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Vitalism: An Essential Concept in Medicine

Whether you know it or not, your body has an amazing ability to heal.  The ability of your body to heal is directed by an energy that Naturopathic Physicians call the vital force, or vis medicatrix naturae.  The belief in this force is called vitalism.  It is the philosophy that your body has an innate intelligence that orchestrates healing.  Vitalism has been a historical part of most healing traditions and is often forgotten about in medicine today.  It cannot and should not be disregarded by doctors if we hope to help our patients be healthy.

When thinking about any sort of illness in the body, it is important to remember that the body is intelligent.  Symptoms are the body’s way of communicating that something is out of balance.  If we simply try to make the symptoms go away (suppress them), it can cause further health problems.  A typical example of this is eczema and asthma.  A person with eczema who uses cortisone cream will be suppressing the body’s messages.  As a result, the disease is driven deeper into the body and can become asthma.  Suppressing the symptoms is analogous to putting a piece of duct tape over the check engine light on your car.  It doesn’t alleviate the problem and can cause more problems.  Instead, we must uncover the cause of the check engine light as well as the eczema and address it.   We must honor the body’s messages and find where the imbalance originates from.

Traditional Naturopathic Doctors believe that disease originates from a handful of causes.  Henry Lindlahr (1852-1925) was a doctor who brought Naturopathic Medicine to the United States from Europe.  In his book, titled Nature Cure, he discusses the primary causes of disease.  They are 1) Lowered vitality 2) Abnormal composition of the blood and lymph and 3) The accumulation of waste and poisons in the system.  To translate, if the body doesn’t have the nutrients (vitamins, minerals, fatty acids) it needs to function and there is an accumulation of toxins, disease results.  As well, if your body does not have adequate vitality or strength, you cannot heal as you need to.  Healthcare today needs to be focused on these main principles when evaluating illness.  In addition, Henry Lindhlar lists secondary causes of illness as disrupted structural integrity (muscles, bones, joints), lack of personal responsibility, and violation of a natural environment.

As a Naturopathic Physician, I practice with a focus on these causes of illness.  I check my patients for nutrient deficiencies, help them to detoxify with homeopathy, herbs, diet, and lifestyle, and stimulate their vitality with hydrotherapy, homeopathy, and exercise.   I consider their structural integrity and refer them to appropriate practitioners if needed.   I also discuss mental, emotional, and spiritual health, as these can be major contributors to illness.  Lastly, I help my patients evaluate their lifestyle and how it is hurting or helping their health.

You may be wondering what all this philosophy means for you and your well-being.  While it is always important to seek out medical care to rule out serious conditions, my hope for you is that you consider the vital force when thinking about any illness or symptom in in your body.  It can be challenging to change your frame of thought, but I encourage you to think about the primary and secondary causes of illness.  Are you able to gain intuition regarding the message your body is trying to send you?  It may be easier than you think to tap into and uncover the root cause of your illness.  As well, a Naturopathic Physician or other health practitioner who follows the philosophy of vitalism can be an important part of your journey to health.