Is Naturopathic Medicine Safe?

Dr. Matthew Strickland, ND with INM & AANP

Highlights

  • Numerous research studies of naturopathic treatments for common conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic low back pain, and anxiety have shown that naturopathic medicine is both safe and effective.
  • Licensed NDs complete a rigorous, four-year, in-residence, science-based, post-graduate medical education at an accredited naturopathic medical school.
  • Medical malpractice insurance rates for naturopathic doctors are among the lowest of any medical services provider.
  • Few medical treatments are 100% safe, but some are safer than others.

FAQ #12: Is naturopathic medicine safe?

Naturopathic medicine emphasizes prevention and the self-healing process to treat each person holistically and improve health outcomes. As a health care consumer evaluating whether naturopathic medicine is safe, you should be aware of the following facts:

1. Numerous research studies of naturopathic treatments for common conditions such as heart diseasediabetes 2 , chronic low back pain 3 , and anxiety 4 have shown that naturopathic medicine is both safe and effective.

Significant research shows that lifestyle-change programs that focus on nutritional interventions, exercise, and emotional well-being can sometimes reverse the progression of chronic disease safely and effectively. Naturopathic medical treatment plans focus on these and other therapies, such as botanical medicine, clinical nutrition, hydrotherapy, and counseling to name just a few.

Naturopathic and conventionally trained doctors may also work together to deliver safe and effective health care. One such example is cancer care. For cancer patients, surgeons, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists provide surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation as primary treatments while naturopathic doctors support a patient’s vitality and natural ability to heal, which helps them tolerate the often difficult side effects of conventional cancer treatments. For information on how naturopathic medicine supports breast cancer prevention and treatment, see our FAQ on the topic here.

2. Licensed naturopathic doctors complete a rigorous, four-year, in residence, science-based, post-graduate medical education consisting of 4,100 hours of coursework and clinical training at an accredited naturopathic medical school.

During naturopathic medical school, students are educated in the biomedical sciences as well as the latest advances in science in combination with natural approaches to therapy. They also study disease prevention.

Accredited schools require graduates to complete four years of training and cover disciplines including: a standard medical curriculum, clinical nutrition, acupuncture, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, physical medicine, and counseling. For at least the last two years of their medical program, naturopathic medical students intern in clinical settings under the close supervision of licensed doctors.

To be licensed, naturopathic medical students must pass two sets of board exams. Educating competent, well-trained clinicians is how naturopathic medicine maintains its excellent safety record. For more information on the education and training of naturopathic doctors, see our FAQ on the topic here.

3. Medical malpractice insurance rates for naturopathic doctors are among the lowest of any medical services provider.

The average annual medical malpractice insurance rate for naturopathic doctors was $3,802 annually as of January 2017, according to NNMIC, the largest malpractice insurer for naturopathic doctors. By comparison, the average annual rate for conventionally trained MDs was $18,646.

A number of factors go into determining malpractice rates for a medical professional. Most important are whether there is the potential for a severe claim based on the nature of typical injuries or damage, and whether prior claims have been filed against a doctor.

Malpractice rates for naturopathic doctors are almost five times lower than those for conventionally trained medical doctors because insuring an MD is riskier for an insurance company than insuring a naturopathic doctor.

4. Few medical treatments are 100% safe, but some are safer than others.

Few medical therapies are safe for everyone, in every situation in which they are used. For example, there are 2.7 million serious adverse reactions to legally prescribed prescription drugs each year, resulting in 128,000 deaths. Having said that, naturopathic medicine is known for its unique Therapeutic Order, a set of guidelines naturopathic doctors use in clinical decision making to provide the greatest benefit to the patient with the least potential for damage.

The Therapeutic Order begins by offering minimally invasive therapies aimed at supporting the body and ends in more invasive procedures such as chemical therapies and surgery. Naturopathic doctors will help patients achieve optimal health by first removing obstacles such as poor diet and lifestyle behaviors; stimulating self-healing mechanisms, strengthening weakened systems, and correcting structural integrity with minimally invasive therapies; and using natural substances to restore health.

Some of the content for this FAQ first appeared in an article by Dr. Matthew Strickland, ND, on the website of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC).

  1. Seely D, Szczurko O, Cooley K, et al. Naturopathic medicine for the prevention of cardiovascular disease: a randomized clinical trial. CMAJ. 2013 Jun 11;185(9):E409-1. Accessed October 24, 2017: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23630244/
  2. Oberg EB, Bradley R, Hsu C, Sherman KJ, Catz S, Calabrese C, et al. (2012) Patient-reported experiences with first-time naturopathic care for type-2 diabetes. PLoS One 2012;7:11. Accessed October 24, 2017 https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0048549
  3. Szczurko O, Cooley K, Busse JW, et al. Naturopathic care for chronic low back pain: a randomized trial. PLoS One. 2007 Sep 19;2(9):e919. Accessed October 24, 2017: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17878954
  4. Cooley K, Szczurko O, Perri D, et al. Naturopathic care for anxiety: a randomized controlled trial. Naturopathic care for anxiety: a randomized controlled trial. PLoS One. 2009 Aug 31;4(8):e6628. Accessed October 24, 2017: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19718255
  5. http://www.naturopathic.org/files/NCMIC%20Letter%20re%20Malpractice%20Risk%201-26-17(2).pdf
  6. Light, DW. New prescription drugs: a major health risk with few offsetting advantages. Harvard University Center for Ethics blog. 2014 June 27. Accessed October 24, 2017: https://ethics.harvard.edu/blog/newprescription-drugs-major-health-risk-few-offsetting-advantages

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Deb Hubers

Debra Hubers is a serial entrepreneur and has started seven businesses; ranging from an advanced genomics to an employer health care purchasing cooperative. Deb has over 35 years of experience in healthcare finance, education, technology, and pharmacogenomics.

Ms. Hubers has dedicated her career to measuring and improving healthcare outcomes. Her expertise is leveraging technology to deliver personalized, preventative medicine. Ms. Hubers co-founded La Vita Compounding Pharmacy in 2007. Collaborating with her business partner, physicians and strategic partners, Deb has grown La Vita to be one of the most respected and sought-after personalized medicine providers on the west coast. She is also Co-Founder of EpigeneticsRx, a leading provider of precise, personalized, prevention which positively impacts genetic expression.

Alex Keller, ND

Dr. Alex Keller, ND, AFMCP is a graduate of the University of Ottawa with an Honours Bachelor in Health Sciences and Psychology. Although originally intending to attend conventional medical school, following a three-month volunteer internship at a rural Kenyan hospital where he observed how doctors used local food to treat patients, he shifted his career goals and pursued a degree in naturopathic medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.

After one year of practicing with the esteemed Dr. Chris Pickrell, ND, RH in a community acupuncture setting, in 2015 he and his wife Dr. Jenn Keller, ND moved to rural Ottawa, Canada where they started an organic farm and retreat center. In the same year, Alex and his athletic therapist sister Jess Keller combined their practices to form Keller Active Health, an integrative physical therapy clinic.

Ever curious and passionate about the education of evidence-based natural medicine, in 2017, Dr. Keller joined a fledgling Ottawa-based health tech startup named Fullscript. He serves as its Medical Director and oversees the development of medical education content for practitioners across North America.

Prior to medicine, Alex worked in the renewable energy sector, where he developed a deep passion for sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. This connection between medicine and agriculture now drives Alex to focus much of his energy on bringing awareness to the quality and sourcing standards in the supplement and organic agriculture supply chains.

Today, he splits his professional time practicing as a clinician, working for Fullscript, and expanding the farming operation while chasing his kids with Jenn and occasionally running ultra-marathon trail races. He is also currently completing an Executive MBA through the Quantic School of Business & Technology with a focus on supply chain innovation.

Pamela Snider, ND

Pamela Snider, ND, is Executive and Senior Editor for the Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine Project, producing a first of its kind international textbook of Naturopathic medicine through a series of international retreats and symposia. A nationally recognized integrative health and policy leader, she is active in both national and regional integrative health initiatives. Dr. Snider serves on the Board of Directors, was founding Executive Director and co-founder of the Academic Consortium for Integrative Health (ACIH/ACCAHCa consortium of the councils of schools, accrediting agencies and certifying bodies of the licensed, traditional and emerging integrative health professions, and is currently Vice Chair and co-founder of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC).  Dr. Snider served as a founding Board Member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine from 2014-2016. Her public policy work includes completing a two year appointment to the DHHS Center For Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee (MCAC); serving as a Steering Committee Member for  the HRSA funded American College of Preventive Medicine NCCIM Integrative Medicine in Preventive Medicine Residency program, co-directing in USPHS Region X the Building Bridges Between Provider Communities Group, an exploration of interdisciplinary collaboration and common ground between public health and CAM; serving for 22 years on Washington State’s Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program Advisory Committee (HPLRSP); providing technical assistance to and developing key language for the enabling legislation for NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH/NCCAM); and staffing Joseph Pizzorno ND during his appointment as Commissioner on the White House Commission on CAM Policy.

From 1994-2003, Dr. Snider served as Associate Dean for Public and Professional Affairs and Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University, dividing her work between academic and public affairs activities, including chairing the Naturopathic Medicine Program Curriculum Review Committee.  Dr. Snider has been teaching, publishing and lecturing widely on Naturopathic philosophy, theory integrative health, public policy, and other topics for over 30 years. Currently, an Associate Professor at National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland, OR, Dr. Snider also continues at Bastyr University in her 22nd year as a faculty member teaching naturopathic medicine history, clinical theory, and global context. Among her Naturopathic medicine professional roles she serves on the Institute for Natural Medicine’s Leadership Council.  In 1989, she co-led the naturopathic profession with Dr. Jared Zeff, in developing a unifying definition of naturopathic medicine and its principles of practice adopted unanimously by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) House of Delegates. She was a co-investigator in the 2004 NIH NCCAM research study, the North American Naturopathic Medical Research Agenda and CAM Advisor in NIHCCAM’s Financing Integrative Health Care (University of Washington).  Her areas of experience include healthcare education; naturopathic and interdisciplinary clinical theory, curriculum development; clinical practice; government and legislative affairs, public policy, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community organizing.  Dr. Snider has received the Ontario Naturopathic Physician of the Year Award, the Physician of the Year Award from the AANP, the President’s Outstanding Vision Award and Distinguished Alumnus Award at Bastyr University, AANP’s President’s Award, an honorary Doctorate of Naturopathic Philosophy from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), the William A Mitchell Vis Award from the AANP and The Gathering – NMSA’s Beacon Award. She received her ND degree in 1982 from Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences and is a licensed naturopathic physician in the State of Washington. She lives with her husband and children at their homestead in North Bend Washington, in the beautiful mountain to sea landscape and home of The Revival – Restore the Vis, an annual student-led community gathering.

Susan Haeger

Susan Haeger is Founder/Principal of Transformative Health Solutions Inc. She has applied her twenty plus years in executive leadership to help shape and drive adoption of progressive health policy for whole person healthcare. She was a section contributor to the 2021 INM/AANP published professional white paper, Naturopathic Physicians as Whole Health Specialists: The Future is Whole Person Health Care that provides supporting evidence for the profession’s significant and unique contributions to preventive, whole person care and models of integrative clinical practice.

Bruce Barlean

Bruce Barlean is an owner and founder of Barlean’s, a global dietary supplement manufacturer located in the Pacific Northwest in Ferndale, WA. Bruce has been actively involved in the Natural Products industry since 1989 and is passionate about making a difference in the world and positively impacting the lives of others.

Bruce believes that people can make a difference in the world through ordinary purchases. He is committed to improving the quality of life for every person on the planet by making the best products and by using the profits to support outreach programs. Bruce summarizes it simply, “We make good stuff to do good stuff”.

In the late 1980’s Bruce became passionate about how health could be dramatically improved with Flax Oil Supplementation. Bruce along with his entrepreneurial parents saw the potential to improve the lives of many people and in 1989 they began selling Flax Oil under the Barlean’s name. From 1989 – 2000 the business grew an average of 40% year over year. While most companies saw a decline in business in the 2001 recession, Barlean’s continued to grow and soon became America’s #1 selling flaxseed oil and continues to be to the present. The brand has since expanded to include additional oils, green food concentrates and other premium supplements. Bruce continues to drive innovation and over the years his products and company have won countless awards including: Eight consecutive Vity Awards for #1 EFA, Six consecutive Vity Awards for #1 Greens Food Supplement, Natural Choice Award for Best Specialty Supplement, Best Product of the Year, Best New Product, Gold Medal Taster’s Choice Award, Gold Medal American Masters of Taste Award, #1 Health Food Store Brand for Consumer Satisfaction by Consumer Lab, and Manufacturer of the Year.

In 2013 as the company was on the eve of celebrating the 25th year in business Bruce and his parents decided to take their desire to help people to a new level that they call Pathway to a Better Life – which is now seen in the Barlean’s logo. Bruce and his parents had always been generous in their giving and support of charities, but as part of the Pathway to a Better Life they decided to increased partnership with charitable organizations such as: Vitamin Angels, Compassion International, KidsTown International, Autism Hope Alliance, Engedi Refuge, Project 92, and others. And because so many people are unable to meet basic nutritional needs, Bruce created a comprehensive Omega-3 and multivitamin formula that he distributes free-of-charge to local food banks. In addition, Bruce decided the company would supply food banks with organic coconut oil to provide people with a health alternative to standard cooking oils.

Always generous with his time Bruce has served as a youth leader for his local church for several years and continues to mentor youth. He has been on several not for profit boards including; Whatcom County Pregnancy Center (2003-2006), Natural Products Association (dates?), and the Institute for Natural Medicine Leadership Council (presently).

The Barlean family have been avid supporters of Bastyr University since the 1990’s and in 2013 were given Bastyr’s most prestigious honor, the Mission Award, which recognizes their leadership over time in improving the health and well-being of the human community.

Bruce currently resides in Ferndale, WA with his wife Lisa and their two dogs: Heinz & Shadow. When he’s not helping others he can be found fishing (catch & release).

Get Involved!

Michelle Simon, PHD, ND

President & CEO

As president and CEO of INM, Dr. Simon brings her passion for working with organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of healthcare. This desire stems from her years of practice as a licensed naturopathic physician. In addition to holding a Naturopathic Doctorate from Bastyr University she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She has served on boards for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI), and several advisory boards. Dr. Simon served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee, as Ambassador to the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) and was recognized as 2018 AANP Physician of the Year. Dr. Simon shares with her husband a passion for adventure travel, preferably by boat or motorcycle. She also enjoys teaching a women’s off-road motorcycling class.