Philosophy of Physiomedicalism:What is Physiomedicalism?

By Christopher Menzies-Trull

Samuel Thomson [1769-1843] first started the Physiomedical tradition in the USA. He was the first Physiomedicalist to use the vitalistic method of healing. He was a keen observer of the prevailing illnesses of the times and the medical treatments.

He did not agree with the drugs and bloodletting of the day. He contended that a fever was nature’s way of trying to remove disease conditions. Fever was an effect and not a cause of health problems. It was for the Vital force to remove the disease. Thomson maintained the vital force was the true healer and it should be given help to remove the causes of disease.

Central to this concept was the vapour [sweat] bath to support the elimination of impurities which were the cause of the disease. All disease was caused by obstructions of some kind and such obstructions inhibited the Vital force. The Vital force makes a fever to get the tissues to cleanse themselves and then the fever leaves. It is the Vital force which is the true healer. William Cook continued this Vital concept in his writings together with Thurston in 1900 and Priest and Priest in 1982.

An interesting comment was made by Alva Curtis5 in his critique of the orthodox medical profession, ‘Still we must not reject the old because it is old, nor embrace the new because it is new’. The arguments continue unabated with the medical doctors believing they know best with their synthetic drugs, while the herbalist and physiomedicalist argue for the Vital force as healer of the body. Central to physiomedicalism is the Vital force, together with physiomedical philosophy and practice. These three core ingredients form the basis of herbal practice.

Vital Force
The reason why some people appear well and others succumb so easily to minor complaints can be answered quite easily: it is the Vital force which builds up the body and heals it. A lack of Vital force means the tissues are unable to remove waste products and get rid of them from the body tissues.

Dr Joseph Thurston MD wrote “Philosophy of Physiomedicalism” in 1900. He was professor of nervous and mental diseases at the Physiomedical College of Indiana. He stated that the Vital Force is an energy within the cell that is always “resistive, reconstructive and eliminative in its purpose against disease causes.” 1 Therefore your bodily cells will always try to heal you by removing the causes of disease. When the vital energy is unable to remove the illness, disease with acute or chronic symptoms will eventually result. The Vital force can be enhanced and made stronger and one remedy for this is chilli pepper (Capsicum minimum). Chilli is a strong stimulant and useful for long- standing complaints because it provides energy to heal.

A warming herb and spice, chilli pepper is used in curry sauces. Research into chilli has proven it stimulates prostaglandins: these are chemical messengers. Chilli is warming to the circulation and is often found in liniments and plasters to ease rheumatic pain as it has been found to be a very good pain reliever. We are indebted to Samuel Thomson from New Hampshire, who in 1831 published “Botanic Family Physician.” Thomson was granted six patents for his remarkable healing herbs; one of these was for chilli pepper and it was used to increase the internal heat and remove obstructive conditions.

These herbs sold all over the country and saved many lives where the doctors were losing patients. Thomson was a hero. His colleague Dr Coffin was despatched to England with gusto. He taught Thomson’s methods in England, using the steam vapour baths and chilli medicine to push through the circulation and remove disease. He was so successful that herbalists to this day still use his famous “Composition Essence” - a very hot and vitally stimulating medicine for colds, sluggish conditions and weak digestion.

Historical Physiomedicalism
While herbalists in the UK today use Physiomedicalism in their practices we owe a great debt to the early American Physiomedical pioneers: Thomson [1831], Coffin [1840], Curtis [1842], Beach [1844], Scudder [1870], Skelton [1870], Greer [1897], Thurston [1900], Cook [1916], Lyle [1932] and more recently, from England, Priest and Priest [1983]. Most of the Physiomedicalists were medical doctors. However, these enlightened men believed the body was to be treated in a natural manner with hydrotherapy [water therapy], nutrition and herbs as medicines. The regular doctors only believed in more crude drugs and treatments like opium, calomel and mercury together with leeches and blood-letting.

The Physiomedicalists trusted in the power of nature to heal the body. Indeed the body will heal itself if given the chance to do so: a cut heals on its own; a fever is produced to clear the body of impurities, and inflammation is a way to remove pathogenic bugs. The Vital force directs the healing engine into action and this activity is often very powerful. This is where symptoms come from and the symptoms show a live body. The pioneers of Physiomedicalism proved that supporting the Vital force and not suppressing it with synthetic drugs was the best way to heal a diseased body. The regular allopathic doctors of the times did not agree with the Physiomedical approach and closed many of the clinics and hospitals down. Cook stated in 1869 that the allopath’s failures were due to “false and untenable pathology.” 2 Thurston maintained in 1900 that “a complete revolution in the pathology and treatment of disease is required.” 3

Chronic Disease
Long term symptoms cause misery for the sufferer and this is where herbal medicines can help ease suffering. I will give you a few of nature’s healers in just a moment. To understand the healing properties of herbs, we need to look at how herbs direct their energy to the causes of the disease. The cause of disease is often found in a constitutional weakness. A constitutional health problem might have come from our grandparents or parents through their genes. For example, you may know that high blood pressure can run in families, so can depression, heart trouble, high cholesterol, thyroid trouble, arthritis, diabetes, asthma and epilepsy. When a condition has a familial tendency, herbs can offer some improvement even if they cannot completely cure the condition.

Herbs acting as tonics such as Agrimony, Betony, Gentian, Vervain and Geranium are often prescribed by the herbalist. The body uses the herbs to strengthen the tissue and it does this by toning that tissue that has become sluggish or atonic. Starting with the digestion, the stomach and intestine take up nutrients and these are carried to the cells to feed them. The constitutional make-up of an individual is determined by the personality and the strength of the bodily organs. Disease conditions such as bronchitis, tuberculosis or infections can damage organs and this can leave the organ in a weak state. It may also be that the weak organ can predispose to the infection or allow the organ to become inflamed or congested. With any weak organ, one is more susceptible to recurrent illness, and also to illness that will not completely heal up. Such weakness in an organ can often be healed over time. Herbs can alter the structure of the tissues and the organs, clear infection and inflammation. Once this is achieved the whole body benefits and is strengthened.

Now to the herbs used to tone you up: Agrimony is an ancient herb talked about by Culpeper4 where he states the herb ‘cleanses the liver’. Today we use Agrimony to support the liver because this organ has a major role in detoxification and cleansing of bodily waste. When the liver goes wrong it can aggravate many other conditions such as chronic catarrh, acidity build-up, depression, cholesterol disturbance and many others. This happens because the impurities that the liver should neutralise cannot be sufficiently broken down and tend to accumulate in the tissue fluid. Once they accumulate they become inflammation producers which cause further damage.

When depression makes one feel low and sad, Betony is a great tonic for the brain and mind; its gentle action is suitable for tension states. It has a secondary action on the liver as well as removing impurities that may cause one to feel despondent. Gentian helps the stomach to absorb food and is a good addition to other tonics. Gentian helps the liver, stomach glands and re-balances stomach acid. Vervain is bitter and works on the liver and the nerves when there is depression or if the liver and gall bladder need support. Geranium is a tonic to the intestine and may be used if there is diarrhoea or wind. Patience is needed with chronic conditions as the herbs need time to work their magic. You will be amazed at the improvement in your health.

1 Dr Joseph Thurston MD, Philosophy of Physiomedicalism, 1900, p15
2 Cook, Science and Practice of Medicine, 1869, p47
3 Dr Joseph Thurston MD, Philosophy of Physiomedicalism, 1900, p16
4 Culpeper N, Culpepers Complete Herbal, 1995 p5
5 Curtis A, Allopathy verses Physiomedicalism, 1870 p8

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