What is Naturopathy?

Naturopathic medicine is a complete healthcare approach that treats the patient as a whole person and employs the healing power of the body and nature to fight disease. Parts of naturopathy are used as complementary therapy alongside mainstream medicine. Like a medical doctor (MD), a naturopathic doctor (ND) may use x-rays, lab tests, physical exams, prescribe medicine (in some states) and other western medical approaches to diagnose and treat a patient. Some additional approaches that naturopathic doctors use to treat patients are based in nutrition, herbs, manipulation of the body, exercise, stress reduction, and acupuncture, among many others. Generally, naturopathy emphasizes holistic, nontoxic approaches, along with an emphasis on disease prevention and optimizing wellness.

Origins in History
Naturopathy has evolved from a combination of traditional Western practices and health care approaches that were popular in Europe during the 19th century. Benjamin Lust, a German immigrant, first introduced naturopathy to the U.S. in 1902 when he founded the American School of Naturopathy. The naturopathic style of medicine did not become truly popular in the U.S. until the 1960s. Today, 17 states have rigorous licensure laws for NDs.


Naturopathic Medicine is a distinctively natural approach to health and healing that recognizes the integrity of the whole person. Naturopathic Medicine emphasizes the treatment of disease through the stimulation, enhancement, and support of the inherent healing power of nature. Methods of treatment are chosen to work with the patient's vital force, respecting the intelligence of the natural healing process. The practice of Naturopathic Medicine emerges from six underlying principles of healing. These principles are based on the objective observation of the nature of health and disease, and are continually reexamined in light of scientific analysis. It is these principles that distinguish the profession from other medical approaches:

  • The healing power of nature: Vis medicatrix nature.
    The body has the inherent ability to establish, maintain, and restore health. The healing process is ordered and intelligent; nature heals through the response of the life force. The physician's role is to facilitate and augment this process, to act to identify and remove obstacles to health and recovery, and to support the creation of a healthy internal and external environment.
  • Identify and treat the cause: Tolle causam.
    Illness does not occur without cause. The underlying causes of disease must be discovered and removed or treated before a person can recover completely from illness. Symptoms are expressions of the body's attempt to heal, but are not the cause of disease. Symptoms, therefore, should not be suppressed by treatment. Causes may occur on many levels including physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. The physician must evaluate fundamental underlying causes on all levels, directing treatment at root causes rather than at symptomatic expression.
  • First do no harm: Primum no nocere.
    Illness is a purposeful process of the organism. The process of healing includes the generation of symptoms which are, in fact, an expression of the life force attempting to heal itself. Therapeutic actions should be complimentary to and synergistic with this healing process. The physician's actions can support or antagonize the actions of the healing power of nature. Therefore, treatments designed to suppress symptoms without removing underlying causes are considered harmful and are avoided or minimized.
  • Treat the whole person: The multifactorial nature of health and disease.
    Health and disease are conditions of the whole organism, a whole involving a complex interaction of physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social, and other factors. The physician must treat the whole person by taking all of these factor into account. The harmonious functioning of all aspects of individual is essential to recovery from and prevention of disease, and requires a personalized and comprehensive approach to diagnosis and treatment.
  • The physician as teacher: Docere.
    Beyond an accurate diagnosis and appropriate prescription, the physician must work to create a healthy, sensitive interpersonal relationship with the patient. A cooperative doctor-patient relationship has inherent therapeutic value. The physician's major role is to educate and encourage the patient to take responsibility for health. The physician is a catalyst for healthful change, empowering and motivating the patient to assume responsibility. It is the patient, not the doctor, who ultimately creates/accomplishes healing. The physician must strive to inspire hope as well as understanding. The physician must also make a commitment to his/her personal and spiritual development in order to be a good teacher. ●
  • Prevention: Prevention is the best "cure."
    The ultimate goal of any health care system should be prevention. This is accomplished through education and promotion of life-habits that create good health. The physician assesses risk factors and hereditary susceptibility to disease and makes appropriate interventions to avoid further harm and risk to the patient. The emphasis is on building health rather than on fighting disease.

What is care like?

Health Benefits
A naturopathic doctor is similar to a primary care doctor, meaning they will work with you to the best of their abilities to handle just about any ailment that you bring through the door. Licensed NDs receive a four-year, graduate-level naturopathic medical school and pass an extensive postdoctoral board examination prior to practicing with patients, similar in training to that of a medical doctor (MD). However, ND school curricula include certain areas of study not covered in conventional medical school, such as clinical nutrition, homeopathic medicine and psychological counseling.

Actions & Experience During a Visit
You may find a visit to your ND very similar to a visit to a family doctor or primary care physician. The initial visit may take up to an hour or more so that the doctor can get a thorough look at your medical background. He or she will most likely ask you about your diet, lifestyle, stress and environmental exposures. Next, the ND will do a physical examination and order lab tests, if needed. Your course of treatment will be dependent upon your doctor’s diagnoses. NDs treat the whole person, which means they will consider a variety of factors that a typical medical doctor may not take into consideration. NDs consider patients to be active participants in their health and well-being, so you may be asked to change your sleeping, eating and exercising habits.

Resources & References

NCCAM - Naturopathy

University of Maryland Medical Center

American Cancer Society: Naturopathic Medicine

What next?

Search Find Wellness to find a naturopathic doctor in your area. Be sure that your naturopath is certified and licensed to practice in your state. Naturopaths are certified by the National Certification of Naturopathic Examiners. As with any key healthcare provider, finding somebody who suits your communication style and personal preferences is important as well.