Two deaths of people using naturopaths this summer have prompted a warning about the dangers of alternative medicine.
In one case, a 44-year-old woman paying €1,000 a week for a fasting cure at a Loire chateau was found dead in her bedroom after several days without water.
The prefect ordered the closure of the course and a judge from Tours is investigating a possible manslaughter. The naturopath who conducted the course denied any involvement in the death and said the only explanation was her vaccination against Covid.
Participants told French media that they drank only water during the fast and that a man was taken to hospital after he stopped taking medication for his diabetes.
In the other case, the widow of a 41-year-old man who died of testicular cancer filed a complaint against a naturopath who advised her to stop chemotherapy treatments and resort to “natural” treatments such as fasts and purges.
The naturopath faces a Paris court for “illegal practice of medicine and usurpation of the work of a doctor”.
Both cases shed light on the rise of naturopathy, especially during the Covid crisis.
The Interministerial Mission for Vigilance and the Fight against Sectarian Movements (Miviludes) is investigating, indicating that 38% of complaints in 2020 concerned health, including 160 for yoga and meditation. It said pseudotherapists used the Covid crisis to spread anti-system messages about “medical totalitarianism” to people anxious about the health situation.
Naturopathy is currently not regulated in France
Claire Cavelier, spokesperson for the LaFéna federation of eight naturopathic training schools, said: “There is enormous interest in naturopathy at the moment, which has unfortunately attracted many charlatans or aspiring gurus into the field because it there are no regulations in France.
“You could buy a brass plate with your name and ‘Naturopath’ on it today, and be open for business tomorrow.
“Charging €1,000 a week for fasting treatment, or telling people to ignore a doctor’s prescription, is not something a naturopath should do and is an example of the practice of quackery, and could even be classified as leading a cult.”
Naturopathy is recognized as traditional medicine by the World Health Organization and is regulated in Germany, Portugal and Switzerland.
Ms Cavelier would like similar regulations in France, saying ‘cases like the ones we had this summer always slow or reverse the progress we’ve made’.
In the absence of regulations, LaFéna has set up a common core of studies of at least 1,200 hours, each school having its specific fields of study.
Naturopathy is considered a branch of traditional medicine that seeks to establish balance in the body through “natural” means, but unconventional treatments struggle to gain official recognition.
Naturopaths in France are prohibited from making diagnoses or prescribing medication
Instead, they encourage people to undertake treatments such as changing diets, fasting, herbal medicine (using plants, often in herbal teas or tinctures), massages or sports to improve health, and say that diseases can only be understood by looking for the root causes and treating them.
In recent years, many naturopaths have started offering yoga classes as treatments.