Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Amen to Aquinas's "Interior Principle"

By Christian Wernstedt

[My paleo journey, which I begun in 2008, didn't only change my health for the better, but also how I was thinking about health and the human body. In 2010, I formed a company to put these ideas into practice. This is a piece that I wrote recently for the blog of my health education- and consultancy company, VitalObjectives. /CW]

One of the realizations that inspired me to start VitalObjectives is that the fundamental problem with mainstream health science and practice is not that people who take their flawed advice tend to fail in the pursuit of lifelong health. A failure that presents the "choice" between a too early death by something like a heart attack, or spending decades in diapers during what should be healthy, vibrant years at the final one third of the natural human lifespan.

These very common outcomes are tragic, and my goal is to avoid this fate myself and to help as many people as possible to do the same.

However, the root of the problem goes much deeper than any specific flawed belief, practice or habit that can be countered by the advocacy of a better diet (such as a species appropriate template like the paleo diet), a better way to exercise, or a better way to reduce stress.

The root of the problem with health today is about flawed philosophical beliefs about what the human body is; how it works; and how one should in principle approach the task of installing health.

Medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas offered the following pearl of health wisdom, which is as relevant today as it was in the 13th Century:

Health, is caused in a sick man, sometimes by an exterior principle, namely, by the medical art; sometimes by an interior principle, as when a man is healed by the force of nature. . . . Just as nature heals a man by alteration, digestion, rejection of the matter that caused the sickness, so does [medical] art. . . . The exterior principle, art, acts not as a primary agent, but as helping the primary agent, which is the interior principle, and by furnishing it with instruments and assistance, of which the interior principle makes use in producing the effect.

Thus the physician strengthens nature, and employs food and medicine, of which nature makes use for the intended end.

Amen to that!

Helping the "interior principle"; in other words helping your body do its job, is precisely what a proper, practical, scientific, and highly effective approach to health is all about.

Furthermore, do not buy into the idea that your genes are defective, or that your body for some unfathomable reason is one that nature and evolution forgot to give the blueprint for vibrant health.

Aquinas believed that God made the body perfect; however no such faith is necessary.

If you have survived for so long as to be able to read this, your body, regardless of whatever health issues that you face today, can be assumed to be an excellent specimen with a strong capacity for life and health. Your body is innocent until proven guilty.

The basic error of most of what passes for health advice today is based on precisely the opposite idea — the idea that our bodies all come with inborn deficiencies: sleeping pill deficiencies, acne cream deficiencies, statin drug deficiencies, appetite control deficiencies, anti-inflammatory drug deficiencies, etc; and that staying healthy is all about fighting the human body's inherent flaws (flaws that somehow have multiplied over the past decades) and of suppressing the body's programmed responses.

[Editor's note: You may have noticed that most pharmaceutical drugs are described as "inhibitors" or "suppressors" — philosophically astute readers may want to call it the Augustinian approach to health, or the-hatred-of-the-body approach.]

I say, with Tomas Aquinas (although he may have phrased it differently): To hell with this tripe!

The proper path to health consists of working with your body, not against it.

The general principle for doing this is simple: Give your body the nourishment that it needs, and find and eliminate stressors that harm or hinder it.

You will be surprised by how practicing this principle across decades will build robust health from the ground up.

Disease and health can not occupy the same space at the same time. When you work alongside your body to install health, disease, dysfunction and premature aging simply have nowhere to go but away.

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