Six Key Principles of Natural Health
The practice of natural health is based on six key practitioner principles:
- Promote the healing power of nature and promote using natural hormones instead of drugs.
- First do no harm. Natural Health practitioners choose natural healing therapies with the intent to keep harmful side effects to a minimum and not disguise the symptoms.
- Treat the whole person. Natural Health Practitioners believe a person's health is affected by many factors, such as physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, and social ones. Practitioners consider all these factors when choosing therapies and tailor treatment to each patient.
- Treat the cause. Practitioners seek to identify and treat the causes of a disease or condition, rather than its symptoms. They believe that symptoms are signs that the body is trying to fight disease, adapt to it, or recover from it.
- Prevention is the best cure. Practitioners teach ways of living that they consider most healthy and most likely to prevent illness.
- The physician is a teacher. Practitioners consider it important to educate their patients in taking responsibility for their own health.
Who Provides Natural Healing Therapy and Treatment?
In the United States, professionals who practice natural health generally fall into one of several groups. (The terms used by some practitioners vary and may depend on the legal situation in the states where they practice.)
Naturopathic physicians are educated and trained in a 4-year, graduate-level program at one of the four U.S. naturopathic medical schools accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education. Admission requirements include a bachelor's degree and standard premedical courses. The study program includes basic sciences, naturopathic therapies and techniques, diagnostic techniques and tests, specialty courses, clinical sciences, and clinical training. Graduates receive the degree of N.D. (Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine). Postdoctoral training is not required, but graduates may pursue it.
Depending on where they wish to practice, naturopathic physicians may also need to be licensed. A number of states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories have such licensing requirements (see the box below), most often consisting of graduation from a 4-year naturopathic medical college and passing the national standardized board examination (known as the NPLEX). The scope of practice varies by state and jurisdiction. For example, some states allow naturopathic physicians with special training to prescribe drugs, perform minor surgery, practice acupuncture.
A family of procedures that originated in traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific points on the body by a variety of techniques, including the insertion of thin metal needles though the skin. It is intended to remove blockages in the flow of qi and restore and maintain health, and/or assist in childbirth.
The second major group of practitioners are traditional naturopaths, or simply naturopaths. They emphasize education in naturopathic approaches to a healthy lifestyle, strengthening and cleansing the body, and noninvasive treatments. Prescription drugs, x-rays, and surgery are several of the practices that traditional naturopaths do not use. Education and training for these practitioners typically consists of correspondence courses, an apprenticeship, and/or self-teaching. Admission requirements for schools can range from none, to a high school diploma, to specific degrees and coursework. Programs vary in length and content. They are not accredited by agencies recognized for accreditation purposes by the U.S. Department of Education. Traditional naturopaths are not subject to licensing.
Conventional Providers With Naturopathic Training
This group consists of licensed conventional medical providers (such as doctors of medicine, doctors of osteopathy, dentists, and nurses) who pursue additional training in naturopathic treatments, and possibly other holistic therapies. Education and training programs for this purpose also vary.
What Practitioners Do in Treating Patients
A first visit to a naturopathic practitioner is usually an extended appointment. The practitioner will interview the patient at length about his health history, reasons for the visit, and lifestyle (such as diet, stress, alcohol and tobacco use, sleep, and exercise). The practitioner may perform examinations and, if in her scope of practice, order diagnostic and screening tests. Toward the end of the appointment, a management plan is set up to address the patient's general health and problems with illness. Referrals to other health care providers may be made, if appropriate. Practitioners may deliver some naturopathic treatments in their offices, such as hydrotherapy or manipulation. Examples of additional treatments are
- Dietary changes (for example, eating more whole and unprocessed foods)
- Vitamins, minerals, and other dietary supplements
- Herbal medicine
- Counseling and education on lifestyle changes
- Hydrotherapy (for example, applying hot water, then cold water)
- Manual and body-based therapies such as manipulation and mobilization
- Exercise therapy
- Mind-body therapies such as yoga and meditation, a conscious mental process using certain techniques — such as focusing attention or maintaining a specific posture — to suspend the stream of thoughts and relax the body and mind.
Some practitioners use other treatments as well.