Naturopathy, which evolved from a combination of traditional practices and healthcare approaches popularized in 19th century Europe, encompasses a wide range of therapies. The goal is to treat the whole person — mind, body and spirit — by finding the root causes of illness, rather than just addressing the symptoms. Then, naturopathy seeks to use natural methods to trigger the body’s own healing powers.

Often, naturopathy is sought out when conventional treatments have proven disappointing. Naysayers and skeptics note a lack of scientific evidence to support or dispute the actual efficacy of many naturopathic remedies. But the reality is that in 2018 there were 6,000 naturopathic physicians practicing in the U.S. with increasing numbers of hospitals bringing them on board. 

Could naturopathy be a good fit for you? Here are some details to consider.

What Does Naturopathy Involve?

Because naturopaths strongly believe in treating the whole person, your first appointment will probably be a lengthy one. In addition to asking the typical questions about health history, lifestyle habits, and stress levels, they may want to run some tests. Then, they will discuss all the different options you may be able to use to address your issues. Common naturopathic therapies include a combination of: 

  • Acupressure and AcupunctureDietary and lifestyle changes
  • Stress reduction
  • Herbs and other dietary supplements
  • Homeopathy
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Manipulative therapies, such as acupuncture, acupressure, massage, and chiropractic adjustments
  • Exercise therapy
  • Practitioner-guided detoxification
  • Psychotherapy and counseling

Who Can Practice Naturopathy?

Understanding the credentials of your naturopath is crucial to ensuring you are getting high quality of care. Three groups of people are allowed to practice: Naturopathic physicians, traditional naturopaths, and other healthcare providers. 

Doctor discussing information with patient in an officeNaturopathic physicians: Also called naturopathic doctors (NDs) or doctors of naturopathic medicine (NMDs), these practitioners have completed a program accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (an organization recognized for accreditation purposes by the U.S. Dept. of Education) at a four-year, graduate-level school. They study basic sciences similar to those studied in conventional medical school as well as nutrition, psychology, and complementary therapies such as herbal medicine and homeopathy.

Some states (about 26 of them) require naturopathic doctors to become licensed, which usually means they have to pass an exam to practice and must take continuing education classes. This helps to ensure certain educational standards and provides oversight. Many states, though — including New York — do not require a license to practice, so it is important that you do your research when seeking out naturopathic care.

Traditional Naturopaths: These practitioners are commonly known as “naturopaths,” and their training can vary widely. Training programs can be different in terms of length and content of study, and as they’re not accredited, there is little oversight in terms of quality and breadth of knowledge. 

Other Healthcare Providers: Some medical doctors, dentists, chiropractors, dentists, and nurses offer naturopathic treatments as a complement to their regular practice. Many are either NDs or have studied naturopathy in the course of seeking their degree.

As with traditional naturopaths, their training programs can vary widely, and as such may not be accredited (as naturopaths.)

The NCCIH (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health) recommends that you tell all your health care providers about any complementary or integrative health approaches that you use. And even more importantly, they remind us to remember that regulations, licenses, or certificates do not guarantee safe, effective treatment from any health care provider — conventional or complementary. To learn more, see the NCCIH fact sheet Credentialing, Licensing, and Education.

Could Naturopathy Help Me?

Some people use naturopaths for their primary care, but more often they are sought out as a complementary practice. While the scientific evidence is scanty, some conditions that reported positive effects using naturopathic treatment include: 

  • Tincture bottle surrounded by yellow flowersAllergies
  • Headaches
  • Chemotherapy side-effects
  • Digestive problems
  • Obesity
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Chronic pain
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Many of the conditions listed above are those that standard medical practices are still stumped by, so it may be worth giving naturopathy a try. Since naturopathy relies on using natural sources and methods, harmful side-effects are less common. That said, some supplements, restrictive diets, and bodily adjustments can have unintended consequences, so it is always important to make sure all your medical providers are aware of any treatment you are seeking.

Other Articles You Might Enjoy: