Conventional medicine tends to think of the body as a battleground rather than an ecosystem. It takes a divide-and-conquer approach, dissecting the body into little pieces and forgetting how to put them together again.
I have a feeling that a lot of doctors and researchers fall into this trap because theyâ€™re drowning in a sea of microbiological informationâ€”they arenâ€™t given the time or space or training to think about â€œmacrobiologyâ€ or body ecology. So we have a proliferation of gastroenterologists and neurologists and dermatologists and fewer and fewer general practitioners. There really is an immense amount to know about the details of the human body, and specialization makes sense as a way to process those details. But the thing is, health problems are not specialized.
Take Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)â€”a common diagnosis these days. Itâ€™s a condition that usually involves a personâ€™s nutritional status, digestive system, nervous system, immune system and psyche. Say an IBS patient gets violent diarrhea when she eats foods that have wheat in them. Her doctor says â€œYour allergy tests came back negative. Youâ€™re not allergic to wheat.â€ And she leaves her doctorâ€™s office with a prescription for a drug with serious side effects.
Luckily, there are still doctors out there with enough common sense to say â€œOkay, if wheat makes you feel bad, just donâ€™t eat it,â€ regardless of test results. But it’s all too common for doctors to rush in with invasive battleground-style treatments where simple ecological changesâ€”lifestyle, diet, stress reductionâ€”would be enough.
And doctors donâ€™t have a monopoly on the body-as-battleground theory of disease either. There are plenty of herbalists and herbal salespeople out there who use plants with the same mindset. (Donâ€™t get me started on people who tout echinacea and goldenseal as â€œherbal antibiotics.â€)
As an herbalist, I work on the assumption that the body is a vital, resilient ecosystem. Everything I suggest to people is intended to support and revitalize the ecology of their bodies. So the disclosure statement my clients sign that says I work with them to â€œsupport healthâ€ rather than â€œtreat diseaseâ€? Itâ€™s not some legal word game to avoid practicing medicine without a licenseâ€”itâ€™s absolutely true.
I do not cure anything. Herbs as I use them do not cure anything.
Human ecosystems heal themselves.
Next in this series: Why Iâ€™m not a big fan of the body-as-temple theory of health.