A healthier style of life

One of the tenets of natural healing is that anything reducing the body's ability to remove waste materials and to fend off infections is to be avoided. A factor that was of concern to Father Künzle was exposure to cold and its adverse effects on the eliminative function of the kidneys (this is explained in some detail in the appendix). Thus, for example, he raised a concern in his herb book about the practice, apparently new and increasingly common during his time, of leaving children to play on cold cement floors. He believed that this often led to the experience of sickness, such as the common cold, flu, or bronchitis. We know today that these ailments are caused, ultimately, by an infectious agent, but we also know that exposure to cold can lower the body's immune responses and allow an existing infectious agent, kept in check by a healthy immune system, to prosper and produce a disease. While modern central heating, carpeting, and other conveniences that make exposure to cold cement floors (or the equivalent) less likely, we still have children participate in practices that over-expose them to illness, and this applies as well to adults for whom we can no longer say that they ought to know better, because they weren't taught correctly in the first place. It thus comes about that magazines, displayed by the dozen at the market check-out stands, have to give the most basic advice about steps to protect health, as if it is news.

Künzle also complained about a practice of relying on too much meat in the diet. He said that, as a result of eating so much meat, even two or three different kinds in one meal, and having it with every meal and even some sausage at tea time (a European practice): "the head is dull, the stomach full, sleep is restless, and humour (mood) detestable." We know now that the heavy reliance on meat puts far too much saturated fat into the blood stream and that the excessive protein puts its burden on the kidneys to eliminate the waste as uric acid. Further, we know that filling a stomach with meat leaves little room for vegetables that provide fiber, flavonoids, and other substances that promote the health of the gastro-intestinal system and have a beneficial effect on the circulation. But the dull-headed feeling, the sleep that is restless, and the humor that is detestable, are rarely blamed on this or other poor dietary choices, even though they are likely to be among the consequences of such eating habits. When it comes to gastric distress that might be most obviously linked to poor eating habits, modern drugs are recommended to alleviate the heart burn and other symptoms so as to permit one's choice of foods to be unimpeded by normal body reactions.

Modern authorities recommend limiting the total intake of meat at any meal to a measly 3 ounces, and to use lean meat at that. Vegetarianism, or inclusion of meatless meals several times per week, has become popular. Overall, this is a good thing. Still, it is a shame that people have come to counting quantities of substances in their daily consumption, instead of getting a better sense of dietary balance. Such counting has given rise to entirely ridiculous decisions, such as using a synthetic chemical sweetener in place of natural sugar (to avoid a number of calories) or consuming an imitation cheese product in place of natural cheese (to avoid a quantity of fat). It is unclear if soybeans converted by some industrial process into something that loosely resembles meat is really any healthier than eating the meat itself. Instead of enabling unmitigated consumption by creating synthetic substitutes, returning to what nature has to offer is a viable alternative, if only it would be given due attention.

Children are naturally vegetarian, distaining the idea of eating the animals that they so much enjoy seeing in their live state: that is, if the parents let children have regular exposure to a variety of (live) animals. It is not necessary to isolate them from animal-based products, such as milk, cheese, butter, and eggs. These are natural foods that are rich in nutrients, particularly calcium in milk and cheese and protein in eggs and milk products that growing children need in such large quantities as to be difficult to get adequate amounts from other sources. Nor is it necessary to ban the intake of meats. On the other hand, there is no value in pushing a meat-eating diet on children as a requirement for health, so long as careful consideration is given to getting the essential nutritional value from other natural sources.

For teenagers and adults, one should select a diet that is consistent with one's lifestyle and individual physiology. There will be some, especially those who are very physically active, who will do best having some meat and other rich foods with virtually every meal, and those people should not be said to be wrong for doing so. Similarly, there will be some, especially those who have a more sedentary lifestyle, who will remain vegetarian, to varying degrees of strictness, and they should not be said more right for doing so. What is wrong in a diet is to pursue something that is unhealthful just for a wrong-headed idea. Künzle pointed to people who ate too much meat because they deemed it a sign of being successful: if you have money, you eat meat. This is eating for appearance sake, and the appearance is not all that grand. But, those who only eat certain vegetables and nothing else-simply because someone has stated that these are superior-may likewise follow a false path, thinking oneself more righteous on account of a meager diet, one which might leave one gaseous and sickly, rather than in glowing health.

Künzle put it this way: "If you split wood after such a meal [of rich foods, with eggs, flour, cheese, etc.], or dig up your field, or carry home a good load of hay, you may be able to digest the food, provided your stomach is not already weakened by continuous meat eating. But, if your work requires no considerable physical exertion, you will have to avoid such heavy dishes." The food has to match the requirements of the physical activities: it is fuel for the body.

In modern times, there have been significant debates about the positive or negative effects of grains (and other carbohydrates), meats (and other proteins), and fats (saturated, unsaturated, omega-3, omega-6, etc.). Unfortunately, the discussion often is based not on a natural approach to diet, but on trying to get around problems that have been generated by the modern way of producing food, processing food, and eating meals. Otherwise, it wouldn't be necessary to worry about these issues based on laboratory analysis of food constituents.

Künzle made some specific dietary recommendations, and their value has been confirmed over time. One of Künzle's main recommendations-that people should consume legumes such as peas and beans-is now known to be a very healthful way of getting the protein benefits of the plant world. These foods provide other advantages inherent in eating vegetables, such as fiber, calcium, and flavonoids. Today, most health books promote the advantages of consuming soybean products, but this is really a benefit to be found to varying extents in all the legumes. A favored Künzle recipe, which he attributes to Father Kneipp, was to combine barley, peas, and beans, boiled together with celery, parsley, and chives to make a nourishing savory soup. "Two or three platefuls at noon will satisfy the strongest man and keep him healthy. This is the soup of our forefathers and of the good old days of natural living. This soup made men of iron and women were as strong as oaks even after having given birth to as many as a dozen children." Unlike some of today's advocates of natural health care, he did not shun milk and wheat, but thought that they served as a good substitute for eating meat, referring to them as Lenten foods (being used during Lent when eating meat was not permitted for the religious faithful).

He was very concerned with the increasing problem of constipation. This condition, which had made laxatives a best selling over-the-counter remedy during most of the 20th century, was due to substitution of fiberless foods for those that had long been relied upon previously, as well as loss of exercise and, as a result, deterioration of the abdominal musculature. He pointed out, as an example, the reliance on chocolate, for which his country has held a world-wide reputation. He complained "In factories and shops, many munch these black tablets [of chocolate] like old horses the whole day long. As a sign of our sweet civilization, one finds every street littered with chocolate wrappers and pictures....If you want to ruin your child's health, just give them a log of it. But, if you want them to be healthy, give them all kinds of fruit, like nuts, figs, oranges, dates, apples, pears, etc." Today, it is the Agriculture Department that advises people to change habits and eat more fruits (and vegetables and grains) but less fats and sweets (which chocolate provides plenty of). The taste for and hence the desire to eat these natural treats (fruits) is lost by the continued reliance on artificial flavors and artificially produced textures of snack foods.

As a Catholic priest, Künzle was well aware of the importance of religion in maintaining a solid healthful style of living. He believed that the teachings showed that Christ "did not want man to be ill but healed the sick instead and restored the injured nature. This He did not achieve, of course, with herbs, poisons, or baths, but with divine power. But, the very fact that He worked miracles to heal men proves that He wanted men to be healthy and that it is against the will of God to make the body sick by unreasonable living." Faith in this basic principle guided Künzle's efforts. This was an important observation, because in earlier centuries many people ignored their health, looking forward only to the life after this one on earth. He also stated that "God has surrounded us with remedies on all sides by giving curative properties to herbs, flowers, fruits, and roots." In this, he expressed the sentiment that had arisen in all cultures: that we are born into a world that has what is needed. It is up to us to take proper advantage of that. Similar ideas, from any religious faith, should be able to do the same for others who are not Catholic or Christian. For example, if the body is said to be like a "temple," that means it is to be treated with respect and kept as clean and healthy as possible in order to accomplish spiritual goals.

There were some aspects of Künzle's life that he may have taken for granted and not delineated as recommendations. I'd like to elaborate a few concerns that one can sense from his presentation, but were not outlined explicitly in the book that he left as a legacy of his learning and wise counsel. I take full responsibility for any suggestions that miss the mark:

  1. Get up early in the morning. This is not to gain an advantage, as expressed in the saying about the early bird, nor is it to beat the rush-hour traffic. It is to give time that is needed to taking care of the spirit and the body. In the morning, with the freshness of sleep and the crispness of the air, one can undertake spiritual practices, do some simple exercises, develop an appetite, take care of hygiene, and become truly prepared for the day by laying a good strong foundation. Greet the sun. It is the most powerful force in nature: if you ignore it, you ignore all other natural signs. Prepare a healthful breakfast. He stated that: "It is most important that our first meal in the morning is nourishing and wholesome," a recommendation still relayed by virtually all health authorities today. In his book, Künzle relayed this about his childhood: "We always got up early, usually at 5 o'clock in the morning, in summer at 4 o'clock, and during the haymaking season, at 3 o'clock. We came down to the living room, dipped our hands in holy water, blessed ourselves and repeated 'Jesus Christ be praised!' Before and after every meal we said Grace....Meat was served on Sundays only. On the other days we ate porridge, milk, barley, groats soup, Chas-Chnopfli (wheat farina with cheese), or potatoes."
  2. Work diligently. No matter what the task at hand, do it well, pay attention, try to excel, don't shy away from physical labor. There is nothing to be gained by doing work half-heartedly, absent mindedly, or with no intention to improve. And, don't plan on retiring early to avoid the work of using your hard-won skills. It is reported that "In 1922, Father Künzle, as a 65-year-old student, was called before the most meticulous physician's examining board for an examination which he passed brilliantly. It is said that right at the beginning of it, he embarrassed the noble gentlemen by asking innocently whether they wanted him to answer the questions in Greek or Latin." Künzle continued his studies, healing work, and teaching into his 80s.
  3. Help others. There is no greater reward than spending one's time be helpful to others: family members, neighbors, and all who you have the power to contact. Seek no rewards for your help; they flow naturally. It is reported of Künzle that: "The vein of gold that he struck by his popularity he gave away to the poor and sick, disregarding differences in religion. Though the right hand did not know what the left was doing [meaning: while he did his charitable work, it also brought a lot of fame and fortune that was not given attention], he was considered one of the greatest benefactors in Switzerland. He did his work of charity inconspicuously and secretly and, in most cases, forgot about it soon."
  4. Study. There is much to learn and so little time to learn it. Knowledge can be passed on to the next generation who will benefit greatly from your efforts. Künzle wrote: "To help people is a Christian and social deed. Would therefore all who have people's welfare at heart, as well as time and opportunity, study the old forgotten botany and give to the suffering quick [to prepare], cheap, and harmless household remedies."
  5. Get exercise and sunshine. The human body was made for movement outdoors and has been subjected to confinement indoors by modernization. Some balance must be attained. Künzle already revealed his experience in hard farm work during his youth and hours of study taken regularly indoors to pursue his career. In visiting people who lived in remote areas, ministering to sickness that affected their soul and their body, he walked considerable distances, much of it in the hilly terrain characteristic of Switzerland. Already in the early 20th century he complained that "No one cares to go on foot any more no matter how much time he may have at his disposal or how fine the weather may be....It is considered improper nowadays to carry any load whatever: and why? Because it stimulates walking, carrying loads, working, and consequently digestion and therefore good health, all of which is opposed to the modern views of the 20th century." He did not advocate vigorous exercises that bring people to the limits of their capability, but moderate exercise done in adequate amounts, as was suggested by all medical authorities in the past, from Hippocrates on. The sun is also important to man; its rays, we know now, convert vitamin D to an active form that puts calcium into bone and strengthens the human frame. The sunlight raises the spirit. Of course, we are all cautioned about the damaging effects of sun, but this comes from the excesses of sun exposure. Unavoidable long-term exposure to the hot sun (e.g., when laboring out of doors) can be well managed with hats and proper clothing, sun blocks (creams that halt the penetration of the most harmful rays), and avoiding excessive time in the mid-day sun. Today, people sit behind glass, if exposed to sunlight at all, watching TV, computer monitors, reading books, and are otherwise sheltered from both fresh air and sunlight. This is hardly conducive to health, maintenance of good vision, or a happy countenance.

A person who will arise early, eat a nutritious breakfast, work diligently (including some time out of doors, both for work and for relaxation and pleasure), study, and spend time helping others, who eats and sleeps to be able to do these things well (rather than to simply enjoy some temporary pleasures), and who eschews those activities that detract from these, will be healthy, happy, and productive. Herbs will be a help in times of trouble, and one will rarely have to rely on drugs.

It is somewhat scandalous that the modern naturopathy profession has virtually ignored the recommendations of European nature doctors like Kneipp, who were influential in developing naturopathic medicine in both Europe and America. In place of recommending an approach like that outlined here on the basis of Künzle's book, there is increasingly a reliance on prescribing numerous manufactured remedies, so that patients spend hundreds of dollars each month to consume highly processed materials, or to get such materials injected into the body. In place of suggesting nutritious food to fuel diligent work, emphasis is placed almost entirely on avoidance of a growing list of ordinary foods. Therefore, the message of Künzle's small book is quite worthy of reconsideration at this time even by those who are pursuing so-called natural health care.