What is Naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic medicine is a distinct approach to health care that embraces modern and traditional, scientific, and empirical methods. Contrary to conventional medical doctors (MD’s), naturopathic medicine is patient-centred. As such, naturopathic physicians (ND’s) take the whole person into consideration, as opposed to simply a set of symptoms, a condition, or an isolated organ or organ system. This is why naturopathic medicine is often referred to as holistic, because it addresses the entire person as a whole and considers mental and social factors, rather than just the physical symptoms of a disease.


Overall Vision & Approach

Naturopathic medicine is based on the belief that the body has the innate ability to heal itself and looks to nature to stimulate and support this healing potential. This is done via both lifestyle, diet, as well as with the use of a wide range of therapeutic modalities, which we will detail a little later on in this article. Naturopaths believe in prevention first and guide their clients on how to enhance and improve their overall health and well-being, as well as empower them to take full ownership of their health status. ND’s also educate their patients on effective, non-invasive, and natural disease management via the principles and practices of naturopathic medicine.


The Six Principles of Naturopathic Medicine

In addition to conventional training in health sciences and diagnostics, naturopathic physicians learn about and make use of a wide range of natural therapies and non-invasive techniques that ensure a holistic approach to health and healing, that is adapted to each patient. ND’s must adhere to six guiding principles:


    1. First Do No Harm (Primum Non Nocere)
      This includes:

      • Choosing the most non-invasive and least toxic treatments necessary for each patient.
      • Whenever possible, avoiding the harmful suppression of symptoms
      • Acknowledging and respecting each person's healing process, and using the least force necessary to diagnose and treat illness.


    2. The Healing Power of Nature (Vis Medicatrix Naturae)
      • Recognizing the body's inherent ability to heal itself.
      • Identifying and removing obstacles to recovery.


    3. Identify and Treat the Causes (Tolle Causam)
      • Identifying, addressing, and removing the underlying causes of disease.


    4. Doctor as Teacher (Docere)
      • Educating patients on personal health management and empowering patients to take full ownership of their health.


  1. Treat the Whole Person (Tolle totum)
    • Naturopathic doctors must treat the patient, not the disease, and must see the body as an integrated whole.


  2. Prevention (Praevenic)
    • Naturopathic medicine focuses on overall health, wellness, and disease prevention.


Therapeutic Modalities

As a natural approach to primary health care, naturopathic medicine aims to assess and meet the needs of each patient on an individual basis, using a range of therapeutic modalities to stimulate and support the body’s innate healing potential. These modalities and therapeutic approaches can include:

    • Acupuncture
      Acupuncture is a holistic approach that stems from ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in which practitioners insert thin needles very shallowly into the skin to stimulate specific points throughout the body. This modality aims to stimulate the balance and flow of Qi (pronounced: chi, meaning vital energy) energy, which TCM tells us is essential to health. Acupuncture treats both the symptoms and the causes of illness. In naturopathic medicine, acupuncture is often used to restore homeostasis (balance) to the body, when conventional medicine has failed. Treatment involves inserting atraumatic acupuncture needles into specific “acupoints” and may be used in a wide range of applications including; pain conditions, to increase energy, relieve seasonal allergies, induce labor, improve mood, as well as to resolve sleep disorders.  


    • Botanical Medicine (herbalism, or phytotherapy)
      Herbal medicine is a hallmark of naturopathic medicine and one of the most effective modalities that can be used to treat illness gently and safely, with minimal risk of harmful side effects. In this sense, botanical medicine is entirely in line with one of the six guiding principles of naturopathic medicine, Primum Non Nocere. In essence, herbal medicine uses medicinal plants and extracts, individually or in combination, to improve overall health, support wellness, and treat acute and chronic diseases. Interestingly, many conventional prescription medications are derived from some of these same plants (such as aspirin (from white willow bark), digoxin (from foxglove), quinine (from cinchona bark), and morphine (from the opium poppy).


    • Clinical nutrition
      Nutrition is often a pivotal component of an individual’s health journey. In addition, poor diet is also the most important preventable risk factor for disease, disability, and early death. As such, it should come as no surprise that clinical nutrition is the cornerstone of naturopathic medicine. It consists of evaluating and optimizing a patient’s overall diet and ensuring it meets the specific nutritional needs of the patient, based on age, gender, activity level, health status, digestion potential, etc. ND’s consider nutrition as integral to health, healing, disease prevention and use clinical nutrition as the foundation for most of their therapeutic protocols.


    • Homeopathy (low-dose medicine)
      A quick mention of homeopathy because many ND’s do incorporate homeopathy into their treatment protocols, but it’s worth mentioning that homeopathy is a complex standalone approach, best practiced by formally trained, experienced homeopathic practitioners.
      By definition, homeopathy is "the treatment of disease by minute doses of natural substances that in a healthy person would produce symptoms of the disease." It is a modality that is based upon “like cures like” (or the “Law of Similars”), that calls for treatments to be “individualized” to a patient’s specific symptoms, history, body, and needs.


    • Hydrotherapy
      Is a therapeutic technique used by ND’s and many other complementary medicine professionals, it involves the use of water to treat various pain conditions such as arthritis, rheumatic complaints, and many others. Hydrotherapy relies on both the mechanical and thermal effects of water to help heal the body (the water used is considerably warmer than that is typically found in a swimming pool). Indeed, hydrotherapy harnesses most of the physical properties of water, such as temperature and pressure, for therapeutic purposes, to stimulate blood flow, enhance circulation, loosen tense, tight muscles, increase metabolic rate and digestion, and stimulate the immune system.


    • Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
      TCM is based on the idea that energy called “qi” (pronounced: chi), flows along pathways in the body called meridians, and that if the flow of qi along these meridians is blocked or unbalanced, illness can occur. TCM dates back over 2,500 years and may better be described as a “system of medicine”, which includes natural treatments such as acupuncture, herbal remedies, dietary tweaking, stress support, exercise, and treatments such as cupping. Well-versed ND’s will often incorporate aspects of TCM into their treatments.


  • Vitamin Therapy (supplementation)
    Supplementation is frequently used by ND’s, and with good reason. Because while today more than ever is known about the importance of getting all of the necessary nutrients your body needs to thrive, deficiencies are still extremely common, even in North America (and other industrialized nations). Micronutrient deficiencies have a negative impact during rapid growth periods like; infancy, childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy, when the body has a much-increased need. Deficiencies can also adversely affect health throughout life including cognitive functioning, immunity, wound healing, gastrointestinal health, vision, heart health, and joint health among others.



Natural, Safe, and Effective Patient-Centered Care 

As we’ve seen, naturopathic medicine takes into account the nutritional status, lifestyle, family history, physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, and social factors in a person's life, to tailor a therapeutic approach aimed at supporting the whole person. A naturopathic practitioner will select the best therapeutic modalities to address health concerns and needs with the help of the most non-invasive and least toxic treatments necessary, all the while, avoiding as much as possible, the harmful suppression of symptoms. Remember, that a naturopath sees the person first, and not the symptom or the disease, and has all the tools at his or her disposal to help protect your health and guide you on your journey back to optimal wellness.