Interview with Ross Rentea, M.D.
Q: Can we look at human physiology in such a way that we can
have an anthroposophical overview?
A: Yes. Rudolf Steiner gave us a key to this by identifying
the seven physiological functions that shed light on our basic life processes.
Once you understand these you will know which disease is connected to which
Q: Can you outline each of these?
A: Surely. They are: breathing, warming, nutrition,
circulation, maintenance, growth and maturation, and reproduction. However you
should know that Steiner connects soul qualities as well as physical principles
to these life processes.
Q. Can we look at each of these processes in turn, and
A: Breathing is the first life process. Steiner emphasizes
that this is an occult term, which signifies "intake" from the
outside world; the beginning of digestion. It encompasses taking in something
as spiritual as thought, light, or oxygen through the lungs; or as physical as
taking in food.
All these must be transformed as they are accepted by the
body. If too much enters that cannot be processed, it will cause damage or
illness. A first step is to control quantity and what comes in. If you take-in
too much untransformed warmth, you will get burnt, as in radiation illness.
Uncontrolled intake of substances that overwhelm you can lead to addiction or,
physically as in smoking, can lead to cancer. Lastly, if the body constantly
fights overabundance, it gets used up; the typical process of aging.
Q. Can all these life processes be associated with
A: Yes. Planets, everchanging in the sky, govern all
moveable, interchanging functions in the body. Breathing is associated with
the planet Saturn, the most peripheral planet from a spiritual point of view.
Steiner called the second process warming (ruled by the
planet Jupiter). This directs our attention to whatever increases body
temperature. One such process is the influence of the thyroid gland. We all
know that people who suffer from an under-secretion of the thyroid feel cold
and are slow.
Q: Is there a progression between this process and the first
A: Yes. The real function of the thyroid hormone, besides
taking up oxygen like the first process, is to increase the use of oxygen
throughout the body. Every time oxygen is used, it is a form of burning, and
its fire results in warmth. So you can see how the warming is an intensification
There is however another significant aspect to warming.
Substances taken in by breathing need to be absorbed more deeply. This happens
when food is taken across the gut wall and into the inner organism, or when
substances cross through the membranes into the cells. All of these passings,
or ferryings, across walls require warmth, and create warmth. One of these
ferrying processes is the ionic pump (such as the sodium potassium pump).
Surprisingly 60% of the body's metabolic energy is generated just to keep
these pumps going. Sodium and potassium are substances that make electricity
flow. They also make our nervous system function, which ultimately allows us
to think. Thinking is connected to the planet Jupiter.
In conclusion, illnesses of this physiological stage either
have to do with burning too fast; using too much oxygen (the problem of free
radicals and antioxidants), or too little warmth production as in hypothyroidism.
Nutrition is the third process. It is also connected with
Mars. Mars is an aggressive Planet, related to destruction. Nutrition has
this same quality.Substances brought in with breathing, then warming, now must
be broken down within the body. Nutrition has to do with breaking down of
proteins, and building up new ones. Actually, the whole world of biochemical
changes belongs to this life process.
Q: This seems to follow the path of food. Can we follow the
thinking process along the same route?
A: We can receive a thought from another person; taking it
in. We can warm it up, becoming enthusiastic. Then we can digest and transform
it, until we perceive it as our own. If a substance cannot be transformed,
illnesses of deposit ensue, such as fat cholesterol, xanthomas, deposits of
water (edema), uric acid crystals, (gout), sugar deposits (diabetes) etc. These
illnesses are a weakened Mars.
With the fourth process, circulation, we have arrived at
the center of the body. It relates to the beat of the heart and the rhythm of
the lungs. The transformed substances must now be transported to the organs
that use them. This is done through the cardiovascular system, governed by the
Sun and the Ego. Everything to do with flow is a manifestation of circulation,
for example the white protein in the blood called albumen. It even looks like
the sun, or like an egg, intense at the core, with a white mantle around it.
Any disturbance, where circulation suddenly gets out of rhythm, belongs to this
pathology. If substances accumulate instead of going where they belong, you
have illness. Albuminous processes circulating in the wrong place can cause
diarrhea or various forms of allergies (sudden nasal discharges).
Q. It seems that the first three processes were a unit of
sorts, with the fourth at the center. Are the next three processes a unit as
A: Certainly. Maintenance, growth and reproduction are
oriented in the opposite direction, more from the inside of the body towards
The fifth process, maintenance, relates to tissue and cell
connections. It is the sum total of making substance into the body's own
cells, each one round like little mercury droplets. This process belongs to Mercury.
Mercury also controls the intercellular messenger activity between each cell.
All repair, scarring and healing belong to Mercury. Too little produces
weakness or hypermobility of tendons; too much can cause uterine fibroids or
cysts. In congestive heart failure the heart muscle is not maintained enough.
Sixth, growth and maturation belong to the same process
that forms tissue or actual organs like liver, lung, kidney, etc. It takes a
new impulse, that comes from Venus, to individualize tissues and transform them into
organs. When growth comes to an end, and the body as a whole presents itself to
our eyes, we have a truly harmonious 'whole' in front of us. Where do we see
the Venus forces? They become obvious in the 'beauty' that the human form, in
its entirety, has. All maturing has as its crowning point the formation of
Q: How were the last two life processes opposite to the
second and third processes?
A: The second and third process had very much to do with
taking in substance. Under the governance of Mercury and Venus, substances are
excreted. If the processes don't come to an end, when they keep on going, there
is pathology. I have the feeling that this is where all leukemias and lymphomas
come from, not quite the same as solid tumors, which are under Saturn. Organs
under the influence of Venus secrete hormones. All disturbances of hormonal
life, specifically male and female, are related to this domain.
The last process, reproduction is the total opposite of the
Saturn forces. It is governed by the Moon. Reproductive forces result in the
formation of an embryo that grows and is ultimately a totality; a new world,
excreted to the outside at birth. Saturn forces bring the outer world in, the
Moon forces take the inner world out. Pathology in the reproductive realm
includes genetic diseases.
This picture of classifying all physiological processes in
a group of seven consecutive categories is completely novel; a first time presentation
in the scientific world of human physiology from an evolutionary point of view.
More on this topic can be found in R. Steiner's basic booklet, Anthroposophy-A
Ross Rentea received his medical degree at the University of
Chicago; then did his residency in New York City. Subsequently, for six years,
he worked at clinics in Europe to study anthroposophical medicine. Since 1983
he has been practicing in Chicago, together with his wife Andrea Rentea, MD.