Let’s start by defining what naturopathy is. A number of people do not know this profession at all or have an image that hardly corresponds to the reality of naturopathy today.
Naturopathic medicine is not a fad or a little “crazy” approach without a scientific basis. The personalities who have contributed to what has become of naturopathy, through their research and practice, are mostly doctors. The history of naturopathy is directly linked to the history of medicine until the 18th century, when the discipline began to split into two: conventional medicine (modern or old) and traditional medicine (alternative, complementary or parallel).
Naturopathic medicine today is an approach to treatment or, should I say, (non-invasive) health education with its origins dating back to early mankind. Human beings have always healed themselves with plants, clay, water, food and fasting. Natural therapies are therefore the first means of healing and they have played an important role in medical history.
The first empirical knowledge formed therapeutic groups like Ayurveda in India and Traditional Chinese Medicine in the East. In Greece, Traditional Western Medicine reached its peak thanks to Hippocrates in the 4th century BC. Later, some physicians like Dioscorides established classifications of herbs and plants for medicinal use that were the benchmarks until the 17th century. Some of these discoveries brought modern pharmacology to the table.
Hippocratic medicine still underlies much of the foundations of naturopathic medicine today. Moreover, older medicine still claims to be Hippocratic: he is the author of the famous “oath” that doctors still take today.
The official term “naturopathy” originated in 1895 in the United States and comes from the English terms, “nature’s path”. It was Dr. Benedict Lust, a German-born physician, osteopath and chiropractor, who registered the term seven years later and officially established the profession of naturopathic medicine in the United States. In 1902, he therefore inaugurated the first naturopathic school in the world, teaching hydrology, herbalism, nutrition, physiotherapy, physiology, psychology and many other therapeutic techniques. In the “naturopathy” application for registration, it describes a clinical practice that integrates natural healing methods and the therapeutic lifestyle-oriented relationship. This practice has become institutionalized and has since been taught in many American medical universities. The emergence in the 1940s of the first vaccines, antibiotics and better surgical techniques created a divide between naturopaths and physicians that would last for many years in the United States and elsewhere in the world.
As early as the 1960s, some populations began to wonder about the limits of conventional medicine for the treatment of chronic and degenerative diseases. This situation gives new impetus to alternative practices all over the planet, including Canada.
Here in Canada
In 1955, the Canadian federal government recognized the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors (CAND), which continues to bring together the provincial associations of naturopathic doctors to this day. In 1964, a Royal Commission on Health Care published a study whose conclusions led five provinces to officially recognize naturopathy. At the time, there were some 500 naturopaths in Canada, all trained in the United States. Quebec is still not one of those provinces where the profession is recognized.
Yet in 1983, the World Health Organization recommended that authorities in all countries integrate naturopathy into their public health system. In 1994, the United States government allocated a budget for scientific research on AIDS to Bastyr University, one of the leading North American naturopathic schools. In 1997, naturopathy was recognized as “unconventional medicine” by the European Parliament and classified as “traditional medicine”, like Chinese and Indian medicine by the WHO, in 2002. Naturopathy is now officially recognized in many countries. Countries including Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Portugal.
Naturopathic schools, in countries where the practice is recognized, now offer educational programs based on very modern scientific foundations. It teaches all the basic disciplines that are seen in medicine such as biology, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology and many others, in addition to the use of medicinal plants, the use of suitable food supplements and many others. Indeed, all the best-researched recommendations on diet and stress management have been established to educate people about healthy lifestyles that promote health and longevity.
Here in Quebec
Quebecers do have access to several alternative medicines known as ACMs (alternative and complementary medicines), but no regulatory framework grants them official recognition to date, except for acupuncture and chiropractic. Yet the mandate of the government and the professions office is to protect the public, which makes it ever so important, even urgent, in my opinion, to recognize that the popularity of these approaches is increasingly monumental to support people who suffer from chronic diseases. Having, to date, no professional status for naturopathy in Quebec, there is a risk of receiving advice that is not provided by a person who has received adequate training.
A next step would be to obtain a status that could recognize the training and clinical practice of naturopathy. A few private schools are operating in Quebec and offer very good quality training equivalent to a university baccalaureate program. However, many schools do not have a standard and only offer a few hours of classes to obtain a naturopathic or naturotherapist diploma. It is at this level that we must intervene to ensure a uniform practice of the profession and the protection of the public. Requests by the association of accredited naturopaths of Quebec (ANAQ) and the association of naturopathic doctors of Quebec (AMNQ) have been made to present a project for the creation of a professional order and training recognized by the ministry of education. To this day, we are still waiting for a meeting to take place.
The naturopath in our health system
The naturopath could have an educational role with people on the components of good health which includes diet, physical exercise, stress and sleep management as well as the use of approved natural health products such as medicinal plants, vitamins and other natural extracts. Rest assured about the latter, most of them have been the subject of modern studies on their modes of action and their effectiveness. We are no longer in 1920 as some people would have us believe. The naturopath becomes a complementary individual who can educate and make recommendations in addition to directing the person to a specialist who can complete the follow-up, if necessary. They would, in a way, become the general practitioner of good lifestyles and the prevention of chronic diseases. For the moment, no one occupies this role in the Quebec health system. We have of course many professions that offer specialties of this type like nutritionists, kinesiologists, osteopaths, chiropractors, psychologists, but only a doctor can refer people to these specialties and they usually don’t have the adequate training to do so. The practice and training of the doctor does not include prevention and good lifestyle habits. The medical practice of the family doctor in 2021 is mainly oriented towards examinations, diagnostic tests, and the prescription of medication.
There is a small group of physicians in Quebec who practice what is called functional medicine and who are increasingly interested in the patient as a whole with a comprehensive approach to treatment. This approach remains medical since it treats a condition with biological analyzes and recommendations which sometimes include conventional drugs, the addition of food supplements, and occasionally nutritional recommendations. Most of them, however, work in a multidisciplinary team with, in some cases, a naturopath to ensure follow-up in a more integrative approach to treatment.
There is no doubt for me that all health professionals must find a way to work together and use all the approaches that allow the recovery of the patient according to their convictions and choices.
In conclusion, I would like to stress the fact that we have a very high-level healthcare system in Quebec when it comes to emergency care. Science on this aspect has made us take giant leaps for 50 years (surgeries, transplantation, diagnostics and treatment). However, we are a little less effective at chronic diseases (obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, cancer, dementia, etc.). We must now think about what would be best for our healthcare system in order to save money, but especially as André Malraux said: “add life to years, not years to life”.