Naturopathy refers to a doctrine of “natural medicine” that teaches that the body’s “vital force” is the most important factor in healing and maintaining health. The approach has been criticized as largely pseudo-scientific, relying on dogma rather than data. One doctor describes the difference between naturopathy and medical science:
Scientific research has identified measurable, causative factors and specific methods of preventing and/or treating hundreds of health problems. Naturopaths have done little more than create glib generalities. [Their] theories are simplistic and/or clash with science-based knowledge of body physiology and pathology.
Naturopathy’s claims that abstract ideas of “balance” and “vitality” can help the body fight disease have been widely criticized. (For example, some diseases have a genetic link—something that abstractions can’t fight.)
Naturopathy also promotes the belief that “natural” foods are inherently better than so-called “processed” foods that are common in our diets. Some naturopaths claim that sugars like table sugar or HFCS raise the risk of obesity and diabetes. Naturopathic recommendations on an alternative medicine website include advice to completely avoid sugar in order to prevent or treat health problems, including diabetes, premenstrual syndrome, arthritis, and ear infections. Kimball C. Atwood, M.D., debunks anti-sugar scare tactics by naturopaths, writing:
When a naturopath claims that “toxins” or “food allergies” or dietary sugar or “candidiasis” are the underlying causes of ear infections, learning disorders, fatigue, arthritis or numerous other problems, it is a misrepresentation of facts.
In 2003 Dr. Kimball conducted a review for Medscape and found that naturopaths have less training than primary care medical doctors. A review of naturopathic literature “reveals that it is replete with pseudoscientific, ineffective, unethical, and potentially dangerous practices.” Atwood also presented testimony to a Massachusetts state legislative healthcare committee about the “bizarre, irrational, and unsafe” practices of naturopathy.
Dr. Barry L. Beyerstein and Susan Downie concluded in a review of the field that naturopathy does not hold up to medical science:
Throughout, we found underestimation of the power of the placebo. At the same time, our own bibliographic searches failed to discover any properly controlled clinical trials that supported claims of naturopathy, except in a few limited areas where naturopaths’ advice concurs with that of orthodox medical science. Where naturopathy and biomedicine disagree, the evidence is uniformly to the detriment of the former. We therefore conclude that clients drawn to naturopaths are either unaware of the scientific deficiencies of naturopathic practice or choose to disregard them on ideological grounds.
In other words, naturopathy has a lengthy history of being rejected by the scientific community. The U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare said as much in 1968:
Naturopathic theory and practice are not based on the body of basic knowledge related to health, disease, and healthcare that has been widely accepted by the scientific community. Moreover, irrespective of its theory, the scope and quality of naturopathic education do not prepare the practitioner to make an adequate diagnosis and provide appropriate treatment.