A brief history of health



What is your definition of health?

When asked, many people define health as not being sick. This is usually a very limited definition. You can not actually be sick, but have feelings of sadness or low energy – does this mean you are healthy? Likewise, if someone is on antidepressants, or another type of drug, would they be considered healthy or not?
The body and mind are constantly evolving and in a state of change… and as long, as someone can recover from any sudden change, then we can consider them healthy. For example, a person may develop a bad cold  or feel depressed after losing their jobs. This is OK and can be considered healthy as long as recovering from such events can be done promptly.

Health can be defined as being in a healthy state of balance.

You are an amazing self-rebalancing organism. In fact everybody is and the medical term of this process is called homeostasis. We self-regulate constantly, without thinking. Emotions, trauma, toxins, food and physical activity will influence a myriad of parameters, such as heart rate, blood sugar levels or sweating. It is estimated that there may be more than 10 million processes being constantly re-balanced in our bodies.

If some of these parameters  stay out of balance for too long, then symptoms will start to develop, as our homeostatic capabilities will be stretched. This is when disease arises. Medically, disease is defined as an inability to achieve balance naturally (homeostasis). This is why a health check will monitor a series of metrics, such as heart rate, blood glucose levels and so on.  This will give a picture of our ability to stay in balance.

Two philosophies of treatment – interventionist or holistic

Holistic approaches, such as homeopathy or acupuncture  and modern conventional medicine sometimes appear at loggerheads because their approaches to restoring health or  balance are completely opposite. To restore balance and health, conventional medicine usually uses chemical means to force the patient’s body to get back into correct metrics. Conversely, homeopaths, and other alternative practitioners, will try and understand how an imbalance arose in the first place, and define a strategy to let the body’s vitality (“chi” in acupuncture or “vital force” in homeopathy) to re-balance and sort itself out.
Neither system is better and one may be more relevant at some specific times and under some circumstances and of course depending on the patient. An expert practitioner, either conventional or a homeopath, will understand this and work accordingly with his or her patients’ specific needs. The pros and cons of both approaches are described in the next page

In the West, these differing principles of healing started in Ancient Greece, and to understand them, it is worth talking a bit about History.

Health in the Western World – How it all started

From the beginnings of time, people have tried to reduce death or diseases in a variety of ways, using trials and errors. The use of healing plants began with the hunting and gathering societies which wandered over the globe some 50,000 years ago. The specific cultivation of medicinal plants to treat diseases developed with the advent of agriculture around 5 to 10,000 years ago.
At this time, the healing powers of herbs and plants were probably seen as a mix of two conflicting philosophies. One was the belief that the plants had the ability to eradicate specific disease or symptoms (intervention). The other principle was based on vital force (or vitalism), a concept that disease would only arise in an imbalanced organism/person. Herbs were then used to help to re-balance that person.

Enter Hippocrates

Hippocrates (c. 460-675 BC), is regarded as being the Founding Father of Western Medicine, and he was a major proponent of the Vitalistic approach. He refused to use the Gods to explain illness. He implemented a logical system of  medicine based on understanding what had caused the patient to produce disease or symptoms, and how best to re-balance the vital energies (“humors”) of the sick. He was probably influenced by concepts coming from Black Africa, Egypt and the Chinese systems of healing. Hippocrates focused healing on the patient’s vital energies instead of spiritual or external energy. This is why he stipulated that as a health practitioner, you should “first do no harm”. He and his followers after him, believed in the natural healing powers of the body, and that it was wrong to act against them.
Hippocrates had laid down two key principles of homeopathy: first, that the sick patient was a self-balancing system, which required regulating through the gentlest means possible. He also postulated that the best way to achieve this was by using the Law of Similarity, a principle that a substance that would cause or create similar symptoms could be used to regulate the patient into optimal health
After his death, and in opposition to the Hippocratic school, came the  Cnidians who believed in intervening by prescribing high doses of herbs to relieve the symptoms of a disease, without thorough investigation of the symptoms and their causes. This was easier for the practitioner, as there was no need for a thorough individualised analysis.

The Middle Ages: the mixing of religion and healing

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the monastic centres of Europe kept the vitalistic traditions of medicine alive, and prosecuted anyone who was perceived to use medicine without its consent. With the advent of universities and printing presses in Europe, the dominance of religious centres over medicine started to wane and became more mainstream. A new current of Medicine started in the Renaissance and challenged the Christian’s Church teaching on healing. They started to dissect human bodies and experiment with potent poisons.
Paracelsus (1493 – 1541) became one of the most influential medical teachers of his time. He was a Swiss Renaissance physician and doctor, who re-discovered and took on board most of the vitalistic concepts of Hippocrates away from the Church. In opposition to many of his contemporaries, he was giving diluted doses, and used herbs for their opposite effects on the body: for example, he was commonly prescribing very small doses of Helleborus plants to treat diarrhoea because huge consumption of these plants were known to cause diarrhoea.
Paracelsus set up medical principles and one of his key-principles, still quoted and used today, was that “All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous”. This principle laid the foundations of the biphasic approaches of treatment.

The Renaissance and the schism in healing thoughts

A split began to develop in how healing was practiced during the “age of rationalism”, around the 1700’s. Educated doctors moved away from the vitalistic concepts of medicine. They sought ways to make the herbs & medicine more concentrated. The principle of using herbs or minerals for specific symptoms, without investigating the patient’s individual case became more and more common. It was the heyday of “heroic medicine” and herbs were combined and then replaced with what was seen as more potent substances, such as opium, arsenic or mercury which were of course toxic to people.
Because of increased cases of  poisoning or death of patients, many countries in continental Europe enacted laws that prevented lay people from prescribing or even using herbal medicine. The commercial business of producing and selling herbs started to be also more tightly regulated.

The Beginnings of Homeopathy

Homeopathy emerged during this period, as a reaction to ‘heroic medicine’. It was founded by a group of German medical doctors who became disillusioned with the seriously damaging side-effects of the drugs they were taught to use. They started to study the old texts of medicine and to revive the concepts of vitalism.
However, they also sought to apply a more rigorous and scientific approach to the principles of healing and this was the foundation of Homeopathy.
Samuel Hahnemann (1755 – 1843) is considered the founding father of homeopathy. He was very meticulous and a medical doctor by profession. His aim was to lay down a logical and methodical process of healing, which could be backed by clinical observation. He was strongly influenced by Hippocrates and Paracelsus and laid down principles to use the body’s own vitality as a healing platform – the principles of vitalism.

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Thierry Clerc, MARH, RHom, MSc
Registered Health Practitioner, Cambridge (UK)
Clinical Homeopath, Bioresonance Therapist, Nutritionist