Aboriginal and Ancient Healing compared to Modern Medicine: A Review of Cross-cultural Paradigms and Healing Modalities Seated in Manipulation of the Human Immune System.

Rev. Jeremy Wood, BS, RH, HMP


When looking at the various ways clinicians work with the human form during illness or injury, one has the ability to dissect these maneuvers and learn the impact of adaptation to healing interventions, rooted in culturally dependent paradigms. In “modern medicine”, also referred to as western medicine, there is a systematic research paradigm to finding the cause and effect of a given illness or ailment, leading to the initiation of a treatment plan. As the most recently developed and highly exposed form of medicine in the media, western medicine has grown in popularity to the point of generally being the only supported and used form of medicine for primary care in the growing global healthcare infrastructure.  With the donation and use of global vaccination programs and western medical/relief missions and supplies, these forms of healing are beginning to mix with local aboriginal health care and exposing the root to many modern healing practices. When looking at the way these two paradigms differ in general practice, it is apparent that it is only the use and selection in resources of these cultures that has changed the presentation of treating the human form; the underlying theory to working with man has not seemingly changed, although discrimination has been said to drive away aboriginal tribes due to a lack of support for their own holistic and natural ways of living and healing(Clark, 2008; Aspin, 2012;Baba 2014).

Chronic and terminal illnesses are commonly rooted in the lack of efficient functionality in mechanisms that signal centers to support the body or enguage destruction and excretion of pathogens(Alberts, 2002). As well, from a holistic standpoint these conditions may also be perpetuated by the lack of support in both forms of healing and the development of an environment and resources to support a dynamic global culture(Aspin, 2012;Baba 2014). In looking at this, the immune system is a popular topic to compare cross culturally when wanting to understand the general mechanisms targeted in all healing theories. “An infant born with a severely defective adaptive immune system will soon die unless extraordinary measures are taken to isolate it from a host of infectious agents, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Indeed, all multicellular organisms need to defend themselves against infection by such potentially harmful invaders, collectively called pathogens (Alberts 2002).” In looking at the mechanisms of the immune system from an anatomy and physiology standpoint, a general basis of all of these modalities is established.

The human immune system is both structurally connected via tissues and circulatory networks, as well as being functionally adaptable through biofeedback mechanisms and electrochemical signaling.  The general function of these tissues and physiological processes can be separated into three categories: environmental protection and recognition, generation of immune response, and the “house keeping” and cleanup post exposure(Baynes, 2009).  Starting with the physical and electrochemical barriers of the skin, mucosa, sweat, tears etc, the continuity of the skin as a neurological and respiratory organ is of the upmost importance for both protection of the body from environmental pathogens and biochemical signaling for response and repair mechanisms of the immune system; physiochemical disturbances to this membrane and outer shell that the human form develops within, generates neurological activity in what has been termed the innate immune system(Alberts, 2002; Baynes 2009).

The first line of defense in innate immunity is the generation of the inflammatory response, seeking to identify, isolate, digest and remove a pathogen and concludes with mechanisms of growth, repair and differentiation. Important safeguards and continuity in these mechanisms must be kept “in check”. During this process, the body may be signaled by inflammatory mediators to halt the inflammation stage, clinically significant, or a secondary, “complement system” may be engaged(Baynes, 2009). Clinically these “stuck” on cells may cause physiological problems in due to their toxicity or improper signaling in various conditions such as chronic pain, phantom limb pain and fibromyalgia. As well these secretions and biomarkers are used and identified by the breakdown of proteins from muscle and body tissues, as their presence is likely in the blood stream for disposal. Tests in the Emergency Room and disease research use these protein based antibodies, such as the c-reactive protein indicative of liver disease(Baynes, 2009). When exposed to these signals, an adaptive response may also occur in a way that the pathogen’s biomarkers, local biochemical resultant changes and protein cascades are programmed into the cellular memory of the cells developed in response to the innate inflammation cascade.

An antigen, the biomarker placed on a targeted foreign, pathogenic or developing cell requiring signals for differentiation, triggers the adaptive immune response. From development in the humeral centers of the long bones, the main white blood cells, leukocytes, of the adaptive immune system are the antibody responsive “B cells”. Cell mediated signaling is then propagated by T-cells. Serving to secrete immunoglobulin for antibody development after finding and binding to a biomarker, “B-cells”, signal phagocyte activity or to inactive a virus. The other type of white blood cell active in adaptive immunity is the T cell that will “knock out” pathogens by signaling a phagocyte to digest itself with its “meal” or to directly kill the marked cell(Alberts, 2002; Baynes, 2009).  One important note, frequently overlooked by western medicine in the opinions of those opposing vaccination is the final cell fate of every cell developed, long term differentiation and/or integration with the nervous system. This along with signaling for apoptosis, programmed cell death, in the cell engulfing the foreign debris or marked as infected / invader tagged for neutralization, makes some uncomfortable with the specificity of these molecules and reactions; by looking into the more traditional and aboriginal ways of living and healing the human form, a comparison to modern immunization practices can be made and potentially show the options for signaling  healing reactions in the human immune system.

Unlike the modern systematic system of pure science to understand the body and its interactions with illness, aboriginal, holistic and modern bush healers traditionally take a mind body and spirit approach to mending the human form. Rather than the synthetic manufacturing of an antibody by infecting a lab animal, isolating and developing a serum to blend with an adjuvant, synthetic immune system stimulant, for inoculations, other approaches take a more naturally derived method to supporting the body’s immune system and use spiritual modalities and local flora and fauna (McGarey, 1983; Clark, 2008; Aspin, 2012;Baba 2014).  When researching back to the original forms aboriginal medicine, it has been noted by South Australian curator Phillip Clarke,

“The flora is a fundamental part of the landscape with which human culture develop a complex set of relationships. In aboriginal Australia, plants physically provided people with the means for making food, medicine, narcotics, stimulants, adornment, ceremonial objects, clothing, shelter, tools and for creating artwork. Symbolically, plants feature heavily in Aboriginal myths and religious beliefs. Australia’s flora is unique and highly diverse, qualities which are also present in the aboriginal pharmacopeia. Pharmacologists have found that many of the Australian plants used in Indigenous remedies have a chemical basis (Clarke, 2008)”.

With this a universal understanding of how life is supported from a more aboriginal, or modernly geared holistic approach may be seen. Although their clients and patrons are the same in physicality, their approach to understanding these individuals and how to generate and maintain wellness may appear drastically different. Comparatively speaking, there are general mechanisms that both use in their approach, a way to understand both the cultural, and resource driven influences of healing.

When looking into the vaccination and immunization procedures used currently, the general premise is that after exposure, the lab animal will generate an immune response that will give insight to the impact of the pathogen, as well as samples of antibodies generated in the response. These antibodies and characteristic data are then used to generate a form of the virus with a developed antibody to be isolated and used(Alberts, 2008).  Where controversy lies is in the application of this both ethically regarding animal testing, as well as the final step of use in the vaccination or immunization procedure, the addition of adjuvants and synthetically derived compounds. 

Holistic and aboriginal spiritual sides of healing widely note respect and a co-habitation on the earth with animals and do not use them for test objects in the way these animals are generally maintained and then euthanized after their work is done. This does not mean that the holistic sides of healing do not dispatch and materialize animals in their healing procedures; again it is the method and use of the environment, not the premise that differs.

When looking at the use of animals in healing in regards to boosting immunity in the sick and weak, many holistic and aboriginal procedures show correlates to “immunization” in modern techniques for combating acute and environmental exposure to pathogens. When hunting locally or raising animal for their daily meals, the hunter gather/sustainable mindset is to capture the strongest healthiest animal for resources, as the ingested meat and products generated from the animal would span across all aspects of life in the aboriginal ways; again, comparing to recent, the sick cows are not passed for slaughter and rotten vegetables cannot be sold in market. These precautions are generally beneficial, yet the process of a holistic or aboriginal slaughter would in fact use the blood, organs, bones, nerves and hide of every animal in everyday life, spiritual ritual or medicinal modality (Clark, 2008; Aspin, 2012;Baba 2014). The sacrifice made was honored by this resource development along with eating the heart and drinking the blood fresh of any game, as it was spoken that this is how the soul is honored and set free to the next life. As grotesque and barbaric as this appears to the present, having no idea how their food stocks are raised or prepared from the TV dinner, plastic packaging or fast food wrapping they see, there may be some fundamental aspects of immunization and physiology. When looking at how these modalities would compare scientifically, reasons as to why these people live vibrantly into old age amongst pathogens that would strike ill most of modernly developed immune systems.

When ingesting the blood of the animal, the circulating antibodies from all that the animal was exposed to, and surviving, would be incorporated to the animal or human consuming it. The iron, electrolyte and antibody rich nature of blood would seem beneficial, as well potentially generate immune reactions that could build adaptive responses.  Principles of exposing the laboratory animal to specific diseases is beneficial, however the holistic and hunter gathering mindset of eating local, ethically and naturally developed and nurtured foods incorporates this into daily life and would be inoculated locally in theory. As well, these animals may survive in less nurturing environments than humans can handle and gain gradual exposure and antibodies for diseases they have not yet seen.  Next, the benefit to ethical healing and living can also show superior when considering ethical treatment, hunting and dispatching of animals. When stressed an animal, just as we humans, secrete stress hormones, such as cortisol, shown to depress human immune responses, generate weight gain as well as diminish the spirit (Baynes, 2009). When consuming animal flesh, the body may recognize antibodies and potential hormones in the bloodstream, forcing a response by the immune system  The first line of the immune response is inflammation, as noted previously, and only then if the body recognizes the signals and biochemical markers of the pathogen, will it launch an efficient attack. Now, unless adding something to suppress the ability for the body to recognize the difference between the lab animal and host, the body likely will reject the antibody and may very well keep an inflammatory response engaged. There are troubles present as well in this theory if the body does not have an efficient method for neutralizing or breaking down the synthetic chemicals used.  Is it a reasonable solution then to manipulate and suppress these mechanisms to develop specific immune reactions? Ethical and health questions are then raised as to what may come of these reactions in the body and if synthetic stimulants, cortisol from poorly treated animals or synthetic hormones used in feed stocks may be influencing the human form. From an immunological perspective, this seems rational.

The aboriginal and holistic ways of daily living would have methods generated where all local pathogens and microbes would be incorporated into the animal or individual that was exposed. Beneficially as well, these animals are ethically and nutured in a light that respects their wellbeing to generate their highest health. Developing a universal living and healing system rooted in the natural products of the earth, not our manipulation of it, holistic and aboriginal approaches honor the pharmacopeia and resources provided by nature to sustain life (McGarey, 1983; Clark, 2008; Aspin, 2012;Baba 2014). As Edgar Cayce, father of Holism said, “The entity should keep close to all of those things that have to do with outdoor activities, for it is the best way to keep yourself young- to stay close to nature, close to those activities in every form of exercise that breathes in the deep ozone and the beauty of nature. For you may breathe it into thine own soul, as your would a sunset or morning sun rising. And see that sometimes- its as pretty as the sunset!”(3374-1). There is a place for unifying both of these methods for the sake of understanding the human condition, and the physiology that will continue to develop, or destroy the being. In looking at recent research regarding investigations to the chemical efficacy of essential oil distillations, plant based extracts and the scientific background to the older or more natural healing modalities, the statistical data is there to show how the underlying physiology is reacting to these chemical compounds we expose it to. As well with stigmatization spoken to earlier, some cultures feel neglected and ostracized for the selection and preferred healing methods of the individuals who reside in these environments. Ironically enough, self-defeating stress directly weakens the immune system too(Abbots, 2002). With the lack of resources and research for supporting these groups their true being, sprit included, is not assessed or honored in this process, Aboriginal medical services cure more than illness: a qualitative study of how Indigenous services address the health impacts of discrimination in Brisbane communities, is an example of one of these projects conducted by Public Health researchers of Australia(Aspin, 2012).

In the end, the body is forced to react and adapt to everything that is within the local environment, conscious or not, natural or not. This is all the body has to maintain homeostasis and will only generate tissue and energetically support itself with the food and nutrients given; however, with the growing rates of obesity, cancer, heart disease and depression it has not shown beneficial in the change to designer food, synthetic medicine development and surrendering health resources and education about the basic fundamentals of the human form to wisdom that is hardly 100 years hold.  In comparison, the holistic and forms of healing have natural selection and eons of wisdom for supporting and advancing human development. This inquiry shows that many nuances of culturally based medicine and maintaing life is about resource utility, not the mindset or ingenuity; choose to live holistically with nature and rest assured, it will develop exactly what you need.

Works Cited:

Aspin, C. Brown, N. Jowsey, T. Yen, L. Leeder, S. Strategic approaches to enhanced health service delivery for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with chronic illness: a qualitative study. BMC Health Serv Res. 2012; 12: 143. 

Alberts B, Johnson A, Lewis J, et al. Molecular Biology of the Cell. 4th edition. New York: Garland Science; 2002. Chapter 24, The Adaptive Immune System. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21070/

Baba, J. Brolan, C. Hill, P. Aboriginal medical services cure more than illness: a qualitative study of how Indigenous services address the health impacts of discrimination in Brisbane communities. International Journal for Equity in Health 2014, 13:56 

Baynes, J. Dominiczak, M. Medicinal Biochemistry. 2009. Mosby Elsevier. 3rd Ed. pp 512-524 

Clarke. P. Aboriginal healing practices and Australian bush medicine. Journal of the Anthropological Society of South Australia. 2008 Vol. 33

McGarey, W. The Edgar Cayce Remedies. 1983. Bantam Books


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