The term naturopath is used to describe a practitioner that uses natural methods to support the healing process. This can include any number of a wide range of therapies, but typically most naturopaths work with diet/nutrition, nutritional supplementation, detoxification, herbology, and homeopathy. In addition, some have special training in bodywork, massage, acupressure, acupuncture, spinal manipulation, and mind-body therapies such as biofeedback, imagery and visualization.
In the treatment of cancer, naturopaths in the US typically play an adjunctive role to an oncologist, often providing individuals that are having surgery or receiving chemotherapy and/or radiation with nutritional and immune system support.
The range of treatments a naturopath can offer depends to a great degree on their education, the state they’re located in, and whether or not that state licenses naturopathic medicine.
In terms of education, there are generally two types of naturopathic professionals in the US – naturopathic physicians and traditional naturopaths.
A naturopathic physician is a practitioner that has graduated from an accredited naturopathic university. Naturopathic universities are full-time four year medical schools whose curriculum includes a substantial number of courses in western medical science, as well as courses in naturopathic healing principles, botanical medicine, nutrition, detoxification, homeopathy and mind-body medicine.
Naturopathic physicians are also trained in using intra-venous drips (IV’s) to provide concentrated nutrition and have clinical training in treating a range of illnesses, including cancer. Naturopathic physicians are also trained to perform minor surgeries, such as lancing a boil or stitching up a wound.
In states that license naturopathic medicine (currently these are Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington.), naturopathic physicians are free to practice to the full scope of their training. This means that in addition to working with diet, nutrition, herbal medicine, homeopathy, and detoxification programs, they can also diagnose and use IV’s to treat cancer patients. In general, naturopathic physicians in these states can play more of a primary role in the treatment of cancer.
In states that do not license naturopathic medicine, naturopathic physicians cannot make a medical diagnosis, cannot present themselves as doctors, and are restricted from doing anything that punctures the skin. This includes IV’s. In these states, naturopathic physicians typically offer nutritional and immune system support via nutritional supplements, herbs, homeopathy, diet counseling, and detoxification programs, but because they cannot administer IV’s and because of legal restriction, they serve more of an adjunctive role in the treatment of cancer.
This means that if you are in a state in which naturopathic medicine is licensed, you are more likely to find a naturopath in your area that provides primary care to people with cancer. If you are not in a state in which naturopathic medicine is licensed, you are more likely to find a naturopath that provides adjunctive care to conventional methods (chemotherapy, radiation, etc).
To find a naturopathic physician in your area, you can do a search at www.naturopathic.org. (This is the website for the AANP, American Association of Naturopathic Physicians). Also, if you have questions about a particular ND, we have information about some naturopathic physicians on our website and in our database and may be able to provide more specific information.
Not all naturopathic physicians are members of the AANP (American Association of Naturopathic Physicians), so it’s possible that there are ND’s in your area that are not listed on their website. If you don’t find anyone listed for your area, talk with the nutrition department attendants at your local health food store. They are usually familiar with who is in the area.
A traditional naturopath is a practitioner that has obtained their education through some combination of: a mentorship program with another practitioner or alternative clinic, a distance learning program, self-study, and/or local private schools on holistic studies. They don’t have degrees from accredited schools, but often earn certifications from professional naturopathic organizations and non-accredited trade schools (e.g. nutrition, reflexology, herbology, homeopathy, etc).
Because their education and training is not standardized, their skill set and training varies widely. Many traditional naturopaths are excellent practitioners and have something to offer individuals diagnosed with cancer, but they require greater awareness on the part of the consumer to ask about their training and background. If you ask good questions about training and background, and the traditional naturopath is upfront about what they can offer you, this type of professional may be of value to you in your healing process.
Technically, traditional naturopaths are not legal in any state in the US – except Minnesota, in which they can practice legally as long as they: 1) refrain from medical practices (such as surgery, prescribing pharmaceutical drugs, etc) 2) follow ethical guidelines and, 3) provide disclosure to the consumer about their training, background, and scope of practice.
In practice, most states do not challenge traditional naturopaths legally, unless they interfere with the practice of medicine (e.g. prescribe a pharmaceutical drug or take someone off a pharmaceutical drug), present themselves as a primary care practitioner (e.g., in the place of an MD), misrepresent themselves or their products, or make false claims about their ability to cure illness.
Naturopathic practitioners will most likely be more difficult for you to find in your area, since many of them like to keep a low profile and work only through word-of-mouth referrals. Talk to the nutrition department attendants at your local health food store or natural pharmacy to get a referral.