Nutrition and ‘Inner Patient’

Within our interior an enormous number of metabolic processes are taking place continuously – which maintain the life of our physical organism. These biochemical reactions are to a great extent stimulated also by the intake of food and drink. However, we need to be aware that each specific metabolic process has an innate tendency to overstep its normal field and time of activity. For that reason regular consumption of food that doesn't suit our nutritional needs leads over into the disordered activity of a specific group of metabolic processes which consequently brings about – if there exists other necessary factors – the emergence of an internal physical disease.

Introductory Reading:


Physical Illness as Disorder in the Activity of Metabolic Processes

After food has been processed in the part of the digestive tract which encompasses the mouth, the stomach, and the duodenum, it enters into the small intestine where nutrients become absorbed into lymph and blood circulation, while the rest continue its path to the large intestine until is finally excreted. Absorbed nutrients trigger a multitude of metabolic processes – or metabolic pathways, as science calls them – which are enabling the functions of our physical organism. Therefore science talks about "metabolism, the sum total of all chemical reactions in the body that sustain life." [1]

However, after we enter this inner world things become far more complex than people usually imagine. "Nutrients generally do not follow a single predictable path after they enter the trillions of cells in our bodies. In most cases, the potential route a nutrient can take once it enters the body branches out, directly or indirectly, into multiple pathways of products of metabolism, with each pathway possibly branching out into still more pathways. Furthermore as these pathways develop, they may lead to many different activities or functions, like mobilization of energy and repair of damaged cells. The dominant pathways end up determining to a great extent whether we enjoy health or suffer disease." [2]

Therefore the crucial question is: What is it that determines if metabolic processes lead to health or illness? Or, in other words: "Everything that goes on in the human organism is a process of nature. Illness is, however, also a process of nature. Where does a healthy process cease? Where does a process of disease begin?" [3]

If we want to obtain a basic understanding of this complex topic, we need to start with "something called homeostasis, the body's tendency to always work towards maintaining a stable, functional equilibrium. This is true within bodily systems, from electrolyte balance to body temperature to pH balance, as well as between bodily systems. This careful balance is what we call health." [4]

The maintenance of homeostasis involves all metabolic processes which are divided into two groups: breaking-down (catabolic) processes, and building-up (anabolic) processes. These are, as it were, the 'workers' who are maintaining our 'house' – the physical body – in a suitable condition for our soul and spirit to dwell inside and use it according to their needs and aims. According to scientific description, metabolic pathways are continually switched on and off by the autonomic nervous system and by endocrine glands. If this 'control mechanism' does not work properly then specific metabolic process or group of processes can become out of order. Consequently our homeostatic balance will become unstable and this will manifest in the form of specific internal physical illness.

If we look more closely we will always find in the case of any internal disease that a specific process or a group of metabolic processes has gone somehow astray. For example, if we take the process of blood clotting, which is necessary for the healing of open wounds, we can find the following abnormal manifestations:

In the first case the clotting tendency is too strong and expands out of proper borders; in the second case the process of blood dilution becomes too strong and suppresses the clotting one. In both cases we are dealing with disorder caused by the metabolic process that has overstepped the proper boundaries of its action.

Now we will look at one more complex example, the case of diabetes. In the maintenance of healthy levels of blood sugar many groups of metabolic processes are involved, from those which stimulate the production of insulin, to those which regulate the storage and release of glucose from the liver, and those which regulate transportation and amount of intake of glucose by cells of the body, and so on.

If all these processes work well then the quantity of our blood sugar moves within healthy limits (see the green line in the diagram [5]). The red line shows the movement in the case of diabetes: the level of blood sugar lifts out of the healthy boundary and swings up and down in very dramatic manner. [6] Here we have an example of internal physical illness which is the result of disordered actions of one or a few groups of metabolic processes which are directly or indirectly involved in the maintenance of proper blood sugar levels. [7]

Thus we can take the red line as a symbol of physical illness due to disordered metabolic processes – that is, dysfunctional metabolic processes working in disharmony with the rest of organism. In one case we have in the human body healthy metabolic processes which work in the proper place and within a proper time-frame; in another case, in any internal physical illness, we are confronted with pathological processes – that is, with the metabolic processes out of proper place and/or time frame.

Innate Metabolic Tendencies towards Development of an Illness

After we have gained an insight about the link between the metabolic processes and an internal physical illness we need to investigate the following obvious question: What are the causes of a specific metabolic process or group of processes overstepping the proper boundaries of their action? There are, as always, several factors which play a part in this issue. For the sake of this nutritional principle we will now focus only on two, on the metabolic processes themselves and on the impact of nutrition on these processes.

If we start with the metabolic system, we can notice that its main task is provision of the body with nourishing substances. Indeed, "the metabolic system is, in the cosmic scheme of things, designed for human nutrition. However, the process of nutrition cannot function independently. Nutrition is necessary to man, but it cannot exist on its own. If we study the human metabolic system in isolation we find it constantly imbued with every kind of tendency towards illness. The origin of internal diseases – not those caused by external injury – must always be looked for in the metabolic system.

A rational observation of diseases must therefore start with the metabolic system, and every metabolic phenomenon needs to be addressed with the question: Which route are you taking? When we consider all the phenomena, from taking food into the mouth, the processes to which the food is subjected in the mouth, with certain substances converted into starch, sugar and so on, and the way the salivary amylase enzyme envelops the food in the mouth; when we go on and consider the addition of pepsin in the stomach and then what happens to the products of metabolism as they pass into the lymph vessels and into the blood, we have to look for every individual process that is involved, and their number is legion.

In another process the substances are mixed with the secretion from the pancreas, in yet another with the secretions from the gall-bladder, and so on. To each individual process the question must be put: What is it that you really want? And it will answer: On my own I am a process that always makes man ill. Not one metabolic process may be carried to its conclusion in the human constitution, for carried to its conclusion it will make man ill. The human constitution is only healthy when its metabolic processes are checked at a certain stage.

It might at first seem a folly that something should begin in man which, if not checked halfway, would make him ill." [8] However, after we gain with the help of spiritual science a deeper and more extended understanding of whole human constitution, we will be capable of finding that there are good reasons for the existence of this surprising characteristic of the metabolic system. Until then it can help if we use again the comparison of the body with the house where metabolic processes serve as maintenance workers. We can imagine each single metabolic process as a highly specialised worker who is so enthusiastic with his work that he can't stop. If we take into account that the metabolic system is the seat of our Will, and that the key characteristic of pure Will is boundless energy, then it is not so surprising that each group of "separate metabolic processes would, if we were to question their inner nature, answer: We are always on the way to making the whole organism ill. Every metabolic process, if unchecked, causes illness in the organism." [9] This fact is also confirmed by the conclusion of medical science that metabolic pathways need to be switched on and off with the help of the autonomous nervous system and by endocrine glands.

Thus we have inside us something that constantly leads towards the emergence of an illness if it is not regulated by something else. These are the activities of our metabolic system. For that reason we can designate this part of our organism as 'inner patient'.

With this explanation we have arrived at the crucial insight with the help of which the modern medical science can be radically transformed. "The metabolic processes must first of all be studied in such a way in a rational system of medicine that one always perceives the tendency in them that goes towards inducing illness. A modern system of medicine must always take the metabolic system, that is to say the normal metabolic processes, as its point of departure; starting from there one must come to realize the potential that exist for internal diseases to arise from metabolism in the widest sense. A modern system of medicine must therefore be founded on a study of the metabolic processes and go on from there to everything that can occur in the sphere of the rhythmical processes in man. A kind of crowning of the whole will be attained in that one shows how a sound development of man's mental and spiritual potential presupposes knowledge of what arises from the healing forces." [10]

The role of the rhythmical and nervous processes is presented in other texts. For the sake of this principle it is important to recognise that there exists a direct relationship between the intake of food and the stimulation of metabolic processes with their tendencies towards illness. Of course, this does not mean that each intake of food will instantly bring metabolic processes to such a degree of disorder that it will cause a disease. This is prevented by the regulation of metabolic processes by the higher entities of the human being – by the etheric body, and the astral body and the ego-organization.

Nevertheless it is clear that because of the intrinsic tendency of metabolic processes towards irregularities, one needs to be very careful to nourish oneself in a way which will prevent any of them from getting into a disordered state. This is necessary "because the human being is continually becoming ill. Eating and drinking, especially, are processes that continually create illness. We cannot avoid continually injuring our health through eating and drinking. Eating and drinking to excess merely injure us more seriously, but we are always injuring ourselves to a slight degree." [11] This means that each intake of food or drink is causing a temporal imbalance in the metabolic system which needs to be restored to the normal state by other activities of the human being. This is possible due to the fact that "everything in the human body is related to everything else in it." [12]

Thus we can understand that "there exists no real borderline between what today is called 'eating oneself well' and 'eating oneself ill'. Just think how easily things can be disrupted within by eating. Something that normally can be overcome quickly passes over into something that can no longer be overcome. Then one becomes ill. But the borderline between these two states really cannot be drawn at all." [13]

To avoid any one-sided materialistic view on the origin of metabolic disorder we need to keep in mind that "in a disease becomes manifest the abnormal working, whether heightened or weakened, of that which must always be active in man to maintain him in his spiritual nature." [14] One manifestation of this abnormal working is the gradual progression of an unsuitable nutrition into metabolic disorder, and then – if other factors support this development – into an internal physical disease. [15]


This nutritional principle reveals a very important secret of the human organism which sheds light on the exceptional role of nutrition in relation to any internal disease. This means that in the case of internal physical disease one needs – as part of a truly holistic diagnosis – to take into account also the diet of the person, besides everything else which has contributed to the emergence of a disease. In fact, if one omits dietary aspects one cannot fully understand the reasons for the emergence of these illnesses. Of course, in accordance with a holistic approach, diagnosis ought to include the soul-spiritual factors. But without recognition of the effects of physical substances which enter the human organism through food and drink one cannot obtain the whole picture of the causes behind an internal physical disease. [16]

However, it is not important just what and how much we eat, it is also important how we eat – that is, the manner of establishing regular eating patterns. The eating pattern can be either beneficial or harmful for the overall state of our organism. For that reason we need to examine the quality of our eating habits; we need to be especially careful not to develop one-sided eating habits which are most likely to spur the metabolic processes to exceed their normal field of activity.

In the times we live in we can never dedicate too much attention to the question of food quality. One just needs to look at the shocking statistics of the diseases to which modern humanity is exposed. One can easily imagine how modern junk food – with all those substances invented to raise crops and adulterate food products – has pretty negative effects on the state of our metabolism. Then it is not hard to see that this had to contribute a great deal to the health crisis of the modern societies. Eating good quality food thus works as preventive measure which has the potential to save a lot of suffering if one chooses not to save money with food.

See HOLISTIC FOOD 'PYRAMID' for the list of good quality foods.

WARNING: You always have to put the above practical dietary instructions inside the framework of GENERAL NUTRITIONAL GUIDELINES with the aim to know their limits when looking for a solution of a specific nutritional problem. You also need to be familiar with THE ROLE OF NUTRITIONAL GUIDELINES with the aim to avoid any one-sided conclusions.


  1. T. Colin Campbell, PhD with Howard Jacobson, PhD, Whole – Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, BenBella Books, USA, 2014
  2. As above
  3. Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, 02.01.1924; Course for Young Doctors, Mercury Press, 1994
  4. See note 1
  5. Source: Rudy W. Bilous, Understanding Diabetes, Family Doctor Series, The British Medical Association, 2003
  6. The movement of the red line is regulated by three insulin injections. One can imagine that without them the line would be much more chaotic. The red line also represents the so-called 'sugar blues' – that is, the swinging of blood sugar levels up and down in a healthy person when consuming highly refined foods containing white flour and white sugar. In fact, the main difference between 'sugar blues' and the diabetic state is that in the first case the insulin is produced by the pancreas and in the second case it must be injected.
  7. A short summary of the main factors involved in the maintenance of blood sugar level is given in LIVING PROCESS OF INNER 'COMBUSTION'.
  8. Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, 09.11.1923; Man as Symphony of the Creative Word
  9. As above
  10. As above
  11. Rudolf Steiner, Stuttgart, 16.10.1923; Deeper Insights into Education - The Waldorf Approach, Anthroposophic Press, 1983
  12. Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, 31.07.1924; Drugs, Poisons, Suicide, Alcohol, Stimulants, Digestion, Foods in the Light of Spiritual Science - Excerpts from the work of Rudolf Steiner, selected and translated by Richard Lewis, USA, no date
  13. Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, 23.10.1922; Spiritual Relations in the Human Organism, Mercury Press, 1984
  14. Rudolf Steiner, quote from the book Rudolf Steiner, Philosophich-Antroposophischer Verlag, Dornach, 1972
  15. One can easily see the slow progression of a bad eating habit into an ever more serious state of imbalance in the case of diabetes, because of the direct effect of food on the sugar blood levels. It start with the 'sugar blues'; then it moves to the pre-diabetic state; if nothing is changed, then emerges type 2 diabetes; finally it finishes with type 1 diabetes, a chronic condition which needs constant support of artificial insulin.
  16. The quantity of food and drink is the largest amount of any physical substances entering our organism. For example, if a person consumes on average 1.25 kg of food per day, then he or she will consume in 70 years almost 32 tons of food. If we add to this the amount of liquids and the modern tendency of overeating then one might easily come to 70 tons – that is, one ton of food and drink going through the body each year.