Wouldn’t you like to know the whole story about two of the most common “alternative medicine” practices: homeopathy and naturopathy? Both are in the news daily, and millions of Americans visit naturopathic physicians and homeopaths regularly.
Wherever you look, there are media stories about new “alternative” cures and treatments for a wide variety of medical maladies, some of which seem too good to be true, while others aren’t so far-fetched. The ongoing battle between traditional and alternative medicine continues to rage, however, as these two sided of the science debate thrash it out in books, at conferences, and in news stories.
I wanted to get to the bottom of the “alternative vs traditional” medicine debate because I had heard so much conflicting opinion about both sides, most of which just didn’t make sense. Many naturopaths are respected professionals with thriving practices. The same can be said of mainstream physicians, homeopaths (to a lesser degree, though) and several other types of alternative medical professionals.
Focusing just on homeopathy and naturopathy at first, I learned some surprising things about both professions, a few of which changed my preconceived notions about what they do, how they treat patients and the science (or lack of it) that their professions are based on.
It’s important to remember that homeopathy is a much narrower field than naturopathic medicine. Their relationship is like that between judo and martial arts, where one is really just a sub-category of the other. Naturopathic doctors sometimes use homeopathy as a form of treatment, but sometimes never use it at all. That was the first thing I learned when researching these two intriguing topics.
To keep everything straight in my head, because these are two pretty wide topics, I set out to look at the basic definitions of each category, list the pros and cons, and see what scientific authorities had to say about both of them.
What is Natural Medicine?
Naturopathy is centered on one philosophy: that the human body can fix itself. Naturopathic physicians attempt to treat and prevent a variety of illnesses and diseases with balanced lifestyles, organic food selections, commonsense exercise programs, and even the use of other non-traditional medical treatments like herbal cures, Ayurvedic medicine, and homeopathy. In some ways, we can even look at homeopathy as a sub-category of naturopathic medicine.
For about 150 years, naturopathic doctors have trained in 4-year programs much like traditional MDs, except the course of study includes topics like homeopathy, natural supplements, herbal medicines and others. Every U.S. state has different guidelines about who can be called a naturopathic physician, which has caused a certain amount of misunderstanding among consumers who want to use the services of NDs (naturopathic doctors).
While NDs almost never perform any type of surgery, they typically offer their patients ways to prevent disease and illnesses like allergies and ear problems. In the naturopathy profession, the central idea is always about finding and treating a cause rather than just dealing with symptoms. NDs like to say they look “at the whole person” rather than just a bundle of medical symptoms and a name on a medical chart.
If you want to use the services of an ND, make sure your MD knows about it. Sometimes NDs will recommend fasting as a way to cleanse the body of toxins, which raises red flags with traditional doctors, who view fasting as a very dangerous practice.
Another major concern with naturopathic medicine is its tendency to dismiss the benefits of vaccines. While there is a raging medical and political debate going on in the U.S. right now on this very topic, it is generally agreed that vaccines are far more beneficial then harmful for the general population. For that reason alone, many MDs are suspicious of NDs, and this schism has persisted for several decades in the U.S. and elsewhere.
So don’t be surprised if your “regular” doctor isn’t too happy when you mention that you are also seeing an ND. But if the ND has some treatments that work for you, then it’s your call, and you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of using naturopathic medicine.
Always ask if the ND you have in mind is licensed and where they went to school. You can look the school up online and find out if it has a good reputation, is brand new, or has a less than stellar record. Just as you would with an MD, find out about credentials, licenses, and special training that your prospective ND has had. It’s always smart to be extra careful when your health is involved.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Naturopathy
Naturopathy has its good and bad side, just as traditional medicine does. Most experts say that the naturopathy’s use of fasting and its built-in bias against vaccines are the two big negatives of the profession. On the plus side, NDs tend to spend more time with their patients, charge less, treat a huge range of disorders, and focus on causes rather than symptoms. You’ll usually do a lot more talking with an ND than you will when you visit an MD, and that’s one reason so many patients enjoy visiting the naturopathic doctor’s office.
NDs also tend to use low-risk treatments and few drugs, other than natural substances that have low or no side-effects. When NDs’ treatment plans go wrong, you’ll typically not suffer any adverse reactions or injuries. It’s basically a gentler form of medicine than the one traditional physicians practice.
As mentioned above, homeopathy is an alternative medical practice that NDs often turn to for treatment plans. It’s safe to say that homeopathy is one of the many forms of naturopathic medical practice, though one of the more controversial ones. The chart below lists the key advantages of homeopathic treatment, including its low cost, lack of side effects, the ability to use it with infants and pregnant women, and the fact that it can be used in conjunction with practically any other type of medical treatment without worry of physical harm or death.The Upside and Downside of Homeopathy
The so-called “disadvantages” of homeopathy are hard to define because the main complaint traditionalists have about it is that it just doesn’t “do” anything provably beneficial to the client. Some very large studies have been done on the efficacy of homeopathy, and the treatment methods have yet to survive a double-blind scientific research undertaking. So, when we speak about disadvantages of homeopathy, they can really be boiled down to “it’s ineffective,” with the corollary that patients are wasting their time and money that could be spent more effectively elsewhere.
Some advantages of homeopathic treatments
One of the key criticisms about homeopathy is that it relies on patients’ beliefs rather than actual treatments. The solutions used in homeopathic treatment are so finely diluted that many are almost indistinguishable from pure water. In fact, some famous debunkers, like The Amazing Randi, have actually consumed hundreds of times the regular homeopathic “dose” of a sleep-inducing fluid and suffered zero effects, staying wide awake to discuss his further criticisms of the practice.
Homeopathy: Even the history of homeopathy is wreathed in controversy. Created in 1796 by a fellow named Samuel Hahnemann, the practice was built around his belief that “like cures like,” the core philosophy of homeopathy. The point of the aphorism is that whatever causes a disease in someone can be used to treat that same disease in an ill person. Hahnemann’s belief about “like curing like” has been widely debunked and disproven by the scientific community, which is why the practice is classified as a “pseudo-science,” having no verifiable basis in truth.Controversy in the Fields
The mere fact that homeopathy puts itself out as a “science” irks many traditionalists, who are quick to point out that no homeopathic substance has ever been shown in a laboratory to be an effective treatment for any ailment. That’s a pretty strong criticism, and is the main reason that even some NDs shun the use of homeopathy as a treatment modality.
One large study about homeopathic treatments found them to be as effective as sugar pills (commonly called a placebo, or useless medicine). It would seem that whenever someone claims to have gotten a good result from homeopathic treatment, the “cure” is merely wishful thinking. In the face of these powerful criticisms, homeopaths trudge on, treating patients all over the world with their specially mixed curative liquids.
Naturopathy: Medical and scientific researchers often state that naturopathy has no basis in science, which is why the practice is, in general, rejected by the mainstream scientific community. It is a fact that NDs often use treatment methods that use unnamed “energy auras and fields” that have no provable basis in modern medicine. In addition, mainstream physicians and researchers worry that naturopathy rejects anything smacking of evidence-based scientific discussion. At medical conferences, where studies and typical research papers are presented, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an ND, study in hand, about to approach the podium.
Even the usually open-minded American Cancer Society has some unpleasant things to say about naturopathy, noting that none of its treatment methods or suggested “nutraceuticals” have any effect on cure rates for cancer, “or any other disease” for that matter, the ACS says on its website.
A devastating blow was dealt to naturopathy by the government of Australia in 2015. When the officials of that nation’s health board were researching various alternative medicine techniques, they determined that naturopathy had no provable effectiveness for treating any major medical illness or disease. As a result, the national health insurance board refused to insure or reimburse naturopathic treatment of any kind.
That same scenario is playing out in other countries too, with several recent additions to the “no naturopathy” list. One area that creates a big problem for the practice is its claim that NDs are equipped to practice both conventional and alternative medicine, which is far from true.
The fact is that NDs do receive four years of medical training, but very little of it is related to traditional “medical school” the MDs endure, and most of the curriculum in ND programs includes topics that have nearly no basis in fact of science. For that reason, many official medical organizations in the U.S. and elsewhere refer to naturopathy as dangerous, ineffective, non-scientific and unethical. From professional medical experts, those are harsh words indeed.
Some MDs are wary of even associating themselves with NDs. Indeed, some of the better known specialists in certain areas of traditional medicine look down on any colleague who works with or has a professional relationship with an ND. Naturopaths often recommend or directly sell products to their patients. It is a commonly stated criticism by MDs that if an ND sells something, that product is already tainted, scientifically speaking.
On the whole, the medical community of MDs looks upon most NDs with either indifference or scorn, considering their major school text, The Textbook of Natural Medicine, to be a piece of substandard work that leaves out treatment plans for all sorts of common diseases. Plus, the book, according to those who criticize it, relies too much on herbal cures and often ignores very effective pharmaceutical drugs for a wide range of ailments.
To make matters even worse, if that’s possible at this point, traditional doctors believe that naturopaths’ patients are at risk of injury or adverse side-effects from improper treatment due to the lack of science behind naturopathy.
How to Find Out More About Naturopathy and Homeopathy
There’s always more to learn, which is why we’ve listed the video and book links below. The selections try to present both pros and cons on some of the current debates in the alternative medicine field.
The first video “debunks” some of the basic philosophies of alternative medicine, while the second simply details an average day in the life of a naturopathic physician. The book suggestions also span the range of pro and con, offering a sobering critique of homeopathy, but also detailing the use of medicinal herbs that are commonly used by many alternative professionals and healers.
If you’ve never seen professional debunker James Randi, this video will be a huge eye-opener for you. No matter what your thoughts about alternative medicine are, Randi’s discussion of homeopathy is indeed enlightening. He uses his typically rationalist approach to analyze the practice and comes to a conclusion based on hard scientific facts, rather than emotions and beliefs. “The Amazing Randi” comes to a conclusion about homeopathy that is both surprising and insightful.
Have you ever wondered what a naturopath does? The following “day in the life” video clip offers a revealing look at what these alternative care practitioners do, and how their work is strangely similar to what traditional M.D.’s do, day in and day out.
Not a book, but a long-form article from the UK’s “The Guardian” news journal, “A Kind of Magic?” dissects the practice of homeopathy and goes to lengths with his analysis of why there are few scientific studies done on it. His assertions about why some people believe in homeopathy are revealing, and at the same time quite disturbing.
Is it possible that millions of homeopathy enthusiasts, patients and practitioners are unaware that there exists no real, hard science backing it? For some odd reason, as the writer clearly shows, “believers” in homeopathy revert again and again to their feelings about how the treatment worked for them, even when there is no proof that homeopathy was the reason they recovered, or seemed to recover, from illnesses.
Here is a book that takes homeopathy for what it claims to be. There are no controversies or arguments in this volume, just a detailed catalogue of remedies and the disorders treated by each one. More a reference book than anything else, “Homeopathic Remedies” does shine some light on the philosophy behind the intriguing practice by discussing its history and its current place in medical culture.
Even if you don’t practice as a professional homeopath, this book has plenty of information on a vast range of illnesses that, some say, can be effectively treated with homeopathy.
Not as connected to homeopathy as to alternative medicine in general, this fascinating book is a very useful one for those who have home gardens. It’s indeed easy to grow a few dozen medicinal herbs that you can use in recipes in order to obtain the benefits of their healing powers.
Gladstar’s guide book is on the shelf of all serious gardeners and herbalists because it is so useful, easy to understand and fun to read. You’ll learn much about the chemical components in various plants, see why ancient people gravitated toward certain ones, and finally learn how to grow and use them yourself.
For anyone who wants a solid introduction to herbal healing and natural health in general, this book is a solid choice.
For anyone who wants a solid introduction to herbal healing and natural health in general, this book is a solid choice.
Have you ever wanted a complete list of medicinal herbs, complete with a detailed listing of what each one can be used for? Then this is the book for you. The Herbal Apothecary is a classic in the field, no pun intended, and is written so that anyone can learn the basics about how herbal healing works, what its history is, and what each herb contains. This is not a textbook, but certainly could be used as one due to its lengthy and researched listing of medicinal herbs.
Be Careful Out There
Both naturopathy and homeopathy have their advocates and detractors, but it’s probably fair to say that homeopathy has more of the latter. Licensed, trained naturopathic physicians are operating successful practices all over the world, and continue to gain credibility with the public.
Though many controversies remain about the entire field of “alternative medicine,” and even though some die-hard traditionalists will never stop criticizing the alternative field, legitimate naturopathy is making a place for itself in the world of medicine.
Whether homeopathy survives and thrives into the second half of this century is a valid question, as many in the entire scientific community question the efficacy of this niche of alternative practice.
The truth is that there will always be both good and bad aspects of alternative medicine, as is the case in the field of traditional practice. Treatments like acupuncture, reiki, zero-balancing, homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Rolfing, Feldenkrais, the Alexander Technique, and a host of others already have devoted clients and powerful advocates.
Alternative medical practice niches will come and go, but the field as a whole will continue to thrive alongside its traditional counterpart.
Please note that we can’t and don’t offer medical advice in this article. Please use the information provided as a jumping-off point for your own research on homeopathy and naturopathy. If you decide to try any of the practices or suggestions listed anywhere in this article, speak with a health care professional first. Otherwise, you might be causing yourself more harm than good. This article is for general information purposes only, and should not in any way be taken as medical counseling of any kind.
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