‘Hot’ versus ‘Cold’ Illnesses

In the human organism there exists a polarity between ‘cold’ breakdown processes active primarily in the head and the ‘hot’ upbuilding processes active primarily in the abdomen and limbs. These processes are kept in healthy balance by the rhythmic system in the chest. If an upbuilding process oversteps the proper boundary of its activity and starts to work too strongly into the nerve-sense system, then we can become ill with an inflammatory type of illness that causes an increase of body temperature and body fluids. If a breakdown process oversteps its proper boundary and start to work too strongly into the metabolic-limb system, then we become ill with a sclerotic type of illness that causes slow and prolonged degenerative processes.

How a Healthy Metabolic Process Turns Into an Illness

When we look at the THREEFOLD HUMAN BEING we can see that nerve-sense system is concentrated in the head; its main organ is the brain. For proper functioning of our mental activities the brain needs to be physically at rest and relatively cold. [1] The metabolic-limb system is much more physically active and it warms our body up when we move or work. The proper balance between these two polar activities is held by the rhythmical activities of the chest – that is, by breathing and the rhythm of blood circulation.

But there is another, more hidden polarity between these two systems. "Within the human organism there is basically a continuous interaction between the breakdown processes, the deadening processes, and the upbuilding processes, the growth or proliferative processes. The human organization cannot be grasped without this activity.

What is actually present there, however? If the breakdown process of the nerve-sense organization works into the metabolic-limb system through rhythm, something is present there that works against the metabolic-limb system, something that is a poison for this metabolic-limb system. The reverse is also the case, that what is present in the upbuilding system, working into the head system in rhythm, is a poison for the head system. And since the systems are spread out over the entire organism, a poisoning and unpoisoning are continuously taking place everywhere in the human organism, and this is brought into balance by the rhythmic processes.

We are therefore unable to regard such a natural process – as taking its course in the organism – one-sidedly, in the way that one normally pictures things, so that healthy processes are simply designated as normal. Rather we look into two processes working against one another, where one is a process that is thoroughly illness-engendering for the other. We simply cannot live in the physical organism at all without con­tinuously exposing our metabolic-limb system to the causes of illness from the head system and exposing the head system to the causes of illness from the metabolic system. A scale that is not balanced properly is thrown out of balance by entirely natural laws so that the beam does not rest on the horizontal; similarly life, because it is in constant movement within itself, does not simply exist in a state of balanced rest but rather exists in a state of balance that can deviate in both directions toward irregularities.

Healing, then, means simply that if the head system, for example, is working in a way too strongly poisonous on the metabolic system, its poisoning effect is relieved; its poisonous effect is taken away. If, on the other hand, the metabolic-limb system is working in a way too strongly poisonous on the head system, which means working over-abundantly, then its poisonous effect must also be removed." [2]

One of the basic characteristics of anthroposophical medicine is its approach to diagnosis and therapy, based on the polarity of sclerotic and inflammatory illnesses. "An unhealthy excess of the activity of the metabolic-limb system is characterised by an increase in warmth and an excess of fluid (swelling) – the essential features of fever and inflammation. An unhealthy excess of the nerve-sense activity is characterised by a loss of fluid, excessive hardening, a loss of mobility and flexibility, and a build-up of mineral deposits in the body. These are the features of degenerative or sclerotic illnesses, such as osteoarthritis or arteriosclerosis." [3]

'Hot' illness is therefore caused when an upbuilding activity that prospers in the warmth environment of the metabolic-limb system oversteps its proper boundary or appropriate intensity, often causing us to become literally too hot. And 'cold' illness is caused when a disintegrating activity that prospers in the relatively cold environment of the nerve-sense system oversteps its proper boundary or appropriate intensity, often causing stiffening of a part of our organism which should be kept in a flexible condition – an equivalent of the result of the cold on a living organism.

Of course, we need to take into account that the human being with his organism is an extremely complex being and therefore we can also find illnesses which are due to various combinations of excesses originating either in the upper (cold) system, or in the lower (warm) system, or in both.


  1. "In humans, the average internal temperature is 37 °C (98.6 °F), though it varies among individuals. Besides different parts of the body have different temperatures. No person always has exactly the same temperature at every moment of the day. The body temperature of a healthy person varies during the day by about 0.5 °C (0.9 °F) with lower temperatures in the morning and higher temperatures in the late afternoon and evening, as the body's needs and activities change. Other circumstances also affect the body's temperature." (Wikipedia/Human Body Temperature, July 2015) For example, one consequence of prolonged intellectual activity, especially when combined with the use of computer, is cooling effect on our body.
  2. Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, 9.10.1920, am; Physiology & Therapeutics , Mercury Press
  3. Dr Michael Evans & Ian Rodger, Anthroposophical Medicine, Thorsons, London, 1992