Respecting human ecology.

(This is the fourth post in a series on my herbal philosophy. The first three posts were The body is an ecosystem, The body is not a war zone and Escaping the body-as-battleground trap.)

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.

Right. That kind of Puritanism is just as silly as the body-as-battleground business. Same trap, different language. Here are the problems:

False assumptions. Bodies can’t be separated from their environments any more than body systems can be separated from each other. The skin is a permeable membrane, not a brick wall. Human beings are part of larger living ecosystems, and any model of health that tries to separate us from our surroundings just won’t work.

Disrespect. Human beings are vital and resilient ecosystems, not piles of dirty laundry. Human ecosystems have finely adapted detoxification and repair systems that should be respected and supported rather than bypassed and abused by “colon cleanses,” “liver flushes” and other such nonsense.

Rigidity. Puritanism is just not helpful. Sure, sugar (for example) isn’t good for you. But feeling superior and repressed because you didn’t eat any birthday cake is likely worse. Emotions are a part of your ecosystem. Culture is a part of your ecosystem. Sometimes it’s okay to eat birthday cake, sometimes it isn’t. Pay attention and you’ll know the difference.

An herbal practice that respects human bodies doesn’t try to “purify” them or take them out of ecological context. A truly vitalist herbal practice pays close attention to each human ecosystem and works to support its innate intelligence and adaptive capacity. A truly vitalist herbal practice works with, rather than against, human ecology.

Next in this series: My herbal philosophy is very simple.

(And I swear that millet polenta post is on the way—it’s just that it’s evolved into a whole series of posts on grains.)

6 Comments »

  1. Henriette said,

    February 28, 2007 @ 5:58 am

    Lovely. I couldn’t agree more.

  2. darcey said,

    February 28, 2007 @ 10:25 am

    Hear hear!
    Great post!

  3. Persephone said,

    March 1, 2007 @ 11:54 am

    You said: “Sure, sugar (for example) isn’t good for you. But feeling superior and repressed because you didn’t eat any birthday cake is likely worse. Emotions are a part of your ecosystem. Culture is a part of your ecosystem. Sometimes it’s okay to eat birthday cake, sometimes it isn’t. Pay attention and you’ll know the difference.”

    I think that’s EXACTLY what grates on my nerves about my “natural” minded friends! You put it so concisely. I’ll eat the birthday cake, in balance, and they won’t, and look down on me. Arg. Some things are good for the soul.

    I’m really loving this series. And I’m looking forward to your series on grains as well, since I’m in a place right now where I feel grains aren’t good for me, which is the opposite of what I’ve believed for a long time.

  4. Gillian said,

    March 1, 2007 @ 7:40 pm

    I’m wondering what you think about heavy metal testing a chelation treatment if the levels are high. I have a friend who want to concieve but did this testing first, came up high in led and is know doing chelation to deal with it. I have always had a “the body knows how to detoxify itself” philosphy but her take was that we are subject to lots more “crap” now then our body is designed to deal with.

    Thoughts?

  5. crabappleherbs said,

    March 2, 2007 @ 3:00 pm

    The fact that we are subject to lots of toxic crap means that we need to support our bodies’ detoxification systems. But it doesn’t necessarily mean we need to bypass them. I am leery of “chelation therapy” because there are a lot of less-than-savory people/companies promoting all sorts of weird versions of it, some safe, some not-so-safe. Elevated blood lead levels are definitely a concern, especially for someone who wants to conceive. (It’s possible that proper, professionally-supervised chelation might be necessary for someone in this position, but only if her lead levels were extremely high. This is not something to undertake lightly, as it is extremely hard on the body.) Where lead is an issue I would definitely want to maintain good nutrition (especially iron, calcium and vitamin d to prevent the accumulation of lead in the bones), and check the environment — is there lead in her water? Lead dust accumulating on windowsills? Lead paint on floors? All these are common causes of elevated blood lead levels. So I would get rid of the source of poisoning and support her body’s detoxification systems.

  6. The Herbwife’s Kitchen » Paying attention: herbalism from the ground up. said,

    March 7, 2007 @ 10:48 pm

    […] (This is the last post in a series on my herbal philosophy. Previous posts in the series: The body is an ecosystem, The body is not a war zone, Escaping the body-as-battleground trap and Respecting human ecology.) […]

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