Image: Rei Watanabe
Britt Marie Hermes became a naturopathic doctor because she wanted to help people.“I had had a bad experience with conventional medicine as a teenager, where I had felt pushed out of the system, and had turned to alternative medicine early in my life.” Hermes told me. “I had absolutely gone into naturopathy thinking this alternative system of medicine was a better way to go.”Naturopathy is a form of alternative medicine that primarily uses dietary and herbal remedies to treat patients. But just a few years into her career, she faced a moral dilemma that turned her world upside down and made her reconsider everything she believed in. Four years ago she left that world for good, and has seen committed herself to exposing every dark corner of the industry she once put so much faith in.
Hermes earned her doctor of naturopathy degree from the Bastyr University, an alternative medicine college in Washington and California that’s highly regarded in the naturopathic community. After finishing school in 2011 and completing a residency at a family clinic, Hermes moved to Tucson, Arizona, to be closer to her boyfriend, who would later become her husband. She was thrilled to land a job at a clinic that took a holistic, integrative approach to patient care, offering not only naturopathic medicine but also chiropractic care, acupuncture, and massage therapy.But after Hermes started to question one of the herbal drugs being given to patients, she did some research, and started to discover that the world of naturopathy was not what she hoped it would be. In the span of a few days, Hermes found evidence that naturopathy was rife with problems, and practitioners who would knowingly give patients unapproved drugs, suggest expensive treatments for all kinds of ailments, and put profits over patients.“It was world-crushing,” Hermes said. “I came to the conclusion that naturopathy is rife with unethical practices and undertrained professionals. It was really hard to process.”She made it her mission to learn as much as she could about the underbelly of the naturopathic world, Through this journey, she began sharing what she learned online and calling out examples of unethical behavior in the naturopathic world.
Her blog, Naturopathic Diaries, his gained her a huge following and attracts skeptics as well as staunch believers in alternative medicine. She’s made enemies as well as fans—currently, Hermes is being sued for defamation by an American naturopath, a claim she is vehemently fighting.Hermes’s goal is to shine a light on a largely misunderstood industry, and as one of the most prominent whistleblowers, she has had an outsized impact. Hermes told me prospective students and patients often email her telling her that they were considering naturopathy, but reading her testimonies made them reconsider. She’s helped lawmakers block or overturn laws that would give naturopaths even more authority. In North Dakota, she twice encouraged lawmakers to vote down a bill that would have allowed naturopathic doctors to prescribe pharmaceuticals, perform minor surgery, and practice midwifery. In California, Hermes’s testimony helped to defeat a bill to give naturopaths prescribing rights.“I guess I have become a thorn in the profession’s side,” Hermes said.Along with being a naturopathic whistleblower, Hermes is a PhD candidate at the University of Kiel, in Germany, studying evolutionary genomics and focusing on the skin microbiome, which actually ties back to her initial path to naturopathy.“I’ve always had an interest in inflammatory skin diseases because the bad experience I had with conventional medicine was when I went to a dermatologist for my psoriasis,” Hermes said. “When a PhD opportunity came up to study how our genes might be interacting with our skin microbiome and, to see if it’s possible to manipulate these interactions in a therapeutic function, I felt like I was right where I was always supposed to be.”Humans of the Year is a series about the people building a better future for everyone. Follow along here .