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The field of naturopathy originated with Sebastian Kneipp, a German priest, in the mid-1800s. Kneipp advocated natural living and healing with sunlight, baths, fresh air and cold water, sometimes referred to as "taking the cure" at natural mineral springs and spas. Kneipp's contemporary, Benedict Lust, bought the rights to the term "naturopathy" in 1902 and opened the first school of naturopathic medicine in New York City. In addition to Kneipp's original naturopathic practices, Lust endorsed massage, herbal remedies, homeopathy, spinal manipulation and other therapies. Interest in naturopathy waned in the mid-1900s but then revived in the 1970s.

Naturopathy is based on the idea that the body has an innate capacity for optimal health. Naturopathic therapies are intended only to facilitate the body's natural capacity for healing. This philosophy is rooted in ancient beliefs originating in China and India related to the body's vital energy. Naturopaths concentrate on principles of holistic health (pertaining to body, mind and soul), prevention and self-care.

What Are Some Naturopathic Methods?

Practitioners of naturopathy rely on a variety of natural remedies, including herbal extracts and physical therapies, to create a healthy environment for the body to heal itself. In addition to these health-promoting activities, patients are urged to lose excess weight, quit smoking and exercise regularly.

There are many contemporary naturopathic treatment modalities available:

  • Nutrition
  • Physical medicine (hydrotherapy, massage, etc.)
  • Botanical medicine (medicinal herbs)
  • Natural childbirth
  • Counseling and psychotherapy (talk therapy, stress management, biofeedback, hypnosis, etc.)

Practitioners may specialize in one or more of these modalities.

What Is Naturopathy Used For?

Naturopathic practitioners can address most health problems but acknowledge that some serious medical problems (such as life-threatening illnesses, childbirth emergencies and broken bones) are best treated by conventional medicine. They may collaborate with conventional medical professionals in such areas. For example, cancer patients have been treated by a combination of naturopathic practices and conventional therapy.

Always inform your health-care providers if you are also receiving care from other professionals, including naturopathic practitioners.

Last updated March 18, 2002

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