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Early Healers


The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates was the founding father of natural medicine. Hippocrates taught that the first and foremost principle of medicine must be to respect and support nature's healing force which inhabits each living organism and animates all of nature..

Hippocrates (c. 460-377 BC)

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates was the founding father of natural medicine. Hippocrates taught that the first and foremost principle of medicine must be to respect and support nature's healing force which inhabits each living organism and animates all of nature. Respect for a person's natural inner healing power is the basic principle that unites many different natural healing therapies and methods.

Hippocrates was born on the island of Kos around 460 BC. He was the first physician to believe that the body and the mind must be considered as a whole. Hippocrates considered the cause of disease to be undigested residues produced by an unsuitable diet. These residues emitted vapors which passed into the body and produced disease. Many natural health therapists today still benefit from this insight.

Hippocrates taught that nature itself is the first and only true physician. Nature heals; the physician is only the helper of nature. The doctor's job is to support the natural healing force where it has grown weak, making the physician's most difficult task a rather paradoxical one the doctor must learn to do nothing. The doctor must learn to let an illness run its course and wait and see if intervention is necessary. Hippocrates taught that the physician, above all, must ensure that no harm comes to the patient.

The physician must strive to discover the root causes and the mechanisms of illness and health. To understand the true cause of a disease, the doctor must take into account the local symptoms and the state of the whole person, his or her constitution, age, profession, sex, as well as the climate and the time of year. If the underlying cause of an illness is found and corrected, the local symptoms will disappear.

The Hippocratic writings also insist that the patient must take responsibility for his or her own health. Hippocrates recognized that ill health is usually caused by unhealthy living practices which the patient has the power to change. He named listlessness, loss of appetite, irritability, insomnia, and pains as warning signs of imminent illness. A healthy diet, warm baths, sweating, laxatives, sleep, gymnastics and movement in the morning sun are some of the preventive measures Hippocrates suggested. If intervention was unavoidable, a physician could also recommend such treatments as more or less food and liquid, application of cold or warm water, work in alternation with rest, bleeding, oiling, rubbing, kneading, air baths, athletic activities and medicinal herbs.

The Hippocratic oath is still sworn by physicians today. The oath requires the physician to prescribe only beneficial treatments and to refrain from causing harm to patients. According to Hippocrates, not harming a patient meant allowing his or her own natural healing force to do its work. In this sense, many medical practitioners today are committing perjury.

It is misleading to call the natural health movement "alternative medicine" as is often done. Natural medicine is considered the founder of contemporary Western medicine. What we now call modern medicine is actually an aberration, the result of social change at the dawn of industrialization in the eighteenth century. The detrimental effects of modern science and technology on medical practices provoked certain healers to protest and found the natural health movement. But natural health was not born with the natural health movement. It is as old as the teachings of Hippocrates.

Paracelsus (1493-1541)

At the close of the Middle Ages, Paracelsus dared to challenge the orthodox medicine of his day, which, like today, had abandoned the teachings of Hippocrates and become bogged down in superstitious, dogmatic practices. With the dramatic successes he achieved through observation and deduction to discover nature's latent healing powers, Paracelsus revolutionized medicine for centuries.

Born Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim in Switzerland, this courageous genius had the early opportunity to accompany his father, a physician, on his rounds. He learned the value of observation and became acquainted with herbs and medicinal plants. In his university years, Paracelsus appreciated the critical spirit which reigned in Ferrara, Italy, compared to the closed-mindedness in universities in other European cities. He was not content to limit himself to academic knowledge. He learned what he could practically from professionals and anyone else who had something to teach him about how to use the latent forces in nature. Due to his healing successes, notably in treating the plague, he began to gather a large following.

After returning to Basle, Switzerland, Paracelsus saved the leg of the rich printer Frobenius from amputation by applying his knowledge of nature's inner healing power. Paracelsus became Basle's official physician and was offered a professorship at the University of Basle. He soon ran into trouble with the authorities due to his blatant criticism of modern medicine. In a dramatic gesture, Paracelsus burned the books of the medical authorities. Within several months he was forced to flee the university and found himself wandering penniless. For the next eight years he lived with friends and worked on his manuscripts. The publication of Die Grosse Wundartzney in 1536 restored his reputation, and his fortune turned once more. Paracelsus became wealthy and was sought after by noblemen and royalty.

Paracelsus attacked the dogmatic belief of modern doctors that the human body is controlled exclusively by the stars and the planets. He insisted upon the right to discover latent powers of nature by daring to use his faculties of observation and imagination. He stressed the healing power of nature, and raged against modern methods, such as wound treatment that prevented natural drainage of bodily fluids.

One of Paracelsus's most important medical discoveries concerned the treatment of syphilis. He maintained that syphilis could be treated with carefully measured doses of poison mercury compounds taken internally. This contradicted all medical opinion of the day, but he was proven right. Paracelsus was the first to show that, if given in small doses, the cause of an illness also cures it. This discovery was an anticipation of the modern practice of homeopathy. In the summer of 1534, Paracelsus cured many people in the plague-infested town of Stertzing by applying the same principle.

Paracelsus was particularly interested in the role earth elements metals and minerals played in the human body. He was the first to connect goiter with lead in drinking water. He correctly maintained that miner's disease (silicosis) resulted from inhaling metal vapors. Doctors and clerics at the time maintained that miner's disease was a punishment for sins.

Paracelsus has gone down in history as the first physician to combine chemistry with medicine. He freed natural medicine from superstition. However, he never lost respect for nature's ways. His mission was to release nature's hidden powers. He believed there was a natural remedy for illnesses, and that it was humanity's responsibility to find it. Paracelsus's emphasis on science, rather than superstition, as the basis for medicine began an important ideological shift. Some people argue that this shift has now gone too far modern drug companies use science to justify the development of profitable, but unnatural, pharmaceuticals.



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Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD