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By Steven Novella, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Yale University School of Medicine

Naturopathy, which draws on practices from many cultures, began as a formal health care system in the United States in the early 1900s. Founded on the notion of the healing power of nature, naturopathy emphasizes

  • Prevention and treatment of disease through a healthy lifestyle

  • Treatment of the whole person

  • Use of the body’s innate healing abilities

Naturopathy also focuses on finding the cause of the disease rather than merely treating symptoms. Some of this system’s principles are not that different from those of traditional healing systems such as Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine.

Naturopathy uses a combination of therapies, including the following:

  • Diet and nutritional supplementation

  • Acupuncture

  • Physical therapies (such as heat or cold therapy, ultrasonography, and massage)

  • Exercise therapy

  • Counseling on diet, lifestyle, and stress management

  • Natural childbirth

  • Hydrotherapy (agitated warm water or cold water applications)

Some naturopathic practitioners advocate practices that are not supported by scientific evidence. Hydrotherapy is an example. Also, some practitioners discourage childhood vaccinations. Studies have proved that childhood vaccination prevents disorders and death and that its benefits greatly outweigh its risks.

Few well-designed studies of naturopathic therapies have been done.