What is Naturopathic Medicine?

Founded upon a holistic philosophy, naturopathic medicine combines safe and effective traditional therapies with the most current advances in modern medicine. Naturopathic medicine is appropriate for the management of a broad range of health conditions affecting all people of all ages.

Naturopathic physicians (NDs) are the highest trained practitioners in the broadest scope of naturopathic medical modalities. In addition to the basic medical sciences and conventional diagnostics, naturopathic education includes therapeutic nutrition, botanical medicine, homeopathy, natural childbirth, classical Chinese medicine, hydrotherapy, naturopathic manipulative therapy, pharmacology and minor surgery.

Definition Of Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic medicine is a distinct system of primary health care – an art, science, philosophy and practice of diagnosis, treatment and prevention of illness. Naturopathic medicine is distinguished by the principles which underlie and determine its practice. These principles are based upon the objective observation of the nature of health and disease, and are continually reexamined in the light of scientific advances. Methods used are consistent with these principles and are chosen upon the basis of patient individuality. Naturopathic physicians are primary health care practitioners, whose diverse techniques include modern and traditional, scientific and empirical methods.

Definition Of Naturopathic Doctor

Taken from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), the government’s book of jobs and job descriptions in America.

Diagnoses, treats, and cares for patients, using system of practice that bases treatment of physiological functions and abnormal conditions on natural laws governing human body: Utilizes physiological, psychological, and mechanical methods, such as air, water, light, heat, earth, phytotherapy, food and herb therapy, psychotherapy, electrotherapy, physiotherapy, minor and orificial surgery, mechanotherapy, naturopathic corrections and manipulation, and natural methods or modalities, togeth er with natural medicines natural processed foods, and herbs and nature’s remedies. Excludes major surgery, therapeutic use of x-ray and radium, and use of drugs, except those assimilable substances containing elements or compounds of body tissues and are physiologically compatible to body processes for maintenance of life.

Naturopathic Medical Education

A Licensed naturopathic physician (ND) attends a four-year graduate level naturopathic medical school and is educated in all of the same basic sciences as an MD but also studies holistic and nontoxic approaches to therapy with a strong emphasis on disease prevention and optimizing wellness.

In addition to a standard medical curriculum, the naturopathic physician is required to complete four years of training in clinical nutrition, acupuncture, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, psychology, and counseling (to encourage people to make lifestyle changes in support of their personal health). A naturopathic physician takes rigorous professional board exams so that he or she may be licensed by a state or jurisdiction as a primary care general practice physician.

Additional information on naturopathic schools can be found at http://www.aanmc.org/

Naturopathic Medical Education
Comparative Curricula

Comparing Curricula: Naturopathic Med Schools With Conventional Med Schools


  • NCNM = National College of Naturopathic Medicine
  • BASTYR = Bastyr University (Naturopathic Medicine)
  • SWC = Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine
  • JH = Johns Hopkins
  • YL = Yale
  • ST = Stanford

Source: Curriculum Directory of the Association of American Medical Colleges

Basic and Clinical Sciences:
Anatomy, Cell Biology, Physiology, Histology, Pathology, Biochemistry, Pharmacology, Lab Diagnosis, Neuroscience, Clinical Physical Diagnosis, Genetics, Pharmacognosy, Bio-statistics, Epidemiology, Public Health, History and Philosophy, Ethics, and other coursework.
1548 1639 1419 1771 1420 1383
Clerkships and Allopathic Therapeutics:
including lecture and clinical instruction in Dermatology, Family Medicine, Psychiatry, Medicine, Radiology, Pediatrics, Obstetrics, Gynecology, Neurology, Surgery, Ophthalmology, and clinical electives.
2244 1925 1920 3391



Naturopathic Therapeutics:
Including Botanical Medicine, Homeopathy, Oriental Medicine, Hydrotherapy, Naturopathic Manipulative Therapy, Ayurvedic Medicine, Naturopathic Case Analysis/Management, Naturopathic Philosophy, Advanced Naturopathic Therapeutics.
588 633 900 0 0 0
Therapeutic Nutrition
144 132 130 0 0 0
144 143 100 included under psychiatry
(see above)
included under psychiatry
(see above)
included under psychiatry
(see above)
4668 4472 4469 5162



Accredited Schools

The accrediting agency for naturopathic medical schools and programs in North America is the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME). The CNME issues a bulletin twice a year giving the accrediting status of each of the institutions it is engaged with. At this time, there are four accredited institutions:

Bastyr University
14500 Juanita Drive NE
Kenmore, WA 98028
(425) 823-1300
Bastyr Natural Health Clinic (206) 632-0354

National College of Naturopathic Medicine
2220 SW 1st Avenue
Portland, OR 97201
(503) 255-7355
2232 NW Pettygrove
Portland, OR 97210-2608
(503) 255-7355

Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Sciences
2140 East Broadway
Tempe, AZ 85282
(480) 858-9100

Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine
1255 Sheppard Avenue East
North York, ON M2K 1E2
(416) 498-1255

University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine
60 Lafayette Street
Bridgeport, CT 06601
(203) 576-4109

For further information on accreditation, please contact the CNME

P. O. Box 11426
Eugene, OR 97440-3626
(541) 484-6028

Licensed States and Licensing Authorities

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • Oregon
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • US Territories:
    Puerto Rico & Virgin Islands

Currently, 13 states and the US territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands have licensing laws for naturopathic doctors. In these states, naturopathic doctors are required to graduate from a four-year, residential naturopathic medical school and pass and extensive postdoctoral board examination (NPLEX) in order to receive a license.

Licensed naturopathic physicians must fulfill state-mandated continuing education requirements annually, and will have a specific scope of practice defined by their state’s law. The states that currently have licensing laws for naturopathic physicians are on the right.

History of Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic medicine, sometimes called “naturopathy,” is as old as healing itself and as new as the latest discoveries in biochemical sciences. In the United States, the naturopathic medical profession’s infrastructure is based on accredited educational institutions, professional licensing by a growing number of states, national standards of practice and care, peer review, and an ongoing commitment to state-of-the-art scientific research.

Modern American naturopathic physicians (NDs) receive extensive training in and use therapies that are primarily natural (hence the name naturopathic) and nontoxic, including clinical nutrition, homeopathy, botanical medicine, hydrotherapy, physical medicine, and counseling. Many NDs have additional training and certification in acupuncture and home birthing. These contemporary NDs, who have attended naturopathic medical colleges recognized by the US Department of Education, practice medicine as primary health care providers and are increasingly acknowledged as leaders in bringing about progressive changes in the nation’s medical system.

The word “naturopathy” was first used in the US 100 years ago. But the natural therapies and the philosophy on which naturopathy is based have been effectively used to treat diseases since ancient times. As Rene Dubos noted in Mirage of Health (1959), the word “physician” is from the Greek root meaning “nature.” Hippocrates, a physician who lived 2,400 years ago, is often considered the earliest predecessor of naturopathic physicians, particularly in terms of his teaching that “nature is healer of all diseases” and his formulation of the concept vis medicatrix naturae – “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 – gentle treatments that do not obscure the body’s own healing powers. Today’s naturopathic physicians continue to use these therapies as their main tools and to advocate a healthy dose of primary prevention. In addition, modern NDs conduct and make practical use of the latest biochemical research involving nutrition, botanicals, homeopathy, and other natural treatments.

For many diseases and conditions (a few examples are ulcerative colitis, asthma, menopause, flu, obesity, and chronic fatigue), treatments used by naturopathic physicians can be primary and even curative. Naturopathic physicians also function within an integrated framework, for example referring patients to an appropriate medical specialist such as an oncologist or a surgeon. Naturopathic therapies can be employed within that context to complement the treatments used by conventionally trained medical doctors. The result is a team-care approach that recognizes the needs of the patient to receive the best overall treatment most appropriate to his or her specific medical condition.

Recent History

Naturopathic medicine was popular and widely available throughout the US 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 physicians, and scores of thousands of patients using naturopathic therapies. But the rise of “scientific medicine,” the discovery and increasing use of “miracle drugs” like antibiotics, the institutionalization of a large medical system primarily based (both clinically and economically) on high-tech and pharmaceutical treatments – all of these were associated by mid-century with the temporary decline of naturopathic medicine and most other methods of natural healing.

By the 1970s, however, the American public was becoming increasingly disenchanted with conventional medicine. The profound clinical limitations of conventional medicine and its out-of-control costs were becoming obvious, and millions of Americans were inspired to look for “new” options and alternatives. Naturopathy and all of complementary alternative medicine began to enter a new era of rejuvenation.

Looking to the Future

Today, licensed naturopathic physicians are experiencing noteworthy clinical successes, providing leadership in innovative natural medical research, enjoying increasing political influence, and looking forward to an unlimited future potential. Both the American public and policy makers are recognizing and contributing to the resurgence of the comprehensive system of health care practiced by NDs.

In 1992, the NIH’s Office of Alternative Medicine, created by an act of Congress, invited leading naturopathic physicians (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 center 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 NDs is steadily increasing, and licensure of naturopathic physicians is expanding into new states. By April of 1996, 11 of 50 states had naturopathic licensing laws (Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington). A number of other states are likely to enact naturopathic licensing in the near future.

Naturopathic medical education is growing by leaps and bounds. 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 year, all three US naturopathic medical schools and the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto moved to considerably larger campuses in order to meet the accelerating demand on the part of prospective naturopathic medical students. In 1996, Bastyr University alone had almost 1,000 students enrolled in its various degree-granting programs.

In October 1996, in a major development for both public health and naturopathic medicine, the Natural Medicine Clinic opened in Kent, Washington. Funded by the King County (Seattle) Department of Public Health, the clinic is the first medical facility in the nation to offer natural medical treatments to people in the community, paid for by tax dollars. Bastyr University, one of the three US naturopathic colleges, was selected over several leading Seattle-area hospitals to operate the clinic.

In the last half of the 1990s, exactly one century after it put down roots in North America, naturopathic medicine is finally enjoying a well-deserved renaissance.

The AANP (American Association of Naturopathic Physicians), founded in 1986, is the professional association that represents licensed NDs in the US. www.naturopathic.org

Naturopathic Principles

The Healing Power of Nature – Vis Medicatrix Naturae 
Naturopathic medicine recognizes an inherent ability in the body which is ordered and intelligent. Naturopathic physicians act to identify and remove obstacles to recovery and to facilitate and augment this healing ability.

Identify and Treat the Cause – Tolle Causam
The naturopathic physician seeks to identify and remove the underlying causes of illness, rather than to eliminate or merely suppress symptoms.

First Do No Harm Primum Non Nocere
Naturopathic medicine follows three guidelines to avoid harming the patient: 1) utilize therapies and medicinal substances which minimize the risk of harmful side effects; 2) avoid, when possible, the harmful suppression of symptoms; 3) acknowledge and respect the individual’s healing process, using the least force necessary to diagnose and treat illness.

Treat the Whole Person – Holism
Naturopathic physicians treat each individual by taking into account physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social and other factors. Since total health also includes spiritual health, naturopathic physicians encourage individuals to pursue their personal spiritual path.

Doctor as Teacher – Docere
Naturopathic physicians educate the patient and encourage self responsibility for health. They also acknowledge the therapeutic value inherent in the doctor-patient relationship.

Naturopathic physicians emphasize the prevention of disease, assessing risk factors and hereditary susceptibility to disease and make appropriate interventions to prevent illness. Naturopathic medicine strives to create a healthy world in which humanity may thrive.

Establishing and maintaining optimum health and balance. Wellness is a state of being healthy, characterized by positive emotion, thought and action. Wellness is inherent in everyone, no matter what disease(s) is/are being experienced. Wellness is recognized and experienced by an individual. When one is well in spirit they will more quickly heal a given disease than direct treatment of the disease alone.

Therapeutic Order

  1. Determinants of Health
    Assess the determinants of Health and find the cause of the disturbance to the natural balance of the body.

  2. Stimulate the Healing Power of Nature
    Support the bodies natural healing mechanisms and give the body the rest, supportive nutrition and attention necessary for proper functioning.

  3. Tonify Systems
    Support specifically the effected systems and facilitate normalization of their function. Give physical and biochemical support to the effected tissues and organ systems.

  4. Correct Structural Integrity
    Manipulate the tissue or bones to facilitate the needed compensation for health to return.

  5. Natural Symptomatic Treatment
    While attempting further assessment or treatment of the causative factors palliate symptoms at hand while being cautious not to undermine the vis.

  6. Synthetic Symptomatic Treatment
    Utilize synthetic treatments designed to alter physiological function in order to control the reaction of the body to the disturbance.

  7. Surgery, Chemotherapy, etc
    When all subtle attempts fail and surgical or suppressive therapy is indicated.

Therapeutic Modalities

Naturopathic philosophy serves as the basis for naturopathic practice. The current scope of naturopathic practice includes, but is not limited to:

Clinical Nutrition
That food is the best medicine is a cornerstone of naturopathic practice. Many medical conditions can be treated more effectively with foods and nutritional supplements than they can by other means, with fewer complications and side effects. Naturopathic physicians use dietetics, natural hygiene, fasting, and nutritional supplementation in practice.

Botanical Medicine 
Many plant substances are powerful medicines. Where single chemically-derived drugs may only address a single problem, botanical medicines are able to address a variety of problems simultaneously. Their organic nature makes botanicals compatible with the body’s own chemistry; hence, they can be gently effective with few toxic side effects.

Homeopathic Medicine
Homeopathic medicine is based on the principle of “like cures like.” It works on a subtle yet powerful electromagnetic level, gently acting to strengthen the body’s healing and immune response.

Physical Medicine
Naturopathic medicine has its own methods of therapeutic manipulation of muscles, bones, and spine. NDs also use ultrasound, diathermy, exercise, massage, water, heat and cold, air, and gentle electrical pulses.

Naturopathic Obstetrics 
Naturopathic physicians provide natural childbirth care in an out-of-hospital setting. They offer prenatal and postnatal care using modern diagnostic techniques. The naturopathic approach strengthens healthy body functions so that complications associated with pregnancy may be prevented.

Psychological Medicine 
Mental attitudes and emotional states may influence, or even cause, physical illness. Counseling, nutritional balancing, stress management, hypnotherapy, biofeedback, and other therapies are used to help patients heal on the psychological level.

The philosophical principles of naturopathic medicine guide the physician in choosing which therapies are appropriate for the patients particular experience of disease.

Naturopathic Model of Disease

When we are presented with a disturbance to our health it leads to irritation. This irritation generates an inflammatory response from the body. The intent of the inflammatory response is to discharge the body of the disturbance and the by-products of the initial inflammation.

If the discharge gets suppressed though any number of mechanisms than the inflammation becomes chronic. Repetitive suppressive events can lead, eventually, to degenerative effects. These effects can come in several forms. Tumor, Scar, Ulcer, Atrophy.

To heal from the effects of our disturbances, we must support the body’s natural mechanisms. As we release the disturbance we regain the natural functioning of the effected tissues.

Naturopathic physicians focus on supporting the body’s innate vital force.