Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic Medicine or Naturopathy is a medical system based on “vis mediacatrix naturae” or “the healing power of nature.”  It was founded in Germany towards the end of the 19th century by Benedict Lust (yes, that is a real name), and further developed in the United States during the early 20th century.  Lust likely designed Naturopathy based on the medical care he once received from Sebastian Kneipp, a priest in Germany.  Kneipp’s treatment, called “nature care”, included diet, exercise, herbal medicine, exposure to sun and fresh air, and hydrotherapy.  The scope of Naturopathy practice has evolved in the intervening years and now encompasses a number of additional modalities.

The following six principles provide the basis for Naturopathy as a field: 1)  First do no harm, 2)  Physician as teacher, 3) Treat the whole person, 4) Prevention, 5) Healing power of nature, and 6) Treat the cause of disease.  These principles are further elaborated on NCCAM’s website: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.  Naturopathy: An Introduction.  Modern Naturopathic Physicians use the following modalities in their practices:  nutrition and dietary counseling, herbal medicines, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, physical medicine, exercise, acupuncture, stress reduction, and lifestyle counseling.  Some Naturopathic Physicians are even licensed to act as primary care providers and dispense prescriptions for pharmaceuticals.  The specific scope of practice varies based on the training of the individual and the licensing status of the state.

There are five Naturopathic Colleges in North America, located in Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Connecticut and Ontario, Canada.  Fifteen states along with the District of Columbia currently license Naturopathic Physicians who have attained an N.D. or N.M.D. following completion of a four-year accredited graduate program.  For more information on the status of licensing in your state, please see Bastyr Center for Natural Health: Naturopathic Medicine Legal Status and Licensure.  The number of states licensing N.D.s will likely increase in the coming years, since fierce political battles are currently being waged all over the country to institute formal licensing procedures for Naturopathic Physicians.  This continued struggle is the modern extension of the historically frosty relationship between Naturopathic Physicians and the American Medical Association (the professional society for M.D.s).  Still, Naturopathy is a growing field, and given the shortage of primary care physicians in the U.S. it is likely that they will begin to play a larger role in healthcare in the future.

It is important to ask your Naturopathic Physician about his/her qualifications and credentials prior to commencing care.  Also, as always, make sure to always disclose your CAM usage to your primary care provider.


DISCLAIMER:   This article is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice.  You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.



1.  National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.  Naturopathy: An Introduction

2.  Natural Standard Bottom Line Monograph Naturopathy  *Please note that this resource is available only by subscription.

3.  Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Fourth Edition by Marc S. Micozzi for more detailed information (Ch. 21).  Published by Saunders Elsevier, St. Louis, Missouri 2011.

4.  Integrative Medicine Second Edition by David Rakel for more detailed information on usage for specific conditions.  Copyright 2007, 2003 by Elsevier Inc.  Published by Saunders Elsevier, Philadelphia, PA 2007.

5.  Bastyr Center for Natural Health: Naturopathic Medicine Legal Status and Licensure 

6.  From Humors to Medical Science: A History of American Medicine Second Edition by John Duffy.  Published by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, 1993.

7.  Nature Cures: The History of Alternative Medicine in America by James C. Whorton.  Published by Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2002.

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