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anthroposophic medicine

Anthroposophic medicine (AM) is medicine that has been infused with the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. Chief among these teachings is that the body is not an independent material organism and that good health depends on a harmonious relationship between the physical body, spirit or vital force, the soul, and the ego.

One kind of remedy frequently offered by AM is the homeopathic remedy, which is not surprising since classical homeopathy is rooted in vitalism, as is Steiner's philosophy. Like homeopathy, AM also features a highly individualized treatment of each patient. However, since Steiner believed in reincarnation, an AM doctor has to try to figure out "the particular state of soul and spirit"* of the patient in regard to its many lives, past, present, and future.

According to Peter Hinderberger, M.D.,

Rudolf Steiner made the remarkable discovery that a plant is a healing plant when it has a distortion or an abnormality in its physiology and/or morphology. Medical plants are "diseased" in that they are one-sided developments that are held in balance only by self-healing. This represents a modern, scientific reformulation of what, in former times, existed in the "doctrine of signatures".

An example will demonstrate this: plants that grow near water are usually heavy, with big, dark green leaves that wilt and break easily. An exception is salix alba, the white willow, a tree that always grows near water and loves fight [sic]. However, unlike other "watery" plants, the willow has fine, almost dry leaves and looks very light. It has the ability to organize water, to "aerate" it. The willow does not retain the water. It absorbs water through its deep root system, transforms and evaporates it into the air. Its branches are unbelievably tough. They are elastic and cannot be broken. They bend easily and form "joints" rather than break. These few signatures can give us the clue to what salix can be used for therapeutically: arthritis, deformation of joints, swollen joints, as well as head congestion, inflammatory conditions, and diarrhea. These are situations where the organism lost its control over the water element. Salicylic acid (Aspirin) was originally harvested from the bark of the willow.*

Dr. Hinderberger doesn't note, however, that all trees move water through their roots to their leaves and into the air.

This discovery that "a plant is a healing plant when it has a distortion or an abnormality" can't be based on having studied all plants. Is there not a single plant with an abnormality that isn't a healing plant? In most circles, this kind of thinking is called sympathetic magic. Though, who could disagree with Dr. Hinderberger's claim that "Steiner extended the homeopathic principle based on spiritual/scientific studies and offered answers where Hahnemann left off"?

Steiner believed the model for the human body should be of a 3-part system: we takes things in, we put things out, and some things we keep constant by rhythm. The senses take things in; we excrete things; and we breathe and our blood circulates. We have a cooling/hardening system, the senses and nerves, centered in the head and spinal column. We have a heating/softening system, a reproductive/metabolic system, centered below the diaphragm. And we have a rhythmic system, the heart and lungs, to balance the other two systems. Health is when these systems interact harmoniously. Illness is disharmony and treatment may include not only medicine but also art therapy (painting, modeling, music, singing and creative speech), eurythmy, and counseling. In addition to

...ordinary pharmaceutical products used in medicine, anthroposophic medicine uses special medicines which are produced according to the anthroposophic understanding of the human being and it’s connection to nature. These medicines may include substances from minerals, plants or animals, prepared in different dilutions and for different routes of application, external, oral or parenteral. Some medicines are similar to herbal medicinal products, some are prepared according to the guidelines of homeopathic pharmacopoeias. However, a remarkable part of anthroposophic specialities is produced using specific pharmaceutical procedures according to the anthroposophic understanding of the human body. Therefore anthroposophic medicines represent a unique entity of medicinal products. This has caused difficulties in the application and harmonisation of European law on the registration of these medicines.*

According to Steiner, a human being is "an eternal individuality." Because of the individualized nature of treatment, and for ethical reasons, AM doctors don't do double-blind controlled experiments.* The fact that scientific testing of remedies is not done might explain some of the difficulty AM has in conforming to the law.

"Among the best known anthroposophic medicines are the mistletoe preparations for the treatment of cancer (Abnova viscum®, Helixor®, Iscador®, Iscucin®, Visorel®)."* Mistletoe was first proposed as a cancer treatment by Steiner in 1920. Steiner reasoned that since mistletoe is a botanical parasite, it would cure cancer, which he thought of as a parasite on human tissue and organs. However, despite this clever analogy, mistletoe is  listed by the American Cancer Society as a unproven cancer remedy (Jarvis 1997). Iscador is often touted by advocates of alternative and complementary medicine as having the power to boost the immune system, though there is no clear evidence that it does so.* However, even if Iscador did boost the immune system, it wouldn't necessarily have any effect on cancer. Whereas chemotherapy and radiation treatment, by killing cancer cells can help restore a suppressed immune system.*

In March of 2001, actress Suzanne Somers announced that she was going to take Iscador as part of her treatment for breast cancer. She also announced that she was going to forego chemotherapy. She is still alive several years later. Her book, The Sexy Years: Discover the Hormone Connection--The Secret to Fabulous Sex, Great Health, and Vitality, for Women and Men, came out in March of 2004 and was the 89th best selling book of the year.*  However, it should be noted that before forgoing chemotherapy, she had part of her breast removed (lumpectomy) and had undergone radiation treatment. The lump was discovered not by a mammogram, which missed it, but by ultrasound, which had been recommended by her physician. "Her sentinel node biopsy showed no lymph node involvement, and one of her physicians felt she did not need preventive chemotherapy. Another physician recommended it, and a third physician she consulted was 'on the fence.'"* Chemotherapy was an option, but was not presented to her as an essential and required part of treatment. All we can say for sure is what we already knew before she took the Iscador: It may not do her any harm, but, according to Dr. Edzard Ernst, "some studies suggest that serious harm might be caused by mistletoe injections. Rather than suppressing cancer, mistletoe might promote tumour cell growth in some malignancies."

Did Iscador help Somers remain free of cancer detection? We don't know. Had she done nothing after the radiation treatment, scientific tests might not have been able to detect any cancer cells anyway, but there is no way to know for sure. (Note: there is a big difference between being 'cancer-free', which is something we cannot know at present, and being unable to detect cancer cells in one's body.)

In any case, anthroposophic medicine is even more out of touch with modern, science-based medicine than homeopathy. AM not only thinks that the vital spirit plays a major role in health--a view it shares with homeopathy--but AM also brings into play other metaphysical entities it refers to variously as the etheric body, the astral body, and the ego. AM thinks the soul, the senses, and consciousness are beings that exist independently of the body and that such things as herbs and essential oils can bring these things into harmony with each other and with the physical body. AM is certainly in harmony with Steiner's basic approach to reality, which was to think he had special powers to see directly into occult realities without the bother of tests in experience or replication by others.* When you believe you have clairvoyant powers, you don't feel the need to prove your claims the way other scientists do. Steiner approached medicine the same way he approached everything else from astrology to Atlantis to education to farming to metaphysics: He dictated his visions. Why anyone considers him a scientist is a great mystery. His notion of science as involving the explanation of how immaterial entities affect material entities is the very opposite of science.

See also naturopathy.

further reading

books and articles

Bausell, R. Barker. (2007). Snake Oil Science: The Truth about Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Oxford University Press.

Park, Robert L. (2008). Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science. Princeton University Press.

Sampson, Wallace and Lewis Vaughn. 2000. editors. Science Meets Alternative Medicine: What the Evidence Says About Unconventional Treatments; Prometheus Books.

Satel, Sally M.D. and James Taranto. (1996). "The battle over alternative therapies," Sacramento Bee, January 3. First published in The New Republic.

Shapiro, Rose. 2008. Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All. Random House 

Singh, Simon and Edzard Ernst. 2008. Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine. W. W. Norton.


Anthroposophical Medicine by William T. Jarvis, Ph.D. 1997

Anthroposophic Medicine - Goetheanum

Anthroposophic Medicine The Logical Way to Approach Essential Oils in a Spiritual Fashion by Rev. Mary Hardy, Ph.D.

Anthroposophic Medicine (Holistic.com)

Our Sevenfold Nature by Rudolf Steiner

Last updated 27-Oct-2015

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