• Louize Small

The Myth of Medicine

An excerpt from Herbert M. Shelton's eponymous 1961 book.

Chapter 36: "What is Needed".


Herbert M. Shelton was a naturopath, chiropractor and health educator. He wrote over 40 books and operated a health school in San Antonio, Texas, where he taught students the many benefits of fasting. He was an advocate of Natural Hygiene, a movement that was popularised in the 1830s, and was vehemently opposed to the modern medical methods of using drugs to ‘cure’ symptoms of disease. He was most active between 1925-1970 and was much persecuted for his denunciation of orthodox medicine. He lived a long life and died in 1985. His legacy lives on through his books and lectures, some of which are available to listen to on YouTube. A selection of his books can be viewed online at www.openlibrary.org.




"Medicine, along with many other revivals of ancient civilisation rose into social and political prominence in the Renaissance. Up to this period it had never enjoyed the respect and trust of the people and had proved unable to displace the priestcraft as the protector of the people’s health. The past can never be restored; a Renaissance is never actually a rebirth – it may draw heavily upon the past for inspiration and guidance but new forces and new trends inevitably shape its ends. The Renaissance was not a return to Greek and Roman civilisation but a superimposition of Greek and Roman elements upon new elements that had come into existence during the long, dark night of the Middle Ages. Thus it was that alchemy, rather than a rebirth of hygiene, emerged triumphant from the foul womb of anti-naturalism that reigned the minds of men during the Dark Ages.


From Hippocrates to the present, medical systems varied in number and character have arisen, been established, flourished for a time and passed away. Often two, three or more of these systems existed at the same time, opposing each other with the most startling facts and arguments, each charging (and correctly) the others with destroying their patients. Often they have followed each other with such bewildering rapidity, with theories as grotesque and fanciful as they were false, and practices as fatal as they were unsound, but the people have been unable to keep up with their rise and fall.


History has recorded that each generation of men has repudiated the theories and practices of the preceding one. But though these systems have been in deadly opposition to each other, they have all agreed, and those now existing agree, in one fundamental respect: that disease is to be cured by the use of substances which, if administered to a man in health, will make him sick.


Despite its appalling cruelties and its inhuman exploitation of the sick, the period from the Renaissance to the present has been a medical era. In all respects it has been the era most subject to the false theories and fatal practices of the medical profession of all the ages. The resolute optimism with which the people have accepted every medical innovation, every new complication of life, and of care of the sick as a sign of progress was therefore medical optimism – an optimism which has proved to be well nigh ineradicable, even in the face of its obvious failure. It refuses to abandon the foolish belief that all discoveries and all new appliances and contrivances, which issue from the unscrupulous minds of chemists and engineers necessarily constitute improvement, a new progress, an advancement in the assumed upward advance of mankind. The fast accumulating complexities of medicine, which tend to keep pace with the rapidly accumulating complexities of life in general have provided the profession with more ability to exploit the sick but with nothing that is truly constructive in its application to the sick.


The art of healing, as taught and practiced in the middle of the twentieth century professes to be the results of the accumulated wisdom of three thousand years. During all this period, a privileged profession has been supposedly engaged in investigating the science of living, the conditions of health, the cause of disease, and the means of cure. Many thousands of men in many countries, and in all these ages, have made this the business of their lives, and, in consideration of their devotedness to this great work they have been honoured and rewarded. They have been considered the benefactors of the race and their calling is often connected with the attributes of divinity. Medicine is said to be a noble profession, a divine art, a glorious science!


Nowhere in this world is the medical profession more numerous or respected than in the United States. We have over 300,000 regular physicians and some thousand who are considered irregular; we have medical colleges of highest standing, some of them connected with our universities. We have academies of medicine, county, state and national medical associations intended to collect into one burning focus all the medical knowledge and skill of the age. We have hospitals, sanitoria, clinics, research institutions and dispensaries. In a word, there is nothing wanting by which medical science can produce its legitimate effects upon the public health. Never had a profession greater advantages, nor could be greater desired. Its members are of the highest social rank, many of them are looked up to and reverenced. They possess unabounded influence, both with individuals and with legislative bodies. Whatever law they recommend is passed; whatever they advised is speedily accomplished. There is therefore no lack of power to carry out the dictates of their wisdom. Most of these physicians mean well; they are not wanting in zeal or benevolence. If their knowledge and power have not produced the desired results, it is because there is something wrong both with their knowledge and their means.


The medical profession, with all their years of experience, all of their costly training, their colleges and libraries, their research institutions and their magnificent hospitals, their voluminous material medica, and their proud boast of science cannot cure disease. Watch them, and you will discover that although the fashions in drugging rapidly change, they treat their patients with routines of drugging and surgery while giving very little attention to the organic needs of the organism and with almost no attention to the causes of the diseases with which their victims suffer. All organic ailments are regarded as incurable and ailments that are not organic tend to become so under their mischief-making plans of treatment. Ailments that speedily get well if left alone may become serious and fatal under their mismanagement.


If, in spite of the increased knowledge of pathology, medical men still stand hopeless in the face of the mounting tide of disease, if they are still forced to confess that so many diseases are incurable, if their drugging gives such meagre results, is the public not justified, nay, is it not bound to investigate and apply other means that promise a larger outflow of health. In the name of humanity – in the name of genuine progress – should not the medical profession get out of the way and cease its interference and its resistance? The absurdities, barbarities and whimsicalities of the medical systems that have existed and do exist are recorded in their past history and are evidence in their present theories and practices. Each generation has been compelled to repudiate the theories and practices of previous ones; and, while congratulating itself upon the improvement it has made, nevertheless has perpetrated, if possible, grosser absurdities and commended more destructive practices than its predecessors. Individually, each thoughtful professor alternately lamented the incongruities of his system and aroused his ardour to more desperate experiments in the hope of obtaining better results.


Each year since the beginning of the nineteenth century medicine has grown progressively more iatrogenic. Year by year, its toxicity (virulence) has mounted. The drugging system makes no genuine progress; the thing that is essentially wrong does not make progress. The dead do not grow, error does not improve. Life and truth alone are capable of going forward. Hopping from drug to drug, from pill to pill and from potion to potion is not progress. Nothing more dramatically reveals the medical mans obsession with the thought that the proper approach to every problem is a drug than the fact that he is now searching, with frenzied zeal, for a drug to control appetite. Nor does it matter to the men of medicine what the ‘side effects’ of their appetite controls may be. They will employ them if they find drugs that will depress the desire for food.


They are now seeking drugs to control conception and are trying out several of these with no concern for the damage that must inevitably result to all who use such drugs – and apparently no thought to the generic damages that must result from their use. If you have a problem, no matter what it is, somewhere there is more money for research and we’ll find it.


The 2,500 year record of medicine has been one of consistent failure, the hodge-podge of palliatives serving only to bolster the hold of the medical man on his victims has never effectively been dealt with but has often accentuated the causes of the sufferings of humanity. They tinker with effects, in the mean time, they promise, they plead, they threaten, they deceive and finally, they maim and kill. But they persist in not recognising the simple fact that the genuine causes of human suffering lay in the behaviour patterns, the genetic patterns and the nutritional patterns of the people. Can we reasonably expect a ‘healing craft’ whose every existence and continuance, as well as financial welfare, depends on the presence of an unceasing prevalence of sickness to educate the people I genuine means of preserving health? It would be contrary to their own financial interests and power.


What is commonly called ‘folk medicine’ is nothing more than surviving relics of a past medical era. They are practices that have hung on in the public mind long after the profession that first introduced them and practiced them has abandoned them and adopted other methods. The existence of folk medicine should not puzzle us, it belongs to the past and will certainly die if ignored. A study of the evolution of the practitioner through the centuries impresses one with the fact that the physician panders to the popular tendencies of his time, rather than conforms to any genuinely scientific principles. While boasting of his progress and his scientific attainment he follows the fashions of pills as these come and go like fashions in women’s clothing. Viewing the panorama of medical notions and practices over the last 2,500 years, the question naturally forces itself upon us: ‘What is needed?’


Medicine is about 2,500 years old. Man existed on the Earth for a long time before there was a medical profession. His success is evidenced by the fact that he multiplied and spread over most of the Earth, including the islands of the South Pacific and Australia. He lived in the far north, in the tropics, in the desert and the mountains. It is only logical to assume that a being that managed to survive and increase under all of these vicissitudes of existence to which man was subjected carried with him a means of caring for the sick that was at least as effective, if not more so, than the ephemeral cures that have had their vogues during the past 2.5 centuries.


Before the coming of the shaman, long before the rise of the priesthood, long antedating the origins of surgeries, there was man. Devoid of the hypotheses and arts which they now boast of as accumulated science, man had to depend upon the elemental factors of life if he was injured or sick – food, water, air, sunshine, warmth, coolness, activity, rest and sleep, cleanliness, emotional poise and a few other simple means that bear a physiological relation to his organisation were his only reliances. They still constitute the only usable means, activities and conditions in his environment. Not until the rise of the hygienic system in the early years of the last century a system that urged a radically different approach to the problems posed by disease was there offered to the sick a sane method of care. The hygienic approach is based upon fundamentally different principles and it cultivates practices that are equally different from the old practices. It is a system that is diametrically opposed to all medical systems, whether of the past or of the present in this fundamental respect: viz, that it repudiates the employment of all agents and processes that are naturally destructive of the health and vital integrity of the sick and employs, as its means of care of the sick, and to restore them to health, only those means which tend to keep them well.


It is a popular error that what is called cure of disease is equivalent to, or includes, the recovery of health; an error which is fraught with disastrous consequences to millions. It is one thing to cure disease, it is quite another to restore the sick to health. The numerous sequelae that follow diseases that have been cured are irrefutable evidence that cure does not restore health. Under drug treatment the symptoms may subside but in their places are left ailments that are often serious and sometimes fatal. Kidney disease, deafness and other ailments sometimes follow scarlet fever; lung, stomach and nervous affections follow measles; stomach, liver and kidney disease follow typhoid fever; pleurisy, chronic bronchitis, tuberculosis and other ailments follow pneumonia; enlarged spleen and great emaciation sometimes follow malaria, even the common cold is frequently followed by sequelae that cause medical men to list it as a cause of more serious disease.


Almost every acute disease may be followed by chronic aftermaths, which demonstrate the vast difference between curing disease and restoring health. It is these chronic ailments that the hygienist is most often called upon to look after. This is true because the medical man can do nothing for them; he cannot even supress them. The processes of drugging are first tried, after which the patient is often willing to turn to nature’s own plan of care. It should be interesting to enquire whether or not the same hygienic care that remedies the aftermaths of drug-treated acute disease (sequelae) would not have prevented them if employed in the first place instead of the drugs. The answer is that hygienic care nearly always does prevent their development. It is not denied that in feeble cases, or in clients that fail in carrying out instructions, exceptions may be seen but the rule is invariably that with proper hygienic care of the acutely ill, no sequelae follow, unless in some extreme cases in which power is at low ebb.


For over two thousand years the public have been treated by medicine to cure their diseases; the result has been an increase in disease and frightful mortalities, with great numbers of premature deaths. This can only be ended only when the people are themselves enlightened in a true, health science. It does not speak well for the intelligence and honesty of physicians that to this day they have denied, discredited and fought against the hygienic system and have preferred their arsenal of toxic drugs to the normal things of life.


The powers of the ‘doctor’ are limited. He cannot hope, even by the most enlightened plan of care to usurp the prerogative of healing, which belongs to the living body. This power is jealousy, reserved by the living organism for itself, the same power which brought us into being, which causes us to grow through the various stages of development to manhood and womanhood; also repairs the organism, sustains its growth, performs its functions, heals its lesions of accidents and diseases. In a word, it constitutes the only preserving, healing and reparative force. The vigour with which these vital operations are performed, must therefore correspond with the amount of force on hand.


So long as medicine, with its poisons and its palliatives continues to dominate the thinking and practices of mankind, there will be nothing but weakness, disease and misery and the ever-present threat of cancer, heart disease and degeneration. Doses of physic (poison), all of which are known to the practitioner of physic to be inimical to health, to purge man of the results of a non-biological way of life are irrational. It is idle, nay puerile, to suppose that a change of condition of the organism, as from health to disease, alters the relation of the poison to the living structure so that after the structure becomes sick, a substance that was poisonous in health is no longer so, but is healthful and restorative. It is such ‘reasoning’ that has perpetuated the stupendous fraud of poisoning people with a view of restoring them to health. The difference between health and disease is not radical. The invalid is subject to the same laws, affected by the same agencies, and is to be cared for on the same principles as the man in health.


Newness is the very breath of life, the essence of reform, the meaning of everything! Every generation inherits a burden of bad old ways; new ideas are the ‘pearls of great price’ to each generation. The health of the people on the one hand and the success of the drug industry on the other exclude the one, the other. A healthy people will bankrupt and destroy the drug industry. A successful drug industry will wreck the health and shorten the lives of the people who make its success possible. The faults of the drug medical system are inherent and basic, not accidental and superficial. A real scientific examination of its principles and practices reveals that a reform of medicine will not be sufficient, even if the reforms were to work as well as they think they will but a basic and revolutionary change is needed. Drug reform is an illusion – fewer drugs, more caution in administering them, lower costs, more modest claims for them, smaller does, fewer doses and all the other reforms that may be offered, while they may take off some of the rough edges, still leave the drug system intact. Not reform, but annihilation is the need.


Medicine changes slowly. Santillana says, “The standard pharmacopeia of 100 years ago was still largely Hippocratic”. The most rapid change has occurred during the past 50 years but medicine is still characterised by its vain effort to upset the unalterable and eternal order of the universe, the substitution of cunningly disguised expedients for the normal processes of life and the reliance upon chemical tricks instead of upon the authority of the laws and requirements of being are attempted with the same blind expectation of success as that posed by the mediaeval alchemists.


In their determination to reverse the eternal order of nature, the members of the drugging craft have invested their drugs with powers and properties that belong only to living structures. In the entire universe, only living organisms possess physiological properties or are capable of physiological actions. As soon as it dies, the organism loses its physiological properties and its power to act physiologically. A living stomach may perform a very important physiological activity; a dead stomach can do nothing at all. A living arm may perform a number of acts; a dead arm is powerless. The living heart performs day and night, year after year; a dead heart is as actionless as a dry stick or a clod of earth. If organs that were once alive and performed a number of physiological actions cannot perform any actions of any kind, how can we invest lifeless plant, animal and mineral substances with the power to act physiologically – how can we endow them with physiological properties?


We have not the slightest evidence that the ancients ever conceived of such a monstrous absurdity; their magic materials were employed as demon-chasers, not as pharmaceutical agents. We credit primitive man and the ancients with animism; we are guilty of believing in animism of the crudest and most fantastic kind. We not only invest drugs with the power of action, we invest them with the power to act physiologically and therapeutically; they do the work that the ancients credited to their gods; they performed a whole catalogue of medicinal actions, although no one has ever seen them perform anything, other than the mere union and disunion that is called chemical action. Even food lacks powers to act physiologically. Food may be used physiologically by the living organism but the food itself is passive in the hands of the physiological processes of life. There is a fundamental difference between nutriments and what are termed, by the men of medicine, medicaments. We are not to confound nutriments with medicaments – nutriments are the materials upon which metabolism is, and can only be, established. As the organism is constantly working, and using up and discarding its materials, metabolism, as the supporter of this work, must always remain unimpaired and unchanged, drawing upon a daily supply of nutriment, composed of usable basic materials.


Any disturbance of metabolism requires an adjustment to adequate, fundamental food materials. All substances, whatever their origin, which are forced upon the organism and which do not belong to this fundamental material cannot be employed in the processes of metabolism and can serve only to disturb and impair metabolism and must be classed as poisons. Any substance that cannot be used in the synthesis of cell-substance itself is properly classed as a poison. Whatever is chemically incompatible with the body’s structures and/or physiologically incompatible with the functions of life is a poison. The first class corrode, decompose and destroy some part or portion of the constituents of some organ or structure. The second interferes with the functions of life and exhaust its powers. Only those substances that are indispensable for the evolution and repair of the organism in a state of health can be used by the body in a state of disease, in carrying out the metabolic operations upon which the body must always contend, not alone for the original development of the body but for all subsequent repair.


Poisons, because they have no place in normal metabolism, can have no legitimate place in the care of the sick body. I have never been able to discover any rationality in the administration of poisons in sickness, which would prove a disadvantage in health when the powers of life are in the best position to resist encroachments. Sickness does not necessarily imply such a state of body as necessarily to demand what might be fairly labelled poison. I can conceive of no more monstrous idea than that the more critical a case, the more poisonous a drug should be that may cure.


Iron, sulphur, calcium, iodine and other elements, though normal constituents of the human organism, cannot be utilised as such. The animal organism can generally draw only on organised substances for sustenance; water and oxygen being the only exceptions to this rule. Human metabolism differs radically from that of the plant; whereas the plant can assimilate the elements of the soil, water and air, and synthesise organic compounds from these, the animal is forced to draw upon the plant for its nutrients. So much study has been given to chemistry and to the effects of drugs, while the physiological significance of the various foodstuffs has been largely neglected. Food is still relegated to a subordinate position while drugs will take first place in the care of the sick.


I wish it were possible to bring people in general to understand that those things which, if taken into the body in health occasion sickness cannot by any means occasion health if taken into the body by the sick. How can it be possible that substances, which as is everywhere acknowledged, cannot in the least degree contribute to the maintenance of health, nor to support the actions or functions of life. And which, as is also everywhere admitted, are inimical to both health and life, can restore the sick to health? We marvel that a proposition so preposterous has so long been believed by the people and their physicians.


All the healing power that can possibly be brought to bear upon a pathological state in a living organism is the healing power inherent in the organism itself. All that anyone else can do is to supply the physiological needs of the sick. He may provide whatever of rest and warmth, of water and air, of food and abstinence, that the sick organism can make constructive use of, he can stand guard and prevent others from doing harm. Poisons supply none of the physiological needs of the living system. On the contrary, they are one and all injurious to the living structure and suppressive of living activities; their presence occasions disease, not health; death, not renewed life.


It is not difficult to destroy life; it is even easy to kill an infant. A slight scratch of the physician’s pen that dictates that what may be, according to him, a little ‘too much’ of his ‘remedy’ will snuff out the life of the infant. How much of a drug is too much? How can any physician ever know until after he has given the dose that while most infants survive it, may prove fatal in a particular case? It does not do to declare that the infant was allergic. This is a dodge, not an explanation. It is an effort to hide the fact that the infant died of poisoning. It is an effort to shield the physician and the poisoning practice.


The Lancet (London, August 5th1961) gives the utterance to a view that is essentially that of hygienists. It says: “The idea of ‘whole body metabolism’---of the total economy of an organism maintaining a complex homeostasis (functional equilibrium) between many elements within its own boundaries---receives perhaps less than due attention”. This true, not alone in our commonly accepted piecemeal approach to the problems of health, but it is more so in our haphazard and fragmentary approach to the problems presented by disease. When the field is narrowed down to an alleged specific, certainly there is an ignoring of the complexity of the total process of metabolism.


Fundamental to the recovery of health is the removal of all causes that have impaired and are maintaining and intensifying the impairment of health. Medically, very little attention is given to the causes that impair the general health. When they think of cause, they think in terms of some specific cause; illness is likely to be ascribed to inherent defects in the human organism – to heredity, to the weather, particularly to cold weather; to germs, viruses, to anything, in short, that would necessitate a change in habits, a measure of self-control or denial or some temporary inconvenience. If the medical establishment does not directly foster these notions, they certainly do not point out their fallacy. Indeed, there is reason to believe that they are as unconscious of the fallacy of these notions about cause as they are the non-professional portions of the population. People get sick by habits. They grow into disease by long-continued, though slight transgression in most cases, so must they also grow into health by observing the right conditions. These are not heroic but mild.


Hygiene is not offered as a substitute for drug treatment; we do not think that drug treatment has any value. We deny that it can ever restore health. Admitting that drugs may, in some instances, apparently improve functions and structures and ‘restore’ more normal and healthy action of the various organs of the body, we call attention to the undeniable fact that this ‘improved’ condition is apparent only and is never lasting. A drug may be given (veratrum for instance) that will seem to control and regulate the excited pulse, but it depresses heart action and does no real good, soon the drug is excreted and the pulse is as excited as ever, even more so. The apparent improvement in this instance arises out of the cardiac depression and is no genuine improvement.


A laxative may occasion action the bowels in constipation but it does not remedy the constipation and its supposed benefit is not susceptible of indefinite extension. An antacid temporarily relieves the distress of ‘acid indigestion’ but it fails to remedy the impairment of digestion that is present; the drug must be taken after each meal and it produces troubles that are commonly far worse than those for which it is given. Tea and coffee appear to remedy nervous irritability in a wonderful way, relieving headache, gloomy foreboding, etc. but the appear to help only to make matters worse. Aspirin temporarily relieves headache or the pains of arthritis but its continued use over weeks, months and even years, while producing evils galore, never remedies the headache or the arthritis. All drug-induced ‘relief’ is fictional. All drugs, if their employment is continued, result in a variety of evils.


Instead of drugs producing health, each and all of them produce disease. Some of them are deadly, even in small doses. If a drug is deadly enough to destroy life while taken by the healthy, it is no less so in disease. Every physician knows that a full dose of any of the stronger poisons is quite as fatal to a sick man as to a well man. No matter that some of them, in certain doses, may seem to restore normal action, their essential effects remain always and ever the same.


The time has arrived in the evolution of man’s thinking about life and living – more particularly about health, disease and healing – when he will turn from the magical, supernatural and anti-natural means and measures that have characterised the period since his abandonment of primitive hygiene and return to the normal things of life as the true sources of aid in times of illness. It is true that the laws are nearly all favourable to the medical profession and unfavourable to the welfare of the people, and definitely opposed to any group that may seek to enlighten the people, as the proper ways of health and life and it seems that the greater grows and the public distrust of the profession and its practices, the more determined are the law-makers to protect and preserve the system of poisoning. While these constitute formidable obstacles in the path of the militant hygiene, there are other forces at work that are counteracting the forces of medical tyranny and medical evil.


The evidence is growing that more and more people, by the hundreds and by the thousands, are growing aware of the criminal nature of medical practices, that the medical system is not only morally wrong but that it is incapable of solving the simplest, as well as the most urgent problems that confront the health-seeker. For the first time in history the regular press and the popular magazines have dared to discuss openly and fearlessly the evils of the myriad wonder drugs with which the market has been flooded. People have learned, whom we have never been able to reach, that there is something rotten much closer to home than Denmark. Developments are on our side and no legislature can long continue to disregard the demand of the people for relief from the evils that abound."