Naturopathy: Part I – Definitions

Naturopathy: Part I – Definitions

Michael Garko, Ph.D.
Host of Let’s Talk Nutrition


When people become ill with either an acute or chronic disease, they often rely upon conventional/allopathic medicine to provide proper treatment to alleviate their symptoms and eventually cure them of their illness. When the acute disease progresses into a chronic condition or the chronic disease shows no sign of abating, some will then turn to what is referred to as alternative or complimentary medicine (CAM). Then there are those who rely solely upon CAM approaches or those who reverse things around a bit and use conventional/allopathic medicine as an adjunct to their particular choice or preferred type of CAM.

Naturopathy is among a constellation of CAM choices people can make to help prevent, treat and cure acute and chronic diseases and disorders. As it turns out, there is a considerable amount of conceptual confusion surrounding the various types CAM approaches and their practice. Naturopathy is no exception.

Therefore, in the spirit of helping those who might want to learn about naturopathy, may want an effective way to practice prevention or treat and cure a particular illness, the August, 2009, issue of Healthful Hints is the first installment of newsletters on naturopathy. This issue highlights several definitions so as to provide readers with a fuller definitional understanding of naturopathy.

Upcoming issues of Healthful Hints will (1) explore some of the more important basic concepts and principles of naturopathy, (2) provide a brief historical sketch of its development and (3) examine its practice in terms of its methods and types of practitioners, among other issues and facets of naturopathy.

Defining Naturopathy

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) defined naturopathy as “a whole medical system” that evolved over time in different cultures and parts of the world” and has become part of the diverse medical and health care systems, practices and products constituting CAM (see National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2009, p.1).

Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary (2009) described naturopathy as “a system of treatment of disease that avoids drugs and surgery and emphasizes the use of natural agents (as air, water, and herbs) and physical means (as tissue manipulation and electrotherapy.”

The National Cancer Institute (2009) offered the following elaborated definition of naturopathy: “A system of disease prevention and treatment that avoids drugs and surgery. Naturopathy is based on the use of natural agents such as air, water, light, heat, and massage to help the body heal itself. It also uses herbal products, nutrition, acupuncture, and aromatherapy as forms of treatment.”

On (2009), naturopathy was defined as “a system of therapy based on preventative care, and on the use of heat, water, light, air, and massage as primary therapies for disease” (p. 1).

The 1989 House of Delegates of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) defined naturopathic medicine as “a distinct method of primary health care – an art, science, philosophy and practice of diagnosis, treatment and prevention of illness” (American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, 1998).

Lastly, Mitchell (2001) crafted the following conceptualization of naturopathy:

Naturopathy is a philosophy which provides a healthcare approach but offers much more than merely an alternative medical system. It encompasses a view of life, a purpose in human health and suffering and a model of living a full life. It strongly affirms the benevolence of life and recommends simple lifestyle measures to meet the reality of health problems. It is rational, yet it takes into account an individual’s idiosyncrasies. It is also original and truly therapeutic, in that its guiding principles for a healthy life are identical to the treatment for ill-health, the difference being only in emphasis (Mitchell, 2001, p. 13).


There is a distinct difference between preventing disease and combating disease. When people are caught-up in combating disease, then this means they have already become ill.

It is clear from the sample of definitions presented above that naturopathy seeks to help people prevent disease rather than combat it by avoiding the use of drugs and surgery as much as possible and relying primarily on natural methods of healing.

It is also clear that naturopathy, in its goal to assist people in preventing illness, is recognized to be an art, science and philosophy representing a whole healthcare system within the tradition of the theory and practice of CAM.

While it is certainly legitimate to recognize it as being part of CAM, defining naturopathy as simply an alternative or complimentary form of medicine to conventional/allopathic medicine tends to understate its mission and contribution in the prevention of disease. Conventional/allopathic medicine is the dominant paradigm in our culture and people are conditioned to perceive it as the most effective way to treat and cure disease, notwithstanding many of its vulnerabilities such as prevention. Consequently, naturopathy and other non-conventional approaches to health and well-being are thought of in lesser terms rather than in equal terms with respect to their contribution to society in preventing, treating and curing illness.

Therefore, in my view, rather than thinking of naturopathy as simply an alternative or compliment to conventional/allopathic medicine, it would be more useful to conceive of it as an art, science and philosophy of preventing illness and when necessary combating disease designed to take the individual into account, provide an effective and proven way to live life in a healthy fashion on a day-to-day basis and prevent, treat and cure illness using methods compatible with the biological, physiological, psychological and spiritual nature of human beings.

In upcoming issues of Healthful Hints it will become apparent the extent to which naturopathy is not just an alternative or compliment to conventional/allopathic medicine but offers an independent effective and proven system of health and well-being that can be adapted to conventional practices and other non-conventional ways of healing and preventing disease.


American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (1998). AANP definition of naturopathic medicine. Adopted November 1, 1989, Rippling River Convention, Seattle Washington: AANP. (2009). Naturopathy. Retrieved July 15, 2009, from

Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary (2009). Naturopathy. Retrieved July 15, 2009, from

Mitchell, S. (2001). A practical guide to naturopathy: Understanding the healing power of nature. London: Vermilion Press.

National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (2009). An introduction to naturopathy. Retrieved July 15, 2009, from

National Cancer Institute (2009). Naturopathy. Retrieved July 15, 2009, from

1 According to the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), complimentary medicine and alternative medicine represent a variety of medical and health care systems, practices and products which are not recognized by or integral to the practice of conventional medicine (National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, 2009).

Further, it is important to distinguish between alternative medicine and complimentary medicine. Alternative medicine is practiced in place of conventional medicine, while complimentary medicine is practiced in conjunction with conventional medicine (see National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, 2009).