The Unity Of Normal
By: Herbert M. Shelton 1973
Most of the early Hygienists held to
the principle of the unity of disease.
Jennings and Nichols were perhaps
the most outspoken in affirming this
principle. Jennings was not the first
to suggest that the seeming
multiplicity of diseases represents a unity.
Dr. Benjamin Rush, who was Surgeon General of the Continental Armies
during the Revolutionary War, stressed the importance of the principle.
Samuel Thompson, founder of the medical system known as
Physio-medicalism made the principle a fundamental part of his system.
Dr. Samuel Dickson, of England, founder of the medical system known as
Chrono-thermalism, published his book The Unity of Disease in 1838. He later
defended this theory in his book, Fallacies of the Faculty.
The allopathic medical profession rejected the principle of unity of disease and
adhered to the notion that there are many diseases. When I was a student the
textbooks listed 407 diseases, but the process of fragmentation was already
under way and today many thousands of diseases are listed.
Today, when the effort is being made with more or less success to interpret all
natural phenomena as parts of one pattern, or as expressions of one universal
form of progress, the medical profession still clings to its dualisms about
health and disease and to its old belief that there are hundreds of diseases.
They refuse to recognize the single underlying phenomenon of which their
many diseases are but varied and evanescent expressions.
Life, health, disease are ultimately to be interpreted as different aspects of an
underlying process. It is our own shortsightedness that blurs for us the
wholeness and unity of life.
The terms and expressions of contemporary medical literature, which we have
inherited from the past, carry implicit assumptions regarding the general
nature of disease, and one of our main tasks is to show where they are invalid.
Man is not always sick despite the fact that he lives in a sea of extraneous
causes that are said to cause disease. Indeed, these extraneous causes fail
more often than they succeed. Yet we know that disease is always a potential
Abnormal though it is, it is just as natural as health. In fact, if we can ever
escape from our dualisms of thought we will recognize that health and disease
are but two phases of the same living processes.
We will discover that there is no distinct line of demarcation between health
and disease and that they are not so unlike as we now believe. We will readily
understand that disease is a manifestation of life itself and that there is a
fundamental unity in all of life's manifestations normal or abnormal.
The principle of continuity and unity becomes a guide to the correct
organization of pathological knowledge, which is already vast, in conformity
with the laws of nature.
This principle provides for a major and all-important reorientation, which
eliminates the prejudices and false views that have hitherto obscured our
vision and made it impossible for us to see the woods for the trees. The
change of position thus produced transforms the interrelations of everything
so that a simple order is revealed.
Change is as constant in pathology as in all other departments of existence,
yet the change is not arbitrary; each change develops continuously out of the
preceding development earlier and later developments do not confront each
other as the senseless juxtaposition of one chaos beside another, but are
linked by similarities which pervade all change.
The meaningful order, which underlies the progressive changes seen in
pathological evolution, is realized in the continuity of the sequence of change.
Fundamentally, there are but few pathological changes, both of structure and
function that can occur in even the most complex organism. Great and
complex variations in the appearance of these fundamental changes are
possible, due to the many differentiations of tissues and to the wide variety of
functions subserved by them.
The basic pathology (atrophy) in atrophy of the liver and atrophy of the
pancreas is the same, but the complex of systemic changes of functional
aberrations that is based on this atrophy varies as the functions of the two
Basically, the "special pathology" in the lungs in pneumonia and that in the
kidneys in acute nephritis, is the same. Differentiating symptoms and changes
relate to the differences of structure and function of the two organs.
Inflammation of the stomach may check the secretion of gastric juice and
inflammation of the pancreas may check the secretion of insulin, but in both
cases the fundamental change is the checking of secretion. The kind of
secretion that will be checked will depend upon the kind of secretion turned
out by the inflamed organ.
Duly considered, this simply means that the many different so-called diseases
are not different diseases. They are but different locations and different stages
in one and the same process.
The diagnoses and classifications of diseases listed in medical textbooks are
all illusions that grow out of the medical man's notions that the
symptom-complexes, though richly variable even for the same so-called
disease, represent entities instead of being symptomatic of an underlying
substratum common to all symptom-complexes.
The same unity of the body is preserved in disease as in health. We deal with
a sick whole, not merely a sick part. Just as in physiology the whole widely
extended state of function is a unit, so in pathology the whole widely extended
state of processes that constitute the remedial process is a unity.
When there is irritation of the nose, throat, sinuses, and elsewhere, this
represents a systemic condition, not a series of local infections.
Should any part of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus become
inflamed the name given the "disease" will correspond to the part involved,
and the state of the inflammation will be: first irritation or inflammation, then
ulceration, then induration and cancer.
All pathologic change is named in keeping with the part involved.
Inflammation of the stomach is called gastritis; when ulceration develops out
of inflammation, it is called gastric ulcer; when the ulceration takes on
induration (hardening), it is called gastric cancer; if the development involves
the pyloris, it is named pyloric cancer.
If the inflammation extends to the duodenum, it is called duodenitis; if the
duodenum ulcerates, it is called duodenal ulcer; if induration follows, it is
While we tend to think of so-called diseases as local affections, the entire body
is always involved in the process. This is not to give utterance to the stupid
prevalent notion that every "local disorder" deranges all the functions of the
body; rather, it is meant to express the idea that the whole organism is
involved in every remedial process.
In the case of a diarrhea, for instance, it is a disturbance only in relation to a
larger and otherwise unitary whole, which it interrupts. There is no thought of
derangement, but of redirection.
The central and basic powers of life are those engaged in nutrition, including
those of digestion, respiration, circulation, assimilation, excretion, and
reproduction. The normal performance of these functions is health. When any
or many of these powers are much modified to meet abnormal conditions, the
modification is disease.
The modification is protective, reparative, expulsive, remedial. All such
modifications are in the service of life, not in the service of death. These
modifications are integral to life, not foreign agents at work in the body.
Disease is a vital process, not an entity.
A local disease is an impossibility. Every so-called local disease is but the
local manifestation of a general condition. Every local pathological
manifestation is an expression of a systemic pathological condition.
This is so because the body is a unit. Local diseases, so-called, are the local
expressions of general states. For the successful care of the sick, therefore, it
is not sufficient to confine our attention to the organ or part affected we must
care for the whole organism.
When indigestion produces irritation of the stomach lining, inflammation, or
gastritis develops. When irritation occurs to the point of irritation it becomes a
point of toxemic crisis.
The hairsplitting seen in differential diagnosis is made necessary by a lack of
knowledge of cause. It is a compensation for ignorance, an effort to appear
scientific when there is no science.
When we know that the processes and elements of disease are the same as
the processes and elements of health, is it probable, nay, is it possible that
disease, any disease should have no order in its seeming disorder, that
diseases should present no unity in their seeming multiplicity, should suffer
no explanation by the discovery of some central and sublime law of mutual
If all organs of the body are governed by the same laws why such a multiplicity
of diseases as are recognized by so-called medical science?
Each organ has its own peculiar histology (tissue or structure peculiarity) and
each has its own peculiar function to perform. Every organ of the body, and
this includes the brain, is under the same physiological and pathological laws.
By the co-operating principles of causation and differentiation do we derive
the many so-called diseases out of a common source. The many so-called
diseases of the medical nosology are but symptom-complexes of a
constitutional toxemic state; they are the effects of accumulated waste
products of metabolism.
Every inflammation has symptoms all its own, yet all inflammations are
basically the same. Although the symptoms of tonsillitis differ greatly from
those of acute gastritis, the inflammation is identical in the two organs;
although the symptoms of pneumonia are greatly different from those of
hepatitis, the inflammation in the liver is the same as the inflammation in the
The dissimilarity of these so-called diseases is due to the varying functions of
the organs inflamed and to the differences in histological (tissue) structure of
these different organs. Why do professional pathologists, trained also in
histology and physiology, continue to view inflammation in many different
parts of the body and imagine that each inflammation is a specific disease?
The shades of differences existing in the different so-called disease are
apparent because of the different tissues involved. It is our confirmed opinion
that too much attention is given to minute pathological distinctions and too
great value is placed upon these.
Every part of the body, when irritated, gives rise to its own symptom-complex,
or what is known as a special disease. The brain and nervous system have
their own complexes; the liver, kidneys, lungs, etc., each has its own complex.
Singling out one or more of the pronounced symptom-complexes that make
up the composite of the sick man's symptoms, diseases, complications, etc.,
all of which arise out of the one and only efficient cause-toxemia and
specializing in its treatment, is an important procedure in what is known as
"modern scientific medicine."
Congestion and inflammation may develop simultaneously in different organs;
or, what is more frequently the case, one organ may become congested and
inflamed; and, as time passes and the general health of the individual declines,
one after another of several structures may become congested or inflamed.
It is in this manner, in part, that complications always develop in longstanding
chronic castes. As the chronic disease continues due to the persistence and
intensification of the cause of the disease, one after another of the organs of
the body is brought into the pathological field; the complications become
Thus, it is true that many complications are due to the persistence and
increase of cause. The sick man sets out, at the beginning of his suffering
with dyspepsia. After ten or twenty years he finds that he has disease of the
throat and lungs, bowels, liver, kidneys, heart and perhaps of the spine. If the
individual is a woman she probably finds that she also has one or more
All so-called diseases are but varying symptom-complexes growing out of a
common cause. True, there are many causes, but if they are carefully studied,
it will be found that they are all auxiliary to one universal, efficient
Disease-inducing habits are responsible for many symptoms. Many
complexes of symptoms are given distinctive names and listed as specific
diseases. The regular profession labels almost every symptom inducted by
bad habits as a separate disease unless they decide to call them "syphilis."
Add to the symptoms induced by bad habits, those induced by drug
poisoning, and you have about all the symptoms that man presents when he
By: Herbert M. Shelton
Article: The Unity of Normal and Abnormal Processes