Gill Stannard

Monday, October 22, 2007

What do naturopaths mean when they talk about your constitution?

Many of us have a fascination about our destiny. We might see a palmist and anxiously await the verdict as to the length of our ‘life line’. In naturopathy, while the assessment of our biological blueprint is a philosophical cornerstone rather than an exact science – it requires more fact finding than a glance at our hand.

In natural medicine what we term as our constitution generally refers to our bodily strengths and weaknesses. In the absence of a geneticist unravelling our individual biological code, the naturopathic fact finding mission digs into our family history, our own medical history to date, lifestyle factors and sometimes alternative assessment tools such as iridology.

We might hear of someone who’s described as “having the constitution of an ox”, while another is refered to as having a delicate predisposition. Suprisingly in the overall assessment of our inherited strengths and weaknesses, neither needs to be a predictor of longevity.

While the person who “never gets sick”, thrives of an 80 hour week, runs a marathon on the weekend and boasts about relatives living to 100 yo – may assume their telegram from the Queen is a surety, this is not always so. Nor should the individual plagued with minor illnesses and is easily fatigued make no plans for a long retirement. A good blueprint may give us a head start in life but things tend to even out by middle age.

The trick is to work with our constitution. If your childhood was peppered with sick days, with the exception of congenital disorders or diseases requiring major intervention, it sometimes gives you an incentive to understand what you need to stay well. Your less than average health may lead you to investigate food allergies, taking control of your diary so you have adequate time to recharge your batteries and maintaining a wholesome diet.

Compared to someone with a strong constitution who takes their body for granted – if they keep pushing the boundaries of their lifestyle with extremes, age becomes a great leveller. Being born with an innate physical strength doesn’t always future proof you. For example – smoking and having a high animal fat diet won’t necessarily be offset by how many kilometres you can run a week. A physically active lifestyle, while giving you cardiovascular benefits tends to increase your chances of injury and osteoarthritis, which ups the odds of orthopaedic surgery.

Where possible, find out about the medical history of as many people in your biological family as you can. Some useful information includes their age and cause of death, chronic illnesses (allergies like asthma and eczema, psychiatric conditions, autoimmune diseases such as crohns and lupus) as well as the “big ones” – heart disease, stroke and cancer. Ask your parents and siblings about your health as a baby and small child – did you have any trips to the hospital other than for scrapes and breaks, what was your attendance record like at school, were you a fussy eater who had a lot of digestive upsets, did a month not go by without having an ear, nose or throat infection? Was anything a regular feature of your wellbeing 'til some miraculous point that you seemed to “grow out of it”?

Naturopaths love these clues; it helps us build a picture of your physical inheritance. Once we have the blueprint we can see what alterations have been made to the original plan. While something dramatic like a childhood cancer with lifesaving chemotherapy may have seed future neoplasms in adulthood, something as simple as regular doses of cortisone as a child or teenager may lay the grounds for potential bone weaknesses or hormonal disorders. Knowing such things in advance gives us a head start in damage control.

Iridology, the study of the iris as a reflection of the body as a whole, is an interesting theory. It can point a naturopath towards an area requiring further investigation. Personally, I find after over 15 years in practice my medical detective skills have been increasingly honed so that I gather most of my information from a detailed medical history. Having seen thousands of irises, I do believe they add some clues to the general strengths and weaknesses in the body but it generally confirms what a good history taking will uncover. But it doesn’t necessarily predict longevity. In most cases, there is little difference in lifespan between someone with a weak constitution but a clean, clear iris with little or no toxic accumulation, compared to the well structured constitution who’s iris is muddied with ‘pollution’. It all depends on how they choose to live with it.

I don’t believe that iridology should be used to predict actual diseases. It might suggest trends or areas of your diet and lifestyle you should work more on but I am both embarrassed and distressed to hear tales of health food store iridologists using this as a tool to sell a truck load of products or tell clients they will get major diseases.

What you do with your blueprint is up to you. For example, if your father had high blood pressure leading up to a fatal heart attack in his 40’s you have a choice of ignoring it or having regular checks of your blood pressure and lipids. As “watchful waiting” alone only alerts you when things begin to you wrong, there are additional proactive options. You might choose a heart friendly diet based around ‘vegan + fish’, take antioxidants, stop smoking, curb alcohol intake and exercise as a way of reducing stress. You might feel motivated to learn meditiation. You could also use the lesson from your forebears as a reminder to live an authentic life, speak your truth and be happy.

Whatever your constitution, we always have an opportunity to make the most of what we've got.

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