When Keith Jackson limped into the office of a naturopathic doctor, he had nearly lost hope in finding relief for his debilitating arthritis. Conventional medicine had little to offer him: a handful of prescriptions for anti-inflammatory drugs, each fraught with its own side effects and a gloomy long-term prognosis.

"My feet hurt so much I couldn't stand for more than a few minutes," Jackson said. "My toes and fingers were swollen and painful. And I just kept thinking that this can't be happening, I'm only 35-years-old!"

Angry and discouraged, Jackson began to explore other options. "I wasn't ready to accept that I was stuck with this disease for the rest of my life," he said.

Over the next year, Jackson embarked on a "healing crusade," visiting acupuncturists, chiropractors and massage therapists, and sampling dozens of vitamins and herbs.

Although his pain dissipated, Jackson was spending a fortune and still felt the underlying causes of his arthritis were not being addressed.

That's when, at the suggestion of a friend, he agreed to try naturopathy — a science that treats health conditions by using gentle, natural substances and therapies that rely upon the body's innate ability to heal itself.

Under the care of a naturopathic physician, Jackson began a new diet emphasizing nutritious foods and eliminating those that were causing inflammation, along with a regimen of nutritional supplements designed to restore immunity.

Now, at the age of 37, Jackson enjoys excellent health. "I still can't believe how much better I feel," he said. "My naturopath brought so many skills to the table. His treatment regimen really worked, and it's still working."

Just what is naturopathic medicine?

Although naturopathic medicine has been practiced since the late 1800s, its philosophical roots extend back several millennia to the healing traditions of China, Greece and India.

In recent years, increased awareness about the relationship between nutrition, lifestyle and disease has helped popularize this science.

So too have the failings of mainstream medicine. Although naturopathy doesn't have all the answers, so great is its promise that many traditional M.D.s are studying natural therapies.

Practitioners see themselves as teachers and partners, empowering and motivating patients to take responsibility for their health and well being.

"The primary goals of naturopathic medicine are to establish and maintain optimal health and to promote wellness," say Michael Murray and Joseph Pizzorno, authors of the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, and two of the nation's most notable N.D.s (doctor of naturopathic medicine).