Those who practice naturopathy lean on natural methods of treatment as an alternative to drugs or surgeries commonly used in traditional medicine. These methods can include acupuncture, herbalism and homeopathy as well as recommended changes in diet or lifestyle. Some believe the beginnings of naturopathy date back to the late 1800s and emerged during the height of the natural cure movement in Europe. During the 1880s British doctor Thomas Allinson began promoting what he called hygenic medicine in Scotland. Allinson encouraged patients to consume natural foods and exercise regularly and discouraged damaging activities like tobacco use.
Others believe the natural approach to overall health reaches back to the ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates. The German-born Benedict Lust is known as “the father of naturopathy” in the United States and is one of the chief founders of the practice, but the term “naturopathy” was first used in 1895 by his associate, Dr. John Scheel. In Germany, under the tutelage of Father Sebastian Kneipp, Lust learned a variety of natural treatments including hydrotherapy, a method that involves utilizing water to treat disease. Kneipp later encouraged Lust’s move to the United States in the hopes his student would share what he learned with others.
Lust established the American School of Naturopathy in 1901, an institution based in New York. By 1919 Lust had founded the American Naturopathic Association, a group that replaced the Naturopathic Society of America and originated from the North American Kneipp Societies. For the first 30 years of the 20th century, laws governing naturopathic practices existed in 25 states and served as the standards under which naturopaths were licensed. The naturopathic approach was embraced by others in the health care profession like chiropractors during the early 1900s, and some schools started offering Doctor of Naturopathy degree programs at this time as well.
The use of naturopathy saw a decline sometime after the 1930s, at about the same time penicillin and other drugs emerged. Up through the 1950s some schools stopped offering degrees in natural medicine. For more than 20 years, beginning in 1940, the American Medical Association discouraged the use of naturopathy and other medical practices the AMA deemed unorthodox. The number of states offering professional licenses for naturopathy dwindled to five by 1958. A decade later the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare publicized its conclusion that naturopathy was not rooted in medical science and that the training to obtain a license in the field was not sufficient enough for graduates to arrive at diagnoses and initiate treatments. The government agency further advocated against extending Medicaid coverage to patients who sought naturopathic methods of treatment.
With the arrival of the 1970’s came a renewed interest in naturopathy in North America. These days the practice is most common is the United States and Canada. In 2009 there were 15 U.S. States offering licenses for naturopathic physicians and in the State of Washington, insurance companies must reimburse patients for naturopathic treatments. Not all states are as supportive of naturopathic medicine – the practice is not permitted in Tennessee and South Carolina.
Today in the U.S., naturopathy includes three classifications (naturopathic physicians, conventional naturopaths and other health professionals who incorporate naturopathy with traditional medical treatments.
Todd Nelson, D.Sc. trained at the International Center for Natural Health and Medicine, graduating with both a Naturopathic Doctor degree and a Doctor of Holistic Health Sciences degree. Aside from heading the Tree of Life Wellness Center in Denver, Colorado as a naturopathic doctor, Todd is also a co-author of 3 books.