Vitalism looks to what animates life. The cycles of design and function are not just chemical reactions and cycles, as philosophies like the Krebs Cycle theory (chemical reactions used by aerobic organisms to generate energy) would presuppose. The idea of existing chemical reactions is valid in its place, but it does not explain the human elements of, say, our “drive” or passion for learning, or our ability to excel in economics, philosophy or art. Further, these chemical reactions might be a needful component in healing, but they cannot be said to animate life and therefore cannot be the sole means of maintaining it. Neither do they exist autonomous from one another.
Vitalism believes that the body has its own intrinsic, or inherent, healing ability which can and should be engaged for strength and health.
Because design and function is woven into each person’s body, an interval of illness or disease is an interruption in the holistic functioning according to design. Most often, this does not require a pharmaceutical prescription to take over and control the body, or even long term supplements to compensate for what is lacking. Rather, what is needed is for the body to jump-start its natural abilities, or for momentary help from natural or non-natural substances. Following this process of aiding and not controlling the body prevents medication-upon-medication, averts side effects, and contributes to an overall enduring vitality.
Vis Medicatrix Naturae translates as the healing power of nature. Nature can mean different things to different people based on their experiences and perspectives. Nature is neither something to be conquered, nor is it elevated. “Natural laws” prevail: If you do certain things, expected reactions or outcomes will happen. The example from my previous post about cold water on the hand can be seen as a natural reaction or natural law.
The next principle we will discuss is Docere, or doctor as teacher. The idea is not simply your doctor telling you to eat more vegetables, or exercise. I will start with the premise that those and similar concepts are “givens”: basics known by everyone, regardless of how you execute them. Yet, they can still be part of teaching. We all need encouragement to make better choices in life, and explanations of the consequences of ignoring those choices.
Primum non Nocere means First, do no harm. This is a principle that seems to go without saying, yet isn’t as widely practiced as we might assume. No doctor sets out to do harm to a patient. Yet, we discover that harm does occur. There are unintended consequences of many pharmaceutical drugs that can bring about harm. Side effects such as depression and anxiety can bring about self-harm. Even natural remedies, if not prescribed or dosed correctly, can potentially bring about harm.
Tolle Totum or Treat the whole/total person, is another of the principles that seems obvious to most people, and one would assume this is the common approach of most physicians. It is closely associated with the previous principle, “treat the cause”. In actuality, this principle has become contrary to the approach of most medical practitioners.
Tolle Causam, or Treat the Cause, may sound simple, but we seldom follow the logic of this principle. If you have a headache and you take an Advil, was it because you were Advil deficient? Probably not. The headache went away, but only because you stopped the inflammatory cascade that was trying to alert you that something was wrong. There are of course dozens of reason why you may have had a headache, but the lack of Advil was not one of them.
In discussing the six Principles of Naturopathic Medicine, no specific order or hierarchy marks them; but we’ll start with Prevention, because prevention is always a good place to start.
Preventare, or Prevention, asks: What can we do and how can we prevent illness, especially chronic illness, from occurring? I might stretch this a little bit and say that sometimes illness is not preventable; but we can prepare the body in the best ways possible in order to deal with the illness and return to health and vitality quickly.
Have you ever noticed that you don’t feel good after eating certain foods? So, what is going on in the body, and what is causing the uncomfortable reaction? Surprisingly, there are several possibilities, and the way we think or speak about them often becomes confusing, contradictory, or simply incorrect.
The four main reactions are labeled as Intolerance, Allergy, Sensitivity and Lectin Response. When you feel unwell after eating, one of these four things is likely happening. Sometimes we lay the blame on the wrong category--and thereby treat the issue incompletely or incorrectly.
We all talk and think a lot about food, and rightly so. Being a “foodie” has come to be a popular thing; and here in the Pacific Northwest we are gifted with so many farm-to-table and other culinary opportunities. Food is not only essential to nourishment, but it is a fantastic chance to enjoy time with other people. It is required for life, it gives us energy for our daily tasks, and our body spends most of its energy each day digesting food--around sixty percent!