Mainstream medicine has its drugs and surgery; Chinese medicine, its herbs and acupuncture; Ayurveda, its nutrition and meditation. Each of these healing systems is a collection of individual therapies united by a well-defined philosophy of healing.
But naturopathy is different. “It’s more than just a healing system,” explains Joseph Pizzorno Jr., N.D., one of America’s preeminent naturopaths. “It’s a way of life.”
Naturopathy espouses a wide-ranging combination of nutrition and supplementation, exercise, stress management, herbal medicine, acupuncture, homeopathy, manipulative therapies, and hot and cold baths. Since so many nondrug therapies fit under the naturopathy umbrella, you’re getting a good taste of blended medicine when you visit a naturopath and follow his advice. But the naturopathic approach to healing is so broad and all-encompassing that some critics consider it an alternative smorgasbord with no individual identity.
In fact, naturopathy has a very distinct identity. Its use of multiple alternative therapies serves a single noble goal: to stimulate what the Greek physician Hippocrates, the father of medicine, called Vis Medicatrix Naturae-the healing power of nature.
Uncommon Therapies, One Common Goal
The term naturopathy was first coined by John Scheel, a New York City physician, in 1895. He later sold the term to Benedict Lust, who applied it to his own unique blend of nondrug therapies. Lust would go on to become the seminal figure in naturopathy.
Around 1895, Lust opened the Health Food Store in New York City, where he sold vegetables, herbs, and homeopathic medicines. (The store’s name is the first documented use of the phrase “health food.”) The following year, he enrolled in New York’s Universal Osteopathic Medical College, and in 1898, he became a licensed osteopath. Lust went on to earn degrees in chiropractic and homeopathy as well as in a discipline then known as eclectic medicine (which was essentially a form of scientifically applied herbalism). In 1919, he founded the American Naturopathic Association to promote his vision of a unified, drug-free approach to healing. Naturopathy espoused the following principles.
- Nature is the one and only true healing force. It endows the human body with an inherent restorative power to selfheal.
- The physician’s job is to teach people that they are their own best healers and to prescribe therapies that strengthen their self-healing powers.
- The physician should support people in the elimination of bad habits such as overeating; drinking alcohol, coffee, and tea; staying up late; and “sexual excesses.”
- The physician should help people develop good habits, which Lust defined as a whole-foods vegetarian diet, regular exercise, adequate rest, a positive mental attitude, and moderation in pursuit of health and wealth.
- The physician should encourage his patients to use natural therapies-herbal medicine, homeopathy, osteopathy, chiropractic, massage, and hydrotherapyto treat and cure illness.
Hydrotherapy: Support for the Water Cure
Many of the alternative disciplines that make up naturopathy have been discussed in previous chapters. While drawing on all of these therapies for healing, a naturopathic doctor may recommend one other as well: hydrotherapy, the water cure advocated a century ago by Benedict Lust.
Anyone who has ever enjoyed an extended soak in the tub knows that a hot bath can be quite relaxing. In fact, hot baths-as well as alternating hot and cold baths-are therapeutic fixtures at hundreds of health spas, where people have retreated for centuries to “take the waters.” But hydrotherapy can do more than help you relax.
For centuries, Finnish physicians have prescribed saunas to treat infectious diseases. Native Americans used sweat lodges for the same purpose. And as research shows, such a practice makes sense. Raising the body’s temperature in a hot bath or sauna stimulates the immune system and helps discourage disease-causing microorganisms from reproducing. Naturopaths often prescribe hot baths to treat certain types of infections.
In addition, several studies have shown that sweating increases the secretion of certain addictive drugs as well as some toxic metals and chemicals.