Natural Foods Merchandiser

Guiding Consumers Through Naturopathy

From "Behind The Label: A Guide For Retailers," A Supplement to Natural Foods Merchandiser


Naturopaths promote health and treat disease with such alternative therapies as herbs, homeopathy, acupuncture and bodywork, without the use of drugs and surgery. Finding a naturopath isn't always easy. And knowing what to look for in a practitioner is even more complex.

We can largely thank the profession itself for the confusion. Naturopathic medicine is engaged in a debate over philosophy, heritage, accreditation and legitimacy that is daunting to the uninitiated.

Here's the problem: Only 12 U.S. states currently license naturopaths. Only three training schools are officially accredited, but there are at least 10 more independent "distance-learning" schools training naturopaths of different stripes and colors.


American Association of Naturopathic Physicians

Council on Naturopathic Medical Education

Bastyr University

Clayton College of Natural Health

National College of Naturopathic Medicine

Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Sciences

University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine

We advise people to query naturopathic physicians on their educational background

Karen Howard, executive director of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, says the only credential that counts is a degree from one of the three accredited U.S. schools: Bastyr University in Seattle; the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Ore.; and the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Sciences in Tempe, Ariz. A fourth, the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine in Connecticut, is currently undergoing the accreditation process. One Canadian school, the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in North York, Ontario, is also accredited.

"We advise people to query naturopathic physicians on their educational background," Howard says.

The above schools offer four-year, postgraduate programs, much like traditional medical schools. The first two years include courses in biochemistry and anatomy, while the final half of the program branches out into course work in herbal medicine, homeopathy and, in some cases, acupuncture. These studies are often, though not always, followed by a residency with an experienced naturopathic doctor.

The Eugene, Ore.-based Council on Naturopathic Medical Education is the accreditor for the colleges. Robert Lofft, executive director of the council, says his organization holds schools to strict eligibility requirements regarding facilities, curriculum, library and state authorization.

"In the states with no licensing laws, people often confuse mail-order doctors with real N.D.s," Lofft says.

The states currently licensing naturopathic doctors are Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Washington, Utah and Vermont. California is considering licensing legislation. In order for a naturopath to be fully licensed, he or she must have attended an accredited school and must pass the equivalent of a medical board exam administered by the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners. Only those who pass this exam can legitimately call themselves "physicians."

"We're trying to protect public safety and to assure that doctors have the knowledge they need," says Christa Louise, NABNE executive director.

In states that license naturopaths, N.D.s may both diagnose illness and prescribe medication. What the N.D. can prescribe varies by state; Arizona has the most liberal policies.

And if your customers live in one of the 38 other states? Advise them to find a naturopath who is licensed in the state where he or she went to school, Louise says. That way they can be assured of their N.D.'s education level. The AANP offers a directory of licensed N.D.s on its Web site,, that can be searched by ZIP code.

Not all naturopaths call themselves doctors. Mary McCord, communications director for the Clayton College of Natural Health in Birmingham, Ala., says that's just the way it should be. Clayton offers a distance-learning curriculum that is often maligned by the accredited schools. She says the problem is based on differing philosophies.

"We don't refer to the people we are helping as patients—that's not what our graduates do," says McCord, who adds that many of Clayton's alumni refer to themselves as consultants. "In our materials we are extremely clear that we should not represent ourselves as doctors."

Questions of certification and nomenclature aside, here are some basic guidelines consumers should follow when considering a naturopath:

  • Make an appointment when you are in good health. Many naturopaths schedule a fairly extensive first meeting to get a personal health history. This is a good time to see what the personal chemistry is like and to ask those probing questions about training and background.

  • Ask about specific areas of specialization. Are you having allergy problems? Find someone who works with that ailment.

  • Is the naturopath willing to work as part of a team with other medical practitioners? A "no" response is a bad sign. Most N.D.s are holistic and recognize the value of other medical disciplines. Many work in practices that combine M.D.s, chiropractors and acupuncturists.

    Randy Barrett is a writer and editor in Falls Church, Va.

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