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Naturopathic Medicine: Do No Harm

Naturopathic medicine includes the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease, as well as the promotion of health. Naturopathy is not a single-modality treatment, but draws upon an array of natural healing interventions and diagnostic techniques. It particularly emphasizes the adage "do no harm," by stressing the use of interventions that are largely free of side effects rather than pharmaceutical medicines and surgery.

Naturopathy is one of the oldest forms of medicine known to humankind, tracing its roots to the healing techniques of ancient China, India, and Greece, and to Native American cultures. It weaves these healing traditions together with modern scientific principles and technology.

Modern American naturopathy grew out of the natural healing movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the popular European practice of "taking the cure" at natural mineral springs and spas spread to the United States. Naturopathy was introduced as a formal American health care profession at the turn of this century by Dr. Benedict Lust, who came from Germany to the United States in 1896 to teach hydrotherapy, which he had used to help cure himself of tuberculosis. After completing his medical training, he founded the first school of naturopathic medicine in New York City, and taught herbal medicine, nutrition, physiotherapy, psychology, homeopathy, and manipulation techniques. During the same period, Dr. James Foster established a similar school in Idaho, and Lust and Foster together named the new profession "naturopathy." Because it drew upon a variety of techniques, it was also referred to as Eclectic medicine.

Naturopathy gained rapidly in popularity; by the 1920s there were more than twenty naturopathic colleges, and the profession was licensed in most states. However, with the consolidation of power by conventional medicine, and with the increasing reliance of allopaths on pharmaceutical drugs, naturopathic medicine entered into a decline. It virtually disappeared until the 1970s, when a revival of popular interest in alternative medicine gave rise to a new generation of highly trained naturopathic practitioners. Today, among the foremost naturopathic physicians are Dr. Michael T. Murray and Dr. Joseph Pizzorno, founding president of Bastyr University, authors of the definitive book Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, which is the defining text of conventional naturopathy.

Modern naturopathy is founded on six basic principles:

1. Nature has the power to heal. It is the physician's role to support the self-healing process by removing obstacles to health.

2. Treat the whole person. Disease rarely has a single cause, so every aspect of the patient must be brought into harmonious balance.

3. First, do no harm. A physician should utilize methods and substances that are as nontoxic and noninvasive as possible.

4. Identify and treat the cause. Rather than suppress symptoms, the physician should treat the underlying causes of disease.

5. Prevention is as important as cure. A physician should help create health, as well as cure disease.

6. Doctors should be teachers. "Doctor" originally meant "teacher." Part of the physician's task is to educate the patient and encourage self-responsibility.

Naturopathic physicians help mobilize their patients? own natural healing powers. Because symptoms represent the body's attempt to heal itself, the naturopath does not try to suppress them. For example, fever and inflammation are not only symptoms but also healing mechanisms. Inflammation is an increase in healing blood flow to an area, and fever is part of the body's way of killing harmful organisms. However, taking aspirin or an antihistamine combats these efforts by the body to heal itself. In actuality, several scientific studies have verified that antihistamines actually may prolong the course of a cold. Instead of using the symptom-suppression approach, a naturopath might encourage a patient to drink extra liquid to help flush out the membranes, and to take nutrients and herbs that stimulate the body's immune system. Naturopaths believe that if a certain healing response is repeatedly suppressed, the body's ability to produce that response may become weakened. Therefore, they believe that symptom-suppression drugs may temporarily relieve discomfort, but can undermine the body's self-healing mechanisms. When the body loses its ability to produce healing responses, chronic disease can become established.


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Copyright © 2000 by Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier, Inc.

Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, New York.


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