Alternative Medicine Naturopathic

Naturopathic medicine (naturopathy) is the use of natural medicine to diagnose, treat and care for patients, as practiced by naturopathic physicians (NDs). Naturopathic medicine follows six principles:

  • First, do no harm.
  • Educate patients and encourage them to take responsibility for their health.
  • Emphasize prevention.
  • Facilitate the body’s natural healing ability.
  • Identify the underlying cause of a problem and don’t only treat symptoms.
  • Treat the whole person, not individual diseases.

Naturopathy came to the United States from Germany around 1900, and flourished until the 1930s, when newly developed drugs and conventional medicine pushed naturopathy into the background. Naturopathic medicine began to make a comeback in the 1970s, with an increased interest in holistic health in body, mind and spirit.

Licensing and Training

As of August 2010, 15 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have licensing laws for naturopathic doctors. States that license naturopathic medicine require that NDs complete a four-year graduate-level program at an accredited naturopathic medical school and pass licensing exams.

Naturopathy medicine training includes the same basic science training as conventional medical schools, plus training in holistic and natural treatments. This training, which emphasizes preventing disease and optimizing wellness, typically includes:

  • Acupuncture
  • Botanical medicine (herbs)
  • Clinical nutrition
  • Homeopathic medicine
  • Psychology and counseling to support people in making lifestyle changes.

The scope of practice of a naturopath varies according to state law. Naturopaths can prescribe drugs or be primary care physicians in some states, while they can’t in others. In unlicensed states, the scope of practice excludes diagnosing and treating disease.

If you live in a state that doesn’t license naturopathic medicine, be aware that anyone can open a naturopathic clinic. You need to verify the individual’s credentials.

Visiting a Naturopathy Clinic

Researchers find it difficult to study the complex treatment approaches involved in naturopathic medicine, so little scientific evidence is available on its effectiveness. Since naturopathy takes a holistic view, it’s difficult to study using standard Western research methods.

However, many of these modalities have been used for thousands of years, such as acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and the use of herbs for medicinal purposes. Even so, modern research on some of the individual therapies used in naturopathy has produced varying results.

When seeing a naturopath or visiting a naturopathy clinic:

  • Find out if the naturopath accepts insurance and if your insurance covers the cost of naturopathic medicine.
  • Make sure the naturopath has the proper qualifications.
  • Make sure the naturopath can coordinate your care with other medical providers.
  • Tell the naturopath about your medical, emotional and psychological conditions, as well as drugs (prescription or over-the-counter) and dietary supplements you’re taking. Herbal remedies may interact with other drugs or supplements.

If you’re seeing other healthcare providers, make sure they all know about other treatments you are receiving. Coordinating your medical care is essential for the best possible results.


American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. (n.d.). About naturopathic medicine. Retrieved August 27, 2010, from