Naturopathy is a form of healthcare that combines modern treatment with traditional methods. It includes alternative, natural therapies to modern medicine.
Naturopathy focuses on:
- the body’s capacity to heal itself
- preventing health problems
- a personal responsibility to optimize health
Naturopathic treatment plans focus on education and prevention. They often emphasize diet, exercise, and stress management.
Naturopathy uses a series of principles and beliefs to create individual treatment plans.
These principles and beliefs are:
- Self-healing: Identifying and removing obstacles to recovery, allows for natural healing.
- Underlying symptoms: Rather than stopping symptoms, a naturopathic doctor can resolve underlying physical or mental issues by treating the body, mind, and spirit.
- Harmless treatment: Treatment plans should not have harmful side effects or control symptoms negatively.
- Holistic treatment: A naturopathic doctor must recognize individuality to treat all aspects of a person’s health effectively.
- Education in treatment: Naturopathic doctors teach self-care to help empower people against ill health.
- Prevention: It is good to remove toxic substances from a lifestyle to prevent problems from arising.
Naturopathic doctors may hold different licenses. Not all states have the same licensing requirements, so it is advisable to check the details of a naturopathic doctor before a consultation.
The three main types of naturopath are:
- Naturopathic doctor: A licensed naturopathic doctor must attend 4 years of naturopathic medical school to hold a recognized certification.
- Traditional naturopath: Traditional naturopaths may not hold a license, so they are not so broadly accepted.
- Other healthcare advisors: Other, contemporary healthcare professionals, such as dentists, may use naturopathic methods in their treatment plans.
Methods vary between naturopathic practitioners, but consultations usually follow a similar overall practice.
The practitioner will typically begin with a diagnosis. In this part of the process, they will address personal information, including lifestyle habits, stress levels, and diet.
A naturopathic doctor can use physical assessments, laboratory tests, medical imaging, and medical history examinations to diagnose a health problem.
After diagnosis, they will establish ways to prevent and treat the health problem by working with the natural healing systems within the body.
Naturopathic doctors design medical care plans to suit individual needs and health conditions. This means the treatment plans they offer can vary, but they all follow similar principles.
Most treatments include food and nutrition. A naturopathic doctor will customize recommendations for the individual.
A diet plan will typically use whole foods, for example, fruit, vegetables, lean meat, and whole grains.
The doctor may also offer advice on maximizing nutritional value by eating seasonal, local food. Some believe food is better for the body when consumed raw, rather than cooked.
Treatments a naturopathic doctor may offer include:
- diet and nutrition recommendations
- behavioral change, such as exercise and lifestyle
- homeopathy, a type of natural medicine
- hydrotherapy, which is water-based treatment
- manipulative therapy, for instance, putting pressure on certain parts of the body to establish balance
- herbal dietary supplements
A small 2020 study suggests that naturopathic treatment plans are useful in controlling type 2 diabetes.
In some cases, with the appropriate license, naturopathic doctors can recommend prescription drugs, undertake minor surgeries, and give vaccinations.
Naturopathic treatments are usually not a person’s first source of healthcare. People often seek naturopathic remedies when traditional or other complementary treatments are not effective.
A 2019 review of studies found that methods that use naturopathy may be effective in:
- cardiovascular disease
- musculoskeletal pain
- type 2 diabetes
- polycystic ovary syndrome
- some other chronic conditions
An older 2007 review found evidence that the herbal medicines of devil’s claw, white willow bark, and cayenne can alleviate pain more effectively than placebo. However, the authors acknowledge that the reporting quality of the studies in the review was poor.
There is anecdotal evidence to suggest naturopathic treatments such as acupuncture can cure chronic disorders, but again, this is not well supported scientifically.
A 2018 review found that naturopathic treatments helped control problems that follow operations. For example, acupuncture and acupressure can reduce symptoms of vomiting and nausea. Aromatherapy and music may also reduce pain, stress, and anxiety.
Naturopaths work on a more personal level, spending more time covering individual needs. They create treatment plans that consider all aspects of a person.
Naturopathy can be useful alongside modern medicine, and many say these methods allow the body to activate self-healing mechanisms.
Naturopathic healthcare can also be a cheaper alternative to conventional healthcare.
Many practices, such as healthful eating, are likely to be safe, but experts warn that regulations and licenses do not guarantee safe treatment.
Studies in naturopathic treatments often have small sample sizes and lack supporting scientific evidence.
In 2013, a publication by the World Health Organisation (WHO) categorized naturopathy under Traditional and Complementary Medicine. Overall, the WHO state that this area needs more evidence to be sure practices are useful and harmless.
People can use dietary changes with caution to maintain a well-rounded diet. Naturopathic doctors sometimes recommend a gluten-free diet when it is not necessary.
If a person does not substitute dietary changes correctly, they can cause nutritional deficiencies.
Naturopathy blends traditional medicine with conventional healthcare to work with the body on a natural level. A doctor may use naturopathic methods to support modern treatments and surgeries.
Naturopathy is a controversial field, as studies into it have not shown it to be consistently effective.
It is sensible for people to talk to a doctor before changing to or adding naturopathic treatments, as some therapies may interact with existing treatments.