Naturopathy: A Critical Appraisal

Kimball C. Atwood IV, MD

Disclosures

Medscape General Medicine. 2003;5(4) 

In This Article

Naturopathic Treatments

Naturopathic treatments include colonic irrigation (enemas) and fasting for "detoxification," hydrotherapy (wrapping part or all of the body in wet towels), homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation, aromatherapy, arduous dietary regimens, intravenous vitamin C, hydrogen peroxide and ozone, whole enzyme pills, herbs, desiccated animal organs, and other "natural remedies." Naturopaths sell these preparations to their clients at a profit, a practice that is both formally approved and joined by the AANP.[14,15,16]

How does this translate into the practice of naturopathic medicine? The following recommendations and practices are representative:

  • The repudiation of standard treatments of streptococcal pharyngitis,[17] acute otitis media,[18] and other childhood infectious diseases, offering instead homeopathy, hydrotherapy, and "natural antibiotics" (eg, herbs such as Goldenseal).
     

  • Affiliation with the antivaccination movement.[10]
     

  • The repudiation of standard treatments of asthma, offering instead, for example, a hydrogen peroxide bath to "bring extra oxygen to the entire surface of the skin, thus making the lungs somewhat less oxygen hungry" or "gems and minerals ... worn as jewelry, or placed around the home in special places."[19] This quotation is from "Articles written by Naturopathic Physicians for the general public" (on the AANP Web site). The author is listed as a "senior editor of the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, the official publication of the AANP."
     

  • Recommendations, by the Bastyr University AIDS Research Center, for treatment of HIV-positive patients with St. John's wort and garlic (both of which have been shown to reduce blood levels of highly active antiretroviral therapy agents), "acupuncture detoxification auricular program," whole-body hyperthermia, "adrenal glandular," homeopathy, "cranioelectrical stimulation," digestive enzymes, colloidal silver, and nearly 100 other dubious methods.[20,21]
     

  • Warnings against proven medical and surgical treatments for hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and atherosclerosis, while instead recommending herbs and EDTA chelation.[22]
     

  • The insertion of endonasal balloons, followed by their inflation in the nasopharynx, to "release tensions stored in the connective tissue and return the body to its original design," thus curing learning disorders and a host of other problems.[23,24]
     

  • Treatment of the acute stroke patient for at least 20 minutes with an "ice-cold compress ... over the carotid arteries under the jaw bone on the neck" (which "may even abort the stroke") and subtle energy medicine.[25] The author of these recommendations is listed as a "senior editor of the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, the official publication of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians."
     

  • The early detection of multiple sclerosis by "pulse" and "tongue" diagnosis, such as to effect a cure by hydrotherapy, homeopathy, acupuncture, diet, and other methods.[26] The author of these claims is Chief Medical Officer of the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine.
     

  • The prevention and cure of breast cancer by an assortment of nonstandard tests and "supplements."[27] The author of these claims "has lectured regularly at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine on breast health and stress management."
     

  • The treatment of cancer of the prostate with "electrical current in the form of positive galvanism, applied transrectally."[28] This recommendation is from "Articles written by Naturopathic Physicians for the general public" (on the AANP Web site). The author is Chief Medical Officer of the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine.
     

  • Ubiquitous "toxin" claims, including antifluoridation statements, warnings against most proven pharmaceuticals, and the assertion that "25% of Americans suffer from heavy metal toxicity."[29]
     

  • "Natural childbirth care in an out-of-hospital setting" using a "naturopathic approach [that] strengthens healthy body functions so that complications associated with pregnancy may be prevented."[7]
     

  • Nearly 100 nonstandard uses for vitamin C recommended by the Textbook of Natural Medicine.[4]
     

  • The promotion and sale of "dietary supplements" for virtually all complaints.

Naturopaths have not subjected their basic tenets to critical scrutiny, apparently because they are already convinced that they are correct. For example, the AANP position paper on treatment of streptococcal pharyngitis, offering no supporting evidence, makes this claim: "naturopathic physicians ... have been successfully treating Strep pharyngitis with very low incidence of poststreptococcal sequelae, using various natural antibiotics, and natural immune enhancing therapies, for close to one hundred years ..."[17]

A 1999 survey of the small number of NDs in Massachusetts, performed by 2 investigators from Children's Hospital in Boston, is consistent with these findings. They reported that only 20% of those surveyed would recommend that parents have their children vaccinated and that only 40% would refer a 2-week-old infant with a temperature of 101° F for definitive medical care.[30]

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