Overview of Natural Medicine

Naturopathic medicine is a system of medicine that uses natural therapeutics to maintain health and bring about cure. It is based on vitalism, a medical philosophy that views a person as a vital being consisting of a body, mind, and spirit, all constantly interacting with each other in ways that are not yet understood, not just a complex mass of chemical and physical reactions.

Vitalists assert that illness is not directly caused by a pathogen (disease-causing organism, i.e., virus, bacterium), but is the result of the body's response to a pathogen and its attempt to defend and heal itself. Given the opportunity, the body has the ability to heal itself. A naturopathic doctor assists the body by increasing resistance to pathogens and aiding the healing process.

The term "naturopathy" was first used around 1895 to describe the growing number of doctors and healers who believed that treating the person and promoting health were more important than simply alleviating the symptoms of disease. In 1902 Benedict Lust, considered the father of naturopathy, wrote: "In a word, Naturopathy stands for the reconciling, harmonizing and unifying of nature, humanity and God."

During World War II, natural healing was pushed to the background by the development of medical technology and the increased use of drugs such as penicillin and morphine. Then, in the late 1960s, natural medicine began regaining respect. Today, naturopathic medicine continues to grow in popularity and acceptance as people continue to look for alternatives to drugs and surgery.

Conditions Treated by Naturopathic Doctors

Naturopathic doctors treat most conditions. Naturopathic medicine can be used alone or in conjunction with other alternative methods or conventional medicine to treat the following:

  • Acute conditions such as headaches, sore throats, colds and flu, intestinal upsets, ear infections, contact dermatitis, urinary tract infections, and sprains and strains
  • Chronic illnesses such as migraine, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, cancer, and musculoskeletal pain
  • Mental and emotional problems such as stress, depression, anxiety, and anger
  • Pregnancy and childbirth

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 Jan 2001

Last Modified: 28 Sep 2015