The Four Humors and Naturopathy

I suppose, if you live in the world of complimentary alternative medicine, where the treatments are bullshit and the evidence supporting their efficacy is non-existent, it doesn’t take much on the part of the practitioner to wander off into even deeper jungles of pseudoscientific lunacy. I used to mockingly assert that naturopathic medicine (and traditional chinese medicine, and Ayurvedic ‘medicine’) was so completely bonkers that it would not surprise me to find a practitioner somewhere who still made use of the ancient Greek notion of bodily humors – yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood – to treat illnesses.

I was wrong; I actually am surprised. I didn’t think that anyone in the 21st century could be so absolutely, ideologically railroaded into believing something without evidence, that they would happily embrace one of the most foolish forms of pre-scientific thinking I’ve come across.

And yet they have. (If you aren’t already a reader of Science-based, I would ask that you check it out sometime.) Naturopaths who are trained – and encouraged – to make use of long-debunked, baseless beliefs about how the body functions have now apparently been told in their textbooks that the ancient Greek belief in the existence of the four humors is a practice worth incorporating into their ‘modern, scientifically-oriented’ system of healing. That’s right: according to their own textbooks, naturopaths claim that they are, in fact, adherents to the scientific method:

This section presents a historic, scientific, and practical review of the schools of thought and modalities of natural medicine. We have compiled the work of experts in their fields into what we hope the reader will find a concise, yet useful, description of these practices and modalities. Because of the clinically oriented and alternative nature of these disciplines, the scientific evaluation of their theories and efficacy has been limited in the past. Happily, published research in natural medicine has increased dramatically since A Textbook of Natural Medicine was first published in 1985.

Although this textbook is strongly oriented to the scientific method and the use of the peer-reviewed literature for documentation of the efficacy of a therapy, these modalities’ widespread clinical use and long history of patient satisfaction demand that they be given a place here even though the mechanisms of action of several have yet to be elicited.

This quote was pulled, thanks to Jan Bellamy, from the third section of the 2013 version of the Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th Edition.


That anyone would take these fools seriously is a source of continuing astonishment to me. Skepticism is often mistaken for cynicism in some circles – and we are almost always called such by our opponents – but after reading this sort of garbage, is it any wonder why so many of us begin to grow a bit world-weary?

If any users of naturopathic medicine happen to stumble across this blog and read it please, tell me why you choose to put your faith – and your health – into the hands of people who use, without any apparent self-consciousness – forms of ‘healing’ that have been discredited for centuries? Why do you reject modern, scientifically-rigorous forms of medical healing in favour of paying money to people who, if their training regimens are anything to judge by, have absolutely no idea how the body actually works?

If you are a naturopathic practitioner who stumbles across this blog and reads it please, I’m dying to know: How do you reconcile your practice with the empirically-proven fact that the ‘medical interventions’ you engage in do literally nothing to measurably improve the health of the patients you treat? Real doctors have the Hippocratic Oath; what do you have?

3 responses to “The Four Humors and Naturopathy

  1. Great post.


  2. The Expulsion of gods

    I know the frustration you hold with the utter fraudulent practices from the likes of snake oil salesmen, but is it any wonder?

    The conservatives hold the rings of power at the moment, and only wish to sell you their brand of “faith,” and not facts.

    Facts get in the way of church doctrine.

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