Naturopathic medicine

Naturopathic medicine is a system of healing that focuses on supporting and stimulating the body’s ability to heal itself. Naturopathic medicine takes a holistic approach, which means that it focuses on the whole person rather than on a person’s illness.

Naturopathic doctors (NDs) practise this form of medicine, which combines modern scientific knowledge with traditional and natural therapies. They are trained in and use a wide variety of different therapies.

Naturopathic medicine treatments may include special diets and nutritional counselling, fasting, enemas and herbal, vitamin or mineral remedies.

Naturopathic medicine as a complementary therapy

There is no evidence at this time that naturopathic medicine can treat the cancer itself. Naturopathic medicine often combines several different therapies, and there isn’t enough research yet on the different therapies to say whether naturopathic medicine as a whole system works well as a complementary therapy.

Only a few good research studies have looked at individual naturopathic methods. Some evidence shows that a few methods used by NDs may be safe and effective as a complementary therapy to help cope with side effects of cancer treatment. These methods include acupuncture and massage, as well as proper diet and nutrition during cancer treatment.

Other techniques, such as herbal, vitamin or mineral remedies, fasting and traditional Chinese medicine, have not been shown to be safe or effective as a complementary therapy. We need more research to find out how these methods may interact with conventional cancer treatments.

Side effects and risks of naturopathic medicine

Talk to your healthcare team if you are thinking about trying any naturopathic treatments. Be sure to tell your naturopathic doctor about the type of cancer treatments you’re having.

Side effects of naturopathic medicine will depend on the treatments you receive. We don’t know if, or how, naturopathic herbal preparations or vitamin and mineral treatments may affect conventional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Some naturopathic medicine treatments may interact with over-the-counter drugs, which could be dangerous to your health.

Finding a naturopathic doctor

An ND is sometimes called a naturopath, but some people who call themselves naturopaths have not trained as naturopathic doctors. It’s important to ask about the training and background of the practitioner you’re seeing.

In Canada, NDs go through a full-time, 4-year training program. Naturopathic medicine is regulated in many Canadian provinces and territories. To find an ND, you can check your provincial or territorial association of naturopathic doctors or the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors.

Some NDs have extra training, knowledge and experience in cancer care. These doctors have the designation Fellow to the American Board of Naturopathic Oncologists (FABNO).

Expert review and references