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Embracing the Potential: The Nuance of Research in Naturopathic and Functional Medicine

Written by Portland Clinic of Natural Health on July 7, 2023

In the world of naturopathic and functional medicine, there is a common misconception that lack of extensive research equates to a lack of efficacy. However, it is essential to recognize that the absence of a vast body of research does not diminish the potential effectiveness of natural therapies and approaches. In this inspiring blog post, we shed light on the nuanced perspective of naturopathic and functional medicine, highlighting that efficacy can exist beyond the confines of extensive research.

The Limitations of Research:

  1. Traditional Research Bias: Traditional medical research predominantly focuses on pharmaceutical interventions, which are often backed by substantial funding from pharmaceutical companies. This bias leads to an underrepresentation of natural therapies and approaches in clinical trials and research studies. (1)
  2. Complexity of Natural Therapies: Natural therapies and interventions are often multifaceted, considering the interconnectedness of the body's systems. This complexity can make it challenging to design studies that isolate specific variables and produce statistically significant results. As a result, the research landscape may not fully capture the breadth and depth of naturopathic and functional medicine approaches. (2)

The Wisdom of Clinical Experience:

  1. Individualized Approach: Naturopathic and functional medicine prioritize personalized care, recognizing that each individual has unique needs and responses to treatment. This emphasis on individualized treatment allows practitioners to tailor interventions based on the patient's specific health concerns and goals.
  2. Clinical Observations: In naturopathic and functional medicine, clinical experience and observation hold great value. Over years of practice, skilled practitioners witness firsthand the positive outcomes and transformations in their patients' health. These observations, coupled with patient feedback, contribute to a growing body of evidence that supplements and enriches the existing research landscape.
  3. Traditional Knowledge: Naturopathic and functional medicine draw from ancient healing traditions and cultural wisdom that have been passed down through generations. While not always backed by modern research, this traditional knowledge has stood the test of time and continues to provide valuable insights into effective healing practices.

Navigating the Nuance:

  1. Integrative Approach: The naturopathic and functional medicine approach advocates for an integrative model that combines the best of both worlds—traditional research-based evidence and the wisdom of natural therapies. By embracing a holistic perspective, practitioners can leverage the available research while also recognizing the limitations and exploring innovative approaches.
  2. Shared Decision-Making: Informed consent and shared decision-making play a pivotal role in naturopathic and functional medicine. Patients are actively involved in their healing journey, working collaboratively with their healthcare practitioners to make choices that align with their values, goals, and comfort levels.

In the realm of naturopathic and functional medicine, the absence of extensive research does not equate to a lack of efficacy. It is crucial to acknowledge the limitations of traditional research models and appreciate the wisdom gained through clinical experience, patient feedback, and traditional knowledge. By embracing an integrative approach and involving patients in shared decision-making, we can honor the potential of natural therapies and unlock the transformative power of personalized care. Let us navigate the nuanced landscape of research and efficacy with an open mind, recognizing that healing is a multifaceted journey that extends beyond the boundaries of conventional research.


  1. Simundić AM. Bias in research. Biochem Med (Zagreb). 2013;23(1):12-5. doi: 10.11613/bm.2013.003. PMID: 23457761; PMCID: PMC3900086.
  2. Graham KD, Steel A, Wardle J. The converging paradigms of holism and complexity: An exploration of naturopathic clinical case management using complexity science principles. J Eval Clin Pract. 2023 Jun;29(4):662-681. doi: 10.1111/jep.13721. Epub 2022 Jun 15. PMID: 35703447.

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