Unpacking naturopathic providers: NDs vs. traditional naturopaths

Understanding what your provider's credentials mean is important. In this post we explore the different types of naturopaths.

A naturopathic medicine approach can be incredibly effective for treating hormonal health conditions, so you’ll see us mentioning it a lot over at Pollie. And like all women’s health specialists, understanding what to look for in working with a provider that practices naturopathic medicine is of the utmost importance.

Read on to learn:

  • What is naturopathic medicine?
  • What is a “traditional” naturopath vs. naturopathic doctor, or ND?
  • How does an ND compare to an MD? Can naturopathic doctors prescribe medication and labs?
  • What is it like to work with a naturopathic doctor or naturopath?

If you’ve only been exposed to “conventional” Western healthcare, you may be looking at the word "naturopath" while scratching your head.

For that reason, let’s start with the basics!

What is naturopathic medicine and why is it effective for hormonal imbalances?

According to the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges, or  AANMC, naturopathic medicine is “a distinct primary health care profession that combines the wisdom of nature with the rigors of modern science(1).

In other words, naturopathic medicine sits at the intersection of Eastern and Western healthcare approaches. The goal of naturopathic medicine is to treat the whole person - not just specific issues - and aims to heal the root cause of illnesses rather than only treat specific symptoms.

This healthcare approach was brought to the United States by Germany in the 1800s, although naturopathic medicine tactics extend far beyond that (2).

Naturopathic medicine is particularly helpful for treating hormonal imbalances like PCOS, endometriosis, infertility, and symptoms like irregular periods, acne, fatigue, and more. The reason for this is that our endocrine system is highly complex, and there are often other functions (e.g., gut health) that must be addressed in order to balance our hormones.

By taking a whole body approach to address the root cause, naturopathic doctors and traditional naturopaths seek to fix hormone imbalances holistically. In many cases this may mean longer treatment times, but health outcomes are more lasting than when using pharmaceuticals to temporarily manage symptoms.

How do I know if a naturopath may be right for me?

Remember the last time when you went to your OBGYN and she spent 3 minutes looking up your cervix, scribbled you a new prescription for birth control, and sent you on your merry way?

(Hypothetical situation, of course, but we’d guess this is one that many of us can relate to).

Our health system in the US is (unfortunately) structured so that OBGYNs, GPs, endocrinologists, and other MDs that work for large medical practices and hospital networks have a difficult time making money if they spend long periods of time with patients. This means they rush through appointments with minimal face-to-face time as a way to stay profitable as practitioners.

Maddening, yes, but understandable. These people need to make a livelihood and the system they work within makes quality patient time an unrealistic luxury.

When you're struggling with a hormonal imbalance, this lack of patient <> caregiver time can be even more frustrating. You want to share your symptoms with your provider and have them listen, but they don't have time to listen. And in medicine, listening is key to proper support.

If you feel like you've exhausted your conventional medicine options and are seeking support from a provider that takes significant time to listen to your story and consider all factors that may be playing into your hormonal health challenges - then a naturopathic provider may be right for you.

What are the different “types” of naturopathic providers to look for?

There are 2 main types of naturopaths: licensed naturopathic doctors (ND, or NMDs) and traditional naturopaths. It’s important to unpack this distinction.

Naturopathic doctors (ND/NMDs) can diagnose and prescribe. They have over 5,000 of combined instruction and clinical training achieved through a 4-year residency program that is accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME); this degree includes all of the core curriculum that a traditional MD would learn, as well as more “holistic” sciences (e.g., herbs, nutrition, mental health and psychology). Upon completion of their CNME-accredited program, an ND must pass their NPLEX (Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Exam), which is a two-part test comprised of both clinical medicine and biomedical science (3).

Having a ND or NMD title allows providers to practice independently as well under the umbrella of a medical group or health system, medical school, and more.

A platform like Pollie can also help you find NDs that err toward either conventional or “woo-woo” practice styles - for example, perhaps you want someone with a naturopathic medicine education but who does not consider themselves to be off the holistic health deep end. Or maybe it’s the opposite: you are in search of someone with an appreciation for evidence-based medicine, but you want guidance in incorporating more “out there” treatment strategies like energy healing. No matter the case, we’ve got you covered!

On the other hand, traditional naturopaths are limited to an "advising" role with patients in most states, as they do not have the credentials needed to write prescriptions. The main reason behind this is that there is no overarching regulatory body for traditional naturopaths as there is with NDs.

Traditional naturopath programs, many of which are online, are not standardized like ND programs. As a result they are not allowed to be licensed in regulated states and their services are oftentimes not covered under traditional insurance. They do not have the same 1,200 clinical training hours requirement as NDs, nor do they need to sit for their NPLEX.  

In short, licensed NDs may have a greater appreciation for whole body health than a stereotypical MD, but they have undergone a standardized credentialing process and have more authority than many other holistic health providers. If you are working with someone whose title is just “naturopath,” you should dig deeper on what their specific credentials entail. In many cases of working with a traditional naturopath, their scope in working with you may be limited, so being clear on what your goals and preferred treatments are is a must-have.

What should I expect in working with a naturopathic provider?

Naturopaths and NDs aim to heal people holistically: they care about whole-body health, and leverage natural remedies such as diet, lifestyle changes, and herbs to help their patients.

A typical introductory appointment with them can often last several hours (yes, hours). During this time, they will drill down on every aspect of your life: diet, sleep, exercise, stress, relationships, work - the list goes on and on - as well as get the nitty-gritty details on your symptoms.

From there on out, naturopath appointments typically continue with 30 - 60 minutes of true face-to-face time, whether that be in-person or virtually via a telehealth consult. Unlike conventional MDs, their practice style is centered on understanding the whole patient. This can be particularly magical for uncovering hidden triggers to hormonal imbalances and getting you on your way to a symptom-free (or symptom-fewer) life.

While some naturopaths and NDs may assist you in coming up with daily plans (for example, meal planning), many will also work with a health coach or nutritionist to provide their clients with a robust care team. These types of providers take on more of a coach role and have an education centered on assisting clients making day-to-day changes.

You can learn more about what it is like to work with some of the naturopathic doctors in Pollie’s directory here:

Wrapping up

Net-net: If you are looking for a naturopath, make sure to check out each provider’s credentials. If you want an integrative provider that has a standardized education, you should look for an ND. If you are more committed to holistic treatment methods or want to tackle a specific focus area that a traditional naturopath is known for, then this route may be right for you. Just because a traditional naturopath does not have a ND title does not mean their advice is not valid, and just because a ND has been through more traditional schooling does not mean they’re the best practitioner for you.

If you enjoyed this and would like to learn more about the distinctions between Pollie providers, check out our piece on the different types of nutrition specialists here.


  1. Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges. What is naturopathic medicine? https://aanmc.org/naturopathic-medicine/.
  2. WebMD. What is naturopathic medicine? https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/what-is-naturopathic-medicine#1.
  3. Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges. The difference between a traditional naturopath and licensed naturopathic doctor in North America. https://aanmc.org/news/difference-between-traditional-naturopath-and-licensed-naturopathic-doctor/.