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The Rise and Fall of Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathy is thought to have started in the mid-1850’s in Germany. A simple farmer by the name of Priessnitz started to use his natural genius for the art of healing to implement the beginning of nature cure. His treatments consisted of plenty of exercise, fresh mountain air, cool water treatments in the sparkling brooks and simple country fare, consisting largely of black bread, vegetables, and milk fresh from cows fed on nutritious mountain grasses.

Through the use of these simple practices he began to achieve unremarkable success for healing common illness of the time. His reputation spread throughout Germany and then across the globe and before long Priessnitz was attracting patients from all walks of life and from all around the world. Doctors, wealthy merchants and royalty flocked to his sanctuary to seek healing from arthritis, tuberculosis, infections and a myriad of other maladies.

Priessnitz trained other healers who started to spread the nature cure healing across Germany and Europe. In 1892 a German born man named Benedict Lust came to the United States to seek his fortune. Shortly after his arrival he contracted a serious case of tuberculosis and returned to Germany to die. Instead, he met Father Knieep, a Priest trained by Priessnitz. Father Knieep, using the principles of naturopathy, was able to cure Benedict of his disease.

Benedict Lust returned to the United States to spread the word of nature cure. He opened training facilities and authored many publications spreading the word. Over time he helped shape the modern philosophy of naturopathy which included the basic principles of Priessnitz and Knieep, but also included other modalities he learned from European doctors such as herbal medicine, homeopathy and spinal manipulation.

The word of naturopathy spread throughout the United States and by 1920 there was a multitude of naturopathic, homeopathic and herbal medical schools around the country with thousands of naturopaths practicing medicine.

At the same time, the allopathic medical community was focusing on the development of drugs and surgical procedures that relied on newer advances in science. Although most of their breakthroughs at the time were not revolutionary, in 1940 Penicillin was formulated into its first drug form. At this time in history there were much fewer cases of chronic disease (heart disease, cancer, obesity) then there are now. The fact is, the majority of life threatening illnesses were related to infections. This made the discovery of antibiotics a huge medical breakthrough at the time and catapulted the status of traditional medical doctors.

With the public’s ever growing confidence in allopathic medicine, the AMA and pharmaceutical companies started to gain a large amount of influence in the government. This ultimately lead to a government sanctioned mass shut down of all medical schools that did not meet the criteria of the AMA. Dozens of naturopathic, homeopathic and herbal medical schools were forced to close their doors.

With the AMA and pharmaceutical companies in control, natural medicine and the philosophy of nature cure were entirely eliminated from medical schools and practice. In its place came the philosophy of “Wait until acute or chronic disease has fully developed, and then, if possible, subdue them by means of drugs or surgery”.

It wasn’t until the 1970’s that naturopathy started to see a resurgence in the United States, fueled by the public’s discontent with allopathic care. Since then, naturopathy has continued to grow in popularity as have the other offshoots of nature cure including; a whole foods diet, stress reduction practices (yoga, meditation, tai chi) and a general emphasis on preventative health and wellness.

At this time there are four very successful Naturopathic Medical Schools in t