Naturopathic medicine aims to provide holistic, or whole body, healthcare by drawing from numerous traditional healing systems.  At its core is the idea of vis medicatrix nature - the healing power of nature.  Naturopathic doctors believe that the body naturally strives for health and that the physician's role is to support the body's efforts.  To achieve this, naturopathic physicians follow seven basic principles: help nature heal, do no harm, find the underlying cause, treat the whole person, encourage prevention, recognize wellness, and act as a teacher.  

A naturopathic doctor, or ND, may pay considerable attention to a patient's lifestyle, since naturopathic theory holds that physical, psychological, and even spiritual elements can all contribute to disease.  In treating patients the naturopathic practitioner might use a number of alternative therapies, including homeopathy, herbal remedies, Chinese medicine, spinal manipulation, nutrition, hydrotherapy, massage, and exercise.  

The German pioneer Benedict Lust originally coined naturopathy.  Lust came up with the term "naturopathy" after he and his fellow countryman Henry Lindlahr, immigrated to the United States early in the 20th century.  But he based his ideas almost entirely on those of a 19th century German predecessor Vincent Preissnitz, who founded "nature cure," and the Austrian Dominican friar Father Kneipp.  "Nature cure" and "natural hygiene" are still terms used by practitioners who claim to follow this form of natural medicine first recommended by Hippocrates. 


Naturopaths believe that four basic components make for good health:  

Clean air   Clean water   Clean food from the good earth   Exercise and "right living"   

All naturopathic treatments concentrate on these elements and often all of them are combined to restore health and vitality.  

Naturopaths hold that infections seldom occur if the body is looked after in the way nature intended and that the body will cure itself of anything as long as it takes in only pure air and water, is kept clean, and given the right food and healthy activity.  But they also believe that illness is natural and that methods of cure should follow the same natural principles.  

So, far from being suppressed, symptoms of illness should be encouraged to come out and the body helped to fight back and restore its proper balance, or homeostasis.  

Naturopaths routinely prescribe brief periods of fasting to help conquer simple infections such as influenza.  They also pay a great deal of attention to the health of the bowels (where nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream).  The diet prescribed in the treatment involves cutting out or reducing alcohol, eating "whole" foods, and also severely restricting intake of fats, salt, and sugar.   

Because of the theory that bacterial toxins in the gut may play a part in the cause of many illnesses, most naturopaths encourage special diets to clear the gut and eliminate the overgrowth of "unfriendly" bacteria in the intestines that can contribute to toxicity, allergy, and poor immunity.  Some even use a treatment for washing the gut clean known as colonic irrigation, or colon hydrotherapy.