These days, you might see N.D. after a doctor’s name rather than M.D. and think it’s a typo — but it’s not. N.D. stands for naturopathic doctor, a degree that is becoming increasingly common in a world where more people are looking for natural ways to get healthy.

Though naturopathy has experienced a resurgence in recent years, it has been around in the United States for more than a century, with the first school of naturopathy founded in New York in 1901. The school was founded by Benedict Lust, referred to by many as the “father of U.S. naturopathy.” Originally from Germany and schooled in natural health practices, Lust came to the U.S. specifically to spread the word.

And spread he did. Naturopathy became increasingly popular over the next 20 years, especially among chiropractors, who often obtained degrees in both chiropractic care and naturopathy. Its growth waned in the '30s and '40s, but picked up speed again in the latter part of the century.

Recently especially, people have been coming back to naturopathy for general health care rather than for a specific illness. Naturopaths are known for having long visits with their patients, taking over an hour to discuss a patient’s entire lifestyle rather than just a list of symptoms. Naturopaths take a more holistic approach to medicine and often work to prevent illness by focusing on the human body’s ability to self-heal.

The problem that many have with naturopathy is its focus on natural means of healing instead of conventional medicine. For example, naturopaths have come under fire in recent years for steering parents away from vaccinations for their children, a dangerous proposition. They’ve also been criticized for not completing post-doctoral clinical residency training as most medical doctors do. Naturopaths can currently be licensed to practice in only 17 of 50 states; the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) focuses much of its efforts on changing that.

So — to see a naturopath or not to see a naturopath? There might be a happy medium for those of you who like the naturopath’s approach but are wary of the naysayers. Some traditional M.D.'s also have a degree in naturopathic medicine, and will focus more on a whole-body healthy lifestyle approach while still fully engaging conventional and modern medicine in their treatment. Or some medical practice groups will have an N.D. on staff who works in tandem with an M.D., answering the concerns of many patients today who feel that doctors spend too much time diagnosing the illness as opposed to diagnosing the patient.

Remember that you are your own best advocate when it comes to your health, and no matter what kind of doctor you choose to see, it’s important that you are comfortable and confident in your doctor’s treatment and care.

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