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Exploring the Roots of Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic medicine is a holistic approach to healthcare that emphasizes natural remedies, lifestyle modifications, and the body's inherent ability to heal itself. While it may seem like a relatively modern concept, the history of naturopathic medicine is rich and multifaceted, with roots extending back thousands of years.


The foundations of naturopathic medicine can be traced back to various ancient healing traditions and cultures. Here are a few notable influences:

  1. Hippocratic Medicine (5th Century BCE): The Greek physician Hippocrates is often regarded as the father of Western medicine and a significant influence on naturopathic medicine today. He believed in the body's innate healing abilities and advocated for a balanced diet, fresh air, and cleanliness as essential components of health. As a man ahead of his time, Hippocrates once said, "let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food."

    1. You may have heard of The Hippocratic Oath; a code of ethics adopted by healthcare providers. In light of modern medicine, some argue The Hippocratic Oath is no longer relevant. You can read more about that here.

  2. Traditional Chinese Medicine (2nd Century BCE): Chinese medicine has a long history of using natural therapies such as herbal medicine, acupuncture, and dietary adjustments to restore balance and promote wellness. These principles align closely with naturopathic philosophy.

The Founding Fathers (a.k.a. The Real OGs)

Naturopathic medicine as we know it today began to take shape in the 19th century, driven by the efforts of several pioneering figures:

  1. Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897): A German priest and hydrotherapist, Kneipp popularized the use of water therapies as a means to stimulate the body's self-healing mechanisms. Hydrotherapy remains a key component of naturopathic practice.

  2. Benedict Lust (1872-1945): A German immigrant to the United States, Lust is often credited with introducing naturopathic medicine to North America and is recognized at the father of naturopathic medicine. He founded the American School of Naturopathy in New York in 1902 and advocated for a comprehensive approach to health, including nutrition, herbal remedies, and lifestyle modifications.

In the early 20th century, naturopathic medicine began to emerge as a recognized profession. Naturopathic medical schools were established, and practitioners sought licensure to ensure the safety and legitimacy of their practice. This period saw the codification of naturopathic principles, known as the "Six Principles of Naturopathy":

  1. First, Do No Harm (Primum non nocere)

  2. The Healing Power of Nature (Vis medicatrix naturae)

  3. Identify and Treat the Causes (Tolle causam)

  4. Treat the Whole Person (Tolle totum)

  5. Doctor as Teacher (Docere)

  6. Prevention (Praevenic)

A Small Hiccup...

The Flexner Report brought on the many challenges faced in naturopathic medicine during the 20th century. This report sparked naturopathic opposition from conventional medical establishments and a decline in popularity until the latter half of the 20th century. At this time, naturopathic medicine experienced a resurgence as interest in holistic and natural healthcare grew.


Naturopathic Medicine Currently

Today, naturopathic medicine has evolved into a diverse field that combines traditional wisdom with modern scientific knowledge. Licensed naturopathic doctors (NDs) graduate from a four-year, professional-level program at an accredited naturopathic medical school that is recognized by the United States Department of Education. They take and pass the two-part Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Exam (NPLEX), which covers basic sciences, diagnostic and therapeutic subjects, and clinical sciences, and are required to pass jurisprudence examinations to meet other state/provincial requirements for regulated professions including background checks and continuing education. NDs often work in collaboration with conventional healthcare providers to offer patients a broader range of treatment options.


Common modalities and treatments in modern naturopathic medicine include:

  1. Herbal Medicine: Using plant-based remedies to address various health issues.

  2. Nutrition and Diet Modifications: Emphasizing whole foods and dietary changes to promote wellness.

  3. Physical Medicine: Incorporating physical therapies, such as massage and manipulation, to support healing.

  4. Lifestyle Counseling: Offering guidance on stress management, exercise, and healthy habits.

  5. Homeopathy: Using highly diluted substances to stimulate the body's healing responses.

  6. Hydrotherapy: Applying water-based treatments for various health benefits.

The Wrap Up

The history of naturopathic medicine is a tale of ancient wisdom meeting modern science and holistic principles merging with conventional healthcare. From its roots in ancient healing traditions to its emergence as a recognized profession, naturopathic medicine has demonstrated its enduring relevance in the quest for holistic wellness. Today, naturopathic doctors continue to play a vital role in empowering individuals to take charge of their health through natural means, promoting not only the treatment of dis-eases but also the cultivation of a healthy and balanced lifestyle.


Are you ready to see a naturopathic doctor? Schedule your appointment with Dr. Katie here.

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