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What Does Naturopathy Mean?

Naturopathy – also called naturopathic medicine – is a medical system that has evolved from a combination of traditional practices and health care approaches popular in Europe during the 19th century.

People visit naturopathic practitioners for various health-related purposes, including primary care, overall well-being, and treatment of illnesses.

In the United States, naturopathy is practiced by naturopathic physicians, traditional naturopaths, and other health care providers who also offer naturopathic services.

What is Naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic medicine is a distinct system of primary health care that emphasizes prevention and the self-healing process through the use of natural therapies. While the roots of naturopathic medicine date back to the 1890s, naturopathic medicine has witnessed a rapid increase in public interest in recent years as a result of the growing consumer movement to solve the healthcare puzzle using prevention, wellness and respect for nature’s inherent healing ability.

Naturopathic Medical Doctors (NMD) are primary care physicians who blend centuries-old knowledge and a philosophy that nature is the most effective healer with current research on health and human systems. They have attended a four-year naturopathic medical school, are clinically trained, and work in all aspects of family health — from pediatric to geriatric care. Most NDs provide primary care through office-based private practice, but a growing number are in clinic settings.

Naturopathic diagnosis focuses on identifying the underlying causes of disease, while naturopathic therapies are supported by research drawn from peer-reviewed journals from many disciplines, including naturopathic medicine, conventional medicine, European complementary medicine, clinical nutrition, phytotherapy, pharmacognosy, homeopathy, psychology and spirituality.

The therapeutic modalities used in naturopathic medicine (including physical manipulation, Clinical Nutrition, Botanical Medicine, Homeopathy, Hydrotherapy, Regenerative Injections, IV Nutrient Therapy and Peptide Therapy) integrate conventional, scientific and empirical methodology with the ancient laws of nature.

What is a Naturopathic Doctor?

Naturopathic physicians combine the wisdom of nature with the rigors of modern science. Steeped in traditional healing methods, principles and practices, naturopathic medicine focuses on holistic, proactive prevention and comprehensive diagnosis and treatment. By using protocols that minimize the risk of harm, naturopathic physicians help facilitate the body’s inherent ability to restore and maintain optimal health. It is the naturopathic physician’s role to identify and remove barriers to good health by helping to create a healing internal and external environment.

Naturopathic physicians work in private practices, hospitals, clinics and community health centers. NDs practice throughout the United States and Canada. Qualified naturopathic physicians undergo rigorous training before they become licensed health-care practitioners.

NDs treat all medical conditions and can provide both individual and family health care. Among the most common ailments they treat are allergies, chronic pain, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, obesity, respiratory conditions, heart disease, fertility problems, menopause, adrenal fatigue, cancer, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. NDs can perform minor surgeries, such as removing cysts or stitching up superficial wounds. However, they do not practice major surgery. NDs are trained to utilize prescription drugs, although the emphasis of naturopathic medicine is the use of natural healing agents.

What IS the difference between an ND and an MD?

What is the difference in education and training between Naturopathic Medical Doctors (ND or NMD), Medical Doctors (MD), Osteopaths (DO), Nurse Practitioners (NP) and Physician Assistants (PA)?

NDs, MDs and DOs are all strong in basic sciences and clinical diagnostics, where one degree may have slightly more training than another in any specific area. After the first 2 years, the students take their relevant Step 1 boards (NPLEX, USMLE, COMLEX, respectively). The 2-year Master’s degrees of NP and PA have completed their training at this point, trained and ready to enter clinical care with approximately half of the total training hours of their Doctorate counterparts.

In the 3rd year, MDs and DOs start to focus on applying current mainstream standard of care in their hospital clerkship rotations. At this time Naturopathic Medical Doctors partner with senior interns and enter the clinic as general family medicine interns, delivering direct primary care under the direct supervision of an attending or resident doctor. Also during these last two years of training, NDs continue didactic studies on current standard of care, as well as on integrative, traditional, alternative and complementary treatment modalities.

Thus, when an MD may be going through 12 weeks of surgery rotations, a ND may be learning orthopedic manipulations, pharmacology for diabetic management, minor surgery, herbal medicines and advanced nutrition principles and bringing these experiences to their clinic shift patients later that day. It is in this extensive training that includes mainstream standard of care as well as natural, progressive, nutritive and traditional modalities where the key differences are noted between how these doctorate-level programs are delivered.

Additionally, NDs are trained to apply these skills using the philosophies of naturopathic medicine, where the entirety of the patient is considered and where the least invasive, most natural and most efficacious treatments are selected, with the active input of the patient.

Who Accredits These Schools?

There are seven schools that have accredited Naturopathic medical programs. Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine (SCNM) – the college attended by Dr. Zahara Sundermeyer NMD and Dr. Kevin Wallace NMD; is accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME), a professional accrediting agency for naturopathic medical programs. SCNM is also accredited by The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the institutional accreditor.

There are a couple of internet programs that provide ‘naturopath’ diplomas. Their training does not approach that of any of the above discussed professions and should NOT be counted on to safely diagnose or treat a patient. Always ensure that any ND that you work with graduated from a school accredited by the CNME.

What About Residencies?

As you may know, the MD & DO residency system in the United States is publicly funded through the Direct Medical Education (DME) programs from the federal Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), in particular through medicare. At present, ND are not fully recognized for DME inclusion.

With the advent of the ACA (Obamacare), NDs do have higher recognition, which will be further clarified as the DHHS generates the regulations for the Act. Additionally, the federal government has recognized NDs directly in DEA regulations as well as in the Indian Health Services Act. Each of these recognitions brings NDs closer to full recognition by DHHS, thus closer to access to DME funding, and mandatory residencies.

At current, the limited number of ND residencies are privately funded, the bulk of which are teaching residencies. Many NDs create traditional apprenticeships to continue their training under established and experienced physicians.

How Do Naturopathic Doctors Diagnose?

Diagnostic & Assessments

Naturopathic doctors use conventional and naturopathic diagnostic tools for assessing health concerns and determining the most appropriate treatment program.

Thorough Health History

The initial intake with a naturopathic doctor is typically one-and-a-half to two hours in length and includes a detailed history. A naturopathic doctor will take the time to find out about your family history, your lifestyle, the stressors in your life, past medical history, history of accidents or injuries and the significant events in your life that may have affected your health or well being. Often naturopathic doctors will use questionnaires to ensure that they are aware of the factors that may be affecting your current health status.

Clinical Nutrition

Understanding your nutritional status, eating habits and patterns and the type of food that you eat regularly is an important part of the naturopathic assessment. Naturopathic doctors will often take the time to assess the effect that diet is having on health and the body’s ability to process and tolerate the foods a patient may consume.

Previous Medical Reports and Diagnostic Testing

All medical reports, such as MRIs, X-rays or scans are valuable assets that a naturopathic doctor will use during their assessment of your health concerns. Naturopathic doctors will refer to another medical health professional when appropriate to ensure that all patients receive the best possible quality of healthcare and that all required information is available in order to fully understand the causes of a patient’s health concerns.

Comprehensive Laboratory Testing

Laboratory testing, including urinalysis, blood work and saliva testing, is an essential aspect of a complete medical assessment. Naturopathic doctors will use standard laboratory testing to provide further information for a complete naturopathic assessment.

Naturopathic Principles

Naturopathic Medicine Celebrates the Healing Power of Nature

Naturopathic medicine is dedicated to the study and celebration of nature’s healing powers. It is as old as healing itself and as new as today’s medical breakthroughs. It is a dynamic philosophy as well as a profession that recognizes the interconnection and interdependence of all living things. It utilizes the most natural, least invasive and least toxic therapies to treat illness and to promote wellness by viewing the body as an integrated whole.

Naturopathic medicine is defined by principles rather than by methods or modalities. Above all, it honors the body’s innate wisdom to heal.

Naturopathic Principles

Naturopathic physicians practice the six fundamental principles of naturopathic medicine:

1– First, Do No Harm (Primum non nocere)
Naturopathic physicians choose the most non-invasive and least toxic treatments necessary for each patient.

2– The Healing Power of Nature (Vis medicatrix naturae)
Naturopathic doctors recognize the body’s inherent ability to heal itself.

3– Identify and Treat the Causes (Tolle causam)
Naturopathic doctors identify, address and remove the underlying causes of disease.

4– Doctor as Teacher (Docere)
Educating and supporting patients on personal health management is an important role for naturopathic doctors. They empower patients to take responsibility for their own health. They also acknowledge the therapeutic value inherent in the doctor-patient relationship.

5– Treat the Whole Person (Tolle totum)
This is a holistic concept that recognizes the body as an integrated whole. Naturopathic doctors treat the patient, not the disease. A naturopathic assessment addresses the nutritional status, lifestyle, family history, physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental and social factors in a person’s life.

6– Prevention (Praevenic)
Naturopathic doctors promote a focus on overall health, wellness and disease prevention.

Naturopathic vs Conventional Medicine

Conventional medicine is traditional medicine that the majority of us are familiar with — local doctors, clinics, hospitals, pharmacies. It’s the kind of medicine the average physician practices. Alternative medicine includes a philosophy and practice that is inclusive of a variety of world cultures.

When it comes to medicine and treatment, we often live in a bubble, thinking that traditional medicine is the only way. Because of global communication and the openness of the internet, however, more and more people are becoming aware that there are alternatives to traditional medicines.

Some doctors are strictly traditional practitioners, others are strictly alternative, but some practice both together.

The main difference between traditional medicine and alternative medicine is the approach. Whereas traditional medicine treats symptoms and problems of a certain given area, alternative medicine focuses on cause and prevention, overall health, and non-traditional, often natural treatments.

There is an emphasis to strengthen the immune system to ward off disease. Treatment is individualized to meet specific needs.

Features of Alternative Medicine

There are a variety of alternative medicines: Osteopath, herbal medicine, massage, acupuncture, homeopath, chiropractic.

Some people are hesitant to try alternative medicine, but this is because our society has been bred from the start to suspect anything different from the status quo, or that hasn’t been approved by the FDA.

We are slowly emerging from the dark ages when it comes to embracing alternative ways to stay healthy.

Alternative medicine isn’t less effective or less reliable — sometimes it works when nothing else will — it’s simply misunderstood, and those that question it are likely to be uninformed or misinformed. Alternative medicine is widely accepted and used throughout the world. The United States is beginning to catch up.

One advantage to alternative medicine is cost. It’s less expensive to seek and to use natural or alternative remedies. But you should ask yourself, why does medicine have to be expensive to work?

Gaining Popularity

Many employers offer healthcare packages with alternative medicine. The trend to seek alternative treatments is growing. Many alternative products can be found on shelves next to traditional medicines.

Conventional Medicine

When it comes to traditional medicine, symptoms are addressed with drugs or surgery. If your liver is giving you trouble, it’s your liver that becomes the focus, not the entire body. Think of all the specialists who focus on one organ of the body. A cardiologist focuses on the heart. A neurologist focuses on the brain. A lung specialist focuses on the lungs. With all the focus being in one area, one can see why traditional medicine sometimes falls short in addressing the entire health of the patient.

Traditional medicine is based on research, lab experiments, and trials. While this is the accepted approach, it may not be the best approach for the individual. Individuals have individual needs that traditional medicine may not address.

The Best of Both Worlds

Today it’s becoming more common for doctors to incorporate both traditional and alternative medicine together.

Often, it isn’t just the latest state-of-the-art machine that will help a patient, it’s using alternative medicine along with it — methods that have been used successfully for centuries in other cultures and countries.

Homeopath Vs. Naturopathic Physician

Homeopathy and naturopathic medicine are unique, yet complementary health care modalities practiced by many lay and medically trained practitioners throughout the U.S. Both modalities share the tradition of searching for the root cause of illness to treat patients at a fundamental level, and are considered to be “holistic.” Although the path to a diagnosis and the treatments rendered may differ between the two, homeopaths and naturopaths share the belief that, if given the proper attention and care, our bodies are capable of healing themselves.

Naturopath Course Certification

Speaking of homeopathy alone, it can be puzzling as to what the credentials indicate and what degree of education the practitioners have. Every single country has various requirements for what it signifies to be known as a homeopath/naturopath. Homeopathy is a full course of study in itself, and while shorter programs in homeopathy are offered in the U.S., an academic course requires three-four years of full-time study to attain competency.

Naturopathic Physician Education, Accreditation and Recognition

A Naturopathic Physician practices naturopathy and has attended a four-year graduate-level naturopathic medical school and studies the exact same fundamental sciences as a medical doctor (MD) as well as botanical medicine, homeopathy, nutrition, counseling and other integrative therapies. Naturopathic medicine is a distinct primary health care profession, emphasizing prevention, treatment, and optimal overall health.

A Naturopathic Physician may practice homeopathy, which is just 1 of numerous treatment modalities employed by a naturopathic physician to tackle health concerns.

By contrast, a Homeopath (or a self-title Naturopath) is not educated in the basic sciences as a Naturopathic Physician. A Homeopath is not qualified to perform minor surgeries, not certified to perform, read, or diagnose lab test results, and is not able to prescribe medication; nor are they accredited and recognized by the same governing boards of education as a Naturopathic Physician and a Medical Doctor.

In states that do not license naturopathic doctors, it can be complicated simply because the title naturopath can be utilised by individuals who have not acquired a doctorate level training and education from an accredited naturopathic medical school. Homeopathy is much less defined in this country; as a result, it is essential to do your homework and determine the degree of education the practitioner has acquired. For more details on states that license naturopathic physicians, check out: AANP – Regulated States & Regulatory Authorities


According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, a person who attends an accredited, four-year naturopathic medical school undergoes a rigorous training schedule that incorporates the study of basic and clinical sciences, and a minimum number of hours of supervised patient care conducted in a clinical setting. The cumulative number of hours spent in training is 4,700, which is comparable to the number of hours medical doctors spend in medical school. Naturopathic Medical students receive a basic level of homeopathy instruction while in school, and many choose to pursue outside courses, such as the New England School of Homeopathy (NESH) courses offered by Drs. Paul Herscu and Amy Rothenberg. According to NESH, the following people are encouraged to enroll in their courses: physicians, nurses, therapists and lay people with an interest in the practice of classical homeopathy. While formal training options are available for aspiring homeopaths—such as the courses offered by NESH—such training is not required by any governing body as a prerequisite for using the title “homeopath” or for operating a business in which homeopathy is practiced.

Diagnostic Methods

The diagnostic methods used by homeopaths are distinct. Typically, they conduct an extensive intake which incorporates a detailed patient health history. After the initial visit, which can last for up to several hours, homeopaths examine patient responses to find a suitable remedy.

Naturopathic doctors, on the other hand, reach a diagnosis by performing a thorough patient history and an appropriate physical examination. Based on the information obtained, specialized thorough lab testing or imaging may be ordered to rule in or rule out diagnosis and an individualized treatment plan created for you.


Homeopathic treatments are drastically different from the treatment rendered by naturopathic doctors not using homeopathy as a treatment modality. Homeopaths offer a “remedy,” which is an ultra-dilute “micro” dose of a plant, mineral or other substance found in nature. After you’ve taken the remedy, the homeopath will schedule a follow-up visit to track your progress and make any necessary modifications to your remedy. Naturopathic doctors, on the other hand, treat you using any or all of the following modalities: botanical medicine, physical medicine, hydrotherapy, nutrition, exercise prescription and lifestyle counseling. Once your treatment plan has been given to you, your naturopathic doctor will schedule a follow-up visit to track your progress and make adjustments to the plan.

Scope of Practice

The scope of practice of homeopathic and naturopathic doctors differs considerably, depending on the state. In states that license naturopathic doctors as primary care providers, naturopaths have a larger scope of practice than their naturopathic colleagues in unlicensed states. In fact, according to the AANP, in some states, licensed naturopaths have equal prescription rights with medical doctors, can perform minor surgery and injection therapies and deliver babies, and must fulfill state-mandated continuing education requirements annually. Lay homeopaths in all states and naturopathic doctors practicing homeopathy in unlicensed states do not enjoy these privileges and obligations, with the exception of Arizona, Connecticut and Nevada, which, according to the American Medical College of Homeopathy, are the only states in the country that license homeopathic medical doctors.

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