Naturopathic Medicine

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Topic Overview

What is naturopathic medicine?

Naturopathic medicine (or naturopathy) is based on the belief that the body can heal itself. It aims to improve health, prevent disease, and treat illness through the use of organic foods and exercise; a healthy, balanced lifestyle; and the use of treatments from other areas of complementary medicine. (These treatments include ayurveda, homeopathy, and herbal therapies.)

Naturopathy was developed in the late 1800s in the United States. Today, both naturopathic doctors and traditional naturopaths practice naturopathic medicine. A licensed naturopathic doctor (ND) attends a 4-year, graduate-level naturopathic medical school where he or she studies basic sciences and therapies such as herbal medicine, homeopathy, and bodywork. Naturopaths may attend training programs that vary in length and content, but they usually aren't licensed.

Most naturopathic doctors and naturopaths believe in natural therapies, such as nutrition and lifestyle counseling. They tend to avoid treating with prescription medicines but may prescribe herbal medicines, homeopathic dilutions, or nutritional supplements.

What is naturopathy used for?

Some people use naturopathic medicine to promote good health, prevent disease, and treat illness. Most naturopathic doctors can treat earaches, allergies, and other common health problems.

Is naturopathy safe?

Two common concerns about naturopathy are the use of fasting and a bias against vaccines.

  • Talk with your medical doctor before fasting. Fasting means not eating or drinking, or consuming only liquids for a period of time. Fasting can be dangerous, especially if you have a disease such as diabetes.
  • Some naturopathic doctors and naturopaths do not believe that immunization is necessary. But you may want to protect yourself or your child by getting vaccines.

Talk with your medical doctor about any complementary health practice that you would like to try or are already using. Your medical doctor can help you manage your health better if he or she knows about all of your health practices.

Naturopathy licensing varies from state to state. Not all states require naturopathic doctors to be licensed. Also, not all naturopathic training 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 naturopathic doctor, find out if the person graduated from an accredited college. Also check to see if your state has licensing laws that govern the practice of NDs. If your state licenses NDs, ask the ND if he or she is licensed.

Related Information


Other Works Consulted

  • Zeff JL, et al. (2013). A hierarchy of healing: The therapeutic order. In JE Pizzorno, MT Murray, eds., Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th ed., pp. 18–33. St. Louis: Mosby.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerKathleen M. Fairfield, MD, MPH, DrPH - Internal Medicine

Current as ofMay 26, 2016