Medicine and Mormonism
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To: Davids_Outcasts@listbot.com <Davids_Outcasts@listbot.com>
Date: Thursday, November 04, 1999 8:56 PM
Subject: Medicine & Mormonism
David's Outcasts - http://www.GreaterThings.com/OpenForum/Davids_Outcasts.htm
Medicine & Mormonism:
Joseph Smith & Botanical Herbs
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
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).
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
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).
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.
Dr. Johnson describes one last category of medicine since the times of Joseph
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
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...
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!
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 shiftwhen the exception becomes the norm and the
norm, the exception.
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
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 naοve 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
These statistics were reported by Donald Loomis from information supplied by the
National Capitol Poison Center of the United States.
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
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 diether
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,
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 pointmedical 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 movementthe
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
After all, he translated the verse.
Dr. Thomson died October 4th, 1843, in Boston, at the ripe old age of 75
yearsa remarkable span for a man in those days. It's written of
"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.
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 medicinebelieving 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 meansdo 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
temporal salvation of all saints in the last days
Wholesome herbs, the staff of life, every fruit, temporal salvationthese
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 asleaving
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 Hinduismnot the good new of Christ. I must
confess, I believe most Christians (and Christian groups) error on the first account. Not
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 alcoholthough 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 holinessquite 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 rootsalong 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.