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Naturopath Licensing in California

by Brian Dunning

March 13, 2012

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In 14 US states, quacks are empowered to govern their competitors.
The State of California has a Naturopathic Medicine Committee that licenses naturopaths. This is a terrible idea, because it wrongly implies to consumers that some naturopaths are better able to treat illness than others.

In fact, there is not a single naturopathic treatment that has passed medical scrutiny. If it had, it would be called medicine and would be taught in medical school. Basic nutritional advice, like eat well and get exercise, is valid; but that's not what naturopathy is. According to its practitioners, naturopathy is:
...based on a belief in vitalism, which posits that a special energy called vital energy or vital force guides bodily processes such as metabolism, reproduction, growth, and adaptation.
And as far as its efficacy? The American Cancer Society states:
Available scientific evidence does not support claims that naturopathic medicine can cure cancer or any other disease.
Nevertheless, California legitimizes it by licensure.

In most jurisdictions, the initials ND (naturopathic doctor) are meaningless. Your cat could call itself a naturopathic doctor, just as meaningfully as anyone else could. However, in California, if you call yourself ND without being licensed, you can go to prison:
If you use the titles illegally, you would be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of up to $5,000, or a year in jail, or both (Business and Professions Code section 3664).
Clearly, this implies that there is value to the consumer for his naturopath to be licensed. This is false, according to the published research.

One wonders why California is doing this, when simply abolishing the Naturopathic Medicine Committee would save the taxpayers money and avoid the state's complicity in the promotion of medical misinformation. There is a clue to this answer, found when reading further on their consumer FAQ:
Q: I am board certified and hold a degree in naturopathic medicine but cannot get a license because my school is not approved. Can I still use the title ND or naturopathic physician?

A: No. You must be licensed by the Naturopathic Medicine Committee to use the titles ND or naturopathic doctor (Business and Professions Code section 3660).
First of all, being "board certified" in naturopathy is medically meaningless, as it is not a recognized medical specialty. Second, no degree in naturopathic medicine is accredited by the only legitimate accreditation board (see some history on this). So whether you have these things or not makes no difference in your qualifications to treat patients.

The Committee thus "approves" naturopathic degrees according to its own whims, since there is no authoritative basis upon which to approve any of them. This suggests that the Committee merely represents a lucky few naturopaths who were the first to lobby the state to create the Committee, and now enjoy governing power over their competitors.

And, sadly, California is only one of 14 US states that legitimize this practice.

by Brian Dunning

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