Naturopathy: A Critical Appraisal

Kimball C. Atwood IV, MD

Disclosures

Medscape General Medicine. 2003;5(4) 

In This Article

The Naturopathic Belief System

Naturopathic beliefs -- including those of "naturopathic physicians" -- are rooted in vitalism, the pre-20th-century assertion that biological processes do not conform to universal physical and chemical principles. Naturopaths describe a "healing power of nature," which is compromised by modern medicine.[10] They state that they "treat the cause of a problem, rather than to merely eliminate or suppress the symptoms."[6] They state that they treat "the whole person." They state that they can "boost the immune system" with herbs and homeopathic preparations. They profess knowledge about preventive medicine that is, implicitly, unknown to medical doctors, public health experts, nurses, nutritionists, and others. They profess special expertise in nutrition and in the use of "natural remedies" made from animal, vegetable, and mineral sources.

Naturopaths invoke a few simplistic theories to explain the causes of disease. These include the actions of ubiquitous "toxins" (including most pharmaceuticals); widespread food allergies; dietary sugar, fat, and gluten; inadequate vitamin and mineral intake; epidemic candidiasis; vertebral misalignments; intestinal "dysbiosis"; imbalances of Qi; and a few others. To diagnose these entities, naturopaths use an assortment of nonstandard methods, among which are iridology or iris diagnosis, which holds that the entire body is represented on the iris of the eye[11]; applied kinesiology, by which an allergy to a food is detected by placing the food particle in one hand of a patient and observing a resulting weakness in the other; hair analysis for alleged toxins and vitamin and mineral deficiencies; electrodiagnosis, which can purportedly detect parasites and other problems by measuring the skin's resistance to a tiny electric current; "live cell analysis"; "pulse" and "tongue" diagnosis; and others.[12,13]

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