Often when the topic of the various forms of pseudoscience come up, it is fairly easy to dismiss homeopathy, reiki etc as absurd therapies. However, when it comes to naturopathy, it often receives a free pass because part of this area includes the use of medicinal plants. However, I think it is about time this free pass was removed for several reasons.

First, while herbal medicines work they have been largely superseded by pharmaceuticals, which allow more precise dosages of pure compounds with known properties. Herbal preparations, on the other hand deliver a mix of compounds (including some which could conceivably have detrimental properties) and in unknown dosages (the amount of active ingredients will vary from crop to crop). Over the past three centuries scientists have learnt how to purify active ingredients from nature and put them to use. Thus, in most cases*, it seems a backward step to go back to the natural source. Willow bark may contain salicylic acid which may help with a headache, however, the acetylsalicylic acid in an aspirin will work just as well with less irritation of the stomach, a better taste and it can be consumed in a precise dose.

The use of naturopathy relies on the “appeal to nature” fallacy, the presumption that everything natural is good, often with the underlying implication that nature was “designed” for our benefit. Of course, an encounter with poison ivy, a taipan or a jellyfish readily disproves this view, yet it is one that seems to persist in certain circles.

Secondly, while naturopaths use herbal medicine, many (if not all) appear to embrace pseudoscientific therapies including homeopathy. As I’ve previously posted the Naturopathic College of New Zealand last year issued a press release supporting the use of homeopathy. Darcy also provided a link to this blog post which outlines the various types of therapies offered by naturopaths in Colorado,USA. Quite an eye opener.

It seems to me that naturopathy has flown under the radar of those challenging pseudoscience for quite a while. Perhaps it is time we reset our “woo” detectors to take a closer look.