What is Naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic medicine blends centuries-old natural, non-toxic therapies with current advances in the study of health and human systems, covering all aspects of family health from prenatal to geriatric care.

A Naturopathic Physician (ND) is a primary care general practitioner trained as an expert in natural medicine. Naturopathic medicine concentrates on whole-patient wellness. The medicine is tailored to the patient and emphasizes prevention and self-care. Naturopathic medicine attempts to find the underlying cause of the patient’s condition rather than focusing solely on symptomatic treatment. For example, congestion might be caused by a food allergy or an environmental factor-a naturopathic physician would focus diagnosis and treatment on these casual factors. Naturopathic physicians cooperate with all other branches of medical science referring patients to other practitioners for diagnosis or treatment when appropriate.

What Types of Treatments Does a Naturopathic Physician Offer?

Naturopathic physicians perform physical examinations, laboratory testing, gynecological exams, nutritional and dietary assessments, metabolic analysis, allergy testing, X-ray examinations, and other diagnostic tests. They are the only primary care physicians clinically trained in the use of a wide variety of natural therapeutics. They combine and adapt these treatments to the needs of the individual based on a cogent philosophy that acknowledges the patient as a participants. 

Naturopathic medicine is effective in treating most health problems, both acute and chronic. Some of the therapies used by naturopathic physicians are described  below:

Clinical Nutrition is a cornerstone of naturopathic medicine. It refers to both the practice of using of food to treat illness. Scientific research has shown that many medical conditions can be treated as effectively with food and nutritional supplements as they can by other means, with fewer complications and side effects. 

Homeopathy is a powerful system of medicine that is more than 200 years old. This medical system uses highly diluted substances to cure illness. Homeopathic remedies act to enhance the body’s innate immune response and rarely have side effects. Some conditions that do not respond well to conventional medicine will respond to homeopathic therapies. 

Botanical Medicine is the use of plants as medicine. Many plant substances are powerful medicines that are safe and effective when used properly. A resurgence of scientific research in Europe and Asia is demonstrating that some plant substances are superior to synthetic drugs in clinical conditions.

Physical Medicine includes naturopathic manipulation of the muscles, bones and spine. heat and cold, gentle electrical impulses, ultrasound, hydrotherapy and exercise therapy are also used.

Natural Childbirth is offered by naturopathic physicians with additional specialty offer prenatal and postnatal care using the most modern diagnostic techniques. When natural childbirth is not medically appropriate because of high risk, patients are referred for appropriate care.

Oriental Medicine includes acupuncture, acupressure and oriental botanical medicine to diagnose and treat disease.

Counseling and Stress Management.  Mental attitudes and emotional states can be important elements in healing illness. Naturopathic physicians’ training includes counseling, nutritional balancing, stress management, hypnotherapy, biofeedback and other methods. 

Minor Surgery, including repair of superficial wounds and removal of foreign bodies, cysts and other superficial masses, with local anesthesia as needed.

The existence or absence of licensing laws may affect the doctor’s scope of practice. Ask your naturopathic physician for more information about these or other treatments.

How are Naturopathic Physicians Regulated?

Currently, 15 states ,4 provinces, Puerto Rico, Guam and U.S. Virgin Islands have licensing laws for naturopathic doctors. In these states, naturopathic doctors required to graduate from a four-year, residential naturopathic medical school and pass an extensive postdoctoral board examination in order to receive a license. Licensed naturopathic physician must fulfill state-mandated continuing education requirements annually, and will have a specific scope of practice defined by their state’s law. The states that currently have licensing laws for naturopathic physicians are as follows:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • British Columbia
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Guam
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Manitoba
  • Montana
  • New Hanpshite
  • Ontario
  • Oregon
  • Puerto Rico
  • Saskatchewan
  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Utah
  • Vermont 
  • Washington

The Principles of Naturopathic Medicine

The Healing Power of Nature. Naturopathic medicine recognizes an inherent self-healing process in the person which is ordered and intelligent. Naturopathic physicians act to identify and remove obstacles to healing and recovery, and to facilitate and augment this inherent self-healing process. 

Identify and Treat the Causes. The naturopathic physician seeks to identify and remove the underlying causes of illness, rather to merely eliminate or suppress symptoms. 

First Do No Harm. Naturopathic physicians follow three precepts to avoid harming the patient: 

  • Utilize methods and medical substances which minimize the risk of harmful side effects, using the least force necessary to diagnose and treat. 
  • Avoid when possible the harmful suppression of symptoms. 
  • Acknowledge, respect and work with the individual’s self-healing process.

Doctor As Teacher. Naturopathic physicians educate their patients and encourage self-responsibilities for health. They also recognize and employ the therapeutic potential of the doctor-patient relationship.

Treat the Whole Person. Naturopathic physicians treat each patient by taking into account individual physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social and other factors. Since total health also includes spiritual health, naturopathic physicians encourage individuals to pursue their personal spiritual developments.

Prevention. Naturopathic physicians emphasize the prevention of disease—assessing risk factors, heredity and susceptibility to disease and making appropriate interventions in partnership with their patients to prevent illness. Naturopathic medicine is committed to the creation of a health world in which humanity many thrive.

How is a Licensable Naturopathic Physician Trained?

Naturopathic medical colleges are four-year, graduate level medical schools with admissions requirements comparable to those of other medical schools. The Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree (ND) is awarded after classroom, clinic and practical study. NDs are trained in medical sciences including:

anatomy                      cardiology                      physiology

neurology                   biochemistry                   radiology

pathology                    minor surgery                microbiology

obstetrics                    immunology                   gynecology

pharmacology             pediatrics                        gynecology

lab diagnostics             clinical & physical diagnosis

Throughout the four years, there is training in naturopathic therapeutics, including therapeutic nutrition, botanical medicine, homeopathy, natural childbirth, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, naturopathic manipulative therapy, and other therapies.

The accrediting agency for naturopathic medical schools and programs in North American is the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME). The CNME is the only naturopathic accrediting body in the United States that is recognized by the US Department of Education. 

There are presently two colleges accredited by the CNME in the United States:

Bastyr University, Kenmore, WA                               

National College of  Naturopathic Medicine,  Portland, OR

Twenty Questions about Naturopathic Medicine

Is naturopathic medicine new?

No. Naturopathic medicine in the U.S. has grown out of medical traditions from throughout the world, both ancient and modern. The majority of states have licensed naturopathic medicine at different times since its formation as a distinct American medical profession in 1902. Naturopathic medicine continues to grow and evolve, incorporating advances in diverse medical disciplines throughout the world.

How is naturopathic medicine different from conventional medicine?

The main difference is in philosophical approach. Naturopathic physicians treat patients by restoring overall health rather than suppressing a few key symptoms. Naturopathic physicians are more concerned with finding the underlying cause of a condition and applying treatments that work in alliance with the natural healing mechanisms of the body rather than against them. Naturopathic treatments result less frequently in adverse side effects, or in the chronic conditions that inevitably arise when the cause of disease is left untreated.

In what ways are naturopathic and conventional physicians alike?

The academic training in medical science of naturopathic and conventional physicians is similar. Both study modern physical, clinical and laboratory diagnosis. Both can diagnose a disease and predict its course. Naturopathic physicians also perform minor surgery, and prescribe some drugs. Both naturopathic and conventional physicians refer patients to other health care practitioners when appropriate.

What treatments does a naturopathic physician employ?

Naturopathic physicians use therapies such as clinical nutrition, dietary and lifestyle modification, counseling, medical herbalism, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, exercise therapy, oriental medicine, natural childbirth, minor surgery, and limited drug therapy. They apply these according to the naturopathic principles mentioned in question two.

How are these treatments applied?

Naturopathic physicians consider the whole patient when treating illness. They work with the patient to determine in a way to restore overall health. They use therapies, which in themselves have little potential to cause harm. They may at times use palliative treatments or suppress symptoms, but only in the context of overall health restoration.

Are naturopathic physicians opposed to drugs and major surgery?

No. Naturopathic physicians are not opposed to invasive or suppressive measures when these methods are necessary. They make referrals for such treatment when appropriate. Naturopathic medicine has both safer and less expensive alternatives to many kinds of non-emergency surgery.

What is the education of a naturopathic physicians?

The academic training in medical sciences of naturopathic and conventional physician is similar. Both study modern, physical, clinical and laboratory diagnosis. Both can diagnose a disease and predict its course. Naturopathic physicians also perform minor surgery, and prescribe some drugs.

Are naturopathic medical programs accredited?

Yes. Those recognized by the AANP are either accredited or candidates for accreditation. The Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME) is the only accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit naturopathic programs and colleges. Students attending programs accredited or recognized as candidates for accreditation by the CNME are eligible for federal education loans. One college with a program in naturopathic medicine is also recognized by a regional accrediting body.

Where are naturopathic physicians licensed?

Alaska, Arizona, British Columbia, California, Connecticut, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Manitoba, Montana, New Hampshire, Ontario, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Saskatchewan, Utah, U.S. Virgin Islands, Vermont, and Washington, Washington D.C. all license naturopathic physicians. Florida still has NDs practicing, but has not issued any new licenses in many years. However, doctors of Naturopathic Medicine practice in most states, sometimes under other medical licenses and sometimes with a scope of practice substantially less than their training. There are 24 state naturopathic medical associations in the U.S. The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) supports legislation to license NDs in all states in order to distinguish properly trained physicians from lesser trained individuals who may present a danger to the public.

Are there other kinds of “NDs” in the U.S.?

Yes. Unfortunately, some people obtain questionable ND degrees from brief correspondence courses, short seminars, or from schools that give credit for life experience but which do not require clinical training. Such degrees are usually not recognized by state degree-authorizing bodies. State naturopathic licensing boards currently require graduation from a four-year naturopathic medical college for licensing. AANP membership is limited to individuals who are eligible for licensing in states which issue licenses.

Is naturopathic medicine covered by insurance?

Yes. More than 90 insurance carriers cover naturopathic medicine in the U.S., Canada and all over the world.

Is naturopathic medicine cost-effective?

Yes. Because naturopathic physicians have alternatives to some expensive high-tech procedures, and because their preventive approach reduces the incidence of high-cost chronic conditions, naturopathic practice reduces both immediate and long-term health care costs.

Is naturopathic medicine safe?

Yes. The safety record in states with review boards is excellent. Naturopathic physicians can purchase malpractice insurance at extremely low rates. As indicated by such rates, the chance of being injured through malpractice is low.

Is naturopathic medicine scientific?

Yes. Naturopathic medicine has its own unique body of knowledge, evolved and refined for centuries. It also incorporates scientific advances from medical disciplines throughout the world. Many of the individual therapies of naturopathic medical practice have been scientifically validated, especially in the areas of clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, homeopathy, immunology and hydrology, the trend is that those naturopathic methods which are tested are validated.

Has conventional medicine adopted methods from the naturopathic body of knowledge?

Yes. Especially in the areas of nutrition, diet, exercise therapy, and mind-body correlations. The dangers of fats, oils and refined sugars; the benefits of fiber, whole foods, and some medicinal plants; the value of exercise; and the influence of mental and emotional attitudes on health are all part of the naturopathic body of knowledge. Some of this knowledge has been incorporated into conventional medicine in the last few years.

What is the status of naturopathic medicine in other countries?

No exact counterpart to American naturopathic medicine exists in other countries (standards are higher in the U.S.). Naturopathic methods and approaches are growing in popularity worldwide, especially in Europe and Asia, among both conventional and alternative practitioners. These methods often have government support and insurance reimbursement.

What is the position of naturopathic medicine on immunization?

Immunization is part of the naturopathic medical curriculum, and vaccination is included in the scope of practice in some naturopathic licensing laws in the U.S. In practice, most naturopathic physicians follow a policy of informing the patient of the possible risks and benefits of each type of immunization, and allowing the patient to decide. This practice is similar to that recommended by the U.S. Center for Disease for Disease Control. The naturopathic physician may also recommend for or against immunization on the basis of an individual’s medical history and overall health status.

How do NDs interact with other health professionals?

NDs refer to other health care providers such as MDs, MD specialists, Dos, psychotherapists, acupuncturists, and chiropractors when appropriate. Most naturopathic practices have extensive cross-referrals to and from other practitioners.

Do naturopathic physicians practice natural childbirth?

All NDs are trained in basic obstetrics. Some elect to get the further training necessary for licensing to practice home birth.

Do naturopathic physicians practice acupuncture and oriental medicine?

Sometimes. Laws vary state to state. All NDs take courses in oriental medicine. Some get extra training and may be licensed separately as acupuncturists.