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Naturopathy is a cornucopia of almost every quackery you can think of. Be it homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, applied kinesiology, anthroposophical medicine, reflexology, craniosacral therapy, Bowen Technique, and pretty much any other form of unscientific or prescientific medicine that you can imagine, it’s hard to think of a single form of pseudoscientific medicine and quackery that naturopathy doesn’t embrace or at least tolerate.
—David Gorski[1]

Naturopathy, or naturopathic medicine, is a field of practice in healing and maintaining health wherein practitioners use various "natural" remedies to treat their patients. The main idea behind naturopathy is that it supposedly helps the body's own self-healing process; this is based on the pre- and pseudo-scientific theory of vitalism, according to which the body has some sort of "energy" that is necessary for one's health. Naturopathic medicine disfavours surgery and drugs, preferring more friendly and fuzzy treatments like herbal medicine or outright woo such as "natural energy fields".

Naturopathy doesn't have any real standards; what therapies one can expect from naturopathic care can vary wildly from practitioner to practitioner,[2] and are very often contradictory. Some naturopaths, like nutritionists, may give quite good advice ("eat fruits and vegetables"), mixed with concepts that have no basis in reality, such as homeopathy, Reiki, unproven supplements, or whatever fad diet they happen to believe in. (It may be noted that the practice of naturopaths themselves selling their patients supplements is widespread and in fact encouraged by naturopathic organizations.[3] No conflict of interest there at all.)

Naturopaths also very frequently claim to be holistic, meaning that they listen to their patients and sympathize with them, rather than just coldly treating them without any regard for their feelings. They "focus on the patient, not the disease." Which is actually pretty accurate, given that more often than not the "treatments" have no effect on the disease anyway.


Benedict Lust

Naturopathy claims ancient roots based on the Hippocrates quote, "vis medicatrix naturae"Wikipedia's W.svg ("the healing power of nature"),[4] but in reality it was cobbled together by a German immigrant to the United States named Benedict Lust. Lust used "Dr." before his name and claimed to have a degree from the New York Homeopathic Medical College in 1901 and a degree in osteopathy in 1902 from the Universal College of Osteopathy in New York,[5] but there was no evidence that he was licensed for anything in the state of New York and he was convicted there of practicing medicine without a licence.[6]

The term "naturopathy" was coined by Lust's colleague, John Scheel, in 1900. Lust popularized the term through his publications, by opening the first naturopathic school (the American School of Naturopathy in New York City), and from the establishment of health resorts known as "Yungborn" in Butler, New Jersey and Tangerine, Florida.[5]

Lust credited several men who preceded him for the development of naturopathy, including Father Sebastian Kneipp (creator of the Water Cure), Friedrich Eduard Bilz (who wrote the book Das Neue Naturheilverfahren (The New Natural Healing) in 1888), and Louis Kuhne (see below).[7]

By 1918, Lust included the following fields of treatment quackery within naturopathy in his book Universal Naturopathic Encyclopedia: electro-medicine, radiology, ozone therapy, magnetic field therapy, light therapy, vibration therapy, milk diet, chiropractic, raw foodism ("apyrtrophy"), fasting, hydrotherapy ("The Water Cure", "astroscopy" (astrological medicine), phrenology, Christian science, iridology, diagnosis by facial expression, and color therapy ("chromopathy").[7] The main ideas during the Lust-era of naturopathy (roughly 1900 to 1945) were all-inclusiveness — all natural "cures" were of value and to be included under the umbrella of naturopathy, and "drugless healing" in the form of strong opposition to the medical establishment.[7]

By 1932, Morris Fishbein had recorded an A-to-Z of quackery that fell within the naturopathy umbrella.[6] The treatments have since mostly fallen out of favor:[6]

  • Aerotherapy — "the patient is baked in a hot oven", and hence treated with hot air
  • Alereos system — treatment with heat and vibrations (with reference to osteopathy and chiropractic
  • Astral healing — an astrological reading followed by "medical" advice
  • Autology — a moderation-in-all things regimen developed by E. R. Moras, M.D., which also ironically recommended the exclusion of physicians
  • Auto-science — psychology, serums, "suggestive therapeutics", and "The Law of Creative Energy"
  • Autotherapy — a self-cure therapy developed by Dr. Charles H. Duncan; examples of "cures" included eating the boiled pus from boils to cure boils, and eating one's own filtered sputum from for tuberculosis
  • Biodynamochromatic diagnosis and therapy — Developed by George Starr White, M.D. F.S.Sc., D.C., Ph.D., LL.D. Disease is diagnosed by a "'sympathetic Vagal Reflex.' To elicit the said phenomenon, the patient faces east or west and his abdomen is thumped until a dull area is found. Then colored lights are thrown on the abdomen and the thumping is continued. A ruby and blue light with associated dullness means one thing and a green light combination another."
  • Christos — a form of "blood washing" that involved purging the intestine by consuming herbal tonics
  • Chromopathy and Chromatherapy — variants on biodynamochromatics (above)
  • Electro-homeopathy — a combination of electrotherapy and homeopathy
  • Electro-naprapathy — a combination of electrotherapy and naprapathic chiropractic
  • Electrotherapy — "The use of electric devices has a definite place in the treatment of disease. It should not be thought, however, that any electrician or machinist is competent to use such methods." One can safely presume that some electrotherapists may have fewer qualifications than an electrician.
  • Geotherapy — application of small pads of earth for treatment of disease
  • Irido-diagnosis — more commonly known nowadays as "iridology"
  • Kneipp Cure — also known as water therapy
  • Limpio comerology — "clean eating" in combination with proprietary preparations, "Q-33" and "Q-34"
  • Pathiatry — a formerly trademarked treatment that combined self-administered "spinal adjustment, traction, manipulation, deep massage, etc."
  • Poropathy — "manipulative surgery" that involved applying lotions applied to the skin which were claimed to be absorbed into the diseased organs, thus treating "internal cancer, cerebrospinal meningitis, epilepsy, tuberculosis of the joints and heart disease".
  • Practo-therapy — naturopaths who use colonics
  • Quartz-therapy — naturopaths who use quartz mercury vapor lamps
  • Sanatology — treats the "two basic causes of all disease": acidosis and toxicosis
  • Somapathy — Developed by Dr. C. H. Murray, "The diagnostician feels around in the place where the nerves emerge from the spinal cord and adjusts them. Then he continues his good effects by applying ice cold, or material heated up to two hundred degrees [Fahrenheit] at the place of adjustment."
  • Spectrocromists — advises individuals to wear garments based on prescribed colors (see color therapy)
  • Vita-O-Pathy — Orrin Robertson, Ph.D., D.M., M.D., developed an amalgam of 36+ surgery-free systems based on geometry, ancient science, philosophy and religion.
  • Zodiac therapy — a combination of aerotherapy, astral healing (see above) and herbs
  • Zonotherapy — Developed by Dr. Fizgerald of Hartford, Connecticut, who divided the body into zones. "For instance, a toothache on the right side may be 'cured' by fastening a little spring around the second toe of the left foot."
An early naturopathic treatment: children getting imprecise doses of radiation for scrofulous (tuberculosis of the lymph nodes)

Lust's views on what is and is not naturopathy leads to irony both during and after the Lust era, when:

  1. Radiation therapy was promoted (natural, though ostensibly a drug) for use by non-physicians despite it being well-known (even before 1917 and even by its naturopathic advocates) that radiation caused cancer.[7][8]
  2. Some modern naturopaths prescribe pharmaceuticals such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine), quite antithetical to Lust's view of naturopathy.[9]

The 1918 Universal Naturopathic Encyclopedia also includes within it a posthumous book by Louis Kuhne titled, The New Science of Healing or The Doctrine of the Unity of Diseases (pages 223-488). The book contains some remarkable cures treatments that amount to a combination of vitalism, germ theory denialism and antivax.[7] For measles, scarlet fever, diphtheria, smallpox, whooping cough, scrofula (lymphadenopathy), rheumatism, gout, and sciatica, the treatment consists of combinations of friction sitz-baths, cold baths and steam baths.[7] Other ailments that Kuhne claimed could be treated include: cold extremities, hot head, nervous and mental diseases, lung inflammation, tuberculosis, pleurisy, lupus, venereal diseases, bladder and kidney disease, diabetes, uremia, bed wetting, liver disease, gall stones, intestinal diseases, heart disease, dropsy (edema), spinal cord diseases, hemorrhoids, chlorosis (anemia), epilepsy, anemia, epilepsy, agoraphobia, eye and ear diseases, dental diseases, head colds, influenza, throat diseases and goiter, headache and migraine, brain inflammation, typhus, dysentery, cholera, diarrhea, tropical fevers, malaria, yellow fever, leprosy, scabies, worms and parasites, hernia, cancer, wounds, and "diseases of women".[7] The total lack of understanding of disease causes and treatment by Kuhne would seem to be evident simply by his placement of wildly unrelated diseases within the same chapter (e.g., "Epileptic Fits. Agoraphobia", p. 366).[7]


The things naturopaths do that are good are not special, and the things they do that are special are not good.
Harriet Hall, MD[10]

As has been noted, naturopathy doesn't really entail anything very specific, and practitioners can run the gamut from slightly dubious lifestyle counselors to completely crazy germ theory denialists.[11][12] Nevertheless, there are some positions which can be considered to be quite common among naturopaths as a whole. There is the appeal to nature, which is ubiquitous (although, as "natural" is a pretty vague term, the conception of which therapies are natural or not can vary depending on the practitioner)[9][13][14]; a distrust of vaccines and other "synthetic" products; use of herbs and vitamins; a tendency to prefer exotic, Eastern medicine (the more expensive and obscure, the better!) such as Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM); and the belief that our bodies are full of toxins like lead and mercury, which need to be purged by means of detoxing or chelation therapy. Ironically, Ayurveda and TCM actually consider mercury, lead, arsenic, and asbestos to be legitimate medical remedies, even as naturopaths wholeheartedly recommend these systems of "medicine". In addition, the American Textbook of Natural Medicine lists Unani (in addition to Ayurveda and TCM) as an acceptable form of naturopathic treatment,[15] even though bloodletting and leeching are integral parts of it (even more so than in Ayurveda and TCM).

Quite a few naturopaths seem to have no problem prescribing pharmaceuticals or synthesized supplements, despite the anti-pharma rhetoric of many. Chelation drugs, Benadryl, colchicine, and various other pharmaceuticals are prescribed by naturopaths on a regular basis.[9][13][16][14] It seems each individual naturopath just arbitrarily mixes and matches "synthetic" and "natural" treatments with no real rhyme or reason, depending on what "feels right". What is a toxic synthetic pharmaceutical for one naturopath may be a perfectly acceptable naturopathic treatment for another. To give just one of many examples, some blast Botox (which, incidentally, is completely natural) as being a horrible poison,[17][18][19] while others use it quite happily.[20][21][22][23]


As of 2017, several states and territories within of the United States, and every province in Canada, license naturopathic physicians.[24][25] Legislation is pending in several other states within the US.[26]

There are currently seven colleges and universities that offer a "ND" (Not Doctor Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine) degree in North America.[27]

Universities that teach naturopathic medicine[edit]

National College of Natural Medicine
Accredited naturopathic schools are disguising the naturopathic education of nonsense as a distinct, and better, form of primary care medicine. Sadly, these schools are getting away with what I consider to be education fraud. The truth is that naturopathic education is riddled with pseudoscience, debunked theories, and experimental medical practices.
—Britt Hermes, naturopathic apostate[28]

Bastyr University, which is accredited by the Western Association of Colleges and Schools offers a Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine as well as acupuncture and other natural healing degrees. Other accredited universities include — National College of Natural Medicine, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine and Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. Education does include actual science (general biology and chemistry, anatomy/physiology, physics etc.) but these colleges generally reject vaccinations or the use of actual medicine. In many states the use of naturopaths is restricted or illegal.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Here we go again: A bill licensing naturopaths rears its ugly head in Michigan by David Gorski (February 4, 2013) Science-Based Medicine.
  2. "The practices we encountered in our survey of the occupation ranged from the generally supportable to the improbable to the disproved. The list includes: […] Some naturopaths we interviewed laughed at certain items in the list but embraced others that had even less credibility." Naturopathy: A Critical Analysis, Barry L. Beyerstein, PhD, Susan Downie, Quackwatch.
  3. Your Questions Answered, Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges.
  4. Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors: History of Naturopathic Medicine
  5. 5.0 5.1 Collected Works of Benedict Lust ND, Founder of Naturopathic Medicine (2006) Healing Mountain Publishing. ISBN 1-933350-04-0.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Fads and Quackery in Healing: An Analysis of the Foibles of the Healing Cults, with Essays on Various Other Peculiar Notions in the Health Field by Morris Fishbein (1932) Blue Ribbon Books, 382 pp.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 Universal Naturopathic Encyclopedia, Directory and Buyers' Guide: Year Book of Drugless Therapy for 1918-19 by Benedict Lust (editor and publisher).
  8. Principles of electro-medicine, electrosurgery and radiology: A practical treatise for students and practitioners. With chapters on mechanical vibration and blood pressure technique by Anthony Matijaca (1917). Butler, NJ: Dr. Benedict Lust
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 What naturopaths say to each other when they think no one’s listening, Science-Based Medicine, David Gorski. Includes examples of naturopaths using things like Benadryl and hydrochloric acid.
  10. The Skeptic's Dictionary: naturopathy
  11. Germ theory denialism: A major strain in “alt-med” thought, David Gorski, Science-Based Medicine, August 9 2010.
  12. [1]
  13. 13.0 13.1 Natural versus “natural” in CAMworld, Science-Based Medicine, David Gorski.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Sh*t Naturopaths Say, Orac.
  15. Naturopathy Embraces the Four Humors, Jann Bellamy, Science-Based Medicine.
  16. Naturopathic News
  17. Anti-Botox Fillers: The Case Against
  18. Anti-Aging
  19. 9 Tips your Naturopath wants you to know about flawless skin. Tip 5: "My advice would be to avoid Botox as it is the most deadliest poison for the skin."
  20. Botox
  21. [2]
  22. [3]
  23. [4]
  25. Regulated States & Regulatory Authorities The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians
  26. Regulation of Naturopathic Doctors in the United States The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians
  27. Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges
  28. Naturopathic Diaries: Should I go to naturopathic school? June 10, 2015 by Britt Hermes