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Nature Cure and the Process of Healing
Jared L. Zeff, ND
According to Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian, the Egyptians were among the healthiest people in the ancient world because, “they purge themselves every month, three days in succession, seeking to preserve health…for they suppose that all diseases to which men are subject proceed from the food they use.” (Garrison, History of Medicine, Fourth Edition, Saunders, 1929.)
Even a cursory examination of Classic Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, Native American Medicine, the ancient medicine of Persia and Greece, and even the monastic medicine of old Europe will demonstrate an emphasis on diet, digestion and life style as the fundamental preservers of health, with the use of botanicals, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, and prayer as mainstays of therapeutic intervention. Upon analysis, one can see a common understanding of the causes of illness and the restoration of health. This understanding developed from the observation of nature, and particularly from observing the natural progress of illness and recovery.
The nature cure movement began as such in 19th century Europe, partly influenced by the writings of the French philosopher, Rousseau, with his cry of “Return to Nature!” as the source of truth and inspiration, health and healing. The formal medicine of Europe at that time was dominated by the misinterpretation of Hippocratic and Galenic medicine of nearly two millennia earlier, which surrogated bleeding, purging and dieresis (usually induced through the use of poisons such as arsenic and mercury) for the natural elimination of disease-causing toxins. There was a common understanding that physicians were the lowest professionals, causing more harm than good. In reaction to this, a medical movement began, not so much as a challenge to orthodoxy, but simply in search of an alternative approach to healing which was truly health giving. This came to be called “nature cure”.
The Foundation of Nature Cure
The foundation of nature cure is based upon the observation that it is the nature of things to heal themselves. We can see this in a piece of land that has been disturbed by earthquake, fire, or human intervention. We see this in a hillside, for example, where, after a disturbing factor disrupts the ground, first the thistles come in. Not only do they begin the process of reestablishing a stabilizing root system, but also their thorns set up a barrier to those who might further disturb the soil. As the thistles grow for a few years and lay down an organic mat, they begin to be replaced by other plants, until the stable ecosystem, which was once there, is reestablished.
So it is with human beings as well. A disturbing factor, or a number of factors, disturbs the stable ecology of the body, and illness occurs as a response or reaction. The illness goes through a more-or-less predictable process, the intention of which is the reestablishment of the normal functioning of the organism. If the disturbing factors persist, we will see a chronic response by the body.
When confronted with illness, the nature-cure physician looks for the factors that are disturbing the normal health, and seeks to remove or moderate them. The illness is seen much as the thistles in the example above. The solution to illness is not simply to remove the “thistles”, but to understand what had caused this natural response. If the thistles are removed prior to changing the conditions that stimulated their presence, we should expect them to recur. Furthermore, any interventions employed by the physician must not add further disturbance, but should be based upon that which is capable of reestablishing the healthy “ecology”.
To do this effectively, such a physician must come to understand the nature of health, and both that which establishes it as well as that which disturbs it. This simple understanding creates a set of instructions for the nature cure physician. Nature cure is a system of medicine one can characterize as “the restoration of health” by following a set of simple principles. Beneath these principles is a set of assumptions, based upon the observation of nature, and particularly the observation of disease and healing. The basic assumption is that nature is benign, ordered, intelligent, and wise. Nature can be trusted. It can be trusted because it is the creating of a wise and loving God.
This can be contrasted with the standard medical approach, which has a different set of fundamental assumptions. Standard medicine is not based upon the study of health, but upon the study of disease. If nature cure is based upon the restoration of health, standard medicine is based upon the diagnosis and treatment of disease. The standard physician determines the specific nature and name of the disease process that ails the patient, and then brings to bear the various tools or weapons which science and experience have provided to eliminate the disease from the body.
The fundamental assumptions of standard medicine seem to be these:
- There are distinct disease entities, which exist separately from the individuality of the patient. Disease entities can be studied. Prognosis, or the prediction of what will happen on a particular disease process, is one of the results of this study. Pathologic mechanism is another result. Disease pathology can be studied and understood without reference to the specific person.
- Disease entities can be identified, thereby understanding the cause of a person’s suffering.
- Disease entities can be removed from the ill person through treatment, or moderated or ameliorated, thereby restoring them to a state of health, or relative health.
- Effective treatment is accomplished through evidence-based use of drugs or surgery.
These assumptions are generally unquestioned in the practice of standard medicine. Applied within the context of modern analytical science they form an elegant paradigm, which has proven quite effective in easing suffering and prolonging life in the 20th, and now the 21st, century. However, it has also revealed a significant weakness in the latter part of this period, which is its failure to heal chronic disease as easily as it once obliterated certain serious infections with the introduction of antibiotics. As we consider the paradigm of nature cure, we may understand the basis of this failure.
The Nature Cure Paradigm
Nature cure has a different paradigm, based upon a different set of assumptions. Nature cure is based upon health restoration rather than disease treatment. We can characterize nature cure with two simple graphic models of illness. Acute illness can generally be characterized like this:
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