The Complete Guide to Naturopathy
Naturopathy is guided by six foundational principles which will be set out in greater detail later on in this guide. While treatment may include nutritional medicine, dietary advice, herbal medicine and lifestyle advice, naturopathy above all honors the body's own wisdom to heal itself. Naturopaths are able to treat both acute and chronic conditions and are happy to work together with other health practitioners as part of a person's holistic healthcare team.
Naturopathy has a long history with some people regarding the ancient Greek Hippocrates as being the first advocate of naturopathic medicine even before the term existed. However, the modern practice of naturopathy emerged from the Nature Cure movement of Europe during the 19th century with Scottish Thomas Allinson promoting his "Hygienic Medicine" in the 1880s by advocating a natural diet and exercise but “avoiding tobacco and overwork”. The term naturopathy was first used in 1895 by John Scheel and taken over by Benedict Lust in the United State who had been taught hydrotherapy and other natural health practices in Germany by Sebastian Kneipp before returning to the US to spread the word. Lust defined naturopathy as a broad discipline rather than a particular method, and included such techniques as hydrotherapy, herbal medicine and homeopathy. He founded the American School of Naturopathy in New York in 1901. The school emphasized the use of natural cures, proper bowel habits and good hygiene as the tools for good health, as well as introducing for the first time the principles of a healthy diet.
After some changes and developments, naturopaths became licensed under naturopathic practitioner laws in 25 states in the first three decades of the twentieth century. After a period of rapid growth, naturopathy went into decline for several decades after the 1930s with the advent of penicillin and other drugs. Fortunately, naturopathy never completely died out and beginning in the 1970s, interest started to increase in the United States and Canada in conjunction with the holistic health movement.
Today, there are nine schools of traditional naturopathy offering certificate or degree programs accredited by the American Naturopathic Medical Accreditation Board while The National Board Of Naturopathic Examiners of the ANA currently recognizes two schools offering Doctor of Naturopathy Degree programs.
The different natural therapies that naturopaths use in their treatment
Naturopaths are licensed care providers in many states, offering a choice of natural therapies including:
Vitamin and mineral supplements
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Herbal remedies and medicines
Lifestyle advice and tactile therapies - such as massage, acupressure, acupuncture or Bowen technique
Hydrotherapy (water therapy) including drinking natural spring water, taking baths, alternating hot and cold applications and water exercise
Physical medicine including touch, hot and cold compresses, electric currents and sound waves to manipulate the muscles, bones, and spine
Psychological counselling including hypnosis, guided imagery or other counselling methods as part of a treatment plan.
The 6 Founding Principles
Apart from the 6 founding principles, there are 2 important areas of focus in naturopathy: one is supporting the body's own healing abilities, and the other is empowering people to make lifestyle changes necessary for the best possible health.
Naturopathic medicine is based on the belief that the human body has an innate healing ability. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) teach their patients to use diet, exercise, lifestyle changes as well as natural therapies to help their bodies to prevent and combat disease. NDs consider their patient as a whole person rather than concentrating on one aspect of their symptoms or disease. While they firmly believe that the human body has the ability to heal itself, some naturopathic physicians will devise comprehensive treatment plans that combine the cream of modern medical science with natural medical traditions – the best of both worlds – to treat their patients and restore their health.
The 6 founding principles of naturopathy are:
1. Let nature heal. Naturopaths search for any barriers to self healing – in the patient's lifestyle choices – so these can be remedied.
2. Identify and treat causes. Naturopathic physicians look for the causes behind the symptoms so these can be treated rather than the symptoms themselves.
3. First, do no harm. This principle is divided into three namely: firstly to use low-risk procedures and healing compounds (mostly natural) that come with few or no side effects; secondly not to suppress symptoms when these are not dangerous as they are considered to be part of the body's healing efforts; and thirdly that every patient is different and unique and requires their individual diagnosis and treatment plant.
4. Educate patients. Naturopathic physicians teach their patients how to eat, exercise, relax and nurture themselves physically and emotionally while encouraging self-responsibility.
5. Treat the whole person. This is a repetition of the third aspect of “do no harm” where each patient is considered to be unique so that they require their own carefully tailored treatment strategy.
6. Prevent illness. Naturopaths believe in proactive medicine by evaluating the risk factors, heredity and vulnerability to disease of each patient.
While naturopathic doctors treat both short bouts of illness and chronic conditions, their emphasis is on preventing disease and educating patients.
Over the years, conventional medicine has wisely adopted many of the foundations of naturopathy including the importance of diet, clean fresh water, sunlight, exercise and stress management.
Common disorders that are treated by naturopathy
- Digestive complaints
- Mood disorders and depression
- Allergies and sensitivities
- Behavioural problems
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Musculoskeletal complaints such as arthritis
- Cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) problems
- High blood pressure
- Fertility problems
- Endocrine disturbance
- Hormonal imbalances, such as premenstrual tension and menopause.
Remember that naturopaths combine many different therapies and they will treat both acute and chronic conditions from arthritis to ear infections (otitis media); from HIV to asthma; from congestive heart failure to hepatitis.
A further important aspect of naturopathy is homeostasis
The body will regulate itself to maintain healthy limits and one example is the body's temperature – when the weather is cold, the body will try to conserve heat by constricting the blood vessels close to the skin and directing blood flow to favour internal organs but when the weather is hot, the body will dilate blood vessels close to the skin and evaporate body heat with perspiration. In the same way many other elements – such as blood gases, hormones and water – also need to be kept within strict limits. This whole process of maintenance is called homeostasis and if the body is not in such a state, naturopaths believe that illness is more likely to occur.
What to expect from a naturopath
A visit to a naturopath is very similar to that of a family doctor. The initial appointment will probably take longer, than any subsequent visits, as a very thorough history is taken covering diet, lifestyle, stress, and environmental exposures followed by a physical examination, which may require laboratory tests including conventional tests and possibly others. Anyone seeing both a naturopath and a medical doctor, should keep them both in the picture as to their treatments especially as some treatments can interact with each other.
If you are looking for a naturopathic physician in the USA or Canada, you can search on the site for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians at