote healing. Instead of prescribing standard meds, there is greater reliance on things like herbal treatments. Other therapies include hydrotherapy, mental health counseling, traditional Chinese medicine, and homeopathy.

When you are working with a naturopathic doctor, these therapies may be the first thing the doctor considers but they will be used in a complementary fashion with traditional western medicine. Many naturopaths also advocate people see western style physicians and use their treatment in a complementary fashion. In most cases naturopaths do not do things like deliver babies, though they may perform very minor surgery. Naturopathic doctors, since they may work as primary care physicians, can perform some minor surgery and certainly most are trained in obstetrics.

There is some skepticism about naturopathic medicine and how it matches up with Western medicine in terms of not harming and actually curing patients. Yet interest continues to rise in this form of medical care, and there are many traditionally trained doctors who are now seeking education in naturopathy. Some medical schools that offer more traditional degrees may offer at least basic courses on naturopathic medicine.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
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Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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