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  » Alternative Medicine  »  Naturopathy

What is naturopathy?

Naturopathy, or naturopathic medicine, is a system of medicine based on the healing power of nature. Benjamin Lust, a German immigrant, first introduced naturopathy to the United States in 1902 when he founded the American School of Naturopathy. The school emphasized the use of natural cures, proper bowel habits, and good hygiene as the essential tools for health. Today, naturopaths are licensed primary care providers offering information and advice on a variety of alternative and complementary therapies, including homeopathy, vitamin and mineral supplements, Traditional Chinese Medicine, relaxation techniques, and herbal remedies. 

What should I expect on the first visit?

All naturopathic doctors (N.D.s) are trained as family physicians, so a visit to an N.D. will be similar to a visit to your family doctor. Your first visit may take over an hour. The N.D. will perform a routine physical, which may require laboratory tests, and he or she will ask you to describe your health history as well as any of your specific health concerns.

Naturopathic doctors treat the whole person, which means they consider a variety of factors before they diagnose and treat an illness. Factors an N.D. might consider in making a diagnosis include your mental, emotional, and spiritual state, your diet, your heredity (whether or not your parents or grandparents suffer [or suffered] from the same condition), your environment, and your lifestyle. Practitioners of naturopathy use virtually every known natural therapy in their goal to restore your body to its original healthy state.

Some of the more common naturopathic treatments include:

  • Clinical Nutrition. Vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and other food components can be used to improve health and boost resistance to disease. Eating vegetables or eliminating certain foods (such as dairy products) is often recommended to remove toxins from the body.
  • Herbal Medicine. Whole herbs can be prescribed as natural alternatives or complements to conventional medications.
  • Homeopathic Medicine. Guided by the philosophy that "like cures like," homeopathic treatments rely on the basic principle that the same substance that (in large doses) causes a disease's symptoms to appear in a healthy person is able (in minute doses) to cure a person suffering from an illness with the same symptoms.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine. This thousands-of-years old system of medicine is based on views similar to those found in naturopathy: it treats the whole person, works with the self-healing process, and recognizes the strong relationship between environment and body function. Practitioners believe that a free flow of life energy (called qi) throughout the body is essential for good health. If qi is blocked—by injury, emotions, or diet—illness results.
  • Acupuncture. An ancient practice that many believe can restore balance to the body. Needles are used to stimulate specific points on the body to enhance the flow of qi along energy pathways, called meridians.
  • Hydrotherapy. Using water as a therapy is one of the oldest methods of maintaining health and treating disease. Hydrotherapy is used to stimulate and support healing and to strengthen the immune system. Therapies include drinking natural spring water, taking baths, and exercising in water.
  • Physical Medicine. This natural approach to healing involves using touch, hot and cold compresses, electric currents, and sound to manipulate the muscles, bones, and spine.
  • Detoxification. This therapy removes toxins from the body by using techniques such as fasting, enemas, and drinking water in large amounts.
  • Spirituality. Personal spiritual development is encouraged as an important part of an overall health program.
  • Lifestyle and Psychological Counseling. N.D.s are formally trained in mental, emotional, and family counseling. An N.D. may use hypnosis, guided imagery, or other counseling methods as part of a treatment plan.

What illnesses and conditions respond well to naturopathy?

Because naturopaths successfully combine so many therapies it is difficult to say that naturopathy is recommended or "good for" certain diseases or illnesses. N.D.s treat the whole person (rather than simply treating disease symptoms), striving to maintain a balanced state of good health in their patients.

Is there anything I should look out for?

Be sure to share the details of your treatment with your M.D. if you choose to see one in addition to seeing an N.D., and let your N.D. know of any conventional medications you are taking. Some treatments can negatively interact with each other, and your healthcare practitioners will be better able to treat you if they are aware of every treatment that you are using. For the most part, naturopathy focuses on gentle treatments that do no harm. However, some precaution is wise. There are herbal preparations that are toxic when combined with some conventional medications. Significant dietary changes can also undermine good health (especially in the very young, the elderly, and those with a medical condition, such as diabetes).

How can I find a qualified practitioner?

Naturopathic doctors are licensed in 11 states—Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Vermont, Utah, and Washington—and have a legal right to practice in Idaho and the District of Columbia. To locate a qualified N.D. in your area, contact the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians at 206-298-0125 (or visit their Web site at

How much does treatment cost?

Treatment expenses vary, depending upon the illness being treated and the therapy being used. Most N.D.s will charge between $200 and $300 for the first visit and $125 to $150 for follow-up visits.

Will my medical insurance cover naturopathy?

Naturopathic doctors throughout thešcountry are becoming increasingly recognized as primary care providers and some insurance companies are beginning to reimburse people who choose to visit them. Check with your insurance company to see what your policy offers.

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