Naturopathic medicine (or naturopathy) is based on the belief that the body can heal itself naturally. Naturopathic medicine attempts to improve health, prevent disease, and treat illness by promoting the use of organic foods and exercise; encouraging a healthy, balanced lifestyle; and 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, a licensed naturopathic doctor (ND) attends a 4-year, graduate-level naturopathic medical school and studies the same basic sciences as a medical doctor (MD). But the ND also studies alternative approaches to therapy, such as herbal medicine, acupuncture, and bodywork.
Most traditional naturopathic physicians (naturopaths) believe in natural therapies, such as nutritional and lifestyle counseling. They generally avoid prescribing medicines or performing surgery. Some naturopaths prescribe herbal medicines, homeopathic dilutions, nutritional supplements, or perform minor surgeries. The disagreement over specific practice guidelines and licensing requirements in different states has led to some public confusion about the role of the naturopath.
People use naturopathic medicine for promoting good health, preventing disease, and treating illness. Most naturopaths can treat earaches, allergies, and other common medical problems. Naturopathic medicine tries to find the cause of the condition rather than focusing solely on treating symptoms. A properly trained naturopathic physician works with other health professionals, referring people to other practitioners for diagnosis or treatment when appropriate.
Two common concerns about naturopathic medicine are the use of dietary fasting and a bias against immunization (vaccinations).
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 to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on an alternative therapy.
Naturopathy licensing varies from state to state. Not all states require naturopaths to be licensed. Also, not all naturopathic educational programs are the same. Some schools grant degrees that are not accepted by state licensing boards. In the United States, the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME) is the only agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit naturopathic programs and colleges.
Before you choose a naturopath, find out whether the person graduated from an accredited college. Also check to see whether your state has licensing laws that govern the practice of NDs. If your state licenses NDs, ask your prospective ND whether he or she is licensed.
Last Revised: June 29, 2011
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