Alec Burton, M.Sc., D.O., D.C., is one of the most respected Natural Hygiene doctors in the world. A past president and founding member of the International Association of Professional Natural Hygienists, Dr. Burton has been in the forefront of Natural Hygiene for more than 25 years. Dr. Burton, with his wife Nejla Burton, D.O., operates Arcadia Health Center north of Sydney, Australia. He is the president of the Australian Natural Hygiene Society.
It seems incredible that it has been over 10 years since we last interviewed you for Health Science. And now there are two Dr. Burtons—you and your wife, Nejla. How long have the two of you been practicing together?
Five years. Nejla has been a practicing clinical psychologist since the mid-1970s. She graduated from osteopathic college in 1984 and passed her boards in 1985. She is now a licensed osteopathic physician.
Has her background in psychology proved a valuable adjunct to your work?
Very much so. The mental and emotional aspects of health are very important and are often at the root of a person’s health problems. Nejla spends a lot of time counseling patients. It is very useful in helping them make lifestyle changes and helping them cope with the stresses of life.
Does she use that perspective to straighten you out from time to time?
Well, obviously, I come in for my share of psychology. She often comes up with interpretations of my actions that I would never have dreamed of.
What is your practice together like?
I function principally as a consultant. Dr. Doug Evans serves as resident physician. He and Nejla do most of the patient work, consultations, daily examinations, reports, etc. If there are particular difficulties with a patient, I’ll probably get more involved at that point.
Tell us a little bit about the Arcadia Health Center. I understand it has undergone a number of renovations and expansions.
We have been at our present location for 20 years. We are located in a rural setting about 25 miles outside of Sydney on 10 acres of land. We are surrounded by fairly thick and dense bushland and we enjoy over 62 different varieties of birds from cockatoos to cuckaburoos, and it’s always a very pleasant environment. In fact, it looks very much like a wildlife sanctuary.
From the beginning we built and designed the facility as a Hygienic institution. Recently, we have expanded considerably to allow for office consultations, administrative work and accommodations for an intern.
Do you have still further plans for expansion?
We’d like to build a more extensive laboratory to employ our monitoring techniques that we have developed over the years. We do a lot of microscopy, biochemistry and electric ideographs, an area in which I did my graduate work.
Of what value is blood testing in the supervision of fasting?
It enables you to be somewhat more specific about the length of time a person can fast. When a fast is reaching a conclusion and the person starts to increase protein breakdown, there is what is called a premortal rise in nitrogen excretion, and that is very, very hard to determine without doing some biochemistry.
In that stage your body switches from subsisting largely from ketone supplied by the fat, to requiring further breakdown of body protein, and one doesn’t want that to happen. Now, obviously, there are other vital signs that can be looked to such as an erratic pulse, difficult breathing, rapid drop in blood pressure or body temperature. I believe, however, that the more information and knowledge you have, the more competent you can be.
Have advances in physiology made the supervision of fasting a more exact science?
Well, I don’t think that fasting or the application of Hygiene can ever become an exact science. It is still very, very much an art. But at the same time, it means that you can define your parameters more clearly, you can certainly be more precise than you used to be about things.
Where does the art come into it?
The art comes in recognizing that the application of Hygiene is not a mechanistic thing. You are dealing with thinking, acting, feeling individuals whose emotional and mental tolerances vary widely. With fasting, for instance, you can talk with a person, discuss how they feel and see how they express themselves, and can determine whether they have had enough, irrespective of what the biochemistry and hematology tell you.
Now there are times we do persuade people to continue to fast to get that little bit of extra result, but at the same time, we still have to recognize their limits. I think that art involves steering this middle course where you’re not pushing them too far, and yet you’re getting the best reasonable possible result from a person.
Is that an art that can only be derived from experience?
Well, I believe an art has to be learned, and, obviously, that does require some experience. It doesn’t have to be an extensive, long-term experience, but it has to be experienced. Some will learn it more quickly, than others, depending on their feeling for the human being.
Is that why the International Association of Professional Natural Hygienists has established a minimum six months internship/residency requirement at a Natural Hygiene institution for any member physician wishing to be certified as competent to do fasting supervision?
Most certainly. This exposure is absolutely vital. Of course, if a person is on their own, they are going to learn eventually, but during an internship they will be in a situation where they are going to be exposed to scores of patients undergoing fasts under the supervision of someone who is experienced.
With that in mind, does it concern you the number of people who have only taken a correspondence course in Natural Hygiene who are advertising themselves as competent to undertake the care of patients and supervise fasts?
That really is something that is very, very bothersome to me. An educated person would not blindly go ahead with something they are not familiar with. They are much more cautious. The worst case is the enthusiastic amateur who has very little education, doesn’t really know what’s going on and makes the glib statement that “the body knows what it’s doing, just let it carry on.” This idea that the body will always do the right thing is a fallacy. The body will always do the right thing that is can do practically under the circumstance.
I think that a person must have a proper education, the best that is available.
By education do you mean a bona-fide undergraduate degree followed by a bona-fide graduate degree in one of the primary care disciplines—medicine (M.D.), osteopathy (D.O.), chiropractic (D.C.) or naturopathy (N.D.)?
That’s what I mean.
What is the importance of having a professional degree and license in one of the primary care disciplines?
The importance of it is that a person who has been educated and trained in a systematic study of anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and pathology will basically understand organic process. On the other hand, a person who has just taken a few odd courses or read a few books may have a lot of factual knowledge, but it really is not integrated into a system where they are able to synthesize the knowledge of anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and pathology—putting it all together to have a proper understanding of the mechanisms and processes of health and disease.
What is the difference in perspective or knowledge between Natural Hygiene doctors and other doctors?
We’re all going to agree on the facts, but the Hygienist is going to have a different interpretation. In the medical system, disease is looked upon as a threat, as an evil, as something which has to be treated or cured, often very aggressively.
The Hygienist interprets disease as a survival mechanism. We see it as part of an integrated physiological response to environmental changes and internal fluctuations which demand modifications in the body’s processes as a remedial purpose of action. Now this isn’t to say that disease is a defensive, remedial, reparative, adaptive process that is always successful. It isn’t; in fact, it often fails. Nevertheless, this philosophical bent, this understanding, is what I’m always trying to emphasize.
We must always be thinking in terms of fundamentals and in terms of principles. This is something that the Hygienist does considerably differently from the doctor of other schools. It is the Hygienist’s ability to fit the facts of physiology and science into the framework of his principles and philosophy that distinguishes him from the doctor of medicine or the doctor of osteopathy and so on.
Is there a difference in perspective between medicine and osteopathy that might make some of them closer to Natural Hygiene then the other?
I think osteopathic medicine has a closer relationship to Hygiene than conventional medicine. Generally speaking, a well-trained osteopath does have a philosophy. He also is able to see the reciprocal relationship that exists between structure and function. He doesn’t just think of the organism in terms of the heart, liver, kidneys and major organs, which tends to be the thrust of orthodox medicine. The osteopath sees that the body functions as an integrated unit, or at least it is emphasized much more clearly in the osteopathic literature than it comes across in conventional medicine. I am not saying that conventional medicine doesn’t agree with that point, but it certainly is not emphasized in their papers. So, I think it is easier for the osteopath to take the step towards Hygiene than it is for the conventional medical person.
How close is chiropractic to Natural Hygiene?
Chiropractic is a drugless system in the first place, so they do lean very heavily on the fact that the human body is self constructing, self defending, and self repairing. They recognize that healing is a biological process.
I think the chiropractor, unfortunately, is still dogged by the view that nerve compression causes disease through enervation. One of the worst worrisome aspects of chiropractic is that there is a belief that disease can be “cured,” ameliorated or managed in some way by a quick thrust on a spinal segment. Any disease, no matter how simple, is a very complex phenomenon and involves a lot of mechanisms constantly varying within the organism.
What about its effect on pain, as a palliation of a real and evident problem? If you were to twist your ankle and you couldn’t walk, and you needed to get to work, is there not a place and a role for relief that might be provided by chiropractic?
Well, there is certainly a place. One of our major problems is to deal with pain. Nobody wants to see the patient suffering, so any means that are available that are not going to be too threatening or invasive are probably legitimate to relieve the pain. If the manipulation of it will relieve the pain and it’s not going to create any actual trauma in any other respect, then by all means use it. And there are probably many other things you can use to relieve the pain, too—hot and cold packs, or even just pressure, or gentle stroking.
So you are saying that as long as the application of chiropractic is kept in the right perspective and it is not being used as a form of therapy or as a cure-all, but rather as simply a method to achieve a distinct result such as the resolution of pain, then that is appropriate?
As long as the person understands clearly that this is merely going to relieve the pain and make him more comfortable, but isn’t going to contribute markedly to his recovery or his process of getting well.
We would argue quite strenuously, and this would apply to all schools of thought, not just chiropractic, that the body has no fundamental need for any form of therapy or treatment; that the organism is self healing; that healing is a biological process; that, providing the needs and conditions are available, healing will be a spontaneous phenomenon. Treatment is relatively minor in the consideration of the needs to be provided or the Hygienic influences that are necessary.
Aren’t there times when simply the removal of pain is a legitimate end in and of itself? Wouldn’t newcomers to Natural Hygiene say, “Well gosh, if you break your leg or burn your arm, you certainly are not going to go on a fast or modify your lifestyle, you are going to need to go to an emergency room for treatment.”
In these situations, we are generally not dealing with health and disease. We’re dealing with a trauma and, of course, trauma does require emergency care. But the healing process is still the same. You certainly would need to have a broken limb aligned and set properly. And to do that it would have to be immobilized, put in plaster, or splintered in some way, and that is quite legitimate. But the process of healing is still the same. And why wouldn’t one fast? Why wouldn’t one modify one’s lifestyle? You’d have to modify your lifestyle anyway if you broke your leg.
In recent years, everywhere we turn we see “holistic health centers” and “holistic” practitioners, indicative of people taking alternative approaches to health care. Do you consider this a positive development?
In my view the terms “holistic” is totally false in relation to the typical care given. Holistic theory implies caring for the whole individual, treating man or woman as a whole, I have no problem with the idea of trying to look at the person as a whole and trying to work out a strategy for their recovery.
But these holistic health centers usually have nothing to do with the care of the individual as a whole. To them, holistic care means trying to use all of therapies that might be applicable. Thus, we have herbalists, homeopaths, remedial massagers, chiropractors, psychotherapists, psychiatrists—the whole gamut of therapy. My fundamental objection is to the use of all of these different therapies with their different philosophical bases,, each employed quite arbitrarily and without fundamental principles underlying their application.
Would you care to comment on naturopathy or homeopathy? What is your opinion on their claims to being “natural therapies?”
The fundamental criticism is that although they talk about “natural therapy,” nothing could be more artificial than therapy. And once you have a therapy or a treatment for a condition or a disease, you don’t think you have to worry about the cause of the problem anymore. So the Hygienist is constantly getting back to the fundamental principle: what are the causes of the problem?
But does it necessarily follow that every practitioner will ignore a cause, or might they not say simply that they are just applying a treatment to remedy a particular crisis such as to relieve the pain, or lower a fever, and then tell the patient to focus on the causes by changing their lifestyle, dietary habits, etc?
I think that that’s quite possible, but there is a contradiction here. If you’re doing something like reducing fever, or suppressing inflammation, then whatever you do in that respect, you are working with the body. The body goes to a great deal of trouble to produce a fever. To elevate the body’s temperature even one degree necessitates a considerable activity within the body dominated by the brain and nervous system.
If you are going to come along and suppress that fever and bring that temperature down, we would say that that is a suppression of acute disease. The Hygienic way is to remove the causes and work with the body and allow the fever to reach a normal, natural conclusion.
We must keep in mind that all treatments and therapies are enervating. They are exhausting to the sick body’s energy, which it can very rarely afford to lose. Removing the cause of disease is really what is necessary. When the cause is removed, recovery will then be spontaneous.
This interview appeared in the November/December 1990 issue of Health Science magazine.