One of the main philosophies that drives naturopathic medicine is the concept of the Vis Medicatrix Naturae – the healing power of nature. Naturopathic physicians recognize there is an ordered, self-organized, and intelligent force within every living system that establishes, maintains, and restores health and balance. As we recognize this within an individual, we work to support this process, or help to remove obstacles in the way, in order to create health and wellness.
As an example of this, we can look at the functioning of the liver. The liver is a dynamic organ, performing over 500 functions for the human body. In fetal development, its formation is triggered by messenger hormones from the primordial heart cells. The liver stems from the same cells that will also grow to become the stomach, esophagus, pancreas, pharynx, and lower respiratory system. Just think, your lungs and your liver came from the same starting point.
One of the many functions that the liver is able to do for us is the process of detoxification. Everyday, there are hundreds of toxins being pumped through your liver. These can be things that are naturally created inside the body – such as ammonia, hormones, waste products from cells – or things that we are taking in from the external world – pesticides, exhaust fumes or other environmental chemicals, drugs, smoking, and alcohol are some examples. It is the liver’s job to process all of these things so that we do not store them up in the fat or overload the system and send them to the brain.
This process happens in two phases. In the first phase, we are making the toxins, which are naturally fat lovers, a little more water soluble. To do this, we make use of an enzyme called cytochrome p450. The name of the enzyme isn’t really important, but in order for this chain of chemical reactions to happen we must have a long list of nutrients to assist. This includes: vitamin B12, vitamin B6, niacin, riboflavin, folic acid, glutathione, and branched chain amino acids. The first phase of detoxification also creates unstable molecules called free radicals which can do damage to tissues in the body. In order to make these less dangerous, we need to have a sufficient amount of antioxidants in the body to help neutralize them – vitamin C, E, and A are some of the nutrients needed for these processes.
In the second phase, we are finishing the process of making the toxin fully water soluble so that we are able to get rid of it in bile or through the kidneys. This group of reactions requires protein to function well. And, of course, water is needed to help flush newly processed toxins out of the body.
Looking at just this one process of many, we are able to see how the concept of the healing power of nature is inherent in the human body. The safe removal of toxins helps for us to establish healthy functioning in the body and maintain it, since this process is happening on a continual basis as toxins are being made in the body. It also allows us to restore the body to health as toxins from the external environment are introduced to the system. As Naturopaths, we recognize this process and a natural part of what helps to create heath in a patient and will work to support this process as we are able to. This might be through a nutrient dense diet or supplementation of needed nutrients depending on what level of deficiency the person is at. We also can utilize techniques for direct stimulation of the liver, such as castor oil packs or visceral manipulation. In this way, we are working with the body’s inherent and established processes to restore health and balance to the individual – essentially having their own body provide the healing it needs.