Can you have a naturopath as a substitute for a GP?

Question by PaulD: Can you have a naturopath as a substitute for a GP?
For people who pursue natural health is your naturopath/someone else basically filling the position of a standard GP? Do you still need a GP even though you want natural health?

Best answer:

Answer by SkepDoc 3.0
Well, the naturopaths would like you to think so. They are trying to rebrand themselves as “primary care physicians” It’s not that some of what they advocate isn’t sensible…proper diet, rest, exercise etc. However, they make the claim that they are the only ones who advocate that…bollocks. It’s that the rest of what they embrace…homeopathy, acupuncture, detoxes and cleanses, chelation, food allergies, chronic yeast infection etc are firmly in the land of woo woo nonsense.

Some of them are better educated than others, but generally speaking the training most naturopaths receive is not comparable to the training physicians go through in terms of theory and treatment of disease, pharmacology, anatomy, physiology etc etc etc. They also don’t do clinical rotations like a medical residency where academic knowledge is put into practice under the supervision of a more experienced physician.

If you are a healthy person with no medical problems, then seeing someone who tells you to eat right and exercise will do you no harm. If you actually have an illness, then naturopaths do not have the training to recognize, investigate or treat it with science and evidence based modalities. You will still need to see a doctor.

I find naturapaths generally to be nice people with good intentions, but they are firmly immersed in woo woo Alt Med culture and are not primary care physicians.

EDIT dr T. I have found your answers to be reasonable, and you seemingly aren’t in the woo woo camp. That is not true of all the naturopaths I cross paths with.
Yes there are some MD’s who embrace the woo as well…Andrew Weil being the most notable quack. I have medical colleagues who practice EFT, acupuncture and Healing Touch. You may be sure that they are not spared my skeptical point of view. I would dispute that results are better with woo hoo. If that is really your experience, then I would put it to you that there was nothing wrong with the patient if the placebo cured them.

Know better? Leave your own answer in the comments!


  1. You dont mention where you’re from, which is significant because training and licensure are not the same all over the world… in many places, Naturopathic Doctor remains an unprotected title.

    HOWEVER – in Canada, NDs are licensed primary care physicians. The title is protected. We have standards of practice and we are governed by our college (just like MDs.) Our training in basic and clinical sciences is equivalent to MDs’ training. In fact, the Canadian College of Naturopathic Doctors (in Toronto) is an active member of the Ontario Med School Association.

    Training includes a minimum of 1200 hours of clinical experience during which student interns treat patients under the guidance and supervision of experienced, qualified NDs.

    Skepdoc is correct in that NDs do not typically undertake a residency. It’s the one area where our education really does lag behind the MDs, because we do not have the opportunity to do hospital rounds and gain first hand experience with as much “frank pathology” as our MD colleagues. This is changing, slowly – all of the accredited ND colleges/universities currently offer a competitive residency program, where residents do rounds with MD students at major area hospitals. (At CCNM, the residents do rounds with an internist at North York General Hospital.)

    BC and Ontario NDs currently have prescribing rights, and Alberta is due to amend the legislation to grant NDs prescribing rights next year.

    And NDs are trained to use the same diagnostic tests that MDs use.

    Unfortunately, in Canada when an ND prescribes meds or orders your tests, you have to pay out of pocket for them. (I frequently refer my patients back to their GPs when testing is required… and my personal opinion is that the best possible scenario is for patients’ MD and ND to work together.)

    Sure… many NDs extend their practices to include (sometimes highly) unconventional treatments. Some of them land firmly into “woo hoo witch doctor” territory; it’s true. (I know some MDs who fall into that territory, too!!) But sometimes their best results come from “woo hoo” stuff. So my feeling is that as long as the foundation is laid with solid clinical sciences, and guiding principles of medicine are preserved… “woo hoo” away.

    So yes. In Canada, you can see a licensed ND in place of your GP. Good news since more than 70% of Canadians report inability to find a family doctor!

    ((Sorry. Long post! Brevity is not my strong suit and I think it’s important info.))

    Also – please be aware that while ND is a protected title, there are still loads of individuals who represent themselves as NDs but ARE NOT EQUIVALENTLY QUALIFIED. (Did not complete board certification exams, received training at non-accredited schools, trained outside North America, etc.)

    You’ll know your ND is properly qualified if he/she is registered with the provincial college/association and with the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors (
    *laughing @ Dave’s post* Good point. Me neither!! Herb-wielding crazies sound dangerous. Stick with qualified NDs. *wink*


    Hey Gary! Glad to see you’re back…
    If you came to an ND with a life-threatening infection… she’d refer you to the nearest emergency room.

    If you had chronic idiopathic back pain, would you go to a GP for meds, or a ND for acupuncture?


    Dave – yep, I’d agree wholeheartedly.

    Skepdoc – It’s patently untrue that “placebo” only cures people with psychosomatic issues. I would hope you know better than that! Obviously, not every condition will respond to placebo… but the considerable power of placebo really should be given it’s due.

    Whether or not it’s placebo is certainly open for debate… but if it works, does it matter??

  2. There’s not a hope I’d trust some herb-wielding crazy in place of an extensively experienced GP.

    dr t.: I would say in most places an ND is not a protected title, in fact this is the first example where I have heard of it being so. Most (and I think it’s the vast majority) of people who call themselves ‘naturopaths’ have little or no medical training whatsoever. While this board is probably not representative, referring anybody to a hospital or doctor (all servants of the great Satan: Big Pharma of course ;)) is about the last thing anyone here does.

    Most suggest the herb route etc as the first course of action, irrespective of the condition. Claiming a cure for cancer via a plant extract and persuading a patient to choose that over an oncologist’s recommendation for treatment is pretty disgusting I’d hope you’ll agree.