The first time I ever ran across a naturopath was 35 years ago. I had stopped into a vitamin store to pick up Vitamin C in the university district in Seattle. A fairly aggressive young man who introduced himself as a student at Bastyr approached and asked what I was looking for. When I said I just wanted some Vitamin C, he launched into a tirade about how a certain “natural” brand was so much better than the inexpensive brand I was looking at in the aisle. I, in turn, explained that vitamin C was a molecule with a very specific chemical formula and that it didn’t matter if you extracted it from nature or made it in a lab—Vitamin C was Vitamin C or it wouldn’t bind at the binding site. At that point, the clerk became quite contemptuous as he began preaching the benefits of natural remedies, acting as if I had insulted his religion.  I scooted out of the store. It wasn’t until years later that I’d realize that I had indeed insulted his religion.

Thirty years later, in my advanced years in the practice of medicine, I am increasingly recognizing how the field of medicine is being overrun by those who are anti-science.

While just ten years ago I would only occasionally hear that a patient wanted more natural treatment as opposed to prescription medicine, these days, I hear it many times a day. I have patients who want letters exempting them from vaccines, patients who come in on hundreds of dollars of herbs and supplements, and patients who are extremely ill from stopping their effective medicines to go on “natural” remedies like St. John’s wort. There are even cancer patients who have postponed gold standard chemotherapy treatment to pursue alternative medicine and now, because of disease progression, it is too late for them to receive anything but palliative care.

At the same time as they advocate for “natural” remedies, naturopaths prescribe prescription medications like antibiotics, antiretrovirals for infections, anti-psychotics like quetiapine, as well as trazodone for sleep. I find this concerning, as naturopaths lack an adequate background in medicine or pharmacology. Naturopaths receive approximately sixty hours of pharmacology coursework in my state. Naturopaths are severely limited in even the most basic sciences. For example, I routinely hear nonsense from patients directly from their naturopath such as “if you swallow medicine in a liquid form it will cross the blood brain barrier.”

The only patient contact hours naturopaths have are in an outpatient clinic at their school and many of these hours are spent studying acupuncture and herbal medicine. At the most, naturopaths have received between 600-1100 clinical training hours on graduation, including the hours spent in homeopathy and herbal training.

Despite this limited experience, naturopaths are permitted to practice “naturopathic medicine” right out of their four-year degree program, without any residency requirement.  “Residency”, when they pursue it, consists of no more than shadowing, typically in an out-patient naturopathic clinic.

Despite their lack of a background in medicine, naturopaths are lobbying for increased prescriptive rights.  In my state, I see them not only prescribing medicines, but also providing expensive intravenous therapies including ozone, hydrogen peroxide, antibiotics, and silver. Patients may also leave their clinics with bags containing upwards of $2000.00 worth of tinctures and herbs that are often prescribed based on the dubious method of “muscle testing”.  These clinics can be money-making giants.

There are 1100 naturopaths in the state where I practice.  As a specialist, I note that many of my patients use a naturopath as a primary care doctor. In my experience, patients may become wedded to their naturopaths and develop an almost religious-like zeal about their treatments. It is difficult to change a patient’s mind, even in the face of ongoing severe illness and disease progression. Often, patients come to me having been referred by their naturopath, but poisoned against the idea of traditional scientific based care.

For example, I recently cared for the father of a naturopath from another state who had severe major depressive disorder and yet fought every intervention because he’d come from the anti-science environment of naturopath-run clinics.

Naturopaths are dangerous to the health and welfare of the public. Many patients are unprepared to adequately evaluate the danger of postponing science-based effective treatments. Some patients get caught up in the ND’s preaching against science-based principles.  The unfortunate result is a postponement of life-saving treatment, large out-of-pocket expense, and the risk associated with dangerous invasive protocols.

Additional Reading:
Naturopathic Diaries:
Science-Based Medicine, Scott Gavura, May 5, 2016
Medical Brief, Digital Cubbing, Alastair McAlpine, Big Pharma and naturopathy-unholy allies in the supplementation scam, May 2, 2018
Medscape, K. Atwood, Naturopathy: A Critical Appraisal
Naturopathic Diaries, Britt Hume, Accredited Naturopathic Education Reading List 4/14/2015
Bastyr University Course Catalog 2018-2019