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History of Naturopathic Medicine

“A shift in healthcare is occurring as people move towards a higher state of health consciousness”

Naturopathic medicine encompasses a wide range of treatments that have existed for thousands of years. Naturopathy is as old as healing itself and as new as the latest discoveries in biochemical sciences. In North America, the naturopathic medical profession’s infrastructure is based on accredited educational institutions, professional state and provincial licensing, national standards of practice and care, peer review and an ongoing state-of-the-art scientific research. Modern Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) are educated by accredited naturopathic medical colleges. They receive extensive training and use therapies that are primarily natural and nontoxic such as clinical nutrition, homeopathy, botanical medicine, hydrotherapy, physical medicine, and counseling. These contemporary NDs practice medicine as primary healthcare providers and are increasingly acknowledged by the medical community for their initiatives to bring about progressive changes in the country’s medical system.

The word “naturopathy” was first used in North America a little over 100 years ago.  But the natural therapies and the philosophy on which naturopathy is based have been effectively used to treat diseases for centuries. As Rene Dubos noted in The Mirage of Health (1959), the word “physician” is from the Greek root meaning “nature.” Hippocrates, a physician who lived 2400 years ago, is often considered the earliest predecessor of naturopathic doctors, particularly in terms of his teaching that “nature is healer of all diseases” and the premise “vis medicatrix naturae,” which can be translated as “the healing power of nature.” This concept has long been at the core of indigenous medicine in many cultures around the world and remains one of the central themes of naturopathic philosophy to this day.

The earliest doctors and healers worked with herbs, foods, water, fasting and tissue manipulation, all of which are gentle treatments that do not block the body’s own healing powers. Today’s naturopathic doctors continue to use these therapies as their main tools to heal the body and prevent disease.

The naturopathic approach focuses on the internal environment inside the body that allows the condition to exist rather than just treating the symptoms of conditions. By this approach many conditions (such as ulcerative colitis, asthma, menopause symptoms, eczema, flu, obesity, and chronic fatigue) can be treated on a primary level. Naturopathic doctors also function within an integrated framework by referring patients to other medical professionals when necessary. Naturopathic therapies can be employed to complement treatments used by conventional medical doctors, resulting in a team-care approach that recognizes the needs of the patient.

Recent History

Naturopathic medicine was popular and widely available throughout the United States well into the early part of the 20th century.  Around 1920, from coast to coast, there were a number of naturopathic medical schools, thousands of naturopathic doctors, and scores of thousands of patients using naturopathic therapies.  But the rise of “scientific medicine,” the discovery and increasing use of “miracle drugs” and the institutionalization of a large medical system primarily based (both clinically and economically) on high-tech and pharmaceutical treatments, contributed to the temporary decline of naturopathic medicine and most other methods of natural healing by mid-century.

By the 1970s, the public was becoming increasingly disenchanted with conventional Western medicine. As patients became more educated they began to realize that drugs merely treat the symptom and not the actual root of the disease. Profound clinical limitations of conventional Western medicine and its out-of-control costs inspired millions of patients to look for “new” options and alternatives, as a result naturopathic medicine entered a new era of growth.

Looking to the Future: The Paradigm Shift

Today, licensed naturopathic doctors are experiencing a wide range of clinical success, providing leadership in innovative natural medical research, enjoying increasing political influence and looking forward to an unlimited future. Both the public and the policy-makers are recognizing and contributing to the resurgence of a comprehensive system of healthcare practiced by naturopathic doctors. In 1992, the United States NIH’s Office of Alternative Medicine, created by an act of Congress, inviting leading naturopathic doctors (educators, researchers, and clinical practitioners) to serve on key federal advisory panels and to help define priorities and design protocols for state-of-the-art alternative medical research. In 1994, the NIH selected Bastyr University as the national centre for research on alternative treatments for HIV/AIDS. At a one-million-dollar level of funding, this action represented the formal recognition by the federal government of the legitimacy and significance of naturopathic medicine. Meanwhile, the number of new naturopathic doctors is steadily increasing, and licensure of naturopathic doctors is ever expanding.   Naturopathic medical education is growing at an exponential rate. Three of the four US naturopathic medical schools – National College of Naturopathic Medicine, Bastyr University and Southwest College are accredited. The fourth, the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine, is an applicant for accreditation. Within the past several years, all three US naturopathic medical schools and the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine moved to considerably larger campuses in order to meet the accelerating demand for admittance by prospective naturopathic medical students.

On October 21, 2006 Dr. Kuldip S. Kular, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Health and Long Term Care, delivered the opening address at the 2006 OAND (Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors) Convention. Dr. Kular addressed matters related to modern regulation of naturopathic medicine further to the May 2006 Health Professions Regulatory Advisory Council (HPRAC) report that recommended naturopathic doctors – along with other specific health care professions – be brought under the Regulated Health Professions Act.

Over the last 10 years, there has been a paradigm shift from a medical system that focuses on symptom management to a system that focuses on the reason why the symptoms exists in the first place. People are becoming more educated and are demanding more health – not health care. A shift has occurred and the population is beginning to realize that their health is the best investment they can make for now and for the future.