Anthroposophic medicine: letting your body work for you
by Linda C. Puig
onventional medicine's obsession with suppressing infectious disease or eradicating it through vaccinations may end up hurting us and our children more than we know, according to Dr. Philip Incao, a medical doctor from Denver.
According to Incao, infectious diseases whether a stomach flu, measles or bronchitis help our bodies to discharge. And this discharge of energy is critical to achieving a necessary balance in the body. Without the discharge, our bodies end up storing and internalizing disease, leading to a greater incidence of chronic disease.
"As long as we think of it as an infection with germs invading us, then that blinds us to the true nature of it," Incao says.
Incao practices what is known as anthroposophic medicine, a form of holistic medicine little known in the United States but far more widely appreciated and used in Europe. Anthroposophic medicine looks at illness as an opportunity for new balance and self development.
Anthroposophic medicine is an extension of conventional Western medicine developed in the 1920s by Dr. Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian scientist, educator, artist and philosopher, in conjunction with European physicians (Steiner also founded Waldorf education). There are about 50 practitioners in the United States, all M.D.s or D.O.s, plus many nurses and adjunctive therapists. In European countries there are thousands of such practitioners, plus several hospitals in Germany and Switzerland devoted exclusively to anthroposophic medicine.
Anthroposophic doctors look at human beings as more than simply mechanical beings: they are bodies with a life force, a soul and a spirit. The doctor's task is "to read the body's signs and symptoms that give an understanding of how, in specific ways, the spirit energy works in the human body," Incao says.
In anthroposophic medicine, health results not from the absence of illness, as in conventional medicine, but from a good balance between the head (which has a cooling, contracting, forming energy) and the body's lower region, which includes most of the internal organs and has a warming, expanding, dissolving energy. Inflammation originates in the lower region; chronic disease, such as cancer, asthma and autoimmune illnesses, originates in the head region.
It is that balance between the tendency to discharge and the tendency to internalize, or store, that must be maintained, Incao says. That's why he advocates against heavy antibiotic use and virtually all vaccinations. Both suppress or repress completely infectious diseases, thereby not allowing the body to discharge. What results is more chronic disease.
At least in part, this is what is behind the nearly four-fold increase since 1960 in the rate of chronic, disabling disease in children under age 17, Incao says. According to statistics from the 1994 National Health Interview Survey, issued from the U.S. Department of Health &Human Services, 6.7 percent of children in 1994 had chronic diseases, up from 1.8 percent in 1960.
Conventional medicine seems to be starting to understand the relationship between inflammation and chronic disease, Incao says, pointing to two recent articles in mainstream scientific journals. A January 1997 Science magazine article posed the question, is asthma an epidemic in the absence of infection? In it, immunologists explored the notion that not exercising the immune system enough may be causing more allergic reactions.
The British medical journal Lancet looked at the hypothesis that Gulf War syndrome came about because of an imbalance between T-helper 1 cells, which are active when infection is present, and T-helper 2 cells, which are active when allergies are present. Gulf War soldiers received numerous vaccinations before going to the region.
Incao, a doctor for more than 25 years, believes that vaccinations are one of today's most urgent and pressing problems.
"I think we're going to harm a whole future generation," he says. "You don't make any child healthy by giving them a vaccination. It's like saying the way to make your garden healthy is to eradicate every single bug."
Similarly, the overuse of antibiotics can have a devastating effect on our health, Incao says, because they suppress the body's attempt to discharge. He gives the example of a smoker who quits and gets bronchitis. This is a natural reaction of the body, no longer burdened by constant smoke, to rid itself of the accumulated tar and other junk in the lungs. Antibiotics would suppress that reaction. The remedies used in anthroposophic medicine, extensions of homeopathic remedies, assist in the healing process by helping the immune system to digest, dissolve and discharge from the body anything foreign (such as tobacco tar, parasites or cancer cells) that disturbs the body's healthy balance.
As a culture, we have become afraid of this healing response to illness. It is this fear which drives the medical industry today fear, and absolute trust in the authority of doctors that leads us to not think for ourselves.
Of course, there are appropriate times to give antibiotics, Incao says. It is not the goal of anthroposophic medicine to ignore any of the Western medical advances of the past century. Rather, it seeks to combine ancient medical and spiritual wisdom with a modern rational, logical thinking approach.
This kind of approach finally makes it possible to understand such things as spontaneous remission, or the "placebo effect," or how homeopathy works.
"We want to use the same logical, rational thinking and fill it out with spiritual content," Incao says.