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General - Abuse of relaxants, astringents, diaphoretics, diuretics, and tonics

by Paul Bergner

Medical Herbalism 2(6):3

Medical herbalism thrived in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the U.S. in several systems of medicine. The most important of these were the Eclectic and the Physiomedicalist schools. Practitioners were medical doctors, with extensive clinical experience. Although these systems largely died out in the U.S., physiomedicalism was adopted by many British herbalists, and thrives there today. Eclectic medicine barely survived in the U.S., and parts of it are taught today at naturopathic medical colleges. The following clinical tips from The Physio-Medical Dispensatory, by Wm. H. Cook, MD are as valuable today as they were in the Civil War era when he wrote them. Note: These are very freely excerpted and translated from the somewhat archaic language of the original.

Misapplication of relaxants

Relaxants being useful for states of undue tension, it is a misapplication to exhibit them when the tissues are unnaturally lax. When the liver or bowels are so unduly relaxed as not to be able to eject the bile and excrement, a further relaxation of them would render the performance of these functions still less probable, and the frame might suffer greatly from the retained materials. When the pulse is soft and insufficient, any article that will relax the arterial structures will evidently be thrust upon Nature against her manifest wishes.

Misapplication of astringents

Astringents being required in states of undue flaccidity of structures, it is a misapplication to employ them where tissues are already too much contracted. Thus, when constipation results from dryness of the mucous membranes, oak bark would increase the dryness, and so aggravate the constipation. When occlusion of the pores causes a retention of morbific material which irritates the surface, an astringent application would still further contract the skin, and cause retention of perspiration and elevation of temperature. When general failure in elimination results from undue tension or an utter lack of acting power of the structures any stringent would close up the organs of elimination, and thereby increase the morbific accumulations and exalt the arterial excitement. All such retentions are highly injurious—the uneliminated materials rapidly deteriorating, and acting as poisons.

Abuse of diaphoretics

 These agents may be misused by giving them when the skin is already too free in its action, or by continuing them in such quantities as to maintain excessive perspiration for many hours. They are sometimes abused in this way. Such profuse surface transudation leads to exhaustion, with a sense of oppressed breathing, nervousness, and a tremulous hurry of the pulse. Where the use of any relaxing diuretic is followed by a cold perspiration, its continued use would be very unadvisable.
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner    6


    Medical Herbalism: Clinical Articles and Case Studies    

Abuse of diuretics

Diuretics can be of use, even in cases where the kidneys are at fault, only so far as they maintain a normal flow of urine; and if pushed beyond that, they weaken the frame at a time when the maintenance of full tone is of vital consequence, and diminish action at the surface in a malady [dropsy] where free outward circulation and cutaneous function are of the greatest possible importance. And in all febrile cases, where the function of the surface needs especial and large attention, the use of diuretics must be pushed only far enough to sustain a natural amount of urination; as otherwise a too prominent impression on the kidneys would greatly retard the establishment of perspiration.

Abuse of tonics

As soon as a patient is feeble, or complains of feeling “weak,” it is a too common practice to direct the use of tonics at once, without duly considering the occasion of that weakness. Quite too indiscriminately is the same general prescription made for debility arising from an enfeebled stomach, sluggish liver, occluded gall ducts, etc. A moment’s reflection will show that mere tonics can be useful only in the first of these cases; while in each of the others the retained secretion must be eliminated before any form of tonic can be of use.

In a still more marked degree are the tonics misapplied in some forms of fever. It is only after the organs of elimination have every one been opened, and through them the system purified completely of the morbific accumulations, that such tonics can be used, and then but sparingly. Previous to that moment, it is an abuse of good articles to resort to tonics under the false idea that they can impart strength.
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner    7