RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN GREEK MEDICINE
Ancient Healing Wisdom for Today
Disillusioned with the failures of modern medicine in treating the chronic degenerative diseases that now plague mankind, many progressive, open-minded physicians have started to look beyond the prevailing practices of conventional medicine for healing solutions. Their search has led many of them, to a greater or lesser extent, intentionally or otherwise, back to the teachings of Hippocrates and Greek Medicine.
Metabolic Body Typing
One of the key concepts of Greek Medicine is that of different constitutional types, or temperaments. Knowing one's constitutional type is the key to all diagnosis and treatment in Greek Medicine.
The classical Greek system of constitutional typology was based on inherent predominances of humor and qualities of temperament. In Greek Medicine, there are four basic constitutional types, whose predominances are as follows:
Sanguine - Warm and Moist - Blood
Choleric - Hot and Dry - Yellow Bile
Melancholic - Cold and Dry - Black Bile
Phlegmatic - Cold and Wet - Phlegm, Plasma, Lymph
In recent years, certain progressive, holistically minded nutritionists and physicians have started to develop various systems of constitutional and metabolic typology. Their researches led them to realize that there were actually great variations in the way the systems of different individuals, all considered to be healthy and normal by conventional medical standards, metabolized various foods and nutrients. And so, various systems of metabolic body typing were born.
In the mid-20th century, Dr. Sheldon developed the first modern system of body typing: the threefold differentiation of endomorph, ectomorph and mesomorph. Although these types were first developed as a form of psychological profiling, Dr. Sheldon soon realized that there were certain characteristics of physiology and metabolism associated with each type.
Then, in the 1960's, Dr. Bieler came up with a system of constitutional typology based on one's dominant endocrine gland. Dr. Bieler recognized three basic glandular types: the Adrenal type, the Thyroid type, and the Pituitary type. To these basic three have been added two more: a Gonadal type and a Pancreas type.
Some correspondences have been made between these glandular types and the Four Temperaments, or constitutional types of Greek Medicine, although these aren't universally accepted:
Choleric - Adrenal type
Melancholic - Thyroid type
Phlegmatic - Pituitary type
Sanguine - Gonad type
Roger Williams was another great scientist and pioneer into body typing. His research discovered considerable individual variation not only in the size, but also in the functional performance of the various endocrine glands. Dr. Williams was the first to coin the term biochemical individuality.
The modern sciences of nutrition, physiology and biochemistry are incredibly complex. Besides the relative strength and dominance of the various endocrine glands, modern researchers have identified several other key ways in which one individual's physiology and metabolism may differ from another's. These are:
1) Autonomic nervous system balance - either sympathetic or parasympathetic dominant.
2) Variations in cellular metabolism, or the carbo-oxidative system - fast oxidation, slow oxidation, or sub- (incomplete) oxidation.
3) Lipo-oxidative processes - fatty acid and sterol balance, aerobic / anaerobic metabolism balance, cell membrane permeability variation, balance of catabolic versus anabolic metabolism.
4) Fluid and electrolyte balance - predispositions towards excesses or deficiencies of certain fluids and electrolytes.
5) Acid / alkaline balance - six potential areas of pH imbalance due to seven different causative factors.
6) Prostaglandin balance
7) Metabolic typology according to blood type
8) Typology according to constitutional elements - differing needs and constitutional predominance of certain minerals in the organism.
9) Neurotransmitter balance - excitatory versus inhibitory neurotransmitters
Today, constitutional or metabolic body typing is used for the following purposes:
1) Determining the ideal diet for an individual, for optimum nutrition, or to facilitate weight loss;
2) Determining constitutional vulnerability to certain illnesses;
3) To facilitate better human relations through mutual understanding of differences in temperament.
Other progressive, holistically-minded physicians have sought to reform and revolutionize medical practice by returning to certain therapeutic methods of Hippocrates and Galen, which had long been forgaotten and abandoned by conventional medicine. For this reason, they have chosen to call themselves Neo-Hippocratic physicians.
Just what kinds of therapeutic methods are we talking about? Dr. Bernard Aeschner explains in his book, Neo-Hippocratism in Everyday Practice:
But ... these fundamental and true Hippocratic methods have been discarded, and I wanted to show that their critical revival and reconciliation with modern methods gives surprising results just there, where experimental medicine declares the condition as acute and dangerous or chronic, obstinate and incurable. Especially for the actual so-called socially important problem of refractory chronic diseases Neo-Hippocratic constitutional therapy often brings effective help..."
(Quoted from Traditional Greco-Arabic and Modern Medicine: Conflict or Symbiosis? by Hakim Mohammed Said, Copyright 1975 by Hamdard Academy, Karachi Pakistan, pg. 60)
According to Aeschner, even when evacuating or purging methods are used today, the methods and agents used are too mechanical and standardized, too monotonous and unimaginative. The classical physicians used a wide variety of cathartic agents to induce a wide variety of therapeutic cleansing reactions in their patients as needed, according to the circumstances of the case, and the particulars of the patient's condition.
Sweating isn't used comprehensively and systematically today. Modern medicine's approach to sweating is purely mechanical in its conception, and way too primitive. Classical medicine, on the other hand, used a wide variety of sudorific agents, each producing a differnt kind of sweat, and producing different effects.
The same goes for laxatives and purgatives; the modern approach is much too standardized and mechanical, merely acting on the bowels. The classical approach employed a wide variety of cathartic agents which not only purged the bowels, but also had auxiliary systemic actions, having beneficial resolving, derivative, antiphlogistic, antispasmodic, and detoxifying effects on the entire organism.
Arthritis is a particularly obstinate and refractory chronic disease for which the standard modern treatment methods are woefully inadequate, and don't offer much in the way of effective, lasting improvement. Classical methods, on the other hand, can often lead to dramatic improvements and breakthroughs in this debilitating disease.
Although its main manifestation is in the joints and articular structures, Hippocrates saw arthritis primarioy as a metabolic disease, in which the toxic residues or byproducts of faulty digestion and metabolism accumulate in the joints, producing degenerative changes in the tissues and articular structures.
Classical medicine used a two-pronged approach in treating arthritis, combining internal and external methods. Internally, blood cleansing remedies were given to remove toxins from the articular structures. Externally, counterirritant or vesicant plasters like Cantharides were applied to the joints to produce boils, pustules or blisters, and in so doing draw out toxins from inside the joints to be released through the skin. By getting to the root cause, Hippocratic methods can produce dramatic breakthroughs in arthritis.
Bloodletting, or venesection, is another ancient practice that modern medicine is reexamining. After operations to reconnect a severed finger, the site of the suture is often prone to bllod clotting and gangrene. But applying leeches distal to the suture to draw the blood outwards towards the fingertip keeps it flowing, preventing clotting and gangrene and facilitating healing and regeneration.
Venesection is a common procedure used in Unani Medicine after cerebral trauma and cranial fractures to prevent deadly traumatic inflammation and edema to the brain. Wherever there is congestion of blood, inflammation or swelling, venesection, appropriately applied, can be a valuable, even lifesaving remedy.
Neo-Hippocratic medicine is not a blind faith in the old ways, but a critical and intelligent re-application or re-adaptation of traditional therapies in a modern clinical setting. The Neo-Hippocratic ideal is to achieve a new synthesis of progress and tradition.
The information on Metabolic Body Typing came primarily from the following sources:
www.healthexcel.com - article on Core Premises of Metabolic Typing
www.holistichealthtopics.com - article on Body Types: An Overview
For more information on Metabolic Body Typing, please consult the above sites.
The information on Neo-Hippocratic Medicine came from the following booklet:
Traditional Greco-Arabic and Modern Western Medicine: Conflict or Symbiosis?
by Hakim Mohammed Said, Copyright 1975 by Hamdard Academy - Karachi, Pakistan
pp. 54 - 65