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The things naturopaths do that are good are not special, and the things they do that are special are not good. --Harriet Hall, MD

Naturopathy is a system of therapy and treatment which relies exclusively on natural remedies, such as sunlight, air, water, supplemented with diet and therapies such as massage. However, some naturopaths have been known to prescribe such unnatural treatments as colon hydrotherapy for such diseases as asthma and arthritis.

Naturopathy is based on the belief that the body is self-healing. The body will repair itself and recover from illness spontaneously if it is in a healthy environment. Naturopaths have many remedies and recommendations for creating a healthy environment so the body can spontaneously heal itself.

Naturopaths claim to be holistic, which means they believe that the natural body is joined to a supernatural soul and a non-physical mind and the three must be treated as a unit, whatever that means. Naturopathy is fond of such terms as "balance" and "harmony" and "energy." It is often rooted in mysticism and a metaphysical belief in vitalism (Barrett).

Naturopaths are also prone to make grandiose claims about some herb or remedy that can enhance the immune system. Yet, only medical doctors are competent to do the tests necessary to determine if an individual's immune system is in any way depressed (Green). Naturopaths assume that many diseases, including cancer, are caused by faulty immune systems. (The immune system, in simple terms, is the body's own set of mechanisms that attacks anything that isn't "self." Although, in some cases rather than attack "foreign bodies" such as viruses, fungi, or bacteria, the immune response goes haywire and the body attacks it own cells, e.g., in lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.) Naturopaths also promote the idea that the mind can be used to enhance the immune system and thereby improve one's health. However Dr. Saul Green argues that

there are no reports in the scientific literature to support the contention that any AM [alternative medicine] operates through an established immunological mechanism. Regardless of the means used to evoke an antitumor response, all the evidence available from clinical and animal studies clearly shows that only after the attention of the NIS [normal immune system] has been attracted by some external manipulation of its components, is there any recognition by NIS of the existence of the tumor (Stutman, O. and Cuttito MJ. (1980). In: R.B. Herberman (ed). Natural Cell Medicated Immunity Against Tumors. N.Y. Academic Press: 431-432.). All the evidence amassed over the past 30 years provides a clear answer to the question, “Does any AM treatment stimulate the NIS and cause it to identify and destroy new cancer cells when they appear?” The answer clearly is NO! (Green 1999: 20)

Furthermore, the evidence that such diseases as cancer occur mainly in people with compromised immune systems is lacking. This is an assumption made by many naturopaths but it is not supported by the scientific evidence. Immunologists have shown that the most common cancers flourish in hosts with fully functional and competent immune systems (Green 1999: 18). The notion that vitamins and colloidal minerals, herbs, coffee enemas, colonic irrigation, Laetrile, meditation, etc., can enhance the immune system and thereby help restore health is bogus. On the one hand, it is not necessarily the case that a diseased person even has a compromised immune system. On the other hand, there is no scientific evidence that any of these remedies either enhance the immune system or make it possible for the body to heal itself.

Naturopathy is often, if not always, practiced in combination with other forms of "alternative" health practices. Bastyr University, a leading school of naturopathy since 1978, offers instruction in such things as acupuncture and "spirituality." Much of the advice of naturopaths is sound: exercise, quit smoking, eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, practice good nutrition. Claims that these and practices such as colonic irrigation or coffee enemas "detoxify" the body or enhance the immune system or promote "homeostasis," "harmony," "balance," "vitality," and the like are exaggerated and not backed up by sound research.

See also "alternative" health practice, anthroposophic medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, chiropractic, homeopathy, natural, and Joel D. Wallach, "The Mineral Doctor".

reader comments

further reading


What is naturopathy? by Harriet Hall, M.D. "Naturopathy doesn't make sense. The things naturopaths do that are good are not special, and the things they do that are special are not good."

For a naturopath's reply to Dr. Hall, see the blogger Oryoki Bowl's "The SkepDoc is an Ostrich." "I chose the word Ostrich, because I see your head is buried in the sand and your ass is likely waving in the air. You have recently written for a pseudo-popular magazine that has a mission of targeting anything they don't 'believe' in and call it pseudoscience."

For a takedown of Oryoki Bowl, see Orac's Fun with a naturopathic rant against The SkepDoc "Oryoki appears to have taken Harriet's criticisms of naturopathy very personally, resulting in an off-base attack on Harriet herself that relies on a heapin' helpin' of nonsense, pseudoscience, and logical fallacies, not to mention the misrepresentation of Harriet's own words...."

Evaluating Personal Experience by Robert Todd Carroll

Social and judgmental biases that make inert treatments seem to work by Barry L. Beyerstein (1999)

Green, Saul. 2000. "Can alternative treatments induce immune surveillance over cancer in humans?" The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. vol. 4, #1. Spring/Summer.

A Close look at Naturopathy by William Barrett, M.D.

Naturopathy: A Critical Analysis by Barry L. Beyerstein and Susan Downie (2000)

Why Naturopaths Should Not Be Licensed by Kimball C. Atwood IV, M.D.

Why Health Professionals Become Quacks by William T. Jarvis, Ph.D.

Can Any Cancer Treatment Strengthen the Immune System? by Saul Green, Ph.D.

The Realities of Alternative Medicine for Serious Illness: A Guide for Laymen by Saul Green, Ph.D.

Naturopathy / Naturopathic Medicine & Other sCAMs.

The Naturocrit Podcast


new Naturopathic Diaries by Britt Marie Hermes, former naturopathic doctor, current Master's of Science student in biomedical research. "Naturopathic medicine is a philosophy, a worldview, and even a lifestyle. It is not a real and distinct medical system. Not everyone has heard of naturopathic medicine, but its principals can be found in any alternative medicine doctrine. In fact, it’s as if naturopathic medicine includes any and all tropes counter to science and borrows loosely from medicine when convenient." [/new]

Night of the living naturopaths Colorado’s “degreed” naturopaths (NDs) are at war with the undegreed known as "traditionals."

Open Letter to Dr. Josephine Briggs by Kimball Atwood of Science-Based Medicine "...it is disturbing that you will shortly appear at the 25th Anniversary Convention of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP). It is disturbing for two reasons: first, it suggests that you know little about the tenets and methods of the group that you’ll be addressing; second, your presence will be interpreted as an endorsement of those methods and of that group—whether or not that is your intention."

Ontario to let naturopaths prescribe ... despite the reams of evidence discrediting their approach to patient health. It's a move that legitimizes a well-meaning but baseless profession, and puts patients at significant risk.


B.C. naturopaths the first in Canada to prescribe medications Now that these naturopaths have been granted the legal right to prescribe unnatural pharmaceuticals, are they really naturopaths? I thought the one thing that distinguished them from real doctors is the fact that they only prescribe natural remedies. Who knew they didn't believe their own propaganda?

Last updated 27-Oct-2015

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