What is Naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic medicine is the only medical profession extensively trained in combining centuries-old traditional healing methods with modern science-based medicine. It is a distinctively natural approach to health and healing that recognizes the integrity of the whole person and empowers each unique individual to take responsibility for improving their own health for a longer lasting effect. Too often conventional medicine offers relief of symptoms rather than asking the question of why it is happening. A Naturopaths main goal is to search out and address this underlying cause of un-wellness, and not simply cover up the symptoms of disharmony. Naturopathy is both a science and a philosophy of medicine based on the understanding that the only thing that can truly cause healing is your own powerful body. Any form of medicine can only assist your own natural, inherent healing processes. Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) prefer to treat through safe, natural, nontoxic therapies such as prevention, nutrition, herbs, hydrotherapy, physical manipulation, lifestyle modification and education, but are also trained in more intense and invasive methods such as minor surgery, natural-based pharmaceutical drugs, and other modern advances in health and medicine. Treatment is impressively individualized and focused on meeting patients wherever they are in their journey to better health. NDs are primary care practitioners who specialize in natural medicine.


Natural medicine has been practiced for millennia, probably as long as humans have sought healing. The modern profession of Naturopathic Medicine, however, started as a merger of Nature Cure and Homeopathy in the European Alps, primarily in Germany, but quickly spread to America during the latter half of 1800s. The subtle, highly specific energy medicines of Homeopathy were combined with the methods of Nature Cure - fresh air, clean water, nutritious food, sunlight, hydrotherapy, exercise. Hygienic and Hydrotherapy techniques were some of the first nature cure methods implemented. In the mid and late 1800s in the United States, even standard medical schools taught herbal, homeopathic, and nutritional medicine along with surgery and other more heroic type medicines. As early as the 1850s more specialized medical schools were teaching an intensive combination of hydrotherapy, homeopathy and nutrition. By the 1890s, it became clear that this unique combination of healing modalities required its own name to distinguish it from the other medical systems of the day. The term Naturopathy was coined in 1895 as a union of the word Nature from Nature Cure with -opathy from Homeopathy. In the late 19th and early 20th century, naturopathy evolved and grew to a popularity rivaling conventional medicine. Famous doctors including Benedict Lust (who founded the "health food store" in 1892), and Dr. Kellogg (who praised Kelloggs cereal over meat), further crystallized the focus of naturopathy on diet and nutrition as the key to health.

Unfortunately the rise of popularity of Naturopathy led to the scrutiny and unwarranted retaliation by conventional medicine. In 1910, the politically driven Flexner Report criticized many aspects of medical education in various institutions (natural and conventional) but was mostly seen as an attack on natural medicine education (slandered as low quality). It caused many such programs to shut down due to funding withdrawal and contributed to the popularity of conventional medicine. Natural medicine continued to be popular in the U.S., however, until the mid 1930s. Increasing post-war era conflict between various schools of natural medicine, the rise of medical technology, consolidation of political power in conventional medicine, the discovery of penicillin, the isolation of herbal components and the advent of more potent, but potentially more toxic synthetic drugs such as antibiotics and corticosteroids, as well as the rise of chemical and drug industries, all contributed to the decline of Naturopathic medicine, along with most other natural health professions. The long-term adverse consequences of synthetic drugs were not yet understood. The slower, more gradual effects of Naturopathic medicine were largely abandoned for the instant quick-fix promises of modern medicine. Naturopathic medicine never completely ceased to exist, however, as there were always a few states in which licensing laws existed, although at one point there were virtually no schools.

Finally, in 1956 of the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon opened, heralding the beginning of this profession's currently explosive modern renewal. This was the first of the modern Naturopathic Medical Schools training Naturopathic Doctors to integrate mainstream science with naturopathic principles and practice. By the 1960s public concern over the unsuspected side effects of DDT and thalidomide reminded the public that "better living through chemistry" sometimes had dangerous effects. Currently concerns over the safety and regulation of pharmaceuticals, the growing resistance to antibiotics, concern over polypharmacy in elderly, Drug-Drug interactions and unwanted Rx side effects, media attention to botched or unnecessary surgeries, as well dismal conventional results with chronic disease states, and a public truly confused over basic diet and exercise needs, has again encouraged a return to a more natural, holistic, preventative and pro-active approach to health. This current resurgence of Naturopathy is due to recognition of both the accomplishments and the limitations of the current medical system and the efficacy of Naturopathic medicine.


Naturopathic medical training combines centuries-old traditional healing methods with modern science-based medicine. Like conventional medical schools, a four year degree including pre-med curriculum is required prior to entrance to accredited Naturopathic Medical schools. Naturopathic medical schools are four+ year graduate level programs awarding the degree Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine. Also like conventional medical school, Naturopathic students study core medical sciences including anatomy, physiology, pathology, biochemistry, immunology, microbiology, genetics, diagnostic imaging, clinical physical diagnosis, lab diagnosis, pharmacology, HEENT, cardiology, gastroenterology, urology, dermatology, minor surgery, pediatrics, geriatrics, women's health, obstetrics, gynecology, men's health, proctology, endocrinology neurology, oncology, first aid and emergency medicine, intravenous (IV) therapy and more. Unlike conventional medicine, Naturopathic training goes much broader into additional topics including botanical medicine, food supplementation therapy, hydrotherapy, stress management and lifestyle counseling, clinical medical nutrition, exercise therapeutics, homeopathic medicine, massage, energy work, naturopathic spinal manipulation therapy, low-impact physical medicine, physiotherapy, natural childbirth, and so much more. ND students complete two years of internship interacting with patients in Naturopathic clinic settings. They also mentor with established physicians including MDs, DCs, ODs, and NDs for even more potentially diverse experience. Once completing school, NDs must take three days of extensive postdoctoral national and state board exams in order to become eligible for licensure. ND's are licensed by state as general primary care doctors. To maintain licensure, NDs must attend continuing education yearly, assuring current understanding of medical topics including pharmacology and ethics. The state of Oregon allows Dr. Curry a broad scope of practice that includes not only naturopathy, but also more conventional practices such as minor surgery, pharmacology, laboratory testing and more. All of this broad training means Naturopathic Doctors are best able to integrate conventional and alternative medicine to give you the most natural, least harmful, and most effective treatments available.

What do Naturopathic Doctors do?

A great strength of Naturopathic medicine lies in the fact that modern medical science training is united with traditional therapeutic modalities steeped in hundreds, sometimes thousands of years of empirical and clinical evidence. NDs aim to look beyond the symptom to the root of imbalance in order to treat the whole person. Before a person can recover completely and permanently from illness the underlying cause must be discovered and addressed. Symptoms are expressions of the body's attempt to heal, not the cause. Suppressing these symptoms, for example taking aspirin for a mild fever, does not halt the underlying flu/cold. Indeed in the case of fever, increased body heat is the body's way of increasing energy in immune cells while burning out the underlying viral or bacterial cause. Removing the fever only interferes with quick resolution in return for temporary relief. Symptoms should not be suppressed by treatment. Causes may occur on many levels including physical, genetic, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Your frequent flu/cold may the result of reduced immune function caused by overworking, not sleeping enough, stressful interpersonal relationships, excessive alcohol/drug abuse or other obstacles to health. The physician's role is identify and remove these obstacles and to facilitate and augment the body's inherent healing process using interventions that avoid further harm and risk to the patient. Patient education and promotion of life-habits that create good health form the foundation of naturopathic medical practice. The emphasis is on building health rather than fighting disease. The Naturopathic end result is safe, effective, individualized, long-term treatment that strengthens the body to resist disease and achieve optimal health.

Basically, Naturopathic Doctors are general primary care family doctors that diagnose and treat most health problems, naturally. NDs treat patients from the preventive stage through to serious, chronic and debilitating disease. Therefore, people can go to NDs for colds, bronchitis, allergies, as well as for heart disease, diabetes, and malignant diseases. Here is a brief discussion of the three types of Naturopathic care- preventative, acute and chronic:

Preventive Medicine
Naturopathic Doctors screen adult patients carefully by asking whole body health questions, performing screening physical exams, and using both conventional and specialized laboratory testing and imaging when indicated. The idea is to detect risks or changes early, when lifestyle or diet changes are most effective. These tests include basic cholesterol and blood sugar screening, as well as other personalized testing to assess risk based on your family history.
For women it is important to prevent progression of cervical and breast cancer through early detection via annual gynecological exams with pap smears and clinical breast exams. Many women prefer a naturopathic approach to gynecological care for an educational and personalized experience. An hour is scheduled for annual exams, to ensure that all questions are answered and any reproductive, gynecological, and general health concerns can be addressed.
For infants and children NDs offer well baby and child exams, offer counsel regarding vaccinations, and even educate parents about the proper introduction of foods (to avoid allergies) or other dietary concerns.

Acute Care
Sometimes you just get sick and need to see a doctor right away for relief or assessment. Many people call in with acute symptoms ranging from pain and inflammation to infections or insomnia; there is often a need for treatment of your immediate discomfort. Whether you have the flu or a urinary tract infection, a Naturopathic Doctor can accurately diagnose and treat acute illness. Additionally an ND will try to assess the bigger picture to prevent recurrence of infections. Many patients find naturopathic methods to be powerful tools in treating acute conditions, but NDs can also turn to pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics when absolutely necessary. With a Naturopathic House Call you don't even have to leave your house to be seen by a doctor.

Chronic Care
If you have ongoing health issues such as back pain, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, mood changes, allergies, and so many more, then you have a chronic problem. Luckily chronic care is where Naturopathic Doctors truly shine. All of us can benefit from naturopathic medicine, especially as we age. NDs take the time to consider all of your potential obstacles to health. When the root cause of your disease is truly located and addressed, reliance on suppressive conventional medicine declines. For instance, while an allergy pill like Claritin or Zyrtec may dry your nasal drip, discovering and eliminating an offending food or environmental allergy will stop the need for regular dosing of these expensive drugs all together. Naturopathic modalities can be used alongside prescription medications, if necessary, to improve health outcomes. Laboratory analysis or other markers are carefully tracked to ensure positive changes. Naturopathic medicine blends traditional natural therapies with advances in the science of health and human systems, covering all aspects of family health from prenatal to geriatric care. Dr. Curry practices this integrated approach to chronic care to promote the best possible state of health for you.

What we don't do
Naturopathic Doctors are only trained in emergency medicine basics in the classroom. If you are having a serious emergency call 9-1-1 or proceed to the nearest emergency department.

NDs are not trained in major surgery, so please don't ask me to cut off your spare leg.

Ethical Naturopaths do not guarantee cures to terminal cancers or provide painkillers to drug seekers.

Despite vastly superior botanical training, Naturopathic Doctors are currently unable to prescribe marijuana. In Oregon a card for medical marijuana requires evaluation by a medical doctor. As I understand it, the profession does not want the added controversy of prescribing marijuana at this time.

Naturopathic Doctors do not learn acupuncture in the standard ND curriculum. Acupuncture licenses require additional training, as does mastery of Chinese herbal formulations.

Midwifery requires additional optional training and certification not part of the standard ND curriculum. Naturopathic midwives do not deliver complicated pregnancies.

NDs don't assist in euthanasia.