Naturopathy, medicine and Hippocrates

Naturopaths believe in traditional methods of good health and treating illness. That’s the problem.


While it may be fun to go back in time and visit a historic town like Barkerville, it’s not fun to treat disease with traditional medicine. Ezekiel’s parents found this out when their 19-month old died while under the care of a naturopath. An Alberta court found the parents guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life. It prompted 43 medical doctors to demand an investigation of the College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta.

The idea that nature knows best dates back millennia. Natural healing is recommended in a book endorsed by the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors:

“Over 2,400 years ago Hippocrates was the first to proclaim ‘the healing power of nature’. Known as the founder of medicine, he believed in the natural healing ability of rest, a good diet, fresh air and cleanliness. Naturopathic medicine is based on this ancient philosophy.”

While it’s true that cleanliness is vital to health in the form of potable water and hand-washing, it’s true only because of the modern discovery of pathogens not because of any inherent virtue of cleanliness.

But rest, a good diet, fresh air and cleanliness won’t cure infection caused by bacteria and viruses. Only modern antibiotics and vaccines can do that.

Modern medicine and naturopathy both converge and diverge with Hippocrates.

Hippocrates got some things right and some things wrong, says Peter McKnight in the Globe and Mail (May 9, 2016). Hippocrates rightfully criticized the old Greek notion that the gods were responsible for health. What Hippocrates got wrong, and what naturopaths persist in believing, is that disease was the result of an imbalance of life forces. Hippocrates replaced one false notion with another says McKnight, a former Templeton-Cambridge fellow in science and religion at the University of Cambridge.

Medical doctors still take the Hippocratic Oath as a testimonial to ethical standards. However, the modern oath was not penned by Hippocrates: it’s less than one hundred years old.

“Yet ironically, his effort inspired vitalism, the discredited, pseudo-religious idea that living matter differs from non-living matter in that it possesses – or more accurately, is possessed by – a mysterious, metaphysical, non-mechanistic life force,” adds McKnight.

“This phenomenon has gone by many names in the West – the vital force, vital energy, elan vital – and is given expression in the chi and prana of Eastern philosophy. . . it was the job of healers to balance things out, which is why Western medicine once relied on bleeding people to re-establish harmony and balance.”

The notion of a life-force may be interesting but it’s not medicine. What is the difference between a person that is living one moment and dead the next? It seems like a life-force has left. Alas, such questions are in the realm of philosophy and religion.

I also see the appeal of nostalgia, to magically return to a way of life more in tune with nature –a way that probably never existed except in our yearning to escape our complex and depersonalized way of life.

Naturopaths rely on a dose of magic. “But magic isn’t medicine. And neither is naturopathy,” concludes McKnight.


  1. Quoted from the article: “Ezekiel’s parents found this out when their 19-month old died while under the care of a naturopath.”

    This statement is 100% FALSE. They did not see the naturopathic doctor. The ND never met the child. The ND recommended the child go to emergency medicine right away when somebody called about a stiff neck and a fever. The ND followed proper procedure.

    This is a case of a parent unwilling to trust the medical system. In the mean time, ISIS just beheaded some pastor’s head off in Syria for following his Christian faith that Jesus is Lord. ISIS moslem men routinely kidnaps children, rapes them and beheads them. – the outrage is deafeningly silent.

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