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what is naturopathy?

with 2 comments

see what i mean?

Here are a couple of quick definitions of naturopathy, found online, to get us started.

Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 2009: a system of therapeutics based on natural foods, light, warmth, massage, fresh air, regular exercise, and the avoidance of medications. Advocates believe that illness can be healed by the natural processes of the body.
Dorland’s Medical Dictionary for Health Consumers, 2007: a drugless system of health care, using a wide variety of therapies, including hydrotherapy, heat, massage, and herbal medicine, whose purpose is to treat the whole person to stimulate and support the person’s own innate healing capacity.

To judge from these, naturopaths put a lot of faith in the body’s capacity to heal itself, with minimal guidance and intervention. Conversely, they put little faith in drugs and ‘medications’, and there is no mention here of the various tools and terms of modern medicine; vaccination, viruses, antibiotics, antigens and the like. It all sounds very gentle and soothing, if a little too much so – not the sort of treatment you would seek for a massive head trauma or a dose of bubonic plague, or one of its modern equivalents. Rather, it’s the sort of treatment that just helps you through the day, when you’ve got a bit of a sniffle, some tummy trouble, the odd twinge, or you’re just a bit down in the dumps. Some particular treatment terms – reflexology, aromatherapy, massage, herbalism – seem designed to make you feel better already. Certainly better than chemo.

You’ll find naturopathy advertised in leaflets and magazines in your local pharmacy. They’re the ones featuring pastel colours and glowing, youthful bodies ready to float off the page, faces smiling blissfully at the sky.

Key terms are: natural, holistic, herbal, balance, toxins, spiritual, healing, and ancient.

So what’s there to criticize? Well, indeed, the body does have a great capacity to heal itself. The key is to understand just how it does so, and to understand its limits. Obviously, a severed limb won’t grow back, but can a cancer-riddled body rid itself of its cancer? Can a type 1 diabetic heal herself of her diabetes? What about schizophrenia? Amoebic meningoencephalitis?

Clearly, naturopathy has its limits. In fact it’s very limited indeed. In rejecting drugs, it largely rejects targeted treatment, and evidence-based approaches to medicine, which isolate the causes of an illness or bodily or brain dysfunction, and seek to understand the mechanism and pathways of dysfunction so that an intervention, in the form of a drug, or vaccine, or change of diet, or surgery, or whatever, can be effected. Instead it tends to rely on arguments from antiquity for the ‘healing powers’ of echinacea, aloe vera, or even garlic, as well as ancient ‘healing systems’ such as ayurvedism and TCM [Traditional Chinese Medicine].

I’m not necessarily denying that some of these treatments might work in some cases, But I’m overwhelmingly interested in how treatments work. And I’m interested in these questions in the context of how our bodies fight infection, how our immune system works, how things are happening on the microbiological and chemical level. I’m certainly not interested in practitioners who ignore as irrelevant and ineffectual the vast amount of insight we’ve gained into this level of function – really the cutting-edge – in the past century or so. If garlic ‘cleanses the body’, as I’ve often heard said, then how does it do that? What aspect  of its chemical make-up performs this function [whatever the function of ‘cleansing’ actually means]? What are ‘toxins’? How many of them are there, what’s their chemical structure, and how, precisely, do they interact with the body’s chemistry?

For the most part, naturopaths seem reluctant to even ask these questions, let alone answer them, and in so doing they allow in obviously bogus ‘treatments’ such as homeopathy and iridology. If you’re powerless to explain how treatments actually work, within the context of our vastly improved understanding of how the body works [though of course there’s still plenty to learn], then it seems to me you’re more of a hindrance than a help, especially in serious and life-threatening medical scenarios.

Of course you could say that, outside of these scenarios, naturopathy is relatively harmless, and might do some good. Some herbs will work for you, and rarely will any do you harm. Aromatherapy will lift your spirits, a good massage will relieve some of your tension, etc. None of that, though, is particularly mysterious, it can all be explained in terms of modern knowledge of the body, and none of it will cure you of cancer or the next viral epidemic.

My response to naturopathy is to question and learn. What do we know of the body, its immune system, and how it works? Of course it would take a lifetime to get your head around only a small part of that knowledge, but it would be an enlightening journey. What do we know about particular naturopathic remedies and how they work?  Well, seriously, it would take barely half an hour of research to eliminate some of them as worthless. Others would take much longer to research, and again, the journey would be worthwhile, because it would involve connecting claims with evidence, separating facts from myths, and bringing some depth and clarity to overly clouded and often deliberately obfuscating field of practice and belief.

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Written by stewart henderson

October 13, 2012 at 9:25 am

2 Responses

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  1. Perhaps asking those who have benefited from naturopathic medicine might help. I’ve worked with naturopaths and found them to be eager to answer questions and help others learn about what they do. Perhaps a little more than a google search might be beneficial.

    I would be happy to answer questions that I can.
    healingthe3s.com

    healingthe3s

    October 13, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    • Actually, no, I don’t think that would help. What I would get would be a narrative or anecdote about how some naturopath solved a problem that no other doctor could solve. Would this anecdote be trustworthy? Of course not, no such anecdotes are ever trustworthy. We delude ourselves constantly. I’m not interested in testimonials, I’m interested in evidence. That means testing treatments independently and rigorously.

      luigifun

      October 13, 2012 at 7:01 pm


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