Escaping the body-as-battleground trap.

(This is the third post in a series on my herbal philosophy. The first two posts were The body is an ecosystem and The body is not a war zone.)

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 they’re drowning in a sea of microbiological information—they aren’t given the time or space or training to think about “macrobiology” 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)—a common diagnosis these days. It’s a condition that usually involves a person’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 “Your allergy tests came back negative. You’re not allergic to wheat.” And she leaves her doctor’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 “Okay, if wheat makes you feel bad, just don’t eat it,” regardless of test results. But it’s all too common for doctors to rush in with invasive battleground-style treatments where simple ecological changes—lifestyle, diet, stress reduction—would be enough.

And doctors don’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. (Don’t get me started on people who tout echinacea and goldenseal as “herbal antibiotics.”)

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 “support health” rather than “treat disease”? It’s not some legal word game to avoid practicing medicine without a license—it’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 I’m not a big fan of the body-as-temple theory of health.

7 Comments »

  1. jim mcdonald said,

    February 16, 2007 @ 10:49 pm

    > So the disclosure statement my clients sign that says I work with them to
    > “support health” rather than “treat disease”? It’s not some legal word game
    > to avoid practicing medicine without a license—it’s absolutely true. I do not
    > cure anything. Herbs as I use them do not cure anything. Human ecosystems
    > heal themselves.

    Oh so close to my heart true. Very often when I tell folks during consults that I can’t and don’t diagnose or treat disease, they say that they understand, but then suggest that I can “talk straight” to them without worrying that they’ll get me in any trouble. But saying I don’t treat disease is not “code” that I’m using to cover my ass, it’s true. At best, I’m like a matchmaker between plants and people, and am no more the cause of healing than I would be the cause of a couple that I introduced falling in love.

    That’s one of my favorite ways to think about what I do; providing plants and people the possibilty to fall in love…

  2. Kiva Rose said,

    February 16, 2007 @ 10:55 pm

    Great post, Rebecca… you are so right on!

    And Jim, EXACTLY, that’s exactly how i feel: “providing plants and people the possibility to fall in love”

  3. crabappleherbs said,

    February 17, 2007 @ 11:25 am

    Thanks jim and Kiva. This stuff is so important to me, I’m glad to hear it resonates with other people.

  4. Kiva Rose said,

    February 17, 2007 @ 3:35 pm

    And I’m VERY interested in your despelling of the body as a temple myth as well… and then we’ll get to read a full post on just how you see the body, yes? We could definitely use more solid literature on the body as an ecosystem…

    And I love your comments on IBS, having been diagnosed with the very same term several years back… and having discovered that I have a gluten intolerance as well, after having dealt with some NASTY meds that made me significantly worse, what you said really rings very true with me.

  5. Henriette said,

    February 19, 2007 @ 5:22 am

    It’s nice to have things spelled out this clearly. Many thanks!

  6. The Herbwife’s Kitchen » The body is not a war zone. said,

    February 19, 2007 @ 6:07 pm

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

  7. The Herbwife’s Kitchen » Respecting human ecology. said,

    February 27, 2007 @ 2:49 pm

    [...] I said I would write about why I’m not a big fan of the body-as-temple theory of health. This might have been a surprise to some people, because a lot of “natural health” advocates teach this theory. It goes something like this: Your body is your temple. It should be kept pure and holy. Bad health is a result of the desecration of your pure and holy temple by impure and unholy things. Therefore you must constantly purify your body and rigidly avoid everything unholy. [...]

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