History and Future

History of Naturopathic Medicine

The origin of naturopathic medicine, sometimes called "naturopathy," goes back thousands of years, drawing on the healing wisdom of many cultures including Indian (Ayurvedic), Chinese (Taoist), Greek (Hippocratic), Arabian, Egyptian, and European (monastic medicine) traditions. During the modern age, medicine took on exciting dimensions and developed new tools for fighting disease. Many ancient healing methods were rapidly discarded as doctors began treating disease almost exclusively with prescription drugs and invasive surgery.

Health practitioners in Europe and America, perceived that valuable, empirically proven natural therapies were being lost, and struggled to retain the practice of promoting health through stimulation of the vital force and the rational use of natural agents. Naturopathic medicine, as a practice, is 100 years old, and its origins can be traced to Dr. Benedict Lust and Dr. Robert Foster. Dr. Lust, a German naturopath, came to the United States to practice and teach the hydrotherapy techniques made popular by Sebastian Kneipp in Europe.

A group of Kneipp practitioners met in 1900 and determined that the practice should be expanded to incorporate all natural methods of healing, including botanical medicines, nutritional therapy, physiotherapy, psychology (mind-body connection), homeopathy and the manipulative therapies. They called their profession "Naturopathy."

The natural therapies and the philosophy on which naturopathy is based have been effectively used to treat diseases since ancient times. As Rene Dubos noted in The Mirage of Health (1959), the word "physician" is from the Greek root meaning "nature." Hippocrates, a physician who lived 2400 years ago, is often considered the earliest predecessor of naturopathic physicians, particularly in his teaching that "nature is healer of all diseases" and his formulation of the concept vis medicatrix naturae — "the healing power of nature." This concept has long been at the core of indigenous medicine in many cultures around the world and remains one of the central themes of naturopathic philosophy to this day.

The earliest doctors and healers worked with herbs, foods, water, fasting, and tissue manipulation — gentle treatments that do not obscure the body's own healing powers. Today's naturopathic physicians continue to use these therapies as their main tools and to advocate a healthy dose of primary prevention. In addition, modern NDs conduct and make practical use of the latest biochemical research involving nutrition, botanicals, homeopathy, and other natural treatments.

For many diseases and conditions (ulcerative colitis, asthma, menopause, flu, obesity, and chronic fatigue), treatments used by naturopathic physicians can be primary and often curative. Naturopathic physicians also function within an integrated framework of complementary care with western medical practitioners, for example referring patients to a medical specialist such as an oncologist or a surgeon. Naturopathic therapies can be employed within this context to complement the treatments used by conventionally trained medical doctors. The result is a team-care approach that recognizes the needs of the patient to receive the best overall treatment most appropriate to his or her specific medical condition.

In the United States, naturopathic medicine is based on accredited educational institutions, professional licensure in a growing number of states, national standards of practice and care, peer review, and an ongoing commitment to state-of-the-art scientific research. Modern American naturopathic physicians (NDs) receive extensive training in and use therapies that are primarily natural (hence the name naturopathic) and nontoxic, including clinical nutrition, homeopathy, botanical medicine, hydrotherapy, physical medicine, and counseling. NDs attend naturopathic medical colleges recognized by the US Department of Education, practice medicine as primary health care providers, and work to bring about positive progressive change in the nation's medical system.

Naturopathic medical conventions in the 1920s attracted over 10,000 naturopathic physicians. There were more than 20 naturopathic medical colleges, and NDs were licensed in a majority of states. Naturopathic medicine experienced a decline in the 1940s and '50s with the rise of pharmaceutical drugs, and technological medicine. The National College of Naturopathic Medicine (NCNM) was founded to keep the practice alive. The weakening popularity of naturopathic medicine was so severe that during its first 20 years, the National College of Naturopathic Medicine graduated only 70 students. From its founding in 1956 until 1979, when three of its alumni founded John Bastyr College (now Bastyr University) in Seattle, it was the only naturopathic college in the U.S.

While naturopathic medicine has been present in the United States for a century, the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, the oldest accredited naturopathic medical school in North America, is less than half as old. NCNM has been at the center of the profession, preserving and extending the legacy of naturopathic medicine, founded by those who started practice in the 1920s and '30s, and training those who would follow them generations later. The profession has experienced a resurgence in the past two decades as a health-conscious public has sought alternatives for conditions that conventional medicine has not adequately addressed.

Since the late 1970s, three more naturopathic colleges have opened, and NCNM enrollment has quadrupled. This growth is in direct response to the changing needs of our society; not only is the public demanding a medical model in which the individual plays a more active role in his or her health and healing process, but doctors also want a medical model that is more patient-centered and holistic.

NCNM is alma mater to more than 1200 naturopathic physicians who practice in nearly every state and province and many foreign countries. Many are nationally recognized spokespersons and teachers as well as successful physicians who have gone on to found new naturopathic colleges. National College of Naturopathic Medicine alumni have also founded professional associations to promote and expand naturopathic medicine. The profound clinical limitations and prohibitive costs associated with conventional medicine are becoming obvious, and millions of Americans are inspired to look for alternatives. Naturopathy and complementary alternative medicine have entered a new era of rejuvenation.

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The Future of Naturopathic Medicine
Today, licensed naturopathic physicians are experiencing clinical successes, providing leadership in innovative 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. In 1992, the NIH's Office of Alternative Medicine, created by an act of Congress, invited leading naturopathic physicians (educators, researchers, and clinical practitioners) to serve on key federal advisory panels and to help define priorities and design protocols for state-of-the-art alternative medical research. In 1994, the NIH selected Bastyr University as the national center for research on alternative treatments for HIV/AIDS. At a one-million-dollar level of funding, this action represented the formal recognition of the legitimacy and significance of naturopathic medicine.

Meanwhile, the number of new NDs is steadily increasing, and licensure of naturopathic physicians is expanding into new states. By April of 1996, eleven of fifty states had naturopathic licensing laws (Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and four Canadian provinces). A number of other states are likely to enact naturopathic licensing in the near future.

Naturopathic medical education is growing by leaps and bounds. Three of the four US naturopathic medical schools — National College of Naturopathic Medicine, Bastyr University, and Southwest College are accredited. The fourth, the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine, is an applicant for accreditation.

In October 1996, in a major development for both public health and naturopathic medicine, the Natural Medicine Clinic opened in Kent, Washington. Funded by the King County (Seattle) Department of Public Health, this clinic is the first medical facility in the nation to offer natural medical treatments to people in the community, paid for by tax dollars. Bastyr University, one of the three US naturopathic colleges, was selected over several leading Seattle-area hospitals to operate the clinic.

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Flatirons Naturopathic Clinic
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