We hear a lot these days about the “search for the cure.” But if J.H. Tilden, M.D. were around, no doubt he’d be out there explaining in no uncertain terms that that’s a backward concept: first, find and correct the cause of disease and the “cure” will take care of itself. And what is the cause of disease? After 68 years of medical practice, it had become abundantly clear to this feisty, dedicated maverick that it was toxemia, the accumulation of waste products in the body brought about by enervating habits of living which leads to the breakdown of normal bodily functions or “disease.”
Born in 1851, Dr. Tilden was ahead of his time, way ahead of his time! Even today, considering his understanding of the relationship between lifestyle and health, many would consider him super modem.
The son of a physician, Tilden graduated from medical school in 1872. He began the practice of medicine first in Illinois, went on to St. Louis, and, finally, to Colorado where he established a sanitarium and school. During the early years of his practice in Illinois, the doctor observed the limited results of prescribing medicines to alleviate his patients’ suffering and began to question the whole use of medicine to cure disease. He read extensively, particularly European medical studies, and combined with his own thinking and clinic experience, came early on to the conclusion that there should be a way to live that would not build ill health. Thus, he began to formulate his thoughts about toxemia as the cause of disease.
From the time he moved to Denver after 18 years of practice, Dr. Tilden used no medicine to treat his patients. Rather, he practiced his theory of clearing the body of toxicity and then allowing nature to make the cure. He taught his patients how to live so as not to create the toxic condition and how to maintain good health for a disease-free life. He saw that those patients who were able to replace devitalizing habits with a lifestyle more supportive of the body, were often able to overcome their conditions and go on to live long, vigorous lives. He saw the doctor’s role more as teacher of good living habits to his patients. As he notes in the Dedication of his principal work, Toxemia Explained, published in 1926 (and still in print today: see FACT Book List, p. 15.): “Dependable knowledge of what disease really is and its cause is man’s salvation…Knowledge is power. Knowledge of how to have health gives greatest power.”
Once Dr. Tilden realized the truth of this approach, he was an uncompromising realist, even taskmaster to his patients. The doctor wasted no time on those who sought help but would not give up the negative ways that were causing and perpetuating their sickness. Despite his strictness, to many, many patients and students, he became a beloved friend and mentor.
J.H. Tilden was one of those rare individuals driven not by ego, lust for fame or money, but by the simple truth that what he had discovered could relieve the pain and suffering of his fellow man. Despite his rigorous schedule, he believed it was his obligation to share his knowledge and help others to follow. In 1900 he began to publish a monthly magazine, eventually titled Health Review and Critique. Most of his writing was done in the early morning hours from three until seven, before he began his day of teaching. Though the magazine in time gained wide circulation in the U.S. as well as abroad, it never made any money because the doctor refused to take advertising, largely financing it at a loss. When he died in 1940 at the age of 89, after 68 years in the profession, his estate was extremely modest. As Frederic N. Gilbert notes in the publishers preface to Toxemia Explained (1960 edition): “His life was pre-eminently one of self-sacrifice and of devotion to service, searching after truth, with an indomitable will and with an intense fortitude to adhere to the truth when discovered.”
Dr. Tilden’s conclusion that toxemia is the cause of all disease is based on the following thinking: in the daily course of living our bodies produce waste products or toxins which in the healthy individual are eliminated through the normal channels of elimination, kidneys, colon, skin,etc. These toxins can be the residues of food metabolism, discarded cells and tissues from normal wear and tear, foreign contaminants (today these would include pesticides and other chemical residues), etc. Ordinarily, the amount of waste does not exceed what the body can ‘eliminate on a daily basis. However, if for some reason the “housecleaning” gets sluggish or rundown or the amount of waste is more than the system can adequately remove, the body in its wisdom removes the toxins from circulation to avoid pollution of the bloodstream and places them temporarily in storage in the cells for elimination later. But if the build-up continues over a longer period usually from lack of energy (“enervation” was Tilden’s term) due to poor habits of living (e.g. deficient diet, lack of sleep, stress, or in today’s world more than in Tilden’s time, toxic effects of medicines, chemical pollution from food, air and water, etc.), then a vicious cycle develops: the body continues to store the excess, but the toxic material accumulates to a point of exhausting organ and gland function. Normal activity becomes impaired. Eventually somewhere along the line the system breaks down, and then we give it a name of a particular disease such as “cancer” or “chronic fatigue” or whatever. But the underlying cause is the same toxic overload. If the system cannot relieve the body of the excess, it becomes trapped in a cycle of increasing toxicity and decreasing of energy to remove it and the downward spiral continues.
Throughout his long life, Tilden was severely criticized by the medical establishment. The fact that for 50 years he had prescribed no medicine to his patients, that he raged against the increasing denaturing of foods and chemical pollution and talked about trusting nature as the ultimate healer, was in those days blasphemous. But Tilden was steadfast in his belief that current medical thinking had lost the forest for the trees, a point he makes quite succinctly in Toxemia Explained:
“There is but one remote cause of disease…These remarks are of extensive application, and, if duly attended to, would deliver us from a mass of error which has been accumulating for ages in medicine; I mean the nomenclature of disease from their remote causes. It is the most offensive and injurious part of the rubbish of our science.
“The physician who can cure one disease by a knowledge of its principles may by the same means cure all the diseases of the human body; for their causes are the same.”
“There is the same difference between the knowledge of a physician who prescribes for diseases as limited by genera and species, and of one who prescribes under the direction of just principles, that there is between the knowledge we obtain of the nature and extent of the sky, by viewing a few feet of it from the bottom of a well, and viewing from the top of a mountain the whole canopy of heaven.”
Tilden was truly an anomaly in his time. So broad was his thinking that he recognized early on the importance of the mind/body connection, popular buzzwords today:
“Dissatisfaction and overworked emotions are enervating. Worry, fear, grief, anger, passion, temper, overjoy, depression, dissatisfaction, self-pity, pride, egotism, envy, jealousy, gossip, lying, dishonesty, failing to meet obligations and appointments, taking advantage of misunderstandings, abusing the credulity of friends, abusing the confidence of those who confide in us – all enervate and in time build incurable disease.”
Toxemia Explained contains much practical advice about diet and good eating habits, as well as the value of fasting in healing. He includes specific menu and recipe suggestions and advises adherence to the following three rules:
“Rule No. 1 – Never eat unless you have been absolutely comfortable in mind and body from the previous’ mealtime.”
“Rule No. 2 – Thoroughly masticate and salivate every mouthful of starchy food, and give the rest of your food a reasonable amount of chewing.”
“Rule No. 3 – Never eat without a keen relish.”
Understanding the value of regular exercise in improving elimination as well as overall well-being, Tilden devotes one chapter to his tensing exercises, many of which are used today by practitioners in the healing arts, such as this progressive tensing and relaxation:
“Begin by tensing the leg muscles from the toes to the body as follows: First extend the toes as far as you can; then grip, as it were, by forcing the toes forward toward the heels, and at the same time make the muscles of the legs hard to the body. Then, completely relax. Do not repeat the tension again until the muscles are soft; then tense again, repeating the contraction and extension…”
All in all, once Dr. Tilden understood Toxemia as the underlying cause of disease, the rest was pretty much common sense. An open, optimistic attitude; wholesome, balanced diet; good elimination; moderate exercise, rest, all optimize the body’s energy and build health and host resistance to disease. Certainly Tilden would find many grateful adherents today, though, undoubtedly, there would be detractors, including those souls indignant or uninterested in the idea of surrendering their enervating ways when the “cure” might be just around the corner.
We could use a lot more Tildens today, but a pill for common sense wouldn’t be a bad idea either…