Inherent Research Challenges

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Choosing the correct research methodology and evaluating research across multiple systems of health care has its challenges including:[1]

  • Definitions: Definitions provide a foundation for how to look at and understand concepts and theories. Although different systems of healtcare use the same words, there is no standardization on key terms, such as the definition of health, disease, healing, etc. Even the terms root cause and prevention mean different things. For example, the root cause of disease, as defined by naturopathic medicine, relates to the lifestyle, external, or environmental factors that created the disruption in health. It does not refer to another symptoms or illness. PubMed, a major reference source of research, uses search terms based on conventional definitions from the National Library of Medicine and therefore, does not adequately represent the differences in terminology used in natural medicine. Conducting or comparing research that encompasses all the various interpretations of medical terms is not plausible.
  • Subjective experiences: Initially, research included a balance of subjective and objective measurements. However, over time, observations became more objective with less emphasis on the subjective. Pain, discomfort, mood and many other human attributes are subjective and often intangible. Naturopathic medicine places a strong emphasis on a person's subjective experiences and recognizes that there are many health conditions such as arthritis, where the physcial findings and the subjective experience often do not relate. For example, a person with arthritis can experience extreme pain with minimal physical changes in the joints; or they can have tremendous joint destruction and experience little or no pain at all. The major challenges or art in addressing health concerns is determining when the physical findings hold more weight than a person's subjective experience.
  • Number of research variables: There are a number of variables that impact health, contribute to disease, and influence healing. The validity of research to real-life is questionable when it restricts the number of variables being tested. Research that narrows the criteria to the impact of a single drug on the body without accounting for other variables has limited applicability.
  • Duration of research: There are always ongoing concerns as to whether research trials are long enough, whether they adequately reflect the safety and health benefits of treatments or whether the safety of chemicals and substances used in our food supply, personal care products and environment are properly assessed. The question is whether or not research that is conducted over a couple of years provides a true reflection of the impact of long-term exposure of drugs, chemicals and heavy metals. Historical data and traditional research in many situations are a better indicator of the long-term impact of different treatments, lifestyle and environmental factors.


  1. Lloyd, Iva 2009 The History of Naturopathic Medicine, a Canadian perspective. Elsevier, Toronto