Natural medicine, nature cure, naturopathy…are these all the same thing, and whether or not they are what do they have to offer for you in this era of ‘scientific’ medicine?
These are treatment systems which also offer a basic philosophy for living, which if followed is claimed to prevent much of the illhealth which afflicts modern humans.
Quite simply naturopathy is a system which is concerned with the whole person, rather than just the problems afflicting his/her various organs and systems. Naturopathy recognizes and uses the fact that the body is a self-healing organism, working with the knowledge that if the right environment and opportunity for self-healing can be created repair, recovery and good health will result, spontaneously and illhealth will be prevented.
Most forms of illness are self-limiting.
Cuts heal, breaks mend, infections are controlled, digestive upsets settle and emotional upsets resolve themselves … as a general rule.
The mechanisms which achieve these resolutions are together known as homoeostasis.
This is the self-balancing, self repairing process achieved by efficient working of the immune system and other defence mechanisms in action.
Naturally enough when these self-repair systems become overwhelmed or deficient they may require assistance, and this is where treatment comes into the picture.
What is essential from a naturopathic (and logical) point of view is that whatever treatment is used it should not make matters worse. Ideally treatment should encourage the self-healing mechanisms rather than dictating to them or forcing them into particular actions.
Top Symptom Treatments and Alternatives
A recent survey of UK medical prescribing trends showed that far and away the most costly and common conditions treated by drugs are those related to ulcers and high blood pressure (each of these problems cost the NHS many hundreds of millions of pounds annually!).
The causes of peptic ulcers and high blood pressure have much in common, and these can be summarised as a combination of nutritional imbalances, poor stress coping abilities and (often) undesirable habits such as smoking (all interacting with certain predisposing, inborn, characteristics in many cases).
To take medication to control these conditions, except when the condition threatens life itself, does not address the real needs of the sick person, it just controls and masks the problem.
Naturopathic methods to both conditions would include:
- reform of the person’s diet as well, where indicated, as the use of specific supplementation
- the possible use of periods of detoxification (including short fasts if necessary, during which time remarkable degrees of self-repair occur)
- the use of structural normalisation (using osteopathy and various soft tissue techniques for example) to help the general function of the body as a whole and to reduce mechanical stress factors
- the introduction of appropriate forms of stress reducing methods including breathing and relaxation techniques
- help (perhaps using supplements and/or acupuncture) in breaking old habits such as smoking
- the use of homoeopathic and/or herbal substances to assist in the healing process but not to suppress the symptoms.
Here then naturopathy would offer a fully comprehensive approach to the patient with the problem (whether it be peptic ulcer,hypertension or anything else) and not an attack on the symptoms alone.
Which approach, drugs or these holistic methods, seem to you to be addressing the real needs of the sick person?
Fever: Leave it Alone or Treat it?
Naturopathy believes that not only should symptoms not be the main focus of treatment, they should often be recognised as being the very expression of self-healing in action, and allowed to run their course.
When you have a fever for example this is evidence of your body’s defence systems dealing with something out of the ordinary, perhaps an infection by a bacteria or virus.
In 9 cases out of 10 this will resolve itself without any treatment at all (especially if you are well nourished and cope well with stress) and only needs to be helped by adequate rest and suitable nourishment (liquids only for the first 24 hours of a fever has been shown to enhance immune function dramatically).
When however a fever is met by an instant attempt to suppress it (`the child has a temperature, we must get this down!` syndrome) what is being done is in direct conflict with the real needs of the person, unless the fever is actually life-threatening, which is rare indeed, and in which case appropriate medical care is essential.
Naturopaths recognise that fever is usually an expression of self-healing, a heightened degree of immune system activity. Naturopathic care would aim to help the immune system to do its job efficiently, initially by dietary modification and/or controlled fasting.
In addition it would use methods which would make life more comfortable while these necessary internal processes are doing their job (massage and osteopathic manipulative techniques can for example assist in the drainage of lymph, the fluid which carries debris away from the site of infection).
Some naturopaths would assist the healing process further by judicious use of herbs or homoeopathic medication, neither of which would be aimed at suppressing the fever but which would support the body’s efforts.
Similarly hydrotherapy or acupuncture might be used to reduce discomfort and assist the self-healing work of the body.
Contrast the happy outcome of such a naturopathic effort with the result of the use of drugs to bring down the temperature, leaving the underlying condition unresolved and a frustrated immune system denied its opportunity to act on the invader.
So important as a healing aid do naturopaths see elevated temperature to be that in some conditions of on-going infection (as occurs in AIDS and in some instances of chronic fatigue) an artificial temperature is created by careful use of hydrotherapy (a method called hyperthermia, in which the person’s body temperature is slowly raised by immersion in hot water).
This has no long-term side effects (but needs to be expertly supervised) unlike the long-term overuse of antibiotics which has resulted in a massive rise in the number of resistant bacteria as well as doing untold damage to the health of many people’s digestive tracts where `friendly` bacteria (upon which our health depends to a large extent) have been severely compromised.
Arthritis as Another Example
Arthritis too can be superbly treated by naturopathic means.
Contrast the difference between methods used in orthodox medicine which directs attention towards reducing the inflammatory process involved in arthritis, with little understanding of the ways in which the condition can be more safely treated by attention to causes, unlike naturopathic medicine.
Opren, and the widespread use of other anti-inflammatory drugs, resulted in most people who used them for any length of time actually having worse arthritis in later years than did those people who had no treatment at all (not to mention digestive systems which had been well and truly damaged).
Why should this be?
Because as with a fever, inflammation is part of the self-repair mechanism on which our health depends.
If the reasons for the inflammation can be dealt with the condition improves spontaneously. Even if it can’t fully resolve itself the inflammatory process leads ultimately to a degree of self-healing which is superior to what happens if inflammation is chronically suppressed.
Naturopathic approaches to both osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis have now been vindicated by recent studies in Norway (published in the Lancet 12 October 1991) which show that fasting and a vegetarian based diet have a major impact on the levels of pain, stiffness and disability in people with arthritis.
This together with the ‘new’ medical findings that meat, citrus fruits and certain other foods are harmful in arthritis has been known by naturopaths for 100 years or more and yet the medical studies which prove the value are only just being recognised.
Modification of diet together with some basic naturopathic therapies (focusing on both mind and physical structures) offers the safest and most effective approach to arthritis, because causes are being dealt with and not just symptoms.
Working With the Body
Naturopathy encourages the self-healing potential by a combination of the removal of obstacles to its efficient working alongside active involvement/treatment which assists it through one form of therapy or another.
Holistic Thinking Started with Naturopathy
The idea of looking at the person with a health problem, at the overall condition of health or ill-health, in the context of the person’s lifestyle, dietary pattern, stress levels, attitudes and beliefs, habits, relationships, environment and social background, is essentially naturopathic and is the foundation thinking which has now been adopted by doctors who believe in holistic principles.
The study of emotional (psychological), structural and biochemical (diet, toxicity, deficiency) factors as they interact with the unique individuality (biochemical, structural, emotional and genetic) of each of us, to create a formula for health or ill-health, is the naturopathic way of understanding the complex influences affecting everyone, and has its roots in classical Greek medicine as practised by Hippocrates.
This way of looking at health and disease is essential to unravelling the causes and therefore the solutions to health problem according to naturopaths, since it relates all those attributes which we inherit from our parents to all that has happened (and is happening) to us in life, up to this point in time, to our current health status.
However naturopathy is far more than this logical, rounded, way of understanding the human condition as it relates to health and disease, it is also a revolutionary way of approaching the treatment and indeed the prevention of illhealth.
Disease is seen as an imbalance in the harmony of body/mind function which, by attention to predisposing features, most ill-health can be prevented and much removed once it exists.
Definitions are slippery things, and attempts to nail down just what the word naturopathy means have resulted in the term having different meanings in different countries, and even having various meanings within the same country, to different groups.
In Germany, where naturopathy is practised within the national health service, practitioners using it are known as `heilpraktikers` – health practitioners.
They use the main methods of naturopaths everywhere : nutrition, controlled fasting, stress reduction methods and counselling, hydrotherapy (often including colonic irrigation methods), exercise and lifestyle changes as basic ways of influencing their patient’s conditions. However they go further and incorporate into their methods of treatment the use of herbal and homoeopathic medicines, physical methods such as massage and manipulation as well, in many instances, as the use of acupuncture and other Oriental methods of treatment.
This eclectic approach to healing is the same as that used by naturopaths in the US, Australia, India, South Africa and Israel.
In America and Israel there are major naturopathic colleges which provide no less than four years of full time education in naturopathic medicine (the Israeli course runs to just under 5500 hours) and include all of the methods and systems mentioned above as well as training in mid-wifery.
Sadly in the UK naturopathy is far less comprehensive, and is in fact divided into two forms. A relatively narrow one which insists that alteration of diet and lifestyle and modification of habits plus a degree of psychological counselling can achieve all that is desired in terms of healing, with little or no treatment advocated; and another form which lies somewhere between that narrow formula (often called ‘straight nature-cure’ or natural hygiene) and the German/US version of naturopathy.
The main UK college of naturopathy (British College of Naturopathy and Osteopathy) has in recent years focused its attention more on the osteopathic content of its four year course, with the naturopathic training offered being largely related to nutrition and lifestyle influences on health.
The naturopathic component of the six year part-time osteopathic course offered by the College of Osteopaths is at least as comprehensive as that taught by the BCNO, which also now hosts a short (under 100 hours) post graduate course produced by the British Naturopathic Association for suitably qualified practitioners (chiropractors, doctors etc).
The abbreviated content (as evidenced by the time involved) of this BNOA course highlights the enormous philosophical differences between the US, Germany, Israel and the UK as to just what naturopathy is and is not, and many question just how much naturopathy can be learned in this short time-scale.
Fortunately many British naturopaths have adopted an eclectic approach to healing and incorporate methods such as homoeopathy, herbal medication and acupuncture which they have learned separately from their naturopathic training.
If you want to consult a naturopath in the UK you should contact a member of one of the following organisations, but before booking an appointment check whether the practitioner uses eclectic (many modalities) or ‘straight’ naturopathy, and select according to your feelings on this subject.
The British Naturopathic and Osteopathic Association,
6 Netherhall Gardens, London NW3 5RR
The College of Osteopaths Practitioners Association,
110 Thornhill Road, Thames Ditton, Surrey KT7 OUW
Incorporated Society of Naturopaths
1 Albermale Road, The Mount, York YO2 1EN
The Natural Hygiene Society
College Contacts : BCNO as BNOA address above
College of Osteopaths : as per address above
The Israeli College of Natural Health Sciences
16 Beit Hillel Street, Tel Aviv 67017
144 N.E.54th, Seattle, Washington 98105 USA
National College of Naturopathic Medicine
11231 S.E. Market Street, Portland, Oregon 97216 USA
Naturopathic Medicine by Roger Newman Turner (Thorsons)