The Vis Medicatrix Naturae – Vitalism, Evolution, Creation or Homeostasis?
I love the philosophical principles of naturopathic medicine: Treat the Whole, Treat the Cause, Prevention, First Do No Harm, and Doctor as Teacher. I find these concepts easy to discuss with patients, colleagues and my peers in the medical profession.
Then we get to The Vix Medicatrix Naturae, translated The Healing Power of Nature. Opponents of naturopathic medicine have used this philosphical principle to label naturopaths as “vitalists,” a term which many in the scientific field equate with quackery or fraud. I would like to offer multiple interpretations of this principle.
Bastyr University provides the following explanation for the Vis Medicatrix Naturae: “Naturopathic medicine recognizes the body’s inherent ability, which is ordered and intelligent, to heal itself. Naturopathic physicians act to identify and remove obstacles to recovery, and to facilitate and augment this healing ability.”
In this definition there is no mention of the concept of vitalism, despite the use of the term by many who are antagonistic to naturopathic medicine. Vitalism, as defined by Merriam Webster dictionary is “1. a doctrine that the functions of a living organism are due to a vital principle distinct from physicochemical forces 2. a doctrine that the processes of life are not explicable by the laws of physics and chemistry alone and that life is in some part self-determining.” Vitalism is a theory which forms the foundation of many branches of traditional and alternative medical approaches (for example, the concept of “qi” in Traditional Chinese Medicine, or the concept of the vital force in Homeopathic medicine).
Bastyr’s definition of the Vis Medicatrix Naturae also provides room for the concepts of evolution or supernatural creation. Creationists can accept the “order” and “intelligence” to be governed by a higher power or deity. Evolutionists can appreciate that much research has shown evolutionary advantages to many nonspecific symptoms like fever and inflammation. The “intelligence” of the human body, to an evolutionist, is simply a result of natural selection that favors organisms that have mechanisms for healing tissues, combating infections, and restoring disrupted processes.
The concept of homeostasis may also be relevant to the discussion of the Healing Power of Nature. All physiologic processes aim to create and maintain homeostasis in the body. The maintenance of homeostasis is a dynamic process, where each change in the body is countered by a “force” which precipitates movement back to equilibrium.
Regardless of philosophical views, the role of the naturopathic physician is to support each individual in their path toward better health. Naturopaths should encourage the self-healing ability of the body by removing barriers to cure and assisting the process for swift recovery.
R.P.M.January 19, 2011 at 10:39 am
Kudos to you for tackling naturopathic philosophy. One thing a group on naturopathic doctors can agree on is that they disagree on the interpretation of these principles! It seems you have presented a middle-of-the-road perspective which may be best.
You have a pleasant writing style so to encourage more feedback, tell us a little bit more about yourself either in a post or in your “About Me” section.
CarrieJanuary 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm
I think of it pretty simply, as homeostasis. I find that when it is explained to patients as such, it is widely accepted, agreed with, and doesn’t turn some people off. Most seem to agree that the body aims to be in balance physiologically and will do the necessary things to accomplish this.