What is Naturopathy?
Naturopathic Medicine is a health care system based on natural therapies, underpinned by the fundamental belief that given the right conditions, the body has an innate ability to heal itself. Naturopathic physicians are trained to diagnose, treat and manage acute and chronic conditions. Rather than focusing on a collection of individual symptoms a naturopath looks at a person as a whole – body, mind and spirit.
Naturopaths seek to identify and treat the root cause of any symptoms. They believe in the principle ‘First do no harm’, which means they will select the most gentle and non-invasive treatment possible to restore the body to balance. This could include changes to diet, appropriate exercise, exposure to natural daylight, gentle tissue manipulation, hydrotherapy or non-toxic natural remedies such as herbs, flower essences and homeopathic preparations. Emotional issues may also be addressed using counselling or relaxation techniques such as meditation.
A naturopath also aims to educate the patient – empowering them to take responsibility for their own health, so that they may prevent future disease and enjoy optimal vitality.
Naturopathic medicine is based on a set of 6 fundamental principles:
1. The Healing Power of Nature:
Naturopaths believe that nature has an innate ability to heal.
2. Identify and Treat the Causes
Treating symptoms does not stop those symptoms reappearing. Naturopaths seek to find the underlying cause, which may be physical or emotional.
3. First Do No Harm
A Naturopath will always choose the most natural, least invasive and least toxic treatment, to avoid creating other imbalances or side effects.
4. Doctor as Teacher
Part of the Naturopath’s role is in educating the patient to take responsibility for their own healing and maintenance of health.
5. Treat the Whole Person
The body is seen as an integrated whole – all aspects of a person are taken into account and the treatment plan encompasses mind, body and spirit.
Avoidance of toxins and changes to diet and lifestyle are recommended to prevent the onset of future disease.
The roots of Naturopathy can be traced back to the Greek philosopher Hippocrates, and the Hippocratic School of Medicine in 400 BC. Hippocrates valued the principles of Eastern medicine. He believed in viewing a person as a whole, seeking the underlying cause of a disease and using the laws of nature to stimulate healing.
The term naturopathy was first used by Dr John Scheel in the late 19th century in New York, to describe his methods of healthcare. The term was later purchased by Benedict Lust, a German born naturopath who was sent as a missionary to bring hydrotherapy to America. Lust was a student of Sebastian Kneipp, who is famous for his work on the healing properties of water. Lust is widely considered to be the "Father of Naturopathy".
In 1902, Lust founded the American School of Naturopathy in New York, and in 1919 he founded the American Naturopathic Association, allowing Naturopaths to become licensed for the first time.
By the early 1920s the naturopathic movement had gained a lot of public interest. Conventions were well attended and naturopathic journals provided valuable lessons in disease prevention and promotion of health. But in the late 1930s naturopathy started to become suppressed by the dominance of allopathic medicine – helped by the financial backing of the drug industry, with naturopaths being written off as ‘quacks’. This continued until the 1960s, when a growing public awareness of the importance of nutrition resulted in increasing respect for alternative medicine.
For the naturopathic profession to gain credibility in the mainstream, there was a need for credible research and training. In 1978 the first new naturopathy medical school was opened, and within a decade the first accredited courses were on offer.
Opposition by conventional medical practitioners still existed, but in the 1990s much of the dietary advice found in the early naturopathic journals was validated by the National Institute of Health and the National Cancer institute, who started advocating dietary principles such as increasing fibre and reducing red meat consumption for the prevention of degenerative disease.
Naturopathy is becoming more popular and of greater importance in today’s society, with the stresses of modern life taking a toll on health. Some of the issues affecting modern society include:
- chemical and environmental pollutants
- high intake of processed or ‘convenience’ foods
- multiple conflicting responsibilities
- lack of good quality sleep
- insufficient fresh air and sunlight
- long commutes to work becoming the norm
- many hours sitting in the same position
- excessive screen use
- minor health problems treated with drugs that cause side effects
The internet has given the public access to information that they did not previously have, and consumers are researching their conditions and alternatives to conventional treatment. Where an illness is not life-threatening, many people are choosing to start with natural, non-toxic and non-invasive techniques.
We are now seeing a paradigm shift in healthcare. Today there are a small number of NHS funded hospitals specialising in integrated medicine, with consultations that consider the emotional causes of disease and treatments on offer including diet and lifestyle modification, homeopathy, acupuncture, meditation and mindfulness. Conventional medical professionals, who previously shunned the ideas of naturopathy, are now starting to recommend naturopathic techniques including stress reduction, avoidance of pollutants, exercise and dietary modification. While some patients would still rather pop a pill than take responsibility for their own healing, more and more people are now enjoying the benefits of natural healing.