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What do Naturopathic Doctors Mean by First, do No Harm?

In this article:

Amy Rothenberg, ND with INM & AANP


• Naturopathic treatments focus on allowing the body to reestablish balance and heal rather than on suppressing symptoms

• NDs choose the gentlest and least-invasive therapies first

• NDs are also trained to use pharmacological drugs when necessary

• For patients who need to be on medications, NDs can help prevent side effects

• NDs may be a good fit for people looking for non-drug therapies

FAQ #: What do naturopathic doctors mean by first, do no harm?

Licensed naturopathic doctors (NDs) follow six guiding principles that serve as a philosophical platform for all of naturopathic medicine. The principles influence how NDs think about medicine, make clinical decisions, and most importantly, how you are treated as a patient. First, do no harm is one of these six core principles.

The Therapeutic Order

Naturopathic doctors follow a hierarchy in patient evaluation and treatment guided by the Therapeutic Order. To do no harm, NDs:

1. Acknowledge and respect the individual’s healing process, using the least force necessary to diagnose and treat illness.

2. Avoid, when possible, the harmful suppression of symptoms.

3. Use treatments that minimize the risk of harmful side effects

Identifying and Removing Obstacles in Care

The body works hard on its own to support recovery from injury and illness. But certain genetic, environmental, and behavioral/lifestyle factors can slow or prevent optimal healing and recovery. Naturopathic doctors spend extra time with patients to identify and remove these obstacles to recovery in order to facilitate healing.

Naturopathic doctors view symptoms as nature’s attempt to correct imbalances. Consequently, naturopathic treatments are geared toward allowing the body to reestablish balance and heal rather than suppressing symptoms, which can disable the body’s most primary way of communicating that something is wrong.

Applying Naturpathic Training

Naturopathic doctors choose the gentlest and least-invasive therapies first to achieve the desired outcome for each patient. NDs apply their rigorous training in clinical nutrition, behavioral medicine, botanical medicine, and other natural therapies to provide the most beneficial and least harmful treatments.

They are also trained to use pharmacological drugs when necessary. If their state license permits, an ND can prescribe medication as a bridge to manage symptoms while the body repairs itself. If such healing is not possible, naturopathic doctors refer patients to conventional medical colleagues and work collaboratively. For those patients who need to be on medications, naturopathic doctors can help to prevent side effects.

“First, Do No Harm” Example

For example, here’s how a naturopathic doctor would apply first, do no harm to a patient who is diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The ND would:

• Carefully examine and adjust the patient’s diet and lifestyle to identify and address behaviors that may be underlying causes for stomach discomfort and heartburn, such as overeating, alcohol consumption, spicy foods, lying down after eating, stress, and more.

• Use lab tests and other clinical diagnostic approaches to assess the operation of the sphincter muscle and/or address inflammation in the lining of the esophagus, stabilizing these systems with natural supplements if appropriate.

• Aim to avoid or eliminate the prescription of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) like Prilosec, which can impair digestion, damage the body’s microbiome, are linked to depression, and other side effects.

About 15 million people in the U.S. use PPIs every year, but studies suggest as many as 70 percent do not benefit from the prescription.

Because of their focus on the most natural, least toxic approaches to health care, naturopathic doctors may be a good fit for people looking for a more comprehensive perspective on health concerns, or for those seeking non-drug therapies.

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This article is provided by

The Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. INM’s mission is to transform health care in the United States by increasing public awareness of natural medicine and access to naturopathic doctors. Naturopathic medicine, with its person-centered principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness overwhelming healthcare systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain optimal lifelong health. INM strives to fulfil this mission through the following initiatives:

  • Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of evidence-based natural medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research on this complex and comprehensive system of medicine

About The Author(s)


Institute for Natural Medicine Staff

Our dedicated content team of professional staff writers represents decades of experience covering essential natural health topics in an accessible, evidence-based, and engaging way. Guided by a shared passion for holistic well-being, each and every one of our writers strives to empower our readers to take charge of their health.

Supported by a rigorous fact-checking and medical editing process from licensed naturopathic doctors that examines the latest in peer-reviewed research, our team brings their in-depth knowledge of natural health practices into every piece of content we produce. We strive to be the gold standard for evidence-based natural medicine, providing trustworthy information and inspiring narratives to help you live your best health, naturally.

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