Food & Diet in Health & Disease from Homoeopathic Standpoint

The Science of Therapeutics and Hygiene and Medicine may have their independent spheres with their distinctive laws or each of them might be a part of a still broader generalisation with a synthetic law covering all of them. It is only our Indian Ayurvedic System of Medicine that has succeeded in laying down such a synthetic and integral law which guides its Medicine, Therapeutic and Hygienic practices. With this preamble we will confine ourselves to the problem of diet and regimen as discussed by Hahnemann and his followers like Boenninghausen etc.

Life has been described as “essentially a form of the one Cosmic Energy, a dynamic movement or current of it positive or negative, a constant act or play of the force which builds up forms, energies them by a continued stream of stimulation and maintains them by an unceasing process of disintegration and renewal of their substance.” The most distinctive and fundamental activity of a living organism is its power of assimilation and metabolism i.e., it can take in foreign materials and turn them into its own flesh and blood to preserve and maintain its nutrition and growth.

For this transformative and assimilative function a living body requires a constant supply of materials in the form of food and drink. Hahnemann writes in his epoch making essay “the Medicine of Experience”; The pure aliments of food and drink, taken until hunger and thirst abate, support our strength, by replacing the parts lost in the vital processes, without disturbing the functions of our organs or impairing the health.” The Science of Dietary consists in the discovery of general principles that guide us to select and determine specific articles of food and drink, both qualitatively and quantitatively, in conditions of health and diseases.

It legitimately forms a branch of the wider Science of Hygiene. It is to be borne in mind that Homoeopathy primarily consists in the discovery and application of a Therapeutic Law of Cure in so far as disease conditions are sought to be treated by medicinal drugs. But as according to Hahnemann a complete and ideal physician is “likewise a preserver of health” a practising physician must be one and the same time a therapeutist as well as a Hygienist, employing often therefore, for the same case both specific remedies and various auxiliaries in the form of diet and regimen.

It is also to be borne in mind that unlike the discovery of a Therapeutic Law Hahnemann did not discover any general law concerning Hygiene. He applied his sharp common sense and extremely logical and scientific mind in throwing light on the problems of diet and regimen for persons suffering from acute and chronic diseases. The so – called modern scientific medicine has no science of Therapeutics whatever and as usual with it the Science of Hygiene is also nothing but applied physiology which in its turn is nothing but applied physics and chemistry.

The Science of Therapeutics and Hygiene and Medicine may have their independent spheres with their distinctive laws or each of them might be a part of a still broader generalisation with a synthetic law covering all of them. It is only our Indian Ayurvedic System of Medicine that has succeeded in laying down such a synthetic and integral law which guides its Medicine, Therapeutic and Hygienic practices. With this preamble we will confine ourselves to the problem of diet and regimen as discussed by Hahnemann and his followers like Boenninghausen etc.

Hahnemann distinguishes articles of food from medicines in this way: food is requisite for healthy body and medicines are useful in disease conditions. An ideal food is what contains nutritious, but no irritating medicinal part; an ideal drink is what is either merely diluent or diluent and nutritious at the same time but which contains no medicinal and irritating component parts, such as pure spring water and milk. A medicine may be defined, in general as any substance which is capable of changing or definitely modifying the mode in which any organ or system of the body performs its functions or of changing or modifying the tissues of the body.

In between these two extremes of an article being an ideal food or an ideal medicine there are a multitude of food articles which have medicinal properties and some medicinal objects which have definite food value. We leave out of consideration those articles which serve neither as foods or medicines. There is one more point to note.

We, human beings, at the present stage of our civilization have developed the culinary art to such an extent that the use of many articles e.g. spices etc., have become indispensable in the process of cooking and which serve to add to our taste; and we have become addicted to certain other articles, e.g. tea, coffee, tobacco, snuff, opium, wine etc. which have almost become a part and parcel of our daily routine of diet and regimen. Unfortunately these food accessories and articles of addiction, far from having any food value, do definitely possess medicinal properties viz. power of deranging the healthy state of the living body.

They merely serve to add to taste or provide a temporary feeling of exaltation or well being but in the long run their prolonged use are attended with development of drug – diseases which are certainly prejudicial to health and long life. We can easily abstain from those articles which are purely of medicinal value but difficulty arises when certain items of food, food – accessories or articles of addiction are found to possess medicinal properties but none – the – less indispensable factors of our daily diet and regimen.

The whole problem of right dietetics revolves round the degree of latitude we can allow for indulgence in these articles so that health may not be further impaired in conditions of ill – health. The problem is further complicated by Hahnemanns discovery of the fact that some articles of food or food – accessories which are solely nutritive or merely auxiliary for taste value when taken in moderate quantities and in usual way (i.e. in crude form) are found to exhibit specific medicinal properties when they are administered to healthy being in homoeopathic potencies.

Again some of these articles of diet may exhibit dynamic properties even when they are taken in crude state and hence they might interfere with dynamic actions of drugs selected homoeopathically and administered to a sick individual. Next, some of the aforesaid articles may have antidotal value in relation to some homoeopathic drugs with which a patient happens to be treated.

Lastly, the concurrent use of things of addiction along with homoeopathic medicinal treatment that a patient may undergo for the time being, raises another knotty problem sometimes too difficult to come to a correct decision. All these controversial factors require clarification under discussion relating to diet and regimen from the Homoeopathic point of view. Let us see how Hahnemann and his followers have dealt with these problems.

Hahnemann lays down a general rule to the effect that “in proportion as the substances we call medicines can make the healthy body sick, so are they calculated to remove the abnormal states dangerous to life, which go by the name of diseases. The sole end of medicines consequently is to change the abnormal, the morbid state, that is, to transform it into health. Used by themselves, and when no transform it into health.

Used by themselves, and when no disease is present, they are absolutely hurtful things for health and normal life. Their frequent use as articles of diet deranged the harmonious concordance of our organs, undermines health and shortens life. A wholesome medicine for a healthy individual is contradiction of terms”. So frequent use of medicinal substances of great power as articles of diet is most objectionable.

Of all the food – accessories Hahnemann regards kitchen salt, sugar and vinegar as harmless and suitable for the human body if they are used in moderate quantities. All other accessories, which go by the name of spices etc. and all spirituous and fermented liquors, have some medicinal values – so the more frequently and excessively they are used, the more harmful they prove to the healthy condition of the living body. In modern times various medicinal drinks and condiments have been added to our diet: “Snuffing and smoking tobacco, chewing tobacco and hemp leaves, eating opium, drinking brandy, several kinds of stimulating and medical bears, tea and coffee etc.

With regard to articles of addiction it is noted that habit gradually extinguishes the injurious impressions they at first made upon us: “they may become even agreeable to us, that is to say, the disagreeable sensations their ingestion at first produced do not strike us so much as we go on using them, and this apparently agreeable effects upon our organs of sensation gradually become necessary to us. That is why a man once addicted to a particular thing, cannot give it up even when he is worse for it.

That these drugs or other articles of addiction do have medicinal properties is evident from the fact that no one ever smoked tobacco, chewed tobacco or drank wine for the first time in his life without disgust or alteration in the sensations and functions of his organism “a hint given by nature to shun the first occasion for transgressing the laws of health and not to trample so frivolously under our feet the warning instinct implanted in us for the preservation of our life.”

But can we prescribe a menu of diet for an individual, whether in health or sickness so that every item of it would be free from medicinal properties? It is practically impossible. What is the way out? Hahnemann points out that though all medicines have the power of making the healthy ill they differ in degrees though not in kind. The articles having strong medicinal properties manifest their action even when given in small doses to healthy and even strong individuals. Those that have weaker action needs administration in large and repeated doses for producing their effects.

Those that have the weakest medicinal power only show their action in such individuals who, though free from any disease, happen to be very susceptible. So the general rule in dietary for all is to exclude all those articles of food which contain strong medicinal properties or those other articles with weakest medicinal properties in case of persons or patients who happen to be especially hypersensitive to them. And Hahnemann took pains to point out that the medicinal properties of many articles of food are destroyed or diminished during the process of cooking. (Vide foot – note 152 to Sec. 266 on pp 284 – 285, Organon 6th Edition.)

Next to Hahnemann it was Boenninghausen who discussed the problem of Homoeopathic diet in detail and published an essay for the lay public on 1833 which was entitled as “Homoeopathic diet and the sketch of a complete image of the disease so as to make possible its cure by Homoeopathy.” Therein we find him confirming Hahnemanns general ideas contained in SEc. 259 Organon 6th edition (referred to below). He also noted that “the long continued use of many medicinal substances in many cases dulls the susceptibility for them, so that the vital force eventually is no more affected thereby.

Even more important in the direction is the observation frequently made, that as a rule only such medicinal substances act in a disturbing manner, on substances given before as have Homoeopathic relation to it, i.e., which have the virtue and tendency of producing similar effects on healthy persons. On this alone the antidotal virtue rests which a number of medicines show, and by this may be explained how it comes that many an otherwise antidotal substance passes by without causing any disturbance, if it only leaves untouched the present morbidly excited parts of the organism on which the medicine is intended to act.

Otherwise it has become known by many facts and observations that even potencies which are at this day carried higher… have so much increased the intensity (doubtless immaterial) of the medicinal virtue thall all grossly material influences can affect it but little or not at all.

“All this is now, of course, taken into consideration in the diet to be observed, and Homoeopaths have on this account been able to yield a good deal of late, which they had to forbid before, from fear of doing harm. This is especially the case with chronic patients, who are forbidden besides the actual medicines of all kinds, only coffee and strong tea, heating drinks, imported spices and strong odors, especially that of Camphor”. Those who are keen on knowing all the details are requested to consult the above – mentioned Boenninghausens article printed in his book of “The Lesser Writings” on pp. 268 – 278.

With reference to regulation of diet and regimen in illness Hahnemanns directions vary according as the patient is suffering from an acute or a chronic disease condition. Hahnemanns general rule regarding diet and regimen in all conditions of illness during homoeopathic treatment with infinitesimal doses of medicine is that “everything must be removed from the diet and regimen which can have any medicinal action, in order that the small dose may not be overwhelmed and extinguished or disturbed by any foreign medicinal irritant. (Vide Sec. 259 pp. 180-281, Organon 6th, Edition.)

In acute diseases “The physician only requires to counsel the friends and attendants to put no obstacles in the way of this voice of nature by refusing anything the patient urgently desires in the way of food or by trying to persuade him to partake of anything injurious” (Sec, 262 Organon 6th Edition). He gives two – fold explanations for his such instructions in SEc. 263 viz. (a) the desire of the patient affected by an acute disease with regard to food and drink is certainly chiefly for things that give palliative relief; they are, however, not strictly speaking of a medicinal character, and supplying a sort of want.

(b) The slight hindrances that the gratification of this dislike, within moderate bounds, could oppose to the radical removal of the disease will be amply counteracted and overcome by the power of the homoeopathically suited medicine and the vital force set free by it, as also by the refreshment that follows from taking what has been so ardently longed for. That is why he wrote in the foot – note 140 to Sec. 260 (Organon, 6th Edn.): Some of my disciples seem needlessly to increase the difficulties of the patients dietary by forbidding the use of many more, tolerably indifferent things, which is not to be commended.

Hahnemann wanted us to be much more strict in prescribing diets to patients suffering from chronic diseases because “their diseases are usually aggravated by such noxious influences and other disease – causing errors in diet and regimen which often pass unnoticed. (Sec. 260, Organon 6th Edn.). Here he mentions in the foot – note 140 to be said Section, a list of articles which are commonly used by persons as articles of food or otherwise – which should be avoided as far as possible – because they all (the articles with the stronger as well as weakest medicinal powers) are apt to produce their absolute actions, but so intermingled with the symptoms of the disease, that “only a very experienced experimenter and fine observer can distinguish them.”

The above are the general consideration regarding diet from the Hahnemannian point of view. There is no difficulty to follow his general directions; but it is experienced when we have to select specific articles of food to complete the menu of a person who belongs to a particular society of a particular country of a particular time.

The particular likings, habits, traditions, customs and individual cravings and aversions crop up to make the selection of a menu for an individual very very difficult. Here we may solve the difficulty if we bear in mind the following general directions regarding dietary as laid down on Charak – Samhita:

“Diet should be prescribed with full consideration to clime and season and quantity and the homologation. Else the most wholesome diet may turn out to be harmful.

“A patient feels uncomfortable by sudden withdrawal from even an unwholesome habit which has become homologatory to him by habitual use or as the result of climate conditions.”

“Thus has been described the seasonal homologation with reference to behaviour and diet. That which becomes homologous by habitual use is said to be acquired homologation.

“The knowers of the principles of homologation consider it desirable to acquire homologation regarding food and behaviour to things which are antagonistic to the characteristics of the country and the causative factors of the diseases prevalent there.

Let us conclude this discourse with a quotation (relevant to the topic under discussion) from Mothers talks with her disciples at Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondichery:

“With regard to the food that man takes, there are two factors that determine or prescribe it. First of all, the real need of the body, that is to say, what the body actually required for its maintenance, the elements to meet the chemical changes happening in it, something quite material and very definite, viz., the kind of food and the quantity.

But usually this real need of the body is obscured and submerged under the demands of another kind of agency. almost altogether foreign to it, (1) vital desire and (2) mental notions. Indeed, the menu of our table, at least 90 percent of it is arranged so as to satisfy the demands of the second category, the consideration that should come first comes last in fact.”

The body is at present a slave of the mind and the vital; it is hardly given the freedom of chosing its own requirements in the right quantity and quality. That is why the body is seen to suffer everywhere and is normally sick for the greater part of its earthly existence.

It has been compelled to occupy an anomalous position in the human organism between these two tyrants. The Vital goes by its greed, its attraction and repulsion, its impulse to excess (sometimes to its opposite of deprivation); what it has been accustomed to, what it has taken a fancy for, to that it clings, and if the body has not what it prescribed, it throws the suggestion into the body that it will become sick.

The same with the mental factor. The physical mind has its own notions and schemes, pet ideas and plans (perhaps from what has been read in books or heard from persons) in respect of the bodys need; it thinks that if a certain prescription is not followed, the body will suffer.

The mind and the vital are those close friends and accomplices in regimenting the body. They impose their own demands and prejudices upon the body which helplessly gets entangled in them and loses its native instinct.

The body left to itself is marvellously self – conscious; it knows spontaneously and unfailingly what is good for its health and strength. The animals usually, especially those of the fresh, maintain still the unspoilt body instinct; for they have no mind to tyrannise over their body nor is their vital of a kind to go against the normal demands of the body. Common sense is an inherent attribute of the body – consciousness; it never errs on the side of excess and immoderation or perversity.

The vital is dramatic, the mind is imaginative, but the body is sanity itself.

And we finish with the most general directions with regard to food in relation to different bio – typological individuals as laid down in the “Song Celestial (Srimad Bagavad – Gita):

“The sattwic temperament in the mental and physical body turns naturally to the things that increase the life, increase the inner and the outer strength, nourish at once the mental, vital and physical force and increase the pleasure and satisfaction and happy condition of mind, life and body, all that is succulent and soft and firm and satisfying.”

“The rajasic temperament prefers naturally food that is violently sour, pungent, hot, acrid, rough and strong and burning, the aliments that increase ill – health and the distempers of the mind and body”.

“The tamasic temperament takes a perverse pleasure in cold, impure, stale, rotten or tasteless food or even accepts like the animals the remnants half – eaten by others.” (Stanzas 8, 9 and 10, Chapter 17, Gita.)

The science of dietary is best developed in the Ayurvedic System of Medicine and we may have occasion to present it to our readers in future.


N C Das