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Naturopathy is a kind of alternative medicine that includes a variety of traditional and natural healing practices. The main idea of Naturopathy is that the human body naturally has an innate, vital healing force meaning it has the ability to heal itself. Naturopathy views disease as a process in which symptoms are warning signals that the body is not functioning properly or the person is engaging in lifestyle habits that are harmful. Symptoms are also seen as the 'body's natural attempt to heal'. Naturopathy encompasses a variety of therapies including; botanical medicine, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, acupuncture or other traditional Chinese medicine, clinical nutrition, style counselling, exercise therapy, life, joint manipulation, massage, and colonic enemas. (NCCAM, 2012., CAND, 2013. & Barrett, 2012).


The emergence of Naturopathy began in Europe during the 19th century when a monk named Sebastian Kneipp became convinced he had been cured of tuberculosis after taking a bath in the Danube River (Hall, 2011). Eventually, Naturopathy made its way to North America by way of Dr. Benedict Lust, the founder of the American School of Naturopathy in 1902 (CAND, 2013. & Hall, 2011). Vaccination was an issue that Dr. Lust was strongly opposed to, something which has been reflected in many other naturopaths views historically (Barrett & Atwood, 2001). During the 1920's and 30's, about half of the states in the US had passed laws that allowed naturopaths to practice naturopathic medicine (Barrett & Atwood, 2001). By 1920, Naturopathy was well established in Canada and the formation of the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors occurred in 1955 (CAND, 2013). Naturopathy was not very popular throughout the 1940's and 1950's, but it experienced a resurgence of interest in the 1970's as part of the emerging branch of 'Alternative Medicine' (CAND, 2013. & Hall, 2011). In 1978, The Ontario College of Naturopathic Medicine was established.

Dr. Benedict Lust
Dr. Benedict Lust
Sebastian Kneipp
Sebastian Kneipp

Theoretical Principles

Naturopathic Medicine seeks to follow six guiding principles listed below:
1) Do no harm: use the least amount of force when treating and diagnosing illness, use methods that decrease the 'risk of harmful side effects', and avoid suppressing symptoms (CAND, 2013. & NCCAM, 2012.).
2) The healing power of nature: facilitate the body's healing ability by identifying and removing barriers to recovery, and 'support the inherent healing ability of the body, mind, and spirit to prevent further disease' (ibid..).
3) Identify and treat the cause: verify and treat the cause as opposed to suppressing the symptoms. Examples of underlying causes include; diet, posture, and environment (ibid..).
4) Treat the whole person: consider physical, mental, environmental, social, spiritual, genetic and emotional symptoms. Don't just look at one organ, focus on the whole person (ibid.).
5) Doctor as Teacher: Help patients understand the different causes that could be affecting their health and illness, help them to maintain their own health independently, and respect the importance of the doctor-patient relationship (ibid.).
6) 'Disease Prevention and Health Promotion': Be proactive, promote healthy habits, evaluate risk factors and susceptibility to disease, apply suitable methods in order to prevent the onset of disease or illness (ibid.).

Naturopathy Today

The Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors asserts that there is currently an abundance of research that supports naturopathic therapies, that there is a 'public demand for naturopathic doctors', and that they are receiving a greater degree of acknowledgement as healthcare practitioners and experts in their field of work (CAND, 2013). They continue to state that naturopathic medicine is ready to transition into the category of mainstream medicine from alternative medicine (ibid.). Despite this level of optimism, only five provinces in Canada currently have regulations surrounding naturopathic medicine (ibid.), and a relatively recent study revealed that just 40% of naturopaths in the study knew that a baby of two weeks who has a fever needs to be hospitalized immediately (Hall, 2011).

In the United States, there are three general types of naturopaths; 'Naturopathic Physicians, Traditional Naturopaths, and other healthcare providers' (NCCAM, 2012). Naturopathic Physicians finish a four year graduate program at an accredited school, whose admission requirements usually include a bachelor's degree or pre-med courses (NCCAM, 2012). Completion of a residency is not required after the four year graduate program as it is in Medical School programs (NCCAM, 2012., Goodwin, 1998. & Hall, 2011). Currently, there are five US schools that are accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME) which offer a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (N.M.D.) or Doctor of Naturopathy (N.D.) programs, as well as a number of schools which are not accredited (Barrett, 2012). Additionally, some states have licensing requirements for naturopaths, while others do not and Traditional Naturopaths are an example of this, as schools that offer programs to become traditional naturopaths are not accredited or bound by licensing (NCCAM, 2012). Admissions into one of these programs ranges from having a certain post-secondary degree, to a high school diploma, or nothing at all (ibid.). Traditional naturopaths focus on methods such as cleansing the body and living a healthy life syle; they do not use over the counter drugs, x-rays, injections, or surgery (ibid.). Lastly, nurses or other healthcare providers have the option of taking training programs to be able to provide various naturopathic therapies (NCCAM).

In the National Health Interview Survey of 2007, it was found that '729,000 adults and 237,000 children had used a naturopathic treatment in the previous year' and that the reasons giving for its use were; 'primary care, overall wellbeing', complementary treatment of chronic and serious illnesses, and for acute conditions such as a cold or the flu (NCCAM, 2012).

Since its beginning, it is apparent that Naturopathy has become more widespread and well known throughout North America. Although the CAND provides an optimistic portrayal of Naturopathic medicine, the fact that licensing and accreditation does not occur across the board is a bit of a disturbing issue and lends to the idea that perhaps naturopathy is not in such a high demand. Also, the current population of the US stand at about 315 million (United States Census Bureau, 2013) suggesting that a large majority of people still prefer conventional medicine.

But is Naturopathy a Science?

The National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) admits that naturopathic treatments are very difficult to study and there has been 'little scientific evidence' found that would support overall effectiveness (NCCAM, 2012). Indeed, a randomized control study was found that was interested in whether or not Echinacea would be effective in lessening symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections in children. The study was carried out on children ages 2-11 and used both placebo and double blind procedures; parents rated their own child before and after the application of Echinacea on the 'duration and severity of symptoms'. The conclusion of the study found that there were no statistically significant differences between the experiment and the control group (Calabrese et al., 2003). Crislip reviewed a study of the effects of honey on children ages 1-5 with 'uncomplicated respiratory infections' that found that the three types of honey they used were rated as more effective than the placebo (Crislip, 2013). Crislip argues that parents rating their own children before and after application does not provide an objective perspective or reliable baseline (Crislip, 2013). He asserts that there was also a high probability that the parents knew when they were giving their children honey because the placebo, which was date syrup, had an altogether different appearance than honey, which created a bias within the experiment (Crislip, 2013). A third study looking at the effectiveness of fish oil in reducing asthma risk in children concluded that 'consumption of oily fish may protect against childhood asthma' (Haby et al., 1996). This study also used measures that were based on questionnaires filled out by the children's parents (ibid.) potentially affecting this experiments objectivity.

Kimball Atwood, M.D. (2004) examined one of the main resources of naturopaths, the Textbook of Natural Medicine and argues that
the recommendations made are extremely exaggerated; omega-3 fatty acids are said to 'prevent or significantly alter the course' of such ailments as diabetes, asthma, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease and more (Atwood, 2004). After examining the citations Atwood asserts that naturopaths argue that they have numerous citations to support their methods but in reality, these citations have been found to be 'irrelevant, preliminary, and inconclusive' (ibid.). This evidence is extremely problematic because the studies that they are using to support their own work do not actually support them and it is misleading to the public (Atwood, 2004).

One method that has been included in the branch of Naturopathy is called 'Therapeutic Touch' which essentially is when a naturopath hold their hands a few inches away from the patient in order to sense the patients 'energy field'. However, studies concluded that these practitioners were unable to find the 'energy field' when there were no visual cues provided (Rosa et al., 1998).

With regards to the theoretical principles of Naturopathy, Hall states that most of them very closely resemble conventional medicines principles and that naturopaths are 'only aspiring to do what...doctors are already doing' but without the science (Hall, 2011).

Why Naturopathy is a Pseudoscience

Demarcartion Criteria

Karl Popper

In an exerpt from "Conjectures and Refutations", Popper attempts to 'distinguish between science and pseudoscience' (Popper, 1963). Metaphysics uses the empirical method, whereby the progession is from experiment to theory and is inductive and this sort of constant abundance of verifiability was not enough for Popper (ibid.). He came up with the following conclusions; if we look for confirmations of a theory we will find them, confirmations should only count when 'they are a result of 'risky predictions', good scientific theories forbid certain things to happen, if a theory is no refutable it is not scientific, a 'genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it', evidence that confirms a theory should only count when it 'is the result of a genuine test of the theory', and when a 'genuinely testable theory' is falsified, sometimes people will continue to uphold the theory by reinterpreting it (ibid.). Essentially, in order for a theory to be considered scientific it needs falsifiability or refutability or testability (ibid.).

Paul Thagard

In "Why Astrology is a Pseudoscience" Thagard concludes as did Popper that verification is not enough to make a theory scientific (Thagard, 1978). However, he notes the problem with Popper's idea of falsifiability is that 'no observation ever guarantees falsification' as 'a theory can always be retained by introducing or modifying...hypotheses' (ibid.). Alternatively, Thagard proposes a different set of demarcation criteria using the three components 'theory, community, and historical context'. Theory includes 'structure, prediction, explanation, and problem solving'. The concepts in community that are required are; practitioners agree on the 'principles of the theory and how to solve' any problems the theory might have, they should be concerned about how to explain anomalies and concerned with comparing the success of their theory to others, and they should active in attempting to confirm or disconfirm their theory. In terms of historical context, the theory's record over time and how well it explains new information as well as anomalies should be considered along with alternative theories that are available (ibid.). According to Thagard, a theory that claims it is scientific but is really a pseudoscience when; it is less progressive than other theories 'over a long period of time', there are many problems to which the theory cannot answer, and the 'community of practitioners makes little attempt to develop the theory' in finding a solution to the problems, they have no concern in trying to assess the theory in comparison to other theories, and they are found to be discriminatory when it comes to confirming and disconfirming evidence (ibid.).

Why Naturopathy Does Not Meet the Criteria

Using the Demarcation criteria put forth by both Popper and Thagard, this section will examine why Naturopathy does not meet the criteria to be considered a science. Firstly, no scientific evidence has been found to support the 'vital force' of the body concept that is at the heart of Naturopathy, while there has been supporting evidence using chemistry to suggest that this healing force does not exist (Barrett, 2012). Since Naturopaths continue to believe in the healing force of the body contrary to what current evidence suggests, they are damaging their testability. Additionally, the terms they employ like optimal health or balance are vague and are very difficult to measure (Barrett, 2012). This means it is hard to conduct studies that would yield reliable results or results you would be confident in, which makes it not very refutable since these studies would not be genuine. Over the past ten or so years, NCCAM has given roughly two hundred million dollars towards complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) research that has yet to yield significant results of efficacy (Atwood, 2003). This demonstrates Thagard's first criteria that it is 'less progressive over a long period of time' compared to other theories and there are many anomalies that naturopathy has yet to answer (Thagard, 1963). Even NCCAM acknowledges that some practitioners are opposed to vaccination and would not recommend them even though there is evidence to support that the benefits outweigh any risks (NCCAM, 2012). Bastyr University is the top naturopathic school in the United States, and it includes its own research facility for AIDS. This facility has been recommending that patients who have been tested positive for HIV take a treatment of St. John's wort and garlic even though both of these remedies have shown a reduction of 'blood levels of highly active antiretroviral therapy agents (Hall, 2011 & Atwood, 2003). These examples illustrate quite clearly that naturopathic practitioners are discriminating against disconfirming evidence at the expense and potential harm of their patients as well as having no concern in trying to assess their naturopathic theory in comparison to conventional medicine, and they are clearly not concerned about the problem that these issues pose for their theory since they aren't actively trying to find a solution (Thagard, 1978). Lastly, because the theory of naturopathy is so broad and contains so many other theories of healing, there is no generally accepted practice and naturopaths can have different beliefs and accept different hypotheses even if they are contradictory to one another (Hall, 2011). It has been discovered here that there is no standard practice, a complete disregard for alternative theories that have shown to be more effective, and there a lack of agreement on beliefs as well, all of which are required for a theory to be considered pseudoscientific (Thagard, 1978). After reviewing why Naturopathy does not meet the criteria to be considered a science, it becomes abundantly clear that it has not met any of the criteria put forth by Thagard as it does not even meet the criteria of his initial discussion of the three elements 'theory, community, and historical context' (ibid.).

Why Naturopathy is Bad

Naturopathy has the potential to be harmful to its patients in a number of ways. As noted in the previous section, some naturopaths are opposed to vaccination and believe in other methods not supported by scientific evidence that can be harmful (NCCAM, 2012). Sometimes naturopaths will 'take patients off critically needed medications (Hall, 2011) or treatments they prescribe will lower the effect of critical medications as seen in the St. John's wort and AIDS examples above (Hall, 2011 & Atwood, 2003). Some herbal remedies can interact with prescription drugs that have the potential to cause harm to the patient (NCCAM, 2012). Also, since not all naturopath programs are accredited or licensed, patients could be following the direction of a practitioner who has no training at all (Goodwin, 1998). Finally, what could be considered the most significant reason for why Naturopathy is bad for people is because it is being promoted as having a lot of supporting evidence when in fact there is little; and for this reason people are putting their faith in people whose medical training is inadequate for them to try and detect or treat serious disease or illness (Goodwin, 1998. & Atwood, 2004).


Although some naturopathic practitioners might engage in safe practices, keep their patients from harm, and promote a healthy life style, the overwhelming evidence suggests that on the whole that the science behind naturopathy is not science at all but pretends to be, which is probably what causes the most harm because people think they are engaging in something that has been tested and shown to be reliable. Using the demarcation criteria from both Popper and Thagard, there was no evidence showing that Naturopathic medicine was able to meet any of the listed criteria, and so it must be considered a pseudoscience.


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  2. Atwood. K. C, IV, MD. (2004). "Naturopathy, Pseudoscience, and Medicine: Myths and Fallacies vs. Truth". MedGenMed. 6(1). pp.33. Retrieved from:
  3. Barret, S., MD. (2012). "A Close Look at Naturopathy". Quackwatch. Retrieved from:
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  5. Calabrese, C., McGann, M., Goesling, J., Standish, L., Taylor, J.A., Weber, W. & Quinn, H. (2003). "Efficacy and safety of echinacea in treating upper respiratory tract infections in children: a randomized controlled trial.". PubMed. 290(21). pp.2824-30. Retreived from:
  6. The Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors (CAND) (1999-2013). Retrieved from:
  7. Crislip, M. (2013). "Honey Boo Boo". Science-Based Medicine. Retrieved from:
  8. Goodwin, J. (1998). "Doctors of Nature--or Nonsense?". Good Housekeeping. 227 (3). pp.98-100+. Retrieved from:
  9. Haby, M.M., Hodge, L., Peat, J.K., Salome, C.M., Woolcock, A.J. & Xuan, W. (1996). "Consumptoin of oily fish and childhood asthma risk". PubMed. 164(3). pp.137-40. Retrieved from:
  10. Hall, H. (2011). "The SkepDoc". Skeptic. 16(2). pp. 4-5, 64. Retrieved from:
  11. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) (2012). Retrieved from:
  12. Popper, Karl. Conjectures and Refutations, London: Routledge and Keagan Paul, 1963, pp. 33-39
  13. Rosa, L, E. Rosa, L. Sarner, and S. Barrett. 1998." A Close Look at Therapeutic Touch". JAMA 279: 1005-1010.
  14. Thagard, P. "Why Astrology is a Pseudoscience" (1978) Philosophy of Science Association. vol.1. pp.223-234. Retrieved from:
  15. United States Census Bureau. (2013). US and World Population Clocks. Retreived from:

Media References

  1. Dr. Benedict Lust Graphic Retrieved from:
  2. Naturopathy logo Graphic. Retrieved from:,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.r_qf.&bvm=bv.42965579,d.b2U&biw=1525&bih=718&wrapid=tlif136194742863610&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&
  3. Ted Talk - James Randi: Homeopathy, quackery and fraud (2010). Retrieved from:
  4. Sebastian Kneipp Graphic Retrieved from:,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.r_qf.&bvm=bv.43148975,d.b2U&biw=1525&bih=718&wrapid=tlif136202459246910&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&