Homeopathy and naturopathy are commonly confused, but they are actually completely different practices. The two alternative medicine systems are similar in that they are generally considered to be holistic. Both focus on the treatment of the whole patient rather than a specific disease or ailment. While most practices in naturopathy are supported by clinical studies, homeopathy is an unscientific practice that lacks merit within the scientific community. Both homeopaths and naturopaths can be licensed as medical doctors in most Western countries, but some jurisdictions ban or restrict both practices.
Elements of Naturopathy
Naturopathy is a broad, eclectic treatment system that includes a wide range of medical practices. Naturopaths may practice techniques that include herbalism, acupuncture, acupressure, counseling, Ayurvedic medicine, exercise, specialized diets, color therapy and other drug-free medical interventions. The goal of naturopathy is to provide complete care for the patient while addressing the spiritual, emotional and metaphysical aspects of health. Many families choose naturopathy because they view it as a more sustainable and holistic alternative to conventional medicine.
Principles of Homeopathy
Homeopathy is a relatively recent medical system devised during the nineteenth century. The fundamental principle behind homeopathy is the "like treats like" theory of treatment: homeopaths believe that extremely small amounts of toxins can treat the symptoms that larger doses typically cause. The medicines used in homeopathy are extremely diluted and typically contain no molecules of the original substance. Homepaths believe that these medicines, which are chemically identical to placebos, are effective because they contain the "fingerprint" or "spirit" of the compound.
Clinical trials of naturopathic practices vary tremendously in their findings. Some practices of naturopathy, including massage therapy and a minimally processed diet, are strongly supported by clinical evidence. Other alternative-medicine practices, like reflexology and iridology, are often considered to be naturopathic but lack any tangible scientific merit. Homeopathy is widely considered to be pseudoscientific because its basic principles contradict scientific understanding of medicine: mainstream organizations like the National Health Service in the UK consider homeopathy to be an unscientific or fraudulent practice.
Benefits and Risks
While controlled clinical trials have failed to find any medicinal benefits of homeopathy beyond a placebo effect, it is a very popular practice because it is associated with little-to-no risk of producing side effects or drug interactions. Most homeopathic remedies do not contain any compounds that can lead to unintended consequences. While naturopathy can be an effective treatment option for many diseases, it can also be associated with some risks and medical interactions; for example, some herbal extracts can cause life-threatening allergic reactions or interfere with the effectiveness of some drugs.
Issues and Risks
The majority of naturopaths and homeopaths agree that conventional medicine is sometimes a more appropriate treatment option than alternative remedies. People with serious health conditions may require medical interventions that are too radical for naturopathy or homeopathy to adequately address. While both practices can be used as a basis for treating mild infections and ailments, they may be inadequate or inappropriate for some conditions. Fortunately, both naturopathy and homeopathy can be successfully and safely used as complements to conventional therapies -- practitioners who favor integrative medicine may be preferable to strictly allopathic, homeopathic or naturopathic doctors.