Mountain and stream

What is Naturopathic Medicine and How Can it Help Me?

Brief History

The predecessor of naturopathy may have been the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides (1135-1204) who, in contrast to many of his medical colleagues, downplayed the importance of drugs and surgery and argued that diet, exercise, and mental outlook were the keys to vibrant health. A court physician to the royal family in Cairo, Egypt, his book Preservation of Youth, espoused completely natural methods. Written for a dissolute young prince who suffered everything from depression to indigestion he warned, “overeating is like a deadly poison to any constitution and the principle cause of all diseases.” 


The German Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland (1762-1836), who served as royal physician to the King of Prussia, is regarded as one of the founders of holistic medicine. A prolific author and proponent of “Nature Cure,” which consisted of hydrotherapy (cleansing the colon with a water flush), air and light baths, vegetarian diet and herbal remedies, Hufeland was also a great fan of mineral springs and “Water Cure” (popularized by Sebastian Kneipp). His most successful written work, The Art of Prolonging Human Life (1796), became one the most widely read books on preventive medicine and was the first natural health best seller. Hufeland coined the phrase “macrobiotics,” later adopted by George Oshawa, an admirer of Hufeland and founder of the modern macrobiotic movement. Hufeland was deeply influenced by the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), whose ideology fueled the philosophy of naturism and the nature cure movement, which became popular throughout Europe and was characterized by three essential elements:


1.A strongly emotional attitude towards nature, defined as naturism

2.A theory of health, disease treatment and cure (known as nature cure or naturopathy)

3.A preference for certain treatment methods, which are considered natural (such as the application of water, air, movement, diet etc.)


Naturopathy On the Rise

Naturopathy, which combined nature cure with homeopathy, massage, spinal manipulation, and therapeutic electricity, was developed in America largely through the work of Benedict Lust (pronounced loost; 1872-1945). From 1900-1938, naturopathic medicine flourished in America. Interest then declined, due to the emergence of “miracle medicine,” surgical advances during WWII, and the growing political sophistication of the American Medical Association. Chiropractic and naturopathy were taught together until about 1955 when the National Chiropractic Association stopped granting accreditation to schools that also taught naturopathy. In 1956 the National College of Naturopathic Medicine was founded in an attempt to keep the profession alive. Dr. John Bastyr, considered the father of naturopathy, served as executive director. A chiropractor, naturopath and obstetrician, he began his practice in Seattle in the depths of the Great Depression; Bastyr was so revered as a physician and teacher that the Naturopathic College in Seattle was named in his honor. The key to Bastyr’s legendary clinical successes lay in his basic philosophy. In a 1985 interview, asked to distinguish between naturopathy and conventional medicine, he said, “The basic difference is that in naturopathy it’s not the doctor who does the curing, it’s the patient.”

That idea appealed to many Americans in the 1970’s, when the public’s growing awareness of the importance of nutrition and the environment, along with disenchantment with organized institutional medicine brought new waves of students to Naturopathy.


What can an ND do for you?

Naturopathic physicians practice as primary care providers and make conventional diagnoses using standard diagnostic procedures such as physical examinations, laboratory tests and radiology. Naturopathic physicians meet public health requirements and work with a referral network of specialists, just like a family practice MD.  Naturopathic doctors often treat medical conditions that are difficult to treat by conventional medicine with success. Patients commonly seek an ND for treatment of allergies, fatigue, high blood pressure, digestive problems, insomnia, depression, chronic pain, arthritis, and headache. In addition, many people seek naturopathic care for the co-management of diseases like cancer and HIV.


Like your family doctor, an ND will often use a physical exam and laboratory procedures to diagnose.  Nutritional status, metabolic function, and toxic load are also often used to aid diagnoses.  Time is spent assessing the patient’s mental, emotional, social, and spiritual status as well. Non-invasive therapies such as lifestyle modification, behavior modification, and relaxation techniques are a routine part of a naturopathic doctor’s treatment plan. Other therapies naturopaths may use include spinal manipulation, massage therapy, therapeutic nutrition, botanical medicine, detoxification, physiotherapy, exercise therapy, homeopathy, and psychological counseling. In some licensed states, naturopathic physicians may also perform outpatient minor surgery, give vaccinations, and administer selected prescription drugs.  Like other well-trained physicians, NDs know when referral for specialized diagnostics or therapeutics is necessary.


Is A Naturopath Really A Doctor?

Yes, Naturopathic medicine is a distinct profession of primary health care, emphasizing prevention, treatment and the promotion of optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and modalities, which encourage the self-healing process, the vis medicatrix naturae. The scope of practice includes all aspects of family and primary care, from pediatrics to geriatrics, and all natural medicine modalities. 


The U.S. Department of Labor defines the naturopathic physician as one who “diagnoses, treats, and cares for patients, using a system of practice that bases its treatment of all physiological functions and abnormal conditions on natural laws governing the body, utilizes physiological, psychological and mechanical methods, such as air, water, heat, earth, phytotherapy (treatment by use of plants), electrotherapy, physiotherapy, minor or orofacial surgery, mechanotherapy, naturopathic corrections and manipulation, and all natural methods or modalities, together with natural medicines, natural processed foods, herbs, and natural remedies. Excludes major surgery, therapeutic use of x-ray and radium, and use of drugs, except those assimilable substances containing elements or compounds which are compounds of body tissues and are physiologically compatible to body processes for maintenance of life.”



How can you find a qualified ND?

Colorado does not currently recognize naturopathic medicine as a distinct health care specialty. Therefore, no license is required to practice and unqualified people may call themselves NDs. To be qualified an ND must pass a national board exam and graduate from an accredited four-year naturopathic medical program. The only way to know is to look for a diploma on the wall from one of these schools: Bastyr University, Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, National College of Naturopathic Medicine, Southwest College of Naturopathic Physicians, or University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine.