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French naturopaths rebut criticism after Doctolib website controversy

An association representing 1,700 naturopaths is asking for greater cooperation with the booking platform and official recognition from the government

Naturopathy activity is under a legal void in France Pic: Shuttertock / LightField Studios

One of France’s largest naturopath associations has asked for greater cooperation with the French medical appointment booking site Doctolib after 17 of its practitioners were removed from the platform.

Naturopathy is a branch of ‘alternative medicine’, which involves natural, non-invasive and often unscientifically proven treatments to promote ‘self-healing’. Practices range from homoeopathy to more accepted processes like psychotherapy.

Doctolib removed the 17 naturopaths from its platform following pressure from the Conseil national de l'Ordre des médecins, France’s medical professional body.

Read more: French Doctolib platform accused of ‘promoting alternative medicine’

The Conseil accused Doctolib of creating “confusion” between medical professionals and alternative and unregulated medicine, which is often classed under ‘wellbeing’ treatments.

But Julie Levi, director of the association Médecine Naturelle et de l'Éducation à la Santé (Omnes), told The Connexion that naturopaths’ advice is not to be considered as official medical diagnosis but rather as a complementary treatment to that of doctors.

Omnes would like Doctolib to make it clear when a naturopath’s activities have been inspected and approved by the association, perhaps by a label on their page, to show that the practitioner is not a ‘charlatan’ carrying out dangerous and harmful treatment.

Omnes was established in 1981, has 1,700 members, and regulates naturopath practices as well as offering 1,200 hours of training from aspiring naturopaths, according to its website. 

Doctolib has announced it will carry out an indepth investigation into naturopath practices with medical bodies and health professional unions.

One Twitter user published a thread to list many of the naturopaths in the Ain department from Doctolib, providing screenshots from their website and denouncing their practices. 

Some of the listed naturopaths were assimilated to “charlatan” activities in a report from the French government cult watchdog Miviludes.

Division within medical community

Naturopathy is a form of alternative medicine that includes treatments using plants and does not use drugs. It is not considered to be a scientific discipline and is under a legal void under the French Code of medicine.

Naturopaths are not allowed to call themselves doctors or health professionals, nor are they allowed to deliver ‘diagnoses’ or refer to their clientele as ‘patients’. 

The Connexion spoke with three doctors who were divided on the potential benefits of consulting a naturopath, one categorising them as “charlatans” while two others said it could be useful to patients when medical professionals have no more regulated solutions to offer.

Thierry Casasnovas and Irène Grosjean, two high-profiled French naturopaths under scrutiny from the Miviludes, are often cited as a reason to dismiss the whole naturopath profession.

Irène Grosjean is a 92-year-old naturopath who promotes eating only raw food for health benefits. One of her methods also involved touching the genital areas of babies and little children in an attempt to reduce fever.

Thierry Casasnovas is another controversial French naturopath with an established clientele and supporters thanks to his Youtube channel. 

He was seen in a video promoting ‘urinotherapy’ or drinking urine for health reasons. He is currently subject to a criminal investigation for “illegal practice of medicine”.

They are two “divisive figures among the community,” said Ms Levi, who regrets the “stigmatisation” from medical professional unions who she said are unaware of the practices and the scientific research behind naturopathy.

Ms Levi referred to studies from the World Naturopathic Federation, a Toronto-based association, particularly the Health Technology Assessment (HTA), a 754-page book which claims to “provide an evidence-based summary of naturopathic practice and the safety, economics and effectiveness of naturopathic care.”

The Connexion was not immediately able to establish whether the study followed a scientific method or whether it was reviewed by the scientific community.

But doctors said naturopathy could also work as a placebo or Hawthorne effect for some patients, the latter being defined as the “alteration of behaviour by the subjects of a study due to their awareness of being observed.” 

Alternative medicine is controversial in France and the health ministry has banned the use of the term ‘medicine’ when it was not backed by sufficient scientific evidence.

Judges investigated several cases in 2021, including the death of a 44-year-old woman who was paying €1,000 a week for a fasting treatment in a Loire chateau. She was found dead in her room after having drunk no water for several days.

The naturopath who ran the course denied involvement in the death and said the only explanation was her Covid vaccination.

Ms Levi said Omnes is currently writing a text (to be known as the ‘Afnor norm’) calling on the government to officially recognise naturopaths. Omnes hopes that it will bring more standardised regulation to avoid incidents.

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