The body is not a war zone.

(This is the second post in a series on herbal philosophy. The first post was The body is an ecosystem.)

In a comment to my post on flu care, Persephone asked me to explain what I meant when I said “I’m not a big fan of the body-as-battleground theory of disease.”

The body-as-battleground theory of disease goes something like this:

The forces of evil (disease) have invaded the body. The forces of good (medicine) shall enter the body and conquer the forces of evil.

This theory sees the body as passive: it’s a battleground in a cosmic war between good and evil—a piece of territory rather than a dynamic, living organism. This theory does not respect the body’s innate vitality and intelligence. This theory doesn’t know the body is an ecosystem. This theory is ridiculous.

The debate between body-as-ecosystem and body-as-battleground has been going on for a long time. In the 19th century, Antoine Béchamp and Louis Pasteur squared off over whether the primary cause of disease could be found in the ecology of the body itself or in microbial “invaders.” Pasteur’s microbes carried the day, and medicine is still feeling the effects.

Sure, microbes are interesting. They certainly play a role in the development of some diseases. But they are in no way the whole story. Exposed to the same microbes, some people get sick and some people don’t. Every ecosystem is different.

It’s a question of science getting ahead of itself: “Wow, look at these bad little critters that make people sick. If we just kill them all, everything will be better again.” Um, no. Wrong approach. Think antibiotic resistance. Think superbugs.

The story of humans and microbes is fascinatingly complex. It turns out we’re covered with them, inside and out. And it turns out we depend on them—to protect us from infection, to manufacture nutrients, to train our immune systems . . . sure sounds like an ecosystem to me.

Next in this series:
Pitfalls in modern medicine: the body-as-battleground theory in practice.

And coming soon:
Traditional foods: millet polenta.


  1. darcey blue said,

    February 12, 2007 @ 10:06 pm

    Isn’t Vitalism wonderful! Thanks for posting on this today. It’s astounding to me how many “natural” healers are still using that model of body as battleground in their healing practices, and just today wrote a bit of a rant on it in my own blog. Commercial herbal preparations are right up there with pharmacueticals to some degree in seeing and creating remedies that support the supression of symptoms and ‘killing the invaders” as healing. Not in my book, and clearly not in yours! Bravo!

  2. The Herbwife’s Kitchen » The body is an ecosystem. said,

    February 16, 2007 @ 5:44 pm

    […] Next in this series: The body is not a war zone. […]

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