‘Disease Process’ ! Do these words conjure up some kind of malign activity in your body?
Read on for an article by Scottish homoeopath and highly-respected author Margaret Roy. She has written a number of excellent text-books and I’m fortunate to have persuaded her to contribute the article below on the Disease Process to this site.
Please note: this page forms no part of Chinese medicine theory! But it certainly helps me consider in which direction a patient’s health is heading.
There are similarities between the Homoeopathic view of the constitutional remedy and 5 Element Theory as taught by Jack Worsley.
Disease! Something is ‘Wrong!’
Disease: something is wrong!
Dis-ease: we feel something is wrong.
In our modern Western world disease is often seen as a phenomenon that attacks us, and of which we are victims.
Let us look at this more closely.
When we are ill, one of two things has occurred. Externally, our being may indeed be overwhelmed by a detrimental “Other” – I am choosing my words carefully because the phenomena may indeed have a life!
For example this ‘other’ might be in the form of
an angry boss
an unpleasant neighbour
being shot at
A Homoeopath would look at these external factors in two ways.
Are we overwhelmed by their intensity, so anyone might succumb to them, or
Is this individual particularly sensitive to this cause?
The first situation is a truly Maintaining Cause when recovery entails removing the cause and clearing up the damage.
The ‘Exciting’ Cause
The second is a totally different kettle of fish that involves an individual response due to an inherent susceptibility. This the Homoeopath calls an Exciting Cause.
This exciting cause is not quite the same as an allergy, but is often confused with such in modern parlance.
The Homoeopath would go much further to talk about constitutional types such as
‘my family is prone to heart disease’, or
my genetic predisposition shows I might be more susceptible to excess heat than to excess cold or
I may not be able to walk as far as you without getting breathless
Constitutions give rise to weaknesses that the Homoeopath calls Susceptibility. However, we are not always susceptible: my indisposition may depend on the ferocity of the exciting cause (e.g. intense heat) or my health at the time of exposure.
In other words, I may have inherited the family constitution but that does not mean I will definitely have heart problems. My starting point may be different from father’s because I am fitter and I have looked after myself well.
However, the body I have inherited still has that constitutional bias, in this case to heart disease.
The Disease Process – a Map
The Disease Process is like a map …
… of where I have got to, of how this constitution is affecting me and how my body is dealing with it.
The disease process is akin to the ageing process, when naturally we become more frail over time. This is not least because we have gathered the effects of a thousand vicissitudes that have weakened our most vulnerable organs and functions.
A bit more on the Constitution
Despite my constitution, I do not have to be ill!
I can live healthily by paying attention to the five pillars of health:
… food (for information about the Chinese medical attitude to food, see Nutrition)
… quality water
… sleep (for how Chinese medicine might approach poor sleep, read up on Insomnia)
I am using the word ‘good’ which is a value judgement because what is good for me may not be good for you. We are each unique which means we each need to explore and get to know our body and its needs. And we must not forget the mental and emotional component.
The old Naturopaths saw only two causes of disease –
‘afflictions of the Soul’ and
Above is the Chinese hieroglyph for Stress.
Afflictions of the Soul may refer to anger, grief . . .
… or in our modern world, STRESS.
And, constipation is not just a problem of the bowels. Constipation here is a much more general term to refer to how the body deals with the results of catabolism; waste products are produced all over the body in each cell.
Is everything flowing, or are there areas of stagnation? Where and how things stagnate comes back to constitution.
For example, if we have accumulated excess fat, where is it stuck? Your fatty areas may be different from mine. Some people collect uric acid deposits so they have a gouty nature. We are all different.
Some products of catabolism become poisonous. Exactly what kind of poisons may depend on the constitutional type, or the stage of the disease process.
Gouty deposits may be put out to the joints as far away from the internal organs as possible.
There may be red gravel in the urine, even stones in the kidneys.
Further degeneration may produce the foulest smelling brown urine that haunts your nostrils for days after your visit to that patient.
The inherited constitution occurs at different levels of health.
Whilst Grandfather’s heart disease did not appear until his 80’s, father’s heart disease might have appeared in his 60’s.
It may be father’s was brought on earlier because he was a heavy smoker.
Or, it may be the other way round.
So, although we have a constitution, our health may depend on what we do with it.
The constitution is a pattern of weakness which means our health degenerates as we age, depending on how we look after ourselves.Ageing is a natural part of life so we have less energy as we age and this means there is a natural degeneration in health.
Consequently, our weaknesses come more to the fore as we age and have less energy, or as life’s vicissitudes impinge to steal our energy.
The Homoeopath calls this the degeneration of the miasm where miasm equals constitution. The homoeopath sees the miasm as a warp where the being is off-centre and like a spinning top MUST degenerate when not balanced in the centre. Whilst good habits will preserve us, they cannot correct the underlying warp. And . . .
… the constitution is inherited at whatever stage it reached in the parent, then continues to degenerate from that point.
In my youth runny nose and tonsillitis were common but by the time I got into practice we were looking at otitis media as a common ailment of childhood. Occasionally there was a wheezy bronchitis.
Then wheezy bronchitis became ‘asthma’ which is now a common affliction in children: the disease process reaching deeper.
In several family studies of Hay Fever (see my book Homoeopathic Case Analysis Lesson 8), I was able to show that the mother’s Hay Fever was ‘classic’.
In other words, she had watery eyes and runny nose with sneezing, but only at the start of the summer in June.
Her children, however. had multiple attacks from slight causes and they spread throughout the summer.
In several families I observed this change ie from the single acute with a clear exciting cause, to recurrent acutes.
An acute to the Homoeopath is a self-limiting illness. Later, in more degenerated cases, further down the family line, the self-limiting factor is greatly prolonged.
The constitution is the balance reached by the organism to preserve it as much as possible from the destructive nature of the warp.
When, for whatever reason, the balance is disturbed, the process of degeneration becomes active and now we have extant dis-ease. Correcting this disease is not the same as correcting the miasm, or constitution. As the disease process progresses, our treatment is to return it to the point of balance.
For example in the case above, the improved health of the children was indicated when they returned to the stage of the single acute, in the first instance.
Yes, the miasm, with its underlying susceptibility, can be tackled but that is a different and more profound process. The aim of homoeopathic constitutional treatment is indeed to return the miasm to a previous level of expression, even beyond and ‘better’ than the parents’ level.
More recently-acquired miasms are common as a result of constant exposure to chemicals alien to the body (e.g. in food, water, drugs, pollution).
They CAN be eradicated but today’s people have come a very long way down the line so it may be only possible to reach a different earlier level in each generation.
Relationship between the Acute and the Miasm in the Disease Process
To the Homoeopath the ‘miasm’, or constitutional pattern is called Chronic Disease. As the term implies, we have patterns of ill-health, not just a predisposition to produce illness of a specific type depending on our ancestors.
This predisposition has been acquired as an attempt to contain the ancestor’s disease, a damage limitation exercise by the organism.
Acute diseases such as Scarlet Fever or Measles have – in brief – a process of fever, then spots that reach the skin. We may count the intensity of the illness by how many spots appear but it is seldom the spots that cause the damage: in particular, it is high fever that kills.
However, high fever, bringing in the action of the Eosinophils in the blood, is the body’s first line of defence. It is like climbing a hill – we need to get to the top to get down the other side.
Alas, some die in the process of getting to the top and yet others don’t make it to the top but are left with compromises. Most of my generation recovered from measles with little lasting effect. But measles killed tens of thousands of indigenous populations in countries to which white Europeans migrated and then colonised.
When it leaves damage, it may be the sight or the hearing that is affected.
In more complicated diseases such as Tuberculosis, the afflicted parent may pass on to the offspring a weakened constitution in the form of a predisposition to respiratory problems.
The vitality of youth may cope with the disease but still be afflicted by weakness in the lungs and prone to colds, or even bronchitis, later in life. These are all common patterns found in over 100 years of homoeopathic cases.
From the above we can discern a principle in the disease process.
Chronic disease arises as an adaptation to acute illness, so can only be fully cured when the organism can once again externalise the acute factor.
Thus a few days after homoeopathic constitutional treatment, it is common for the patient to produce an acute illness.
Needless-to-say, we do not approach constitutional treatment lightly and need to learn to use our homoeopathic remedy potencies wisely to control the intensity of the expression of the disease.
Homoeopaths talk of raising the vitality of the organism in the disease process.
With a strong vitality the individual is less likely to be affected by the exciting cause and may stave off the effects of maintaining causes for much longer.
In the case of Hay Fever mentioned above, it was recurrent in the children because they had less vitality than the adult, so could not throw it off so well. The self-limiting acute is an indication of the strength of the immune system.
Identifying the Disease in the Disease process
The main problem that arises in treating long-term health issues is to identify whether one is treating the disease process or the miasm.
At one time we could say that in children it was always the miasm, because as children they had not had a long enough life to accumulate much debris. Unfortunately that is no longer the case nowadays.
With older patients, it is possible to trace the degeneration of health which gives an idea of their vitality and the efficiency of their immune system.
In the first instance it is necessary to identify the results of the maintaining cause that will cloud the symptom picture.
Much can be done by eliminating the maintaining causes, with good diet and appropriate exercise.
The skill of the homoeopath comes in reversing the process, supporting the organ or system and subtly guiding it towards correct function, and possibly even structure, and this is done through eliminative acutes.
It is a complicated business that is different for each patient, and in this day and age few patients are willing and some patients are less able to go through with it.
We come back full circle. The Homoeopath’s view of disease is very different from that of most doctors.
To the Homoeopath there is only ONE DISEASE, the inability to maintain health.
Every symptom is linked into a pattern – from headache, constipation, menstrual pain and spots, all are one pattern. The most effective way to combat disease is to use the body’s own defence mechanisms, not to suppress them.
The above is Margaret Roy‘s contribution on the Disease Process. I am very grateful for her support. Jonathan Clogstoun-Willmott
Click Suppression to read more about this important subject.
Understanding how it affects the disease process, after you’ve read this page, may make you a little more cautious about using allopathic or Over-the-Counter (OTC) medication when not strictly necessary!
Such medicines often drive the disease process deeper, which is not what you want, if you seek good health.