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Good Thinking About…

If you’re interested in studying naturopathy, you may want to read the Naturopathic Diaries blog by Britt Hermes, who studied naturopathy for five years and now writes about her concerns with naturopathic healing. Patients might also find her website of interest, after reading our summary of naturopathy, below.

What is Naturopathy?

Picture of garlic bulbThe naturopathy movement began in eighteenth-century Europe, where people such as the priest Sebastian Kneipp preached the value of curing disease with the means that nature has provided. Naturopaths are convinced of nature’s own healing power (vis medicatrix naturae), a gift that all living organisms are believed to possess. In their view, ill-health is the result of disregarding the simple rules of a healthy lifestyle. Therefore much emphasis is put on a good diet, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, etc. Once an illness occurs, naturopaths employ herbs, water cures, massage, heat, cold and other natural means to cure it.

Consulting a naturopath is similar to seeing a conventional doctor, inasmuch as a diagnosis will be made by taking the patient’s history and a physical examination. The main difference lies in the nature of the prescriptions. Naturopaths do not prescribe synthetic drugs. Their treatment usually consists of the treatments mentioned above plus lifestyle advice. Naturopaths tend to treat chronic benign conditions such as arthritis and headache.

What is the Evidence?

Even though it would be feasible to test the effectiveness of the whole naturopathic approach, such trials are so far not available. However, much of the naturopathic approach is eminently valid (e.g., healthy diet, regular exercise). Similarly, certain herbal remedies are of proven value.

On the other hand, naturopathy can carry risks, particularly if it delays a patient with a serious condition from seeking urgent conventional treatment. Indeed, many naturopaths are against mainstream medicine and advise their patients accordingly – for instance, many are not in favour of vaccination. Also, some naturopathic treatments, such as particular herbal remedies, can carry risks. A general judgement about the wide variety of naturopathic treatments is not possible. Each naturopathic treatment must be critically assessed on its own merits. For any serious condition, naturopathy should not be seen as an alternative to conventional medicine.

For More Information:

This extract is taken from “Trick or Treatment?” (Transworld), a book that contains a series of 1-page summaries looking at the evidence for and against a range of alternative therapies. The authors of the book are Simon Singh (founder of the Good Thinking Society) and Edzard Ernst (the world’s first professor of complementary medicine