Creating Total Health: The Integration of Traditional Concepts and Modern Medicine

When we are young, we don’t consciously think about our health—we just enjoy the inherent vitality that comes with youth. For most of us though, as we age, achieving and maintaining good health comes to the forefront of our consciousness.

The word “health” originates in the words “heal,” “whole,” and “holy,” (in Latin, mederi means to heal and make whole). True health is wholeness of spirit, mind, and body, and involves the preservation within of the spirit and the breath of God.

whole health

In our modern world, disintegration, division, isolation and suffering have become so widespread that as a society we are insensitive to these maladies of spirit. These problems afflict modern medicine, as well. When evaluated by the standards of longer and better quality of life, it’s not clear that our wonder drugs and heroic interventions are benefiting us. There are tools of modern medicine that help people and can even deliver miraculous results, at least in the physical world, yet there are at least as many situations where modern medicine has failed us. It is not uncommon to treat one disease and create another. This begs the question: Are we truly making progress in our quest to heal with modern medicine?

I have always wondered why we are so quick to embrace something new, whether or not it has been proven to truly be of benefit. The motto of “out with the old, and in with the new” has certainly not served us well in medicine. Instead, our trust should be in the practices that centuries of observation have proven are effective for healing, such as traditional herbal medicine, touch (laying on of hands), music, and prayer. We can then determine how modern medicine can compliment and add to these time-honored and valid modalities, rather than replacing them. Sadly, modern medicine places too much emphasis on ego and profits, which takes the focus away from true healing.

Not only does modern medicine separate spirit, mind and body, it separates every part of our physical being, viewing the body as merely a combination of robotic parts. The majority of medical practitioners now are specialists, focusing on a specific organ or body system, and only being concerned with that part and not the whole. This view is severely reductionist, yet completely accepted and even celebrated by modern medicine. Worse yet, the body is viewed as a defective machine, unable to contribute in any way to the journey of moving from disease to health.

I believe that the natural life and the supernatural life have a conformity to each other that must be acknowledged and embraced. For each individual, the body, mind, and spirit are intertwined and governed by an intelligent life force. When confronted with disease, the life force produces specific symptoms in order to heal. Yet we have come to view many of these symptoms as part of the disease, rather than the attempt of the life force to eradicate the disease, and symptoms are treated in ways that often suppress the innate healing process.

Part of the problem—perhaps the root of the problem—is that the modern health care system is first and foremost an industry. We are brainwashed into believing that we are utterly dependent on the technology and drugs it offers for not only all of our medical care, but for the prevention of disease as well. In contrast, traditional herbal medicine has long recognized the existence and importance of the life force, and prescribes herbs that lend a helping hand to this innate body wisdom. In so doing, a partnership of healing is forged, as well as promoting optimal long-term health.

Both Eastern and Western healing traditions have long known that strengthening vitality is the basis for improving health and recovering from illness or injury. Early American herbal systems such as the Eclectic tradition understood this concept as central to healing. As their name implies, the Eclectics encouraged the exploration of every system of medicine, regardless of its origins, to discover and apply the most useful principles for the wellbeing of humanity. The foundation of the Eclectic’s philosophy was the belief that the body has the capacity for self-healing. Called the “Vis conservatrix,” this capacity was variously described as vitality, vital powers, life force and conservative power.

At the turn of the century, John Lloyd wrote the succinct motto that was adopted by the Eclectic physicians: “Sustain the vital forces.” A core belief of Eclectic practitioners was that the most effective therapeutic change is one that accesses and supports the individual’s innate capacity to heal. To support the Vis conservatrix, Eclectic physicians prescribed herbal tonics. These tonics were used to increase vitality, strengthen the body, treat the spirit, and improve longevity.

I came across a good description of a “tonic” in an 1858 text of Dr. John Scudder, an Eclectic physician who was largely responsible for the isolation of botanical tonics. He writes, “We may say in reference to this class of agents, that their use is indicated whenever the system is depressed below its normal level. They act directly in support of the vital force, and not as is the case with stimulants to produce merely nervous excitation; they therefore assist nature in the removal of the disease.”

The Eclectics believed that tonics had an almost universal applicability—whenever the innate healing powers of the body were needed, tonics could be used for support. And, most importantly, they did no harm in the process. When a patient displayed a deficiency of Vis conservatrix, as in general debility or in the debility following an illness, tonics were used to boost the recuperative capacity.

I believe we can best achieve health and vitality by using tonic herbs and adaptogenic formulas to better our health. I have further refined the use of tonics to create six specific categories:

  1. Adaptogens (energy tonics that enhance mitochondrial activity and improve the efficient utilization of oxygen, glucose, fats and proteins)
  2. Endocrine sympathetic enhancing anabolic (Yang) tonics
  3. Endocrine parasympathetic anabolic (Yin) tonics
  4. Organ specific tonics
  5. Blood nourishing tonics
  6. General nutritive tonics

In my experience, rest, health-promoting food, prayer, song, touch and herbal medicine—including herbal tonics—should be the foundational principles of our art and science of healing, instead of technology and drugs. Both technology and drugs can be useful as tools for healing, but in my opinion, they should be complimenting traditional healing lens and tools rather than replacing them.

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5 Replies to “Creating Total Health: The Integration of Traditional Concepts and Modern Medicine”

  1. Donnie; This may be a little before your time, but back in the late 40’s (AD) full orchestras were Jazz instruments. One was Stan Kenton’s band
    He wrote a piece named “The City of Glass” I think it was to be a take off of Stravinski’s “Rights of Spring”, but it was a BOMB. I had it on a 33 rpm long play and listened to it in pieces, finally hearing it all in 4 or 5 tries. But most of the players, i.e.; Vito Musso, Sax, Shelly Mann, drums, and the Elgart bros, trombone Connie Condole (sp) were individuals players beyond anything I’ve heard in the past 25 or 30 yrs. Singers like Peggy Lee, Chriss Conner and others, (You know you’re getting old when you can’t remember beautiful women’s names). I’m in my 82 yr until 3-24, then I fall off the edge of the earth. Your friend, Ray Wallace

  2. Dear Donnie; I sent a message on JAZZ after reading your bio. I just read your posting above. Thank you. It is truly “full of sense”.
    Your friend, Ray Wallace

  3. Donnie,
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom.
    Can you recommend a knowledgeable health practioner in the Portland area who follows these principles and practices accordingly?

    1. Hi Lori – Yes, Susan Saccomano is based out of Portland and works for my clinic, the Mederi Centre for Natural Healing. You can contact us to learn more at 541.488.3133 or read more about her on our website ( Thanks for reaching out.

  4. Lets imagine you fall down the steps. You need technology to find out if a bone is broken. If you don’t find out, you could bear weight on a fractured femur and cause a compound fracture. Now you have greatly multiplied your injury. Or your arteries are clogged 95% you need technology to find this out and prevent a heart attack. I do believe treating one disease can cause another, in some instances what you say is very true. But I don’t think we can forego years of improvement in medicine. We need to work together as your last sentence suggest…complimenting one another. Hand in hand. If you don’t know what is wrong it is hard to treat…we need knowledgable and experienced medical and homeopathic professionsals that have a heart for their clients. You may think they are hard to find but they are out there if you diligently look. The foundational principles of health I believe start with the heart…above all else guard your heart. This is different for every person…but it forces me to look inward. Joy, hope, peace, forgiveness, these heart guarding virtues that the bible explains, prove to be true holistic health.

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