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What Is Naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic medicine is a distinct system of holistic medicine that skillfully combines ancient therapeutic traditions with modern science to restore health. The system was first brought to the United States in 1901 by Benedict Lust, MD. 


Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) are trained to use a variety of therapies including clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, homeopathic medicine, physical medicine, lifestyle recommendations, as well as natural and pharmaceutical medicines.


We work to support the body’s innate ability to heal with natural therapeutics by following the guiding principles of naturopathic medicine (see below). See the Six Principles guiding Naturopathic Medicine below.


Is Naturopathic Medicine the same as Functional Medicine?

Naturopathic medicine has greatly influenced functional medicine, but they are not the same.  Naturopathic principles, include Treat The Root Cause, was codified in 1986.  Functional medicine was founded in 1990.  


The founder of functional medicine, Jeffrey Bland, PhD, has given attribution to Joe Pizzorno, ND (founder of Bastyr University) as one of his greatest inspirations in the development of the functional medicine system.


The Institute of Functional Medicine employs several NDs to teach integrative medicine to conventional practitioners. While there are many overlaps in functional and naturopathic medicine, like the concept of treating the root cause, there are some important differences. 


What Is A Naturopathic Doctor?

Licensed naturopathic doctors (ND) attend four-year, post-graduate, in-residence accredited naturopathic medical schools. The institutions in the United States are recognized by the Federal Department of Education. In addition to a standard medical curriculum, the naturopathic doctor is required to complete four years of training in clinical nutrition, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, naturopathic philosophy, psychology, and counseling.


Upon graduating, NDs must sit for and pass a national level board examination called NPLEX for licensure. NPLEX follows the same standards as the National Board of Medical Examiners, the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners and the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners.

Currently there are  23 states, the District of Columbia, and the United States territories of Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands states that license Naturopathic physicians as medical providers.

Naturopathic Therapeutic Order of Healing

1. Remove Obstacles to Health

In order to return to health, the initial step must be removal of anything creating a disturbance to health.  This is often referred to as “removing obstacles to cure.”  Naturopathic doctors devise a plan with their patient that addresses these obstacles (common culprits are poor diet, excessive stress, digestive disturbances, inadequate rest, toxic exposures, socioeconomic stressors, trauma, etc.) in an effort to remove them and their effects, and improve the conditions under which the disease developed. Removing the things that are disturbing health allows the person’s vitality to increase, the self-healing process to be optimally engaged and further therapeutic intervention to have the greatest beneficial effects possible.


2. Stimulate the body’s self-healing mechanisms

Every person has within them a wisdom and intelligence that constantly tends toward the healthiest expression of function. In naturopathic medicine, this is called the “Vis Medicatrix Naturae.” The “Vis Medicatrix Naturae” is the body’s innate healing ability, the process of healing which engages with one’s “vital force” or life force, as it is often termed. Naturopathic doctors use various therapies to stimulate and enhance this mighty and dynamic force and process allowing the body to heal itself.




Courtesy of AANMC

3. Strengthen Weakened or Damaged Systems – Restore and Regenerate

Sometimes the mind, spirit and body’s systems or functions need more than stimulation to improve. Systems that are under or over active or that need repair or support are addressed in this step. Naturopathic doctors use their broad and varied natural medicine(s) and healing practices to aid in restoring optimal function to an entire physiologic or organ system. This might include applying botanical medicine, endocrine balancing, professional grade supplements, homeopathy, counseling, manual therapies, acupuncture and others with the intention of enhancing the function of specific tissues, organs or systems; or at the psycho-emotional level.


4. Correct Structural Integrity

This level involves the use of physical therapies such as spinal manipulation, massage therapy, electrotherapy and cranio-sacral therapy to improve, support, and maintain musculature, fascial and skeletal integrity. Therapeutic movement, optimizing biomechanics, physical therapy and exercise may also be employed at this level to promote return to optimal structural condition.

5. Use Natural Therapies to Address Pathology and Symptoms

Although the primary objective of naturopathic medicine is to restore health, not to treat a distinct pathology, there are instances where specific pathologies must be addressed and managed. In these cases, naturopathic doctors utilize physiologically synergistic, dependable, effective natural substances that are unlikely to add toxic burden, cause adverse effects, place undue additional strain on an already disordered system, nor undermine the vis medicatrix naturae, while relieving the symptoms which cause suffering.


6. Use Pharmaceutical or Synthetic Substances to Stop Progressive Pathology

When necessary, synthetic or pharmaceutical substances may be employed to restrain or strongly manage symptoms or address specific pathology. An advantage in using these types of substances in most cases is that they can, allow greater control over the reaction of the system to a disturbance. A distinct disadvantage is that in most cases it does not permit addressing the underlying processes maintaining or the causing the pathology, removal of the fundamental obstacles to cure nor does it allow for improvement of the vitality of the impacted system.

7. Use High Force, Invasive Therapies to Suppress Pathology

Sometimes it is necessary in the interest of patient health, comfort and safety to suppress pathological symptoms and processes as a strategy, prior to addressing underlying causal factors, and ultimately restoring health.  Though suppressive or palliative therapies may result in reduced symptomatic expression, even when done with the best of intentions, the end result of suppressive therapies is that the original, fundamental disturbing factors will continue to impact the person by sustaining disruption of functions (though perhaps to a lesser degree). Resolution of the disturbing factors may also be impeded or halted until the patient is stabilized and can address underlying causes while minimizing suffering and preventing further deterioration.




Principles of Naturopathic Medicine



The Naturopathic physician believes in the body’s innate ability to heal.



We work to go beyond treating the symptoms of an illness to find the cause of illness whenever possible.



We use low risk and natural methods to treat patients using approaches that have few to no side effects.



 Knowledge is power; whenever we can, we involve our patients in the prevention and treatment at home or in the approaches they can learn to use themselves.




Health is determined by physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social and spiritual elements. None in isolation.



“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." We work with our patients to create specific healthy lifestyle plans that take into account personal risk factors, heredity and vulnerability to future disease.

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