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Naturopathy is an umbrella term used in most Western countries to cover a range of therapies coming under the heading of "natural medicine." Originally coined by the German pioneer Benedict Lust, naturopathy means, literally, "natural treatment," and today its practitioners are generally those trained at specialist colleges in a range of skills that include acupuncture, herbalism, homeopathy, osteopathy, hydrotherapy, massage, nutrition, and diet.

Lust came up with the term "naturopathy" after he, and his fellow-countryman Henry Lindlahr, emigrated to the United States early in the 20th century. But he based his ideas almost entirely on those of a 19th­century German predecessor Vincent Preissnitz, who founded "Nature Cure," and the Austrian Dominican friar Father Kneipp. Nature Cure, and "natural hygiene," are still terms used by practitioners who claim to follow this form of natural medicine first recommended by Hippocrates.

Germany, where heilpraktikeren ("health practitioners") enjoy a status similar to that of doctors, remains the' true home of naturopathy, but the United States is where it is most firmly established. Pioneers there and in Britain include Herbert Shelton, John Bastyr, Stanley Lief, and James C. Thomson. They have built naturopathy up over the course of more than half a century so that it is now the closest thing in the West to an alternative system to conventional medicine, on a par with the various complete systems of medicine in the Orient.

Training in naturopathy is becoming standard for those interested in practicing natural medicine in its widest sense (except, ironically, in Britain where the trend is proving slow to be accepted by those who run the natural therapies). Countries such as the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, and South Africa now run full three- to four­year courses leading to a recognized degree or diploma.

The Basis Of Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopaths believe that four basic components make for good health:

  • clean air
  • clean water
  • clean food from good earth
  • exercise and "right living. "

All naturopathic treatments concentrate on various of these elements, and often all of them combined, to restore health and vitality.

Naturopaths hold that infections seldom occur if the body is looked after in the way nature intended and that the body will cure itself of anything as long as it takes in only pure air and water, is kept clean, and given the right food and healthy activity. But they also believe that illness is natural and that methods of cure should follow the same natural principles.

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So, far from from being suppressed, symptoms of illness should be encouraged to come out and the body helped to fight back and restore its proper balance, or homeostasis.

Naturopaths routinely prescribe brief periods of fasting to help conquer simple infections such as influenza. They also pay a great deal of attention to the health of the bowels (where nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream). The diet prescribed in the treatment involves cutting out or reducing alcohol, eating "whole" foods, and also severely restricting intake of fats, salt, and sugar.

Because of the theory that bacterial toxins in the gut may playa part in the cause of many illnesses, most naturopaths encourage special diets to clear the gut and eliminate the overgrowth of "unfriendly" bacteria in the intestines that can contribute to toxicity, allergy, and poor immunity. Some even use a treatment for washing the gut clean known as colonic irrigation, or colon hydrotherapy.

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