Excerpt from “Beyond the Patient” by Lee Thirer (this full article was used in our newest course, A World of Health)

Hippocrates taught that nature was the doctor, the doctor its aide. Studying the interchange of the internal and the external, a Hippocratic healer paid careful attention to food, exercise, and the ways the waters and the climates acted on the four humors—blood, phlegm, and yellow and black biles, each associated with a particular temperament. By trusting and helping nature, the great healer, to maintain health, Hippocrates’ students sought to provide preventive care over a lifetime. Only after nature had begun to fail would the doctor prescribe treatments that would, in Hippocrates’ words, “help, or at least do no harm.”

For the first time in millennia, however, nature itself is so unwell that doctors cannot fulfill their ancient duties. Twenty-six centuries of medical innovations cannot now protect the patient from the wider world, with its modern stresses and toxicity. And even if they could, modern doctors are focused elsewhere. “We shouldn’t pretend that clinical medicine is really doing primary prevention,” says Ted Schettler, science director of the non-profit Science and Environmental Health Network, “because it’s not—and it’s not particularly interested in it.”

  1. What does preventative medicine look like to you?
  2. If healthcare practioners are to be “trusting and helping nature, the great healer, to maintain health” what actions might they prescribe for individuals? For society as a whole?
  3. What are ways an individual can be “helping nature to maintain health?”