The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine defines naturopathy, or naturopathic medicine, as “a medical system that has evolved from a combination of traditional practices and health care approaches popular in Europe in the 19th century.”
Naturopathy uses holistic medicine, such as nutritional counseling and acupuncture, so that the body can heal itself. People may visit a naturopath for overall wellness, complementary treatment management of acute and chronic conditions, or for primary care. The 2007 National Health Interview Survey found that in the United States in the past year, 729,000 adults and 237,000 children sought care from a naturopath.
Three types of practitioners practice naturopathic medicine: naturopathic physicians, traditional naturopaths and other health care providers who have received training in naturopathy, which may include nurses, doctors of medicine, dentists, doctors of chiropractic and doctors of osteopathic medicine.
Naturopathic physicians attend a four-year program, in which they receive education on the basic sciences, clinical nutrition, wellness and holistic treatment approaches. A naturopathic physician will have either an N.D. (Naturopathic Doctor) or N.M.D. (Naturopathic Medical Doctor).
Several places have licensing requirements for naturopathic physicians, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine estimated that in the United States, about 1,500 naturopathic physicians were practicing in 2000, with that numbers nearly doubling in 2006.
Traditional naturopaths do not use treatments such as surgery or prescription drugs, and instead focus on healthy lifestyle approaches. Unlike programs for naturopathic physicians, programs for traditional naturopaths are not accredited by the U.S. Department of Education. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine adds that there are no licensing requirements for traditional naturopaths.