Medicine - The Basics
A Little History
Naturopathic Medicine Today
Trends for the Future
Medicine - The Basics
Naturopathic Medicine is a unique and distinct system of health care that
emphasizes the use of prevention and natural therapeutics. The doctors
who practice naturopathic medicine, called naturopathic physicians
(NDs), are trained to serve as primary care general practitioners who
are experts in the prevention, diagnosis, management, and treatment of
both acute and chronic health conditions.
Naturopathic physicians are trained at accredited, four-year, post-graduate,
residential naturopathic medical programs. The training consists of comprehensive
study of the conventional medical sciences, including anatomy, physiology,
pathology, microbiology, immunology, clinical and physical diagnosis,
laboratory diagnosis, cardiology, gastroenterology, gynecology, etc, as
well as detailed study of a wide variety of natural therapies.
Naturopathic physicians are guided by six principles: First, Do No Harm;
The Healing Power of Nature; Find the Cause; Treat the Whole Person; Preventive
Medicine; and, Doctor as Teacher. This set of principles, emphasized throughout
a naturopathic physician's training, outlines the philosophy guiding the
naturopathic approach to health and healing and forms the foundation of
this distinct health care practice.
Naturopathic physicians use a variety of natural and non-invasive therapies,
including clinical nutrition, homeopathy, botanical medicine, hydrotherapy,
physical medicine, and counseling. Many naturopathic physicians have additional
training and certification in acupuncture and natural child birth. Naturopathic
treatments are effective in treating a wide variety of conditions without
the need for additional intervention. Naturopathic physicians are also
able to function within an integrated framework, and naturopathic therapies
can be used to complement treatments used by conventionally trained medical
doctors. The result is a patient-centered approach that strives to provide
the most appropriate treatment for an individual's needs.
In the United States, the naturopathic medical profession's infrastructure
includes accredited educational institutions, professional licensing,
national standards of practice, peer review, and a commitment to state-of-the-art
A Little History
Naturopathic medicine in the United States came into existence just over
100 years ago, developed by a man named Benedict Lust in New York state.
While the profession by name is just a century old, the natural therapies
and philosophy on which naturopathic medicine are based have been effectively
used to treat diseases since ancient times. The use of herbal remedies,
dietary interventions, hydrotherapy, and lifestyle changes have been used
throughout history and in nearly every culture to inhabit the Earth. Hippocrates,
a Greek physician who lived 2400 years ago, first formulated the concept
of vis medicatrix naturae -- "the healing power of nature".
This concept has long been at the core of medicine in many cultures around
the world and remains one of the central themes of naturopathic philosophy
Naturopathic medicine was popular and widely available throughout the
United States well into the early part of the 20th century. In 1920, there
were many naturopathic medical schools, thousands of naturopathic physicians,
and scores of thousands of patients using naturopathic therapies around
the country. But by mid-century the rise of "technological medicine"
and the discovery and increased use of "miracle drugs" like
antibiotics were associated with the temporary decline of naturopathic
medicine and most other methods of natural healing.
By the 1970's, however, the American public was becoming increasingly
disenchanted with what had become "conventional medicine." The
profound clinical limitations and its out-of-control costs were becoming
obvious, and millions of Americans were inspired to look for options and
alternatives. Naturopathy, and all of complementary and alternative medicine,
began to enter an era of rejuvenation.
Naturopathic Medicine Today
Today, more people than ever are seeking naturopathic medical care and
naturopathic medical schools are growing at record rates to accomodate
the increased demand for naturopathic education. Presently, there are
three accredited four-year naturopathic medical programs in the United
States, and one program in Canada which is a candidate for accreditation.
Naturopathic medicine has an independent accrediting agency, the Council
on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME), which is the recognized authority
for establishing and maintaining the educational standards for profession.
A nationally standardized licensing exam (NPLEX) has been established,
which is used in nearly all of the states which currently license NDs.
Currently, eleven states license NDs (as does Puerto Rico and four Canadian
provinces). In these states, NDs practice as independent primary care
general practitioners, with the ability to diagnose and treat medical
conditions, perform physical exams, and order laboratory testing. In these
states, many health care consumers specifically choose NDs as their primary
The national organization representing naturopathic physicians, the American
Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), is the driving force for
the development of the profession. The AANP is instrumental in the development
of the professions educational and practice standards, and to expanding
awareness of the vital role naturopathic medicine has to play in the future
of the health care system in the United States.
Today, naturopathic physicians are experiencing greater recognition as
health care practitioners who are experts in the field of natural and
preventive medicine, providing leadership in natural medical research,
enjoying increasing political influence, and looking forward to an unlimited
future potential. Both the American public and policy makers are recognizing
and contributing to the resurgence of the comprehensive system of health
care practiced by NDs.
Trends for the Future (Signs of Things to Come)
The 1990s has been a decade of great achievement for the naturopathic
profession: several states received licensure, enrollment in naturopathic
medical programs more than doubled, two new naturopathic medical programs
were started, the first publicly funded natural health care clinic was
initiated, a naturopathic institution was designated as a NIH Office of
Alternative Medicine research center, and two naturopathic physicians
were appointed by the federal Secretary of the Department of Health and
Human Services to the NIHs Alternative Medicine Program Advisory
As we enter the twenty-first century, the naturopathic profession finds
itself well positioned for a new era in health care. With more and more
research supporting the therapies used by naturopathic physicians, and
the public demand for greater choice and increased access to more natural
approaches to their health care, naturopathic medicine is poised to make
the transition from alternative medicine to truly mainstream