I believe in the healing power of nature.
Some months back, I instinctively reached for a chopping knife as it fell from the kitchen counter. Good reflexes, bad judgment; it lacerated three fingers – badly enough to bleed profusely, but thankfully not to cut any tendons or require stitches. Pressure stopped the bleeding and I applied some anti-bacterial ointment (once), daily band-aids, and kept my hand clean. Within a week it healed on its own, without any medicines, conventional or alternative. Something inside me coordinated the healing and repair, without me even thinking about it, completely involuntarily.
Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, described that “something” as the vis medicatrix naturae – the healing power of nature. It is that same force that helped my wife’s broken leg mend and grow straight when she was a teenager, and my father heal from coronary by-pass surgery last year. Nearly every culture has a name for it — the Chinese call it Chi, in India they refer to it as Prana, the Japanese call it Ki. Present when we are born and gone when we die, this animating force exists in every living plant and animal, including humans.
Its surprising how, 3,000 years after Hippocrates, medicine has few insights into how to harness this powerful, healing force in people. When was the last time you read or heard about a breakthrough in how this energy of life can help maintain health and even cure disease?
Ironically, we have no problem recognizing this phenomenon in nature. The cleanup of large sections of the Hudson River was accomplished, not by adding detergents or other cleansing agents, but by ceasing or limiting the toxic intrusions into the ecosystem. We correctly assume that given time, the natural environment will heal itself. When an animal is listed on the endangered species list, we don’t strengthen it with steroids, medicines or vitamins, nor give fertility drugs to increase their offspring in the wild. We protect their habitat and let nature take its course.
Unfortunately, we apply a different understanding of health and illness to humans as individuals. We treat disease by doing things to our patients with an array of medicines that typically begin with “anti-” – antibiotics, anti-hypertensives, anti-inflammatories, anti-depressants. In many cases, these medicines are necessary, sometimes life-saving; yet, we already have, and should employ the tools to help channel and assist a patient’s intrinsic drive towards health and wellness.
Three leading causes of death, Heart Disease, Stroke and Diabetes, are due largely to environmental factors – poor diet, sedentary lifestyle and, for some, smoking. While pioneering new drugs will prolong and improve quality of life for people suffering from these conditions, millions more can be spared the pain and misery by simply cleaning up our personal and collective ecosystems. These simple to prescribe, yet admittedly challenging, therapeutic lifestyle changes remove obstacles to cure, permitting the vis medicatrix naturae, the healing power of nature to flow freely and help us regain that equilibrium we call health.
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