Greater Things > Lynn Ridenhour > Medicine and Mormonism

Medicine and Mormonism

From: L.M. Enterprises <>
To: <>
Date: Thursday, November 04, 1999 8:56 PM
Subject: Medicine & Mormonism

David's Outcasts -

Medicine & Mormonism:
Joseph Smith & Botanical Herbs

Lynn Ridenhour

Here's a loaded question...

What did Joseph Smith think of the doctors of his day? Or……

What did Joseph Smith think about herbs? Or more specifically, abut botanical medicine as practiced in his time?

Two loaded questions, for sure. Perhaps a bit of ground work needs to be laid before we tackle such hard questions. Kenneth Johnson, born and raised in the Mormon faith, also an M.D. certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine in 1954, shares with us some background. He defines the evolution of four broad categories of medicine since Joseph's day:

1) Medicine and Religion in 1833

2) Domestic Medicine

3) Botanic Medicine, and

4) Heroic (Mainstream) Medicine.

(The Word of Wisdom Food Plan, p.p.1-7)

And then proceeds to give a brief summary of each category.

Medicine & Religion in 1833:

When compared to today's health standards, says Johnson, those of 1833 were despicable. Epidemics of infectious disease swept through entire communities; diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, mumps, tuberculosis, and typhoid were common. A person living to the age of forty would have survived years with one disease or another, and sickness was the norm. Only the very wealthy could afford glass windows, so flies and mosquitoes infested the homes. Water from streams contaminated by animal wastes supplied most families, and few people had the luxury of bathing. People were often sewn into long winter underwear in the fall, and did not remove them until spring. Tuberculosis was widespread, and carried with it draining sores, coughs, fevers, sweats, and weight loss. Joseph Smith's mother, Lucy, was ill with tuberculosis early in life; both his aunts, Lovina and Lovisa, died of the disease. Lucy had a miraculous recovery from tuberculosis, and later bore several children, including the prophet. Epidemic typhoid infected Joseph Smith in early childhood, and complications of the disease affected the bones of his shoulder and left leg. When Joseph refused to have the leg amputated, doctors used a new technique now called saucerization to clean out the infected area. Lacking the blessing of anesthetics, young Joseph screamed loudly as the doctors removed large pieces of infected bone. The leg gradually healed, but Joseph had to walk with crutches for a long time. Another incident illustrates how primitive medical care was during the first half of the nineteenth century. Less than two months after Joseph Smith was visited by the Angel Moroni on September 21, 1823, Joseph's oldest brother, Alvin became sick with "bilious colic" (which we now think was acute appendicitis). A Dr. Greenwood treated him by administering at least one heavy dose of calomel, a purgative now known to be a poison. Alvin died on November 19, 1823 (p.p.1-2).

Domestic Medicine:

Medical treatment during these times was often nonexistent or crude, if not actually harmful. Those on the western frontier had to solve their own problems: roads were bad, transportation was poor, and isolation required that families take care of themselves. Women stored medicinal herbs and food for the winter, and a network of kinand community gave advice and assistance when illness struck. In particularly worrisome cases, families called in an older woman who had a reputation for skill with the sick…… In 1830, the year the LDS Church was organized, John C. Gunn published a popular book titled "Domestic Medicine." Its title page declared that it was "arranged on a New Simple Plan, By which the Practice of Medicine is Reduced to Principles of Common Sense" and was "Intended Expressly for Benefit of Families." Gunn proclaimed that "……the more nearly we can place men on a level in point of knowledge, the happier we would become in society with each other, and the less danger there would be of tyranny." Healing by faith was practiced in many Christian homes along the western frontier during the early 1800s, patterned after the well-known healings documented in the New Testament. The Book of Mormon contained examples of healing by faith (Alma 15:10 and 3 Nephi 17:8), and the Prophet Joseph Smith confirmed its efficacy (D&C 35:9 and 46:19). (p.p.3-4).

Botanic Medicine:

Although the two types of medical treatment were sometimes intermingled, Botanic Medicine was actually somewhere between Domestic Medicine and mainstream Heroic Medicine (mentioned below). Botanic medicine often became a part-time occupation that required neither licensing or special training. The 1882 book, "New Guide to Health," published by New Englander Samuel Thomson, created a society of botanic doctors. In 1809 Thomson had obtained a patent from the federal government for his system of botanic medicine, enabling him to sell rights for use of his methods and to claim official endorsement. The book was used both by families and by Thomsonian practitioners. Thomson boasted that by 1839 he had sold 100,000 copies of his book and that one half of Ohio's population followed his teachings. Herbs and "natural" remedies stood at the heart of the system. Many doctors, said Thomson, "have learned just enough to know how to deceive people, and keep them in ignorance, by covering their doings under a language unknown to their patients." He was referring to the mainstream heroic doctors with their indecipherable Latin nomenclature and their "elite" bearing. (p.p.4-5)

Dr. Johnson describes one last category of medicine since the times of Joseph Smith……

Heroic (Mainstream) Medicine:

As the war of 1812 drew to a close, medical schools proliferated in the United States. The schools generally had dubious beginnings; typically, a group of physicians approached a local college and proposed a school... These poorly trained medical practitioners were in some ways an extension of the English medical system. In England, a guild system had developed in which there were three classes: physicians, who were the elite; surgeons, who were craftsmen valued only slightly above a barber, and druggists, who were tradesmen who could dispense medication but could give no advice. By 1833, medical science was scarcely in its infancy; it would be another forty years before scientific investigation and verification began to be applied to medicine……Mainstream heroic medicine in 1833 advocated the harmful and scientifically unjustified practices of blood letting, skin blistering, leeching, and purging with harmful laxatives. Physicians prescribed opium to treat drinking problems... It was in this setting that the magnificent Word of Wisdom was revealed--a law of health that can now be evaluated by today's scientific and medical evidence. (p.p.5-6)

There we have it--four categories of medicine.

I submit, we've gone full circle--from mainstream medicine back to domestic and now back to botanic medicine. Americans, by the millions, are going back to the Bible, back to Nature, and back to the Word of God as a Health Book. A quiet revolution is taking place in America. More and more people are following good nutrition as a "law of total health." Dr Alvin K. Benson, BYU professor of geophysics and geology, used that very term to describe the Word of Wisdom in a Joseph Smith symposium. He also said,

"……It's exciting to see how continuing scientific discoveries verify the wisdom and insight revealed to the Prophet in the Word of Wisdom, a revelation given when knowledge of nutrition was essentially nonexistent."

I find that statement very intriguing. Let's talk about the...

Quiet Revolution:

……that's sweeping America.

Did you know, according to a USA TODAY article (Friday, October 11, 1996) slowly but surely, alternative medicine is gaining credibility. Latest example: Oxford Health Plans, a Connecticut-based HM0, is preparing to offer its 1. 4 million enrollees access to a panel of 1,000 nontraditional health-care providers, including chiropractors, homeopaths, naturopaths, yoga instructors and massage therapists.

Did you know, in recent years, more than 40 states have required insurers to cover chiropractic services. Since 1993, the budget for the Office of Alternative Medicine at the National institutes of Health has grown fivefold. And several leading schools have founded centers for alternative medicine.

Another sign: stock prices for companies that manufacture dietary supplements, which include herbal remedies, jumped 54% in the first nine months of this year!

Bottom line?

More and more consumers are turning to herbal medicines to treat minor ailments and to help increase overall wellness and resistance to disease. In October 1994, a Gallup survey estimated that 17 percent of all Americans use herb supplements, which are now available in mainstream retail outlets , not just in health-food stores. In 1994, herb sales rose 35 percent in pharmacies and supermarkets. According to an article in Life Magazine (September '96), Thirty-four of this country's 125 medical schools--including Harvard, Yale and John Hopkins--now offer courses in alternative medicine" (p.36). A 1993 study, which found one in three Americans had used alternative therapies, estimated that they spent almost $14 billion a year on them, more than people spent out or their own pockets for conventional medicine (p. 38).

Brothers and sisters, these are incredible statistics.

In other words, Americans are spending more now for herbs than prescription drugs! That's a national paradigm shift——when the exception becomes the norm and the norm, the exception.

There's more...

The article in Life Magazine went on to say, "Even the American Medical Association, which two decades ago declared it 'unethical' for its members to associate with chiropractors, grudgingly passed a resolution last year suggesting its 300,000 members 'become better informed regarding the practices and techniques of alternative or unconventional medicine'" (p. 36).

For me, the "kicker" statement was made by Philadelphia physician Marc Micozzi. "What we call alternative medicine is traditional medicine for 80 percent of the world, and what we call traditional medicine is only a few centuries old" (p.35).

What an eye-opening statement! Made by an M.D. too.

M.Ds are now prescribing herbs and prayer as a vehicle for healing. One in three Americans is currently taking herbs! I'll say it again--Americans are spending more on herbs and alternative therapies than prescription drugs: a whopping $14 billion dollars! Confidence in mainstream medicine is at an all-time low.

Even Congress is getting into the act (they follow the dollar, you know). A recent bill titled Access to Medical Treatment Act (S.1035 and H.R. 2019) was introduced in 1995 by Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (R-OR). If passed, the act would let people receive any type of medical treatment they want from a licensed health-care practitioner, including health treatments not approved by the U.S. secretary of health and human services. I could, in other words, tell my family physician that I prefer an herbal blend over antibiotics for treatment. And my HMO is obliged to pay.

I know what you're thinking. We sure have strayed from our two original questions. Quite the contrary. The quiet revolution occurring in America is perhaps a sign of the times. Perhaps Joseph knew what he was talking about. Perhaps the revelation is true--it is a word of wisdom divinely spoken 160 years ago, but spoken to our present generation. Perhaps Joseph's revelation is unfolding before our very eyes.

There's one other issue that needs addressing before we move on. Current abuses of……

Allopathic Medicine:

By the way, what is allopathic medicine?

It's modern medicine in practice; it's orthodox medical science. It's the approach used today by most doctors in modern industrial nations and can be identified primarily by three tactics: 1) general practitioners diagnose simple ailments, perform minor surgery and dispense popular prescription drugs prepackaged by large pharmaceutical firms; 2) the discovery of common ailments and referral to hospitalization, orthopedia and surgery for correction; and 3) suspicion or discovery of some more complicated disorder and subsequent referral to a specialist; i.e., obstetrician, orthopedist, psychiatrist, allergist, pediatrician, heart specialist, eye specialist, etc.

Of course, we would be foolish and terribly na´ve not to admit these practices do much good. That's not our point. The system, for the most part, has run a muck. It's crashed, gone out of control like a run-away Sputnik. Abuses are everywhere (that's our point): unnecessary surgery for profit motive, kick-back payments from specialists, kick-back payments from the druggist for prescribing the more expensive brands.

Did you know?……

* The U.S. spends more money on health care ($750 billion annually, roughly 12% GNP), yet ranks lower in life expectancy than 16 other industrial nations.

* According to consumer advocate, Ralph Nader, over 300,000 Americans are killed in hospitals every year by procedures gone wrong by physicians and nurses.

* Approximately 30% of Americans over 50 are on eight or more prescription drugs.

* Nutrition is a required course at only four medical schools in the country

* The most widely prescribed drugs (dollar volume) in the IJ.S., Zantac and Tagamet, have the highest relapse rates (greater than 92%) of any anti-ulcer treatment. In head-to- head comparisons, natural treatments (cabbage juice and a special licorice extract, DGI), have produced significantly better results with no side effects.

* Over 2,000 deaths related to ASA and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory FDA approved drugs occur each year.

* Over 1,000 deaths occur each year as a direct result of over-the-counter cough and cold pharmaceuticals.

These statistics were reported by Donald Loomis from information supplied by the National Capitol Poison Center of the United States.

Enough said.

I'll say it again--the system has run a muck.

Many of us Americans are shopping elsewhere. We're discovering what cultures of the past have known for centuries; that is--countless generations of the past developed a far greater understanding of the preventive, rejuvenative and therapeutic effects of plants than modern medicine with its powerful synthetic drugs.

In the United States, herbal preparations were widely prescribed until the late 1800s when synthetic chemistry and pharmaceuticals became increasingly fashionable and profitable.

For many of us, we've come full circle. We're back to Eden. We're back to herbs. Recent polls indicate, the confidence level of the American public in their medical doctor has plummeted from 88 percent five years ago to 48 percent today. It's at an all-time low.

For many of us, herbology, believe it or not, is the original medical science. "Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing" (Ezekiel 47:12). We're putting our trust in Naturopathy, not Allopathy.

We've become convinced, there is, indeed, such a thing as Christian holistic health. God revealed His food plan to his Prophet long before medical science. The Word of Wisdom 160 years later, we believe, shows forth "the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days."

Believe it or not, America is beginning to embrace a plant-entered diet——her temporal salvation. For instance, national magazines such as Newsweek herald the medical breakthrough known as "phytochemicals"——plant chemicals that actually stop and prevent cancer cells from dividing. Garlic and onions, states Newsweek (April 25, 1994), "……contain phytochemicals called allylic sulfides that seem to protect against stomach cancer." "Broccoli is a bonanza of phytochemicals. Sulforaphane sets in motion a process that whisks carcinogens out of cells; Peitc prevents carcinogens from binding to DNA." "Citrus fruits and berries contain flavenoids, which keep cancer-causing hormones from latching onto a cell."

Three staggering statements. Who would have dreamed reading such statements in Newsweek ten years ago? Even Newsweek is saying……fruits, vegetables, and plants prevent cancer. In some articles the big "C" word is used: cure or cured.

We've made our point——medical science is finally "catching up" with the revelation of God's Word. It's a fact:

Mankind would perish without herbs and plants; God prescribed plants to be used as medicines for mankind; God created man to live in a beautiful garden of plants and man will never really be content divorced from the beauty and surroundings of the plants of the field and forest. We're destined to paradisiacal glory.

Enough background. Now to our two questions:

1) What did Joseph Smith think of the doctors in his day? and, 2) What did he think of herbs? More specifically, of botanic medicine?

Let's take the first question.

For some strange reason, Joseph's parents seem to rely on the physicians of their day more than the botanic doctor. By the time Joseph was a mature man, his feelings were clear, however. He records in his journal on Thursday, April 13, 1843:

"……The doctors in this region don't know much. Doctors won't tell you how to go to be well. They want to kill or cure you to get your money. Calomel doctors will give you calomel to cure a sliver in the big toe and does not stop to know whether the stomach is empty or not. Calomel on an empty stomach will kill the patient and the lobelia doctors will do the same. Point me out a patient and I will tell you whether calomel or lobelia will kill him or not. If you feel any inconvenience, take some mild physic two or three times and then some bitters [herbs]. If you can't get anything else, take a little salt and cayenne pepper. If you can't get salt take pecosia or gnaw down a butternut tree. Cut some boreset or horehound. I will give you advice that will do you good. I bless you in the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen."

Joseph had just addressed a great multitude assembled at the temple. He had let his feelings be known. Joseph believed in a system of herbology to heal the body. Of course, he also believed in prayer, priesthood administration and divine intervention.

The Thomsonian System:

Shortly before the restoration of the gospel, there was another movement——the Thomsonian method of herbal cure springing up, especially in Ohio. Samuel Thomson, the original Botanic Physician, was born February 9th, 1769, at Alstead, New Hampshire. A self-taught man, he had an extraordinary career. He obtained a patent issued by the U.S. government on March 3rd, 1813, moved to Boston, and maintained his headquarters there through the rest of his career.

The Thomsonian System primarily was: 1) cleanse the body with lobelia and enemas, 2) restore the lost heat by cayenne pepper inside, hot pads and especially steam or vapor cabinet baths externally, and 3) finally, carry away the residue of "canker" by doses of herbs.

Priddy Meeks, an early Mormon pioneer, and himself a botanic physician after the Thomsonian manner, wrote,

"……Joseph Smith said that Thomson was as much inspired to bring forth his principle of practice according to the dignity and importance of it as he was to introduce the gospel."

Powerful words, indeed. We know Joseph was acquainted with Alma's admonition:

"……And there were some who died with fevers, which at some seasons of the year were very frequent in the land, but not so much so with fevers, because of the excellent qualities of the many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases, to which men were subject by the nature of the climate." --Alma 46:40

After all, he translated the verse.

Dr. Thomson died October 4th, 1843, in Boston, at the ripe old age of 75 years——a remarkable span for a man in those days. It's written of him……

"That 'steam doctor' Thomson was a benefactor among the Mormons, as among other groups, there is no doubt. 'Glory enough for one man,' it was said of him. He save more millions of human beings from a miserable life and a premature grave than the whole United States contained in the days of Washington, by a system which spread more rapidly than any other system ever did upon its own merit." --Joseph Smith and Herbal Medicine, p.14

Colonics, steam baths, the aroma of sassafras tea in city restaurants and country homes, herbal teas as tonics and blood "tuner-ups"——all fragrances and reminders dating back to Doctor Thomson, a contemporary of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Even the Thomsonian diploma authorized and signed by Dr. Willard Richards, student of John Thomson, a son of Dr. Thomson, reads,

"Keep no poisonous drugs in your shop, as no one should sell to others what he would not use himself; of suffer any human blood to be shed, with the lancet or otherwise, by your consent."

So what did Joseph Smith think of the doctors of his day? He did not trust them no did he rely upon them. For one thing, the best known medicine during his younger days was calomel and was directly responsible for the death of Alvin Smith, his older brother. I'm sure the lingering pain of losing his brother through the inadequacies of conventional medicine stayed with him.

Then……what did Joseph think of herbal medicine? The prophet, according to Priddy Meeks, said that Mr. Thomson, the botanic physician, was just as inspired in his calling as he was in his. Joseph embraced herbal medicine——believing it was in sympathy with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that the taking of herbs complemented the Word of Wisdom. The taking of herbs was actually included in the revelation.

The Word of Wisdom:

As Latter-day Saints, when we're asked, "……do you keep the Word of Wisdom?" the question usually means——do we abstain from tea, coffee, tobacco and alcohol. Abstinence is, indeed, part of the Word of Wisdom, but I like the way Dr. Kenneth Johnson puts it, "The bright light of recent scientific and medical advances is focusing new attention on the nutritional aspects of the Word of Wisdom."

There is a positive nutritional side to the Word of Wisdom often overlooked. Dr. Alvin Benson, BYU professor, refers to it as a "……law of total health." I like the term "Christian holistic health." There are certain phrases in the Word of Wisdom that seem to point to such a view.

"……all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man……"

"……all grain is ordained for the use of man and of beats, to be the staff of life……"

"……every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof……"

"……temporal salvation of all saints in the last days……"

Wholesome herbs, the staff of life, every fruit, temporal salvation——these are nutritional phrases. Not only nutritional phrases, but commands. Holy commands to be followed by "……all saints in the last days." As Latter-day saints, we're to be nutritionists at heart. And lead the way.

Practicing nutrition, of course, is not the whole gospel. Just as——leaving nutrition out of our daily life style is not the whole gospel. We error on both accounts. I have been around both extremes. There are those Christian groups, for instance, who never mention that our bodies are the temple of God, that we're to treat them with reverence and godly concern. They never mention that nutrition and health & wellness are part of the gospel. I was reared in this camp. On the other hand, there are a few Christian groups who make too much of health & wellness. They come close to preaching aestheticism, the message of Hinduism——not the good new of Christ. I must confess, I believe most Christians (and Christian groups) error on the first account. Not the second.

And I believe too many of us Latter-day Saints error on emphasizing the abstinence part of the Word of Wisdom to the neglect of the nutritional side. Our temporal salvation is more than abstaining from tea, coffee, tobacco and alcohol——though I certainly don't belittle that.

The marvelous promise, however is……

"……And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones, and shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; and shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint. And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen."

Sounds like, as Latter-day Saints, we're promised a life of longevity, protection, health, wisdom, happiness, and holiness——quite a gospel.

Yes, there is a quiet revolution taking place in America. In this dazzling pace of modern life, many of us tend to forget our roots. Well, those roots——along with saps, stems, bark, fruit, flowers, and leaves, go back to Eden.

Many of us Americans are returning to the garden of Eden. As Latter-day Saints, we should point the way.


bullet  Feedback:

From: David Skousen <>
To: 'David's Outcasts' <>
Date: Monday, November 08, 1999 12:10 PM
Subject: RE: Medicine & Mormonism

David's Outcasts -

It's long, it's worthwhile, (the best summary I've ever seen) and it's time to take righteous advantage of Mother Nature. We have too much fun "doing our thing" to pay attention to the body that continues our mortal experience.



bullet  See also:

Jim Catano's article on Word of Wisdom
Lexicon of Life entries on various healing modalities
Faith and Healing, Spiritual and Physical, Individual and Planetary by Susan Carter
Why I Chose Veganism: A Conversion of the Heart by Sterling D. Allan