If alternative medicine were an art form, naturopathy would be its mosaic. That’s because its multi-faceted practitioners are trained in an array of therapies including clinical nutrition, herbal medicine, homeopathy, ayurveda, Chinese medicine, acupuncture, massage and conventional care.
Naturopathic physicians (naturopaths) pride themselves on first preventing disease. That means replacing bad habits like smoking with good ones like exercise. They also stress learning how to harness your body’s healing powers through herbs, healthy living, and natural foods.
What you won’t find in most naturopath’s offices are prescription pads (although some states do give limited prescribing authority). So if you should get sick, count on your naturopath to use every natural remedy at his disposal to help your body heal: Acupuncture, herbs, diet, nutritional supplements, exercise, homeopathy, massage, and spinal manipulation may all be included in a naturopath’s bag of tricks. All of these individual remedies have evidence to back them up, but because naturopathy incorporates such a vast array of therapies, there are no studies to show how effective it is as a whole.
If you decide to try a naturopath, you may have to search a little for a practitioner, since there are only about 1,500 in the U.S. Once you’ve found one, however, expect to spend at least an hour at your initial visit, talking about all the factors that can affect your health, including exercise, diet, medical history, genetics, stress, exposure to pollutants and emotional status. You’ll also find many tests you’ll recognize such as x-rays, blood tests and urinalysis. But when necessary, naturopathic physicians will refer you to MDs and other health care professionals.
Qualifications: Look for a licensed doctor of naturopathy (ND).
Licensure: Licensing varies widely from state to state. Call the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians to find out the rules in your state.
Number in U.S.: About 2,500.
Cost: $30-$175 for initial consultation.
Insurance coverage: Many companies will cover naturopathic services. Call yours to be sure.
For more information: The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), 601 Valley St., Suite 105, Seattle, WA 98109; 206-298-0125. For $5, they’ll send you a national directory.