The Foundations of Nature Cure

Judith Boice, ND, LAc, FABNO and Kristy L. Anderson, NMD – This is the first in a three-part series exploring several aspects of Nature Cure. This article discusses the fundamental works that create the basis of the subject, as well as closely examining the element air, one of the key elements in the restoration and augmentation of health.

Nature Cure has roots that are as old as life itself. The aim of Nature Cure is to employ the elements – earth, air, fire and water – as well as other naturally occurring substances, right thought and prayer for the restoration of our innate vitality. Vis medicatrix naturae, the indwelling healing power of nature, is what separates us from a table or chair and other inanimate objects. Although they may be “alive” in certain ways (according to the new tenets of physics,) they do not have the ability to restore themselves from injury.

Nature Cure endeavors to discover the natural laws of health and to apply these truths not only to restore health but to build even greater levels of vitality. Nature Cure recognizes the healing power of nature as ordered and intelligent. The role of a Nature Cure physician is to nurture and augment this innate healing intelligence, which in turn lays the foundation for health. Violating these natural laws creates suffering, disease and early death. Discovering and respectfully following nature’s directives restores health and vitality.

The most recent rediscovery and articulation of these ancient principles of healing began in the 19th century with the work of Samuel Thompson in the United States, Vincenz Priessnitz in Austria, Father Sebastian Kneipp and Adolf Just in Germany, Benedict and Louisa Lust in the United States, and into the 20th century with Henry Lindlahr, MD and John Harvey Kellogg, MD. Many other physicians, healers and authors also contributed to the evolution of Nature Cure philosophy and practice.

Of major significance was Emanuel Felke (1856-1926), a physician and healer during the turn of the 20th century and one of the first to combine the homeopathic and naturopathic schools of thought for the complex treatment of the patient. Felke was a Hahnemannian purist and homeopathy was the backbone of his entire method of treating patients. He also subscribed to Clerc’s complex homeopathic formulas and ideas and created his own complex homeopathic formulas. His approach to treatment was always based on humoral pathology, not specific organ pathology, because every pathogen—no matter which organ it is affecting—affects the entire body as a whole unit.
The four humors of the body reach back into Greek philosophy and medicine from the days of Hippocrates and before:

  • Blood represents air
  • Phlegm is the water
  • Yellow bile is the choleric humor and represents fire. It is part of bilirubin produced from the breakdown of red blood cells and is excreted by the liver in the form of bile
  • Black bile is the melancholic humor and represents earth. It is formed from platelets and clotting factors in the blood

Felke, along with many other physicians through the centuries, have used these terms to express disease and health states in the body. It is important to note that this form of medicine and these explanations were formed well before modern medicine, medical technology and the ability to study the body as we can today.

Felke’s theory on disease begins with the concept that foreign substances (i.e. toxins) enter the body and cause a decrease in the humors of the body and this produces the outward symptoms of a given disease state. Felke then developed compositions of simple homeopathic remedies to address the organs undergoing stress and combined these together. He would combine up to 12 single remedies together to treat a given disease manifestation in a patient. Treatment of the whole person was essential to healing—this included the spirit and the soul, not just the physical body.

In today’s integrative medicine, we hear terms such as “functional medicine” or “integrative medicine” and these terms bring us back to this “whole person” treatment approach. Mono-therapy and linear thinking in medicine treat only a symptom picture; they do little to fix the root cause of the disease state and therefore generally do not bring about a resolution to the disease state, but rather just a mitigation of symptoms. This linear approach does not work well on a multifactorial, complex system such as the human body. This is where we start to see long-term, mono-therapy with single molecule medicine fail when addressed to long-term disease states and start to produce unwanted side effects and further damage to other systems in the body. When the whole body is not in balance, it becomes further damaged and the disease state worsens over time.

Felke looked at disease progression as well. Generally pathogens were limited to the outer surface of the body, the skin, or mucous membranes of the respiratory or gastrointestinal tract—the main routes of entry for pathogens. Once the pathogen took hold and a disease state started to progress, the deeper body organs—such as the kidneys, lungs and liver—became affected. Disease states are expressions of the immune system’s natural healing force. Toxins cause a strain on the body and, when this strain becomes too demanding, a disease state ensues. Once this imbalance has been ongoing for an extended period of time, a chronic disease state will set in, with multiple organ systems affected. The approach to healing—from Felke’s point of view as well as that of today’s integrative medicine—is to treat the whole person, as this will most benefit the patient’s disease state.

There are many parallels that we can draw from Felke’s way of thinking and today’s modern integrative medicine approach. Diseases and imbalances in the body that cause stress and—long-term—cause disease states, are brought about by eating improper foods, not sleeping, lack of body movement (i.e. exercise) and introduction of toxins which are not properly excreted on a daily basis. The path to healing is to rebalance the person in all aspects—body, mind and spirit.

Balancing the body begins with proper diet and nutrition. Without the proper diet, we lack the vital nutrients that are the building blocks critical to maintaining health. As with any complex process, without the proper materials, the job does not get done correctly. It is no different with our bodies. Felke’s perspective on treatment was directly in line with the integrative physicians of today; good clean living, exercise, diet, lifestyle and mental clarity with a positive outlook on life and all of its challenges. Almost a hundred years after Felke’s death, we can still take his wisdom and continue to apply it to modern times and disease states. We can learn from our elders and continue to build on the philosophy and treatments that optimally support the body as a whole, bringing balance to all systems within the body and thereby allowing the body to self-regulate and heal the disease processes at work, regardless of what that disease state may be.
Support the body and integrate the governing principle of “body, mind and spirit” in all treatments that you provide your patients. Our systems of medicine—homeopathy, botanical medicine, and allopathic pharmaceutical medicine and nutrients—are not to be used as mono-therapies to attempt to heal a system as complex as the human body, but rather should be used together to find the optimal individualized treatment for each patient and their unique disease state so as to bring about permanent resolution to the imbalance in the system and allow the body to heal.

In 1900 Benedict Lust created a Declaration of Principles that provides a clear foundation for practicing Nature Cure. The first three of these principles include:

  • We believe in the universe and in its laws.
  • We affirm it to be the part of wisdom not to attempt to change those laws, but rather to investigate and obey them.
  • We know that by and through obedience to the laws of nature, we find our only salvation from disease, weakness, poverty and degradation

The key “medicines” of Drugless Healing, according to E. Howard Tunison include air, light, water, food, motion and mind:

AIR

Ventilation
Heating and Humidity (moisture)
Deep Breathing
Air Baths

LIGHT

Sun Baths
Focused Sun Rays (through a lens), used as a cautery or local stimulant

WATER

Water Drinking
Water Applications
Steam Applications
Wet Earth (mud) Applications
Bowel Flushing

FOOD

Fleshless Diets
Food Combinations
Milk Diet
Fletcherism (correct mastication)
Fasting

MOTION

Outdoor Labor (gardening, wood-chopping, etc.)
Physical Culture (gymnastics)
Sports (running, swimming, etc.)
Swedish Movement and Massage
Mechanical Vibration
Osteopathic and Chiropractic
Rest and Relaxation

MIND

Sleep
Suggestion

Why have the tenets of Nature Cure been largely ignored by the medical profession and the general public? According to Henry Lindlahr, MD, in the introduction to his book Nature Cure published in 1913, “One of the reasons why Nature Cure is not more popular with the medical profession and the public is that it is too simple. The average mind is more impressed by the involved and mysterious than by the simple and common-sense. . . . ‘exact science’ reduces complexity and confusion to simplicity and clearness.” In essence, Lindlahr applied Occam’s razor to the principles of medicine.

Air

Air is arguably the most vital nutrient for our immediate survival. We can live weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without breath. The Latin root of the word breath (L. spirare, “to breathe”) shares its origin with the words spirit and inspiration.

Although many of our medical interventions focus on the element oxygen, the air we breathe contains only 21% oxygen. Our bodies maintain a delicate balance between oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Even small variations in this balance can cause major disruptions in physical function. Air, a combination of gasses, is more therapeutic than oxygen alone.

Oxygen is a vital constituent of many biochemical reactions. When oxygen strays outside these carefully ordered biochemical processes, however, it can wreak havoc in the surrounding tissues. To prevent damage, oxygen is carefully escorted through the body and kept in check by a series of anti-oxidant (hydrogen donating) reactions. In this case, too much of a good thing can be quite destructive.

Air, as a combination of elements and gasses, facilitates a range of healing responses.

Deep breathing

Taking slow deep breaths to relax the body is one of the fastest, most effective ways to reduce pain , reduce hot flashes in menopausal women , and improve overall health . Ideally, people are trained in deep breathing, as asking untrained patients to breathe deeply during an acute crisis, e.g. an asthma attack, can actually increase distress.

Air Baths

Largely forgotten among contemporary Nature Cure treatments, air baths stimulate the skin and the circulatory system. The skin is a major organ of excretion, removing up to 50% of the body’s waste. Even without heavy sweating, up to a quart of perspiration moves through the skin every day as “insensible perspiration.”

According to Victor Lindlahr, MD in his book The Natural Way to Health, “The action of the skin can be stimulated by three simple procedures: sunbaths, water applications and airbaths (sic). And, strangely enough, the most imposing results are obtained by the simplest of all, the airbath.”

When exposed to the air, pores in the skin initially contract; then blood vessels dilate bringing blood to the surface to warm the skin and open the pores and capillaries. This increase in circulation stimulates the skin and improves circulation.

Air baths consist of exposing the entire body to fresh air for varying periods of time, from one minute to an hour depending on the skin’s ability to respond and warm itself. The patient’s vitality and overall state of health influence the optimal exposure time. If the air bath chills without reactive warming, the bath will weaken rather than strengthen the body. For frail patients or those with advanced illness, have them vigorously rub with a cotton towel following an air bath.
If unable to disrobe completely, wear light cotton clothing that allows maximum air circulation. A less desirable option is to disrobe and sit or stand before an open window.

The ideal times to take an air bath are early morning or shortly before bed, to encourage deep, restorative sleep.

Air quality

Both indoor and outdoor air quality greatly influence health. Ideally the air surrounding the body is as fresh and free of contaminants as possible. Improved construction methods with tightly sealed, energy-efficient buildings have given rise to “sick building syndrome,” with noxious chemicals off-gassing and staying trapped inside homes and offices.

Thankfully we are discovering ways of restoring even this polluted inside air. Air filters are one viable option for restoring indoor air. Another is growing plants specifically proven to remove noxious elements from the air. Dr. B. C. Wolverton’s book, How to Grow Fresh Air (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1996) offers a wonderful resource with details about the chemicals removed from the air by 50 different houseplants.

A short list of common houseplants and the chemicals they are particularly effective in removing:

  • Boston fern (formaldehyde gas)
  • Areca palm (xylene and toluene)
  • Peace lily (acetone)
  • Lady palm (ammonia)

References

  • Kneipp, Kneipp Water Cure Monthly (1900), 1(11), 193.
  • Tunison, E. Howard. Herald of Health and Naturopath, XXI (9), 371-374. (1916).
  • Franciscan friar William of Ockam was a 14th century logician who developed a principle that came to be known as "Occam's razor." The principle states that among competing hypotheses that predict equally well, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. For scientists, the principle encouraged simplicity in developing theories: "when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better."
  • Busch V, Magerl W, et al. The effect of deep and slow breathing on pain perception, autonomic activity, and mood processing--an experimental study. Pain Med. 2012 Feb;13(2):215-28. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2011.01243.x. Epub 2011 Sep 21.
  • Sood R, Sood A, et al. Paced breathing compared with usual breathing for hot flashes. Menopause. 2013 Feb;20(2):179-84. doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e31826934b6.
  • von Bonin D, Grote V, et al. Adaption of cardio-respiratory balance during day-rest compared to deep sleep--an indicator for quality of life? Psychiatry Res. 2014 Nov 30;219(3):638-44. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2014.06.004. Epub 2014 Jun 9.
  • Khan HM, Ahmed B, et al. Using an ambulatory stress monitoring device to identify relaxation due to untrained deep breathing. Conf Proc IEEE Eng Med Biol Soc. 2013;2013:1744-7. doi: 10.1109/EMBC.2013.6609857.