Ecological perspectives

Ecological perspectivesTo be in a state of positive health is to be on good terms with the cosmos."



According to Western thought, humans are meant to command and control Nature. Since Descartes, it has been believed that matter is separate from spirit, and that the physical body, as part of nature, must be subjugated for its own good. Western physicians are taught a "stewardship" view of the body that parallels society's "stewardship" view of nature. It is well-intentioned, yet based on an attitude of separation and domination. This is not to say that Biomedicine (Western Allopathic Medicine) does not have its place. Rather, as we re-evaluate our relationship to the environment, we must necessarily re-evaluate our health care. "The ancient formula of one ill, one pill, one bill, which seems to have been the credo of physicians for many generations should be abandoned.... Disease cannot be understood without an ecological study in depth [that includes] the environment, the host, and the culture." (1) Naturopathic medicine provides some alternative philosophies to Biomedicine. These ecological principles incl ude finding deeper solutions than a technological fix, valuing diversity, accepting human limitations, trusting the Healing Power of Nature, and considering the ecosystem as a whole. Naturopathic medicine in no way has all of the answers. Rather, it puts forward a model that is one step closer to integrating environmental philosophy and health care practice.

Technological Fixes

Biomedical thinking assumes that technology can save us from disease, the way it will save us from environmental pollution. This can create a vicious cycle where we add technological fix to technological fix in order to address side effects from the previous intervention. We give antifungals for a yeast infection subsequent to antibiotic use, the way we develop high tech dump sites for radioactive material generated by nuclear power plants. "We have done to our bodies what we have done to the soil -- used heroic measures to conquer organisms while destroying the natural ecology that has existed in equilibrium for generations." (2) We jump from symptom management to symptom management, failing to address the root causes of ill health in humans and the environment.

Naturopathic medicine, by adhering to the principle "Tolle Causum" / "Treat the Cause," seeks to avoid these technological fixes. Its goal is to identify and treat the root cause, whether it be a toxic lifestyle, toxic psychological environment or toxic physical environment. Its aim is prevention, a well-known theme in the environmental movement. While technological fixes may sometimes be necessary, both Naturopathy and environmentalism ask questions such as, "How did we get here?" and "How may we live in order to be healthy for seven generations?" In practice, however, it is common for Naturopathic doctors to identify root causes but feel unable to take action to remedy them. For example, we suggest a Reverse Osmosis System to purify our patient's water without pressing for stricter pollution and purification laws. It is taking this next step that makes us truly effective in prevention.

A recent example of a Naturopathic doctor who truly "Treats the Cause" is Sat Dharam Kaur. She has developed a program and workbook on Naturopatbic approaches to breast cancer prevention and treatment that includes a large section on the environmental links to breast cancer. She also spearheaded a "Rachel Carson Day" where the public meets annually to protest hormone disrupting chemicals and petition for a safer environment. This combination of individual Naturopathic treatment and community activism to prevent cancer-causing chemicals is a wonderful example of Treating the Root Cause.

Diverse Ways of Knowing

When Descartes separated matter from spirit, the body became a machine rather than something sacred. The body as a machine is a powerful metaphor -- one whereby the body can be "objectively" known through science and technically fixed by a doctor. Out of this came the monoculture of Biomedicine where "signs" (apparently objective indications) are more valid than "symptoms" (the patients' experiences). Taken a step further, signs from a machine are considered even more valid than physical signs that a doctor observes. As a result, Biomedical doctors will often insist that nothing is wrong with a patient if lab results are normal. Biomedicine defers to technical reports rather than trust the physician's ability to hear the patient. We learn to fear all of the invisible and unkds-on physical therapies from America's own heartland -- chiropractic and osteopathy.

The dominant myth of conventional medicine is the almost unbelievable notion that powerful toxic substances are the only valid form of therapy. The result of this has been that prescription drugs used as prescribed are the fourth leading cause of death in the US. Why do we need such powerful drugs? To conquer disease of course. And if we have a really dangerous disease we need really, really toxic drugs so poisons like AZT and thalidomide get pulled out of the trash can. This philosophy is rooted in the post-Enlightenment campaign for the conquest of nature. The evil, inimical force of disease must be squelched by clever priests in crisp, white smocks with a powerful therapeutic "arsenal." This scorched earth policy against "diseases" is also directly responsible for the Hieronymous Bosch nightmare of conventional cancer treatment.

Toxic therapies have played a role in natural medicine as well. Toxic substances have been used traditionally to challenge and activate immune and endocrine resources in patients who possess reserves of energy. But to base an entire medical system on toxic, xenobiotic substances is a type of scientific psychopathy that will denote 20th century medicine for centuries.

Rivalries in Natural Medicine

In its quest for predominance, the mainstream profession had the additional advantage of warring factions among the naturopaths, homeopaths and herbalists willing to lose the marketplace even without a battle. This created the ghetto mentality of the losers fighting among themselves to decide who is the biggest loser. The naturopaths were the inheritors of the homegrown and imported natural medicine traditions of 19th century America. There is little evidence of any change among the naturopathic community since that time. Similar internecine conflicts have plagued the acupuncture and even chiropractic professions, but not as a terminal disease.

Naturopathic medicine claims ancient roots, but the modern era of naturopathy began in the US when the first naturopathic medicine school was founded by Benedict Lust in 1902. Naturopathic medicine is based on time-honored principles such as "first do no harm" (prim um. no nocere), identify and treat the cause, treat the whole person and the idea that prevention is the best cure. The mode of delivery of services is based on the idea of the doctor as a teacher. The most fundamental principle is one of minimum intervention and depending on the power of nature to heal (vis medicatrix naturae). The future of naturopathic medicine will no doubt retain these basic principles but there is room for scientific progress.

Naturopathic medicine consists of lifestyle counseling, nutritional medicine, botanical medicine, homeopathy and manipulation therapies. In an age of scientific progress, however, there is still a baroque feel to naturopathic medicine such that it gives the impression of being a collection of archaic teachings moldering in old libraries. The only recent vitalization of naturopathic medicine has been borrowed glory from mainstream science.

Some factions of naturopathy have embraced the values of conventional medicine and in effect created a nontoxic copy of the prevailing system. This conventional 'medicine in sheep's clothing' uses the mainstream paradigm of treating its inventory of diseases with nontoxic protocols. A standardized inventory of diseases is easy for conventionally trained personnel to understand and is easier to research, but it perpetuates the philosophy of the Patent Medicine era and its primary mythology, belief in the "Magic Bullet." The magic bullet mentality is a subset of the chemical paradigm, the idea that the phenomenon of life is fundamentally a set of complex chemical reactions.