Naturopathy & Naturopathic Medicine

Author: Michael Byrne, LMHC, ND (Naturopathic Physician)

Posted on May 29, 2020


Naturopathy is more than a system of healing; it is a philosophy and a way of life. Fundamentally, naturopathy honors the healing power of nature. One of the fathers of our western medical tradition was Hippocrates, a physician of 2500 years ago. A basic law of his medical practice was: "Let food be your medicine, and your medicine be food."

Originally, all physicians here in America were naturopathic doctors. Naturopathic doctors broke away from the orthodox medical field (allopathic) when the majority began ignoring proper nutrition and lifestyle and became enchanted with chemical and surgical means of treatment. These complex chemical and surgical treatments often had harmful and sometimes fatal side effects.

The naturopathic physician continues to use nutrition and lifestyle counseling to support the body’s own natural ability to heal itself. Naturopaths will often also employ botanical medicine, vitamins, minerals, and physical medicine in supporting a person to achieve health and wellness. Naturopathic doctors do not simply treat symptoms, but explore the root causes for disease. Naturopaths are also very interested in the prevention of disease, and so educate people on health maintenance and wellness. On the cutting edge of medicine today is the recognition of the mind-body-spirit connection. Emotional, physical and spiritual issues are intimately tied within each of us. Treatments of emotional, mental and physical disorders have been separated here in the western world, with increased specialization leading to increased fragmentation of healthcare delivery. Since naturopathic doctors are interested in identifying root causes of illness, we recognize that many different variables that can lead to disease. As a practicing naturopath, I have been witness to numerous examples of physical maladies relating to emotional, mental and spiritual issues. One example is a man’s knee pain, back pain, food allergies, and depression all resolving as he began pursuing his love for music in a focused way.

I also have many examples of nutrition effecting behavior and mood. Most notably are the frequent connections between digestive and nutritional issues, and ADHD and other behavioral problems. Our moods, thoughts, physical activity, nutrition, community and so on, all interplay with each other, uniquely creating the varied challenges and opportunities we experience in life.

I have found that working with people on multiple levels through counseling, nutrition and lifestyle analysis to be very successful and deeply satisfying. Patients often tell me of the joy they experience in learning new health habits and exploring the interrelatedness of thoughts, emotions, and physical health.

Many naturopathic physicians also see their role as a doctor to extend into the community. Since we aim to address the whole person, body, mind and spirit, we are also often drawn into social realms to address the issues present for our patients. Naturopathic medicine asserts that one cannot be healthy in an unhealthy environment and is committed to the creation of a world in which humanity may thrive.

Principles of Naturopathic Medicine (1)

Naturopathic Medicine is distinguished not by particular methods or medicines, but by a unifying philosophy. This philosophy is articulated by the following guiding principles, created by naturopathic physicians through the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP).

The Healing Power of Nature

The healing power of nature is the inherent self-organizing and healing process of living systems which establishes, maintains and restores health. Naturopathic medicine recognizes this healing process to be ordered and intelligent. It is the naturopathic physician’s role to support, facilitate and augment this process by identifying and removing obstacles to health and recovery, and by supporting the creation of a healthy internal and external environment.

Identify and Treat the Causes

Illness does not occur without cause. Causes may originate in many areas. Underlying causes of illness and disease must be identified and removed before complete recovery can occur. Symptoms can be expressions of the body’s attempt to defend itself, to adapt and recover, to heal itself, or may be results of the causes of disease. The naturopathic physician seeks to treat the causes of disease, rather than to merely eliminate or suppress symptoms.

First Do No Harm

  • Naturopathic physicians follow three precepts to avoid harming the patient:
  • Naturopathic physicians utilize methods and medicinal substances which minimize the risk of harmful effects, and apply the least possible force or intervention necessary to diagnose illness and restore health.
  • Whenever possible the suppression of symptoms is avoided as suppression generally interferes with the healing process.
  • Naturopathic physicians respect and work with the the healing power of nature in diagnosis, treatment and counseling, for if this self-healing process is not respected the patient may be harmed.

Doctor as Teacher

The original meaning of the word “doctor” is teacher. A principle objective of naturopathic medicine is to educate the patient and emphasize self-responsibility for health. Naturopathic physicians also recognize and employ the therapeutic potential of the doctor-patient relationship.

Treat the Whole Person

Naturopathic medicine recognizes the harmonious functioning of all aspects of the individual as being essential to health. The multi-factorial nature of health and disease requires a personalized and comprehensive approach to diagnosis and treatment.

Naturopathic physicians treat the whole person taking all of these factors into account.


Naturopathic medical colleges emphasize the study of health as well as disease. The prevention of disease and the attainment of optimal health in patients are primary objectives of naturopathic medicine. In practice, these objectives are accomplished through education and the promotion of healthy ways of living.

Naturopathic physicians assess risk factors, heredity and susceptibility to disease, and make appropriate interventions in partnership with their patients to prevent illness. Naturopathic medicine asserts that one cannot be healthy in an unhealthy environment and is committed to the creation of a world in which humanity may thrive.

1. "Principles of Naturopathic Medicine" section (above) quotes from Snider, P., & Zeff, J.L. (1989). Definition of Naturopathic Medicine, American Association of Naturopathic Medicine Position Paper. Select Committee on the Definition of Naturopathic Medicine. AANP House of Delegates, Rippling River, Oregon.

Michael Byrne, ND (Doctor of Naturopathy), has a naturopathic practice in Seattle, Washington Washington and is also a registered counselor.

Also see article: Childhood ADHD--Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder--From the viewpoint of the naturopathic practitioner.

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