Written by John Immel,
The Old Names of DiseasesHave you ever caught a cold? Do you know the new name for the common cold is "rhinovirus?" Over the past 150 years, many diseases have been given new names. Before Louis Pasteur proposed the germ theory, diseases had different names. After germ theory and anti-biotics were discovered, the common cold was renamed "rhinovirus." Western medicine refashioned the folk names of diseases to the germ theory name because the new names fit the new available medicines (antibiotics). More recently, ulcers became h. pylori infections.
Read any medical book written during the Civil War and you'll find folk names that were popular before germ theory was invented. The folk names of these diseases more closely resembled the Ayurvedic names of diseases. In a Shakespeare play, you will find references to knowledge of organ health that was common during those times, like "lily-livered" or "bilious." Similar phrases still survive in the vernacular:
The folk names of diseases were chosen for practical reasons. The name used simple, everyday feelings and language to study and treat disease. The folk name often indicated the behaviors and environmental causes of the disorder, as in a cold condition causing a common cold. The nomenclature led people towards home remedies in times when doctors were either unavailable or unnecessary. The folk names helped people to heal themselves. They also warned people in advance so they could take simple steps to prevent a downward spiral of illness.
If All You Have is a Hammer, Everything Looks Like a NailToday diseases are named after pathogens. The new name for the common cold, "rhinovirus," names the type of critter that may be crawling about in your sinuses without addressing the fundamental weakness of sinus immunity. Western medicine finds this name useful because Western medicine uses microscopes, antivirals, and antibiotics to study and treat diseases. It turns out that in every tradition, diseases are often named after the medicines used to cure them.
The modern names, however, are less useful at home. They make home treatments seem less obvious. The germ theory names are technical in nature, require expert knowledge, and often lead to expensive overuse of pharmaceuticals. You won't be able to buy many of these pharmaceuticals without a prescription and a costly visit to the doctor.
Too-Much-Ice-Cream DiseaseSupposed you walked into my clinic and asked for help managing a common cold. I might ask you, "What have you been eating and doing the last few days?" You respond, "I missed dinner last night because of work and was up late on the computer until 4 a.m." In Ayurveda, we wouldn't call this disease a "common cold." We would call it, "Up-until-4-a.m. disease."
Suppose a few hours later another client walks into my clinic asking for help to manage a common cold. She reports eating lots of ice cream, pizza, and sleeping in an air-conditioned room. I would call that disease "Too-much-ice-cream disease."
These two diseases are radically different. The common cold is only one symptom of the real underlying disease. To start with, the first disease is a deficiency disorder. The second is an excess disorder. That means the medicine would be very different. The first client might be advised to eat ice cream and pizza, or perhaps, something equally rich but easier to digest. The second client would be advised to skip dinner and avoid sleeping too early in the day. Not only are the diseases different, but the cause of the disease for one client might be the medicine for the other.
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About the AuthorJohn Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda. His approach to Ayurveda exudes a certain ease, which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda , which specializes in digestive tract pathology & Ayurvedic nutrition. John and his wife Natalie recently published Explore Your Hunger: A Guide to Hunger, Appetite & Food.
John's interest in Ayurveda and digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, including his public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well.