Naturopathy, science and our part in building a global profession

Naturopathy, herbal workshop

Humans have always relied on the resources of nature for health and healing. Throughout time, civilizations have used plants for food and medicine.

When I was asked to write a piece about my recently published textbook chapter on naturopathy globally, I decided on an approach that would not just provide an overview – but explain my own place in what has become my lifelong passion and argue that naturopathy should be understood as a credible science, vital to ensuring global health.

Naturopathy is practiced in over 80 countries around the world by an estimated 75,000 -100,000 practitioners. It’s embedded in World Health Organization strategy documents.

As our society is faced with ageing and longer living populations, it plays an increasingly important role in supporting our health system. And as the health and wellbeing sector grows exponentially, naturopathy is contributing in a meaningful way to global health

My journey to becoming part of this global profession began with a 4-year Health Science degree in naturopathy from the Southern School of Natural Therapies (SSNT – now part of Torrens University). This led to years of clinical practice, lecturing and curriculum development, which progressed to positions of greater influence in the sector.

My passions around the highest standards of education and practice for the profession in Australia led to me serving a full term as President of the Naturopaths & Herbalists Association of Australia (NHAA) and internationally on the executive of the World Naturopathic Federation (WNF).

Naturopathy: an ancient practice backed by contemporary science

Humans have always relied on the resources of nature for health and healing. Throughout time, civilizations have used plants for food and medicine. Other therapies, including using hot or cold water, have evidence of use since history began. We should not shy away from these roots. But naturopathy has evolved, and the practice today combines the best of evidenced tradition with contemporary science.

Naturopathy is a ’natural therapy’, not an alternative. This is an important distinction. Contrary to some popular belief, naturopathy is not wacky, nor fringe. It is, rightly, becoming more widely recognised as an essential component of wholistic healthcare. Naturopaths in Australia today study health science degrees and many work alongside medical professionals including Integrative GPs, fertility specialists and more. Increasingly medical practitioners are seeing the value of naturopaths and other natural therapy practitioners, some even undertaking further study themselves to incorporate aspects into their practice. We can – and should – combine the best of both worlds for the common purpose of providing the best possible healthcare for all.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognises traditional medicine and natural therapies and the important role it plays in public health outcomes. Their 2014-2023 strategy highlights the value of naturopathy, particularly in the face of the increasing burden of non-communicable disease where proactive and preventative healthcare plays a vital role. The WHO’s strategy encourages countries to harness naturopathy in a safe and effective way, and it also aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development goals and the universal right to health for all. This recognition affirms the value of the profession.

Australia is leading innovation and the evolution of naturopathy

Australia plays an important role in the evolution of this profession. Our education standards are aligned to the highest in the world – 4 year bachelor degrees with mandatory levels of biological sciences and extensive supervised clinical practice. The profession maintains high standards of conduct and continuing professional development through the work of professional associations and there is a strong lobby to have the profession regulated nationally under Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), the same body that regulates health professions in Australia such as Nursing and Chinese Medicine, to further enforce these standards.

Naturopaths worldwide are united by our values

One of the most satisfying things to learn as I researched the chapter, was not how different naturopathy is around the world, but how similar it is. Despite differences in language, education, regulation and tools of trade, at the core, the principles are highly consistent. They are:

  1. First, do no harm
  2. The healing power of nature
  3. Identify and treat the cause
  4. Doctor as teacher
  5. Treat the whole person
  6. Disease prevention & health promotion.

As we continue to better understand the delicate interplay between the systems of our bodies, the importance of gut health and the vital importance of good immune function, naturopaths play an important role in health not just here in Australia, but all around the world.

You can see me discuss more in this brief interview with text author Leah Hechtman on the launch of the text ‘Advanced Clinical Naturopathic medicine’ – you’ll find me in chapter 1!

Natalie is Director of Innovation, Industry and Employability for Health & Education at Torrens University

Interested in studying naturopathy? Learn more here.

Looking for an appointment in our student-led clinic? Visit the Practice Wellbeing Clinic here.

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