Lise Alschuler, ND shares the principles of naturopathic medicine.

by Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO

Readers of this website already know that the future of healthcare is integrated healthcare. The inclination of the public, research data, and cost- and clinical-effectiveness all predict the establishment of integrated healthcare as the future healthcare. Healthcare integration occurs in two dynamics. One dynamic consists of individual healthcare practitioners who are learning about diverse ways of treating disease and optimizing health, and who are integrating various healthcare philosophies and modalities into their practices. Another dynamic consists of practitioners of different types who are learning about each other and are establishing collaborative networks of referral and interdisciplinary care centers. Both integrative practitioners and integrated healthcare practices mutually reinforce the transformation of healthcare towards integrated healthcare.

An essential ingredient in this recipe for integration is naturopathic medicine. Naturopathic physicians have rigorous training in both conventional and natural (sometimes called ‘alternative’) medicine, and can effectively bridge these two worlds. At the same time that naturopathic physicians (N.D.s) are bringing these two worlds together, they are also inserting the principles and practice of naturopathic medicine into healthcare.

Naturopathic medicine is a distinct method of primary health care – an art, science, philosophy and practice of diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of illness. Naturopathic physicians seek to restore and maintain optimum health in their patients by emphasizing nature’s inherent self-healing process, the vis medicatrix naturae.  This is accomplished through education and the scientifically-based  use of natural therapeutics. [The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, “AANP Definition of Naturopathic Medicine Position Paper;” available from The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, “AANP Definition of Naturopathic Medicine Position Paper;” available from accessed April 8, 2008.] Naturopathic medicine is distinguished by the principles upon which its practice is based. These principles of naturopathic medicine include:

The Healing Power of Nature (Vis Medicatrix Naturae): Naturopathic medicine recognizes an inherent self-healing process in the person which is ordered and intelligent. Naturopathic physicians act to identify and remove obstacles to healing and to facilitate this inherent self-healing process.

Identify and Treat the Causes (ToIle Causam): The naturopathic physician seeks to identify and remove the underlying causes of illness, rather than to merely eliminate or suppress symptoms.

First Do No Harm (Primum Non Nocere): Naturopathic physicians follow three guidelines to avoid harming the patient:

  • Utilize methods and medicinal substances which minimize the risk of harmful side effects, using the least force necessary to diagnose and treat;
  • Avoid when possible the harmful suppression of symptoms;
  • Acknowledge, respect and work with the individual’s self-healing process.

Doctor As Teacher (Docere): Naturopathic physicians educate their patients and encourage self-responsibility for health. They also recognize and employ the therapeutic potential of the doctor-patient relationship.

Treat the Whole Person: Naturopathic physicians treat each patient by taking into account individual physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social and other factors. Since total health also includes spiritual health, naturopathic physicians encourage individuals to pursue their personal spiritual development.

Prevention: Naturopathic physicians emphasize the prevention of disease – assessing risk factors, heredity and susceptibility to disease and making appropriate interventions in partnership with their patients to prevent illness. Naturopathic medicine is committed to the creation of a healthy world in which humanity may thrive.

In states that regulate naturopathic physicians, NDs function as primary care physicians who specialize in natural medicine.  Naturopathic physicians have attended four-year graduate level federally recognized and accredited naturopathic medical schools. [Holly J. Hough et al., Profile of a Profession: Naturopathic Practice. San Francisco: Center for the Health Professions, University of California, 2001.] In order to become a licensed naturopathic physician, one must obtain a degree from one of these accredited programs, take and pass a national board examination, and apply for licensure in a state or jurisdiction that licenses NDs. The number of licensed and affiliated NDs increased from 2,100 to 4,010 in the last 5 years (since 2001).  This represents a growth of 91%, making naturopathic medicine one of the fastest growing healthcare professions. [Albert and Martinez, Complementary Health Practice Review, Vol. 11 No. 2, April 2006 120-122]

The naturopathic profession is represented nationally by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP).  The AANP is the only professional association representing licensed and licensable naturopathic physicians. The AANP seeks to transform the healthcare system from disease management to healthcare promotion by incorporating the principles of naturopathic and integrative medicine.  The AANP supports and lobbies for federal and state legislative initiatives around consumer access to qualified integrative and natural healthcare, demonstration projects related to naturopathic medicine and wellness, public awareness projects and hosts an annual convention every year in August. The AANP website ( also hosts a physician member directory.

Naturopathic  physicians are a vital component of an integrated healthcare system. The perspectives and experiences of the naturopathic medicine profession, informed from both the position of being outside of established medicine and, at the same time, encompassing scientific tenets and specific modalities of conventional medicine, make the contribution of the naturopathic voice unique and instructive. As healthcare begins to lean heavily towards integration, incorporating the experience and perspective of naturopathic medicine can facilitate a smooth and comprehensive transformation.

*Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO is a naturopathic physician with board certification in naturopathic oncology.  In practice for over 14 years, Dr. Alschuler is the current President of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, member of the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology Board of Medical Examiners, and is in practice at Naturopathic Specialists in Scottsdale AZ.  Her website is

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 IHS speaker To see Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO in person, attend Breast Cancer: An Evidence-based Review of Naturopathic Supplement and Herbal Strategies, Update on Women’s Health Plenary Panel and National Policy and Integrative Practice: Building the Road at the 2009 Integrative Healthcare Symposium. Integrative Practitioner members get 15% off Symposium registration when they enter discount code 7470.