How the Body Heals
I recently dealt with a bout of bronchitis. I had all the usual symptoms: cough, congestion, hoarseness, and fever. I slept poorly, was exhausted, and didn’t leave my house or my couch. In short I was pretty miserable for a couple of days and as my girlfriend will attest, I was a horrible patient. But while I was irritable, tired, and often frustrated, this illness gave me a chance to really look at how the body heals and it really is nothing short of amazing.
As a Naturopathic physician, my view of illness and healing is different than that of my conventionally trained colleagues. Illness, as seen from a Naturopathic viewpoint, is a message from the body that something is out of balance. The symptoms that we exhibit are how the body expresses this message. Rather than simply stop the symptoms, Naturopathic doctors seek to understand what the symptoms are telling us. For example, diarrhea is a symptom created by the body to flush out something that is causing digestive imbalance. This could be due to poorly digested food, bacterial imbalance, or even too much Vitamin C. We may not know exactly what is causing the symptom, but we need to look and not just suppress the symptom with a medication or even an herb. By understanding what the symptom means and what is creating it, we can support the body to truly heal.
What makes being a Naturopathic physician difficult at times is that most people expect their doctor to give them something to make their symptoms go away quickly. When they don’t see immediate symptom resolution or when I tell them that it may take a while to truly resolve their health issue, they get discouraged and may never come back. While I understand the desire to be rid of symptoms, true healing often doesn’t occur unless the body can create symptoms, be supported through them, and come out the other side. I have no desire to suppress symptoms. What I am interested in is supporting the body’s innate and powerful ability to heal itself.
What we need then is an understanding of how the body heals. A physician named Constantine Hering, who lived from 1800 – 1880, observed three patterns of healing. These observations are called “Hering’s Laws of Cure.” Dr. Hering observed that (1) Healing progresses from the deepest levels, like vital organs and emotions, to the superficial levels, like the skin. He observed (2) that as healing progresses, symptoms appear and resolve in reverse chronological order to their appearance. In other words, the most recent symptom of a disease picture will resolve first and then earlier symptoms may reappear and resolve until all symptoms are gone. Finally (3) he observed that healing progresses from the upper parts of the body to the lower parts. So for example, joint pain in the neck may resolve, but may move down to the fingers. Knee joint pain may show up next as the finger pain resolves, and so on.
These brilliant observations show us that there is a pattern to the appearance and resolution of symptoms as the body heals. It is predictable and if we pay attention we can see progress, no matter how slight. Has the lung problem you’ve had for many years resolved, but now you have a skin problem? That’s how the body heals. Has your anxiety and fear gotten better, but now you are experiencing digestive upset? Things are moving from deeper to more superficial. It’s all part of the healing process. These symptoms really are telling us something. However, if we simply suppress these messages, nothing is ever resolved. We may feel somewhat better in the short term, but since healing has not occurred, the message will show up again as some other symptom, perhaps more serious than before.
Restoring health is like peeling an onion. There are many layers to get through until we reach the core. It takes patience, perseverance, and a real commitment to see it through to the end. The good news is that our body’s are really incredible. They can and do heal all the time. Often they need some help and some encouragement, but in the end they know what to do to heal. The question is then are we helping it or hindering it?
My commitment as a Naturopathic physician is to help the body heal by supporting it to do what it already knows how to do. It may not be an easy or quick process, but it will be a process that will create lasting results. Learn to see symptoms as your body speaking to you. What is your body trying to tell you? Do you need more sleep? More water? Less sugar? Your body will always give you the direction you need to go. It is always speaking. Are you listening?