June 27, 2013 | Posted in Concepts in Anthroposophic Medicine, Immune System

There are two ways to get sick: acute illness, and chronic illness. These are very different from one another.


The acute illness is often feverish, is active on the surface of the body (mucous discharge or skin rash), and commonly is self-limited (lasts a few days then resolves). The ‘usual childhood diseases’ are the prototype of acute illnesses. The child is very sick, then is well. This is the way a healthy immune system gets sick.  See Fever.

The chronic illness, by contrast, is a cold non-feverish event. Inflammation is more on the inside of the body, eg joints in arthritis, pancreas in diabetes, an organ or body part in cancer. It goes on and on, and is not easily ended and health restored. Adults commonly have chronic illnesses, reflective of their somewhat suppressed, less vigorous, immune systems, in comparison with the child.


There is a saying in complementary medicine that ‘The acute is the healer of the chronic.’ An acute illness is an exercise class for the immune system. The immune system is stronger in general at the end of an acute illness, not just stronger for fighting the microbe related to the acute illness. The suppression of acute illness (e.g. with antibiotics and antipyretics such as aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen) cancels the exercise class, the strengthening opportunity the acute illness offers. Acute illness needs treatment, but in a supportive way, not a suppressive way. This is a strength of holistic approaches: whether an herb, or homeopathic remedy, the body can be supported in its exercise and gain the strength from the opportunity of acute illness.

In anthroposophic medicine, childhood illnesses exercise and order the relationships between the subtle bodies and the physical body. See Etheric body, Astral body, Self/Ego/I. Parents commonly see a new aspect of personality apparent in their young child after a feverish illness. The “I” has struggled and conquered, and the individuality of the child is more apparent.

In the 21st century there are fewer acute illnesses in childhood and more chronic illnesses, such as asthma, ADHD, autism, diabetes, learning disabilities, depression, severe allergies. The archetype of a vigorous immune system being the rule in childhood is not the case.

A few studies have demonstrated the value of acute illness for long term health (see pp. 99-100 The Vaccination Dilemma, ed by Christine Murphy). But in general, this topic does not receive research attention.  Research dollars are spent developing new vaccines, in preference to understanding basic human physiology in acute and chronic illness, or how chronic illness might be related to vaccine usage.

Regardless of whether an acute illness or a chronic illness is the problem, valuable treatments from holistic (anthroposophic medicine) are available. See Basics for general health.   See Basics for acute illness.  See the names of the individual symptoms.

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The Vaccination Dilemma, ed. by Christine Murphy, Lantern Books (Booklight, Inc), 2002

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