Naturopathic Medicine

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Naturopathic Medicine

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What is naturopathic medicine?

Naturopathic medicine (or naturopathy) is based on the belief that the body can heal itself naturally. A naturopathic doctor (ND) gives detailed diagnosis and suggests a range of natural, alternative, or complementary medicines to promote healing and prevent disease.

Naturopathic medicine attempts to improve health, prevent disease, and treat illness by:

  • Promoting the use of organic foods and healthy eating.
  • Encouraging a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
  • Applying concepts and treatments from other areas of complementary medicine (such as ayurveda, homeopathy, and herbal therapies).

Naturopathy was developed in the late 1800s in the United States. Today, licensed NDs attend a 4-year, graduate-level naturopathic medical school accredited by the Council of Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME). For training and licensure, NDs study the same basic and clinical sciences as medical doctors (MDs). But NDs also study naturopathic and alternative therapies, such as botanical or herbal medicine, homeopathic medicine, mind-body medicine, acupuncture, and lifestyle counselling.

There are six principles that guide the practice of naturopathic medicine:

  • Nature has the power to heal. The ND's role is to remove obstacles to good health and help the body heal.
  • It is important to identify and treat the causes of the condition as well as the symptoms.
  • Because disease often involves more than one cause, it is important to consider the whole person (all body systems, diet, personal beliefs, etc.) when diagnosing and treating a health condition.
  • Use non-toxic, non-invasive therapies whenever possible.
  • Prevention is as important as the cure.
  • Always try to educate and encourage self-responsibility among patients.

What is naturopathy used for?

People use naturopathic medicine for promoting good health, preventing disease, and treating illness. Most naturopaths can diagnose and treat common health concerns. NDs also diagnose and treat conditions such as environmental and food allergies, nutritional concerns, and hormone imbalances.

Naturopathic medicine tries to find the cause of the condition rather than focusing solely on treating symptoms. A trained naturopath works with other health professionals, referring people to other practitioners for diagnosis or treatment when needed.

Is naturopathy safe?

Two common concerns about naturopathic medicine are its use of dietary fasting and its bias against immunization (vaccinations).

  • Talk with your medical doctor before fasting (not eating or drinking, or consuming only liquids for a period of time). Fasting can be dangerous, especially if you have a disease such as diabetes.
  • Some naturopaths do not believe that immunization is necessary. Before immunizations became available, childhood illnesses caused large numbers of deaths and long-term health problems but provided survivors with natural immunity. The benefits of immunization greatly outweigh the risks.1

Always tell your doctor if you are using an alternative therapy or if you are thinking about combining an alternative therapy with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe skip conventional medical treatment and rely only on an alternative therapy.

Before you choose a naturopath, find out whether the person graduated from an accredited naturopathic medical institution. Not all naturopathic educational programs are the same. In Canada and the United States, the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME) is the only agency recognized by government-appointed regulatory boards to accredit naturopathic programs and colleges.

Also check to see if your province has licensing laws that govern the practice of NDs. Naturopathy licensing varies from province to province. Not all provinces require naturopaths to be licensed. If your province licenses NDs, ask your prospective ND whether he or she is licensed. For more information, contact the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors at



  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2007). Some common misconceptions about vaccination and how to respond to them. Available online:

Other Works Consulted

  • Murray MT, Pizzorno JE Jr (2006). A hierarchy of healing: The therapeutic order. In JE Pizzorno Jr, MT Murray, eds., Textbook of Natural Medicine, 3rd ed., vol. 1, pp. 27–40. New York: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Donald Sproule, MD, CM, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Marc S. Micozzi, MD, PhD - Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Last Revised October 12, 2009

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