Side Effects and Risks of Naturopathy
Naturopathy appears to be a generally safe health care approach, especially if used as complementary (rather than alternative) medicine, but several qualifying points are important:
- Naturopathy is not a complete substitute for conventional medical care.
- Some therapies used in natural health have the potential to be harmful if not used properly or under the direction of a trained practitioner. For example, herbs can cause side effects on their own and interact with prescription or over-the-counter medicines. Restrictive or other unconventional diets can be unsafe for some people.
- Some practitioners of natural health do not recommend using all or some of the childhood vaccinations that are standard practice in conventional medicine.
- The education and training of practitioners of natural health vary widely.
Naturopathy as a whole medical system is challenging to study. Rigorous research on this whole medical system is taking place but is at an early stage. Resources for seeking findings from studies (including studies on many individual therapies used in natural health) are at the end of this Backgrounder.
Some Other Points To Consider
- Tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.
- Naturopathic physicians are trained to know that herbs and some dietary supplements can potentially interact with drugs, and to avoid those combinations. To do so, they need to be informed of all drugs (whether prescription or over-the-counter) and supplements that you are taking.
- Talk to the practitioner about:
- His education and training, and any licensing or certification
- Any special medical conditions you have and whether the practitioner has had any specialized training or experience in them
- Costs, and whether the services are covered by your medical insurance plan.
Some Points of Controversy
As in other fields of CAM, there are some controversies in natural health therapy, for example:
- Practitioners of natural health do not always agree on educational requirements or how natural health should be practiced and regulated.
- A number of beliefs and practices in natural health do not follow the scientific approach of conventional medicine.
- Practitioners are divided on whether this natural system of medicine should be studied using conventional medical research approaches.
NCCAM-Funded Research in Naturopathy
Some recent NCCAM-supported projects have been studying:
- CAM approaches, including naturopathic treatments, for women with temporomandibular disorder, a condition in which the joints connecting the skull to the lower jaw become inflamed
- A naturopathic dietary approach including natural health supplements are good treatments for Type-2 diabetes
- The mushroom Trametes versicolor, for its effects as a complementary immune therapy in women with breast cancer
- The costs and effects of naturopathic care, compared with conventional care, for low-back pain
- Herbal and dietary approaches can work well for menopausal symptoms.