Is Naturopathy All It’s ToUted To Be?

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Medical treatment has become ever more reliant on allopathy techniques to manage health related complications. However, many forget that medicine didn’t begin this way. Naturopathy is in line with traditional practices that have long been known to Asia and is now being preferred by a population looking to heal one’s self naturally without the use of synthetic drugs. Ranging from various techniques and methods such as physiotherapy, yoga therapy, acupuncture hydrotherapy, mud therapy, diet therapy, massage therapy, and many more, the practice isn’t as simplistic as people tend to believe.

Wellness Hospital Pvt. Ltd., in Kathmandu, with its founder Dr. Janak Bahadur Basnet, has been providing services for the last four years without the usage of pharmaceutical medicines, syringes, or operations. With these less invasive practices, individuals are beginning to prefer them over the more costly and invasive measures. With Wellness Hospital surviving almost entirely off of word-of-mouth referrals, the clientele has ballooned in size in recent years. With clients ranging in socioeconomic background, age, gender, and understanding of naturopathy, I wanted to understand why they all seem to be flocking to the clinic. I began questioning Dr. Janak about the philosophy and ideology behind this age-old practice that is finding new life, not only here in Nepal and South Asia, but the world, in general.

The modern-day practice of naturopathy has the same principles and ideologies as the traditional practices, or as it is known, the Traditional System of Medicine. This traditional practice constitutes from the five elements of nature: earth, water, air, sun, and sky. With this simplicity being one of the biggest differences found between traditional practice and modern-day practices, it entices one to ask what other advancements have taken place and how they come to be in such an old practice? One thing that continues to advance with the practice is the equipment being used to conduct therapies such as hydrotherapy. However, equipment is not the only thing that has seen advancements in recent times. Naturopathy doctors have been creating new nutritional supplements, botanical medicines, psychological medicine, and homeopathies.

With advancements in the practice and research being conducted regarding naturopathy, it is not surprising that it is gaining support and followers from all around the world. Though it is growing in popularity, is it really something that is accessible to everyone? When Dr. Janak was questioned about who should use the practice and how much it cost for treatment, he responded with, “I would recommend it to people of all ages and backgrounds. That being said, it does take a large time commitment by the people seeking treatment. Certain treatments can take up to a couple hours a day and around 15 days to complete. Although it takes a great deal of time to complete, it is worth it when comparing prices to other allopathy-based treatments. For example, a surgery for a prolapsed disc can cost NPR 100,000, whereas natural therapy can cure it for around NPR 30-40,000.”

Naturopathy in Nepal’s health system has had a relatively long life. It was initiated by the Ministry of Health in 1968 and granted permission to expand the service in the private sector in 1975. The implementation of naturopathy and more traditional medicines in Nepal is in line with the trend across the globe, with one third of the world’s population overall, and half of the population of developing countries, dependent on traditional, alternative, or complementary (local) medicine.

Although there is growing support within the general public across the globe, and especially in developing countries like Nepal, there is still a push back from the medical field. One of these push-backs has to do with the controversy swirling around parents and the usage of vaccinations for their children. With support growing in Western countries more and more, parents are turning to naturopathy physicians to question the usage of these vaccinations. A 2000-2003 study in the United States shows that parents who consulted these physicians were significantly less likely to receive an immunization, and more likely to return to nature in regulating the diet, breathing, exercising, bathing, and employment of various means to determine the health of their children.
Although this has become more common within the practice, Dr. Janak has taken a slightly different stance on it, stating that, “There is no such statement where naturopathy either accepts or declines the usage of vaccination. We can develop immunity in two ways: innate immunity and through vaccination. I believe naturally acquired immunity is always better, and this is also one of the principles naturopathy follows, as well. However, in case of infants, parents wouldn’t want to take risks.”

Dr. Janak understands why parents may take extra risks to protect their newborns in their early stages of life, however, he still strongly supports the need for individuals to gain immunity and protect themselves from infection through their environment. This was reinforced by him when he stated that there is room for both allopathy and naturopathy to work simultaneously together in an integrated manner. Taking into consideration that certain infectious diseases or the need for surgeries in emergencies may call for assistance from allopathic doctors, Dr. Janak mentioned the increase in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, hypertension, and others. Expressing that, “With NCDs, it’s better to opt for natural therapy doctors, because it relates directly to our lifestyles. These NCDs cannot be cured only through oral medication, but require either a lifestyle change, which natural therapy can help with, or a mixture of these two (depending on the client’s preference).”

In general, naturopathy believes that NCDs are caused due to our inner environment (our body) being contaminated by external toxins, thus polluting our systems. This is called germ theory, where any organism, such as bacteria, virus, or fungi, are able to be introduced and increase in density in your internal environment due to the previous contamination of your body. With this point, the practice of allopathy and the practice of naturopathy begin to diverge significantly. Where allopathy believes these “germs” are the culprit to diseases and infections and need to be killed with medicines and antibiotics, naturopathy believes that they do not cause the disease or infection, but are merely found in disease conditions due to contamination. Therefore, needing to be cleaned out and removed, instead of killed and allowed to remain.

The current practice of allopathy is only a temporary solution to diseases, says Dr. Janak, adding that, “What we are doing presently is adding more chemicals (antibiotics) to our contaminated environment. The dead organisms are within our internal environment, along with the chemicals we used to kill it. This is a temporary solution for our body, however, not effective in the long term. Therefore, it is crucial to keep our system clean, and our immunity strong, and focus instead not on how to kill the germs, but on how to increase our defense system.”
This idea can be thought of in terms of a sinus problem. Instead of using antibiotics to kill the germs causing the problem, you can use a saline solution to clean the nose, thus clearing the nose of all organisms and returning one’s system back to being clean and healthy. The need to keep our internal environment healthy and strong is what naturopathy puts a great deal of emphasis on. This emphasis entails taking preventive measures to ensure one’s health. This can include full body checkups when healthy, instead of after an ailment occurs. By doing this, it focuses on the first two out of four dimensions of health, preventive and promotive.

To ensure the first two aforementioned health dimensions, as well as the final two—curative and rehabilitation—naturopathy takes a holistic approach. Whereas modern allopathy practice continues to divide itself into different categories and specializations, naturopathy takes the body as a whole and works on the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of the body as one. This has resulted in therapies and treatments to be integrated as one for patients and be administered through subject specialization. Within the specialization, the modern-day practice of naturopathy relies on drugless therapy, non-invasive treatment, and elements that are naturally available.
Naturopathy has gained for itself a bad reputation in the medical field, with many academics and physicians considering it to be harmful, ineffective, and even, as stated by the American Cancer Society, to be conducted by charlatans who practice quackery. With all these negatives being reported by academics and institutions around the world, how is it that the popularity of naturopathy continues to grow? Is it the low costs, or the emphasis on prevention through building a healthy inner environment? Or, perhaps, it simply has to do with the connection the naturopathy doctor builds with their client and the hand-tailored treatment that comes with such a personal connection.

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