This site is best viewed in Firefox or Safari
What’s so natural about naturopathy?

Part of “Pseudoscience A to Z”, a series of articles in the Skeptics Canada newsletter.

Naturopathy and its associated practices are well known to skeptics, and little description is needed here, but for those who are interested in an in-depth analysis, try by the late Dr. Barry Beyerstein, a skeptic and biopsychologist at Simon Fraser University.

In general, naturopathy eschews conventional scientific ideas about medicine and lifestyles in favour of a “natural” approach to treatment. I’m sure that we can all agree that “natural” is fine, up to a point—arsenic and poison ivy are natural, too. Furthermore, since the panoply of modern medicines and surgical techniques are outgrowths of our natural intellect, can’t they also be classified as natural? Not good enough, say the practitioners of naturopathy; they want nothing to do with what most of us would look for from a doctor or pharmacist.

But it seems that they often want it both ways. While they extol the very “naturalness” of natural medicines, they are all too eager to try to impress the public with laboratory studies and claims that naturopathy is “evidence based”. They are quick to latch on to any scientific discoveries that they can use to make naturopathic claims sound impressive, even if such discoveries, such as quantum mechanics, have little or no relevance to medical practices.

Beneath the façade is a simplistic approach with very little science involved, an approach in which observations and evidence are gathered and applied using flawed premises and mystical assumptions of “energy fields”, water with a memory, and unobservable “vibrations”. Some common themes can be found in alt-med proponents, one of which is that these therapies have been used for thousands of years. True, many have, but for all those thousands of years only the hardiest people lived much beyond the age of thirty, and human life expectancy grew dramatically only once science-based medicine became widespread.

Naturopathic practitioners often accuse conventional medicine of being all about money. There is money to be made for sure, and drug companies have occasionally been involved in scandals by skewing their test results. But for the most part, they are more concerned with turning out something that truly works, because it is those pharmaceuticals which will return their investments in research and bring them the best public image; after all, nothing succeeds like success. Nor are the naturopaths, for all their spiritual interests, noted for altruism. Americans spend over $5 billion per year on alternative medicines. There is surely serious profit involved. If drug companies were interested only in money, wouldn’t they want a piece of that action? Don’t bother spending money on tests and production facilities, just pick it at the roadside, wash the coyote pee off it, and stick it in a bottle! What could be simpler?

A perusal of web sites dedicated to alt-med shows indulgence in one of the oldest logical fallacies. Naturopaths will often point out real or perceived failures of conventional medicine as if it somehow strengthens their position. At the site named ( I think “chi” is a bit of a giveaway) we find the statement, “In 1971 President Richard Nixon declared ‘war on cancer’ and scientists were optimistic there would be a cure in 5–10 years. Today there is still no cure for cancer.” Let’s have a look at that. Who were these scientists, how many were there, and what were their areas of expertise? One thing we can be sure of is that they were human, with all the hopes, dreams, and foibles we are all subject to. Just because some may have beaten the drum and been overly optimistic doesn’t mean that a program has been a failure and should be replaced with another method.

And while we may not have what can be truly described as a “cure” for cancer, present science-based treatments are far in advance of what was available in 1971, with survival rates much higher.

Meanwhile various naturopathic treatments show no advancement in survival rates, and practitioners will cringe and run when the name Steve McQueen is mentioned.

Where does the blogisphere stand on this? Google the phrase “naturopathic medicine” and you get 742,000 returns, which should provide plenty of fodder for those who would expose it. But try a search on “naturopathic medicine” + “pseudoscience” and you get only 2,180.

There may be lots of us fighting for reason and against pseudoscience, but it appears that we are severely outnumbered.

One response to “What’s so natural about naturopathy?”

  1. D Carlos says:

    The time has truly come for alternatve complimentary medicine. A treatment protocol that combine modern medicine with a holistic all natural herbal medicine that ancient chinese and india physician practiced for thousands of years may yield some promising results.

Leave a Reply to D Carlos Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *