One of the truest definitions of health that continues to prove itself over and over again is that when we get sick, our immune system can work thoroughly and efficiently so that the illness comes to a full resolution. In other words, being healthy does not mean that we never get sick (which would assume that at baseline we have some kind of perfection of physiology, and illness is always a deviation from it). That makes for a clean model, but is a very static view. We are more dynamic beings than that. At important times an illness process can actually open the door for us to transform and rebalance. Small children are particularly good at this. When they get stressed or worn down, they quickly show the world that they don't feel well (adults are not quite so honest, and we can hold out a lot longer with supports like caffeine, deadlines, duty, and yes, the fear of finally letting down…). But sick children do what their bodies need: they slow down, they lose their appetite, get a fever, whine and cling, and discharge what they don't need (with a drippy nose, loose stools, a red rash, etc). That process needs a few days, but usually children swiftly turn the corner and build back to a good appetite and full activity–often better balanced than they were before. So an essential part of health is that our body has the flexibility to loosen and shift and change to a new state as needed.
But that doesn't necessarily happen all of the time. It can well be that what begins as an acute illness (sinus congestion or cough) never quite finishes. Instead it lingers on. And this has been made more and more common through the over-use of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, over-the-counter cold and flu medicines. They are designed to stop a process. They help the immediate symptoms fade, but simultaneously blunt the immune system's ability to clear things out. Compare it to how a bone heals, where there is actually a lot of inflammation with breakdown of the broken bone tissue to form a large callous, which is then only gradually sculpted back to a healthy shape. There needs to first be breakdown and inflammation so that something can actually change. Anthroposophic therapies for colds, flu, earache, bronchitis, and sinus infections aren't just trying to stop the process. They are working to guide and support the body in its own transformative process. They do this by supporting and guiding healthy processes of inflammation, through steps like:
- supporting your warmth, not routinely suppressing fever, but working to guide and balance it.
- recommending that you remove caffeine, refined sugar, processed foods, animal protein and alcohol from your diet for a few days.
- pushing a lot of fluids (including horsetail tea), and in the same way, if your digestive system is sluggish or stopped, using dietary and gentle herbal methods to clean it out.
- Anthroposophic remedies like Ferrum phosphoricum, Cinnabar, Pyrite, Eucalyptus, Angelica, Apis/Belladonna; onion, lemon and chamomile compresses all help to guide inflammation through to a good resolution.
When you can support an acute illness through to a full completion, it will help you then stay healthier, longer. This has been seen over and over with recurrent ear infections, bronchitis, and sinusitis. Get sick to get unstuck! We can help you develop a plan and give you the tools to work safely through an inflammation without suppressing it.
This balancing effect of an inflammation has much larger health ramifications as well. There are times when provoking such an (acute) illness can help to heal a chronic illness. Healing traditions like apitherapy (the intentional application of bee stings or bee venom to produce inflammation) or folk remedies like rubbing an arthritic joint with stinging nettle in order to provoke a reaction that “cleans out” what has gotten stuck, work in this way. In related news a recent article in the Washington post described how experimental applications of high doses of the measles vaccine are being investigated to help stimulate the immune system to clear out cancer cells. This is not such a surprise because a basic tenet of anthroposophic medicine is that inflammation and tumor formation are opposite conditions (and creating healthy conditions of warmth in cancer is an essential therapeutic tool). Most of the people who come into our clinic with tumors haven't had a fever or flu for years or even decades. Respecting the roll of acute illness and inflammation keeps us from getting stuck over the long term. Inflammation is an important tool for physiologic cleansing and transformation.