Weleda on Anthroposophic Medicine
An interview with Executive Board members Nataliya Yarmolenko and Aldo Ammendola
What is health for Weleda?
Nataliya Yarmolenko: Health is a process for us – it is constantly being created, moment for moment. This is also expressed in the purpose of our company: Contributing to a world in which health and beauty unfold in harmony with people and nature. Of course, every human being has their own preconditions due to genetics and childhood experiences. At the same time, people can choose to live in a way that fosters their health.
Aldo Ammendola: For us, health does not only mean eliminating the symptoms of illness, but helping the whole person. This aim is common to all natural healing approaches.
NY: We see health holistically. We recognise that our organism has the ability to self-regulate in order to become healthy and stay healthy. Our products build on this innate human strength.
"For us, health does not only mean eliminating the symptoms of illness, but helping the whole person."
Weleda has been producing anthroposophic medicines and natural cosmetics for 100 years. What is anthroposophic medicine?
AA: It takes a holistic view, looking not only at the body, but also the mind and spirit, and a person’s past and present circumstances. To consider all of this together is what makes anthroposophic medicine and its remedies so special.
NY: We look at people holistically but also nature. We are part of nature, and we have evolved together with nature. Processes in the human organism and in nature are therefore related. We draw on nature for our medicines, which can have a beneficial effect on different functions in the organism depending on their composition.
Anthroposophic medicine sees itself as a complementary medicine, and distinct from alternative medicine. What does that mean?
AA: Alternative medicine sees itself as an “alternative”, meaning it is used in place of conventional medicine. Anthroposophic medicine, on the other hand, integrates conventional medicine and complementary, naturopathic approaches to regulate the body’s ability to heal itself. This helps to bring out-of-balance systems in the human organism back into balance. For this reason we also speak of integrative regulatory medicine.
So you can’t be an anthroposophic doctor without a degree in conventional medicine?
AA: Exactly. Not only does this apply to doctors in private practice, but also to anthroposophic clinics, such as the Filderklinik near Stuttgart or the Havelhöhe Community Hospital in Berlin. There you will find the complete range of conventional medical treatments as well as anthroposophic treatments for internal and external use.
NY: But anthroposophic medicine is not simply an add-on. It is about an altogether more complex view, which considers the patient as an individual, and why the individual has become ill, so that the cause of the illness can be treated, not just an organ or certain symptoms.
The conflict between critics and advocates of anthroposophic medicine is often because the existence of “soul” and “spirit” cannot be proven. Saying that anthroposophic medicines have an effect on body, soul and spirit can spark uncertainty. How do you deal with that?
NY: That’s exactly the point: Can human beings be reduced to a physically measurable, visible level – or not? In fact, there are now many examples where an effect can be demonstrated even without any substance at all. Meditation, for example – it works, but why? At Weleda, we assume that even in science, there are different dimensions that need to be considered.
"We are part of nature, and we have evolved together with nature. Processes in the human organism and in nature are therefore related."
Critics also say that homeopathic and anthroposophic medicines do not contain active ingredients. What do you say to that?
AA: The natural active ingredients in our medicines usually have low potency levels, ranging from D2 to D12. This brings us into the realm of substance-based herbal medicine. Only from a potency of D23 is it said that an active substance is no longer detectable at the molecular level. Originally, more importance was also attached to the interaction between the physician and the patient with these medicines. We also build on this experience: 2021 marks 100 years of anthroposophic medicines by Weleda.
We also have a lot of practical experience from clinics and doctors in private practice. Field reports on the therapeutic use of anthroposophic medicines, not just our own, are documented in the “Vademecum of Anthroposophic Medicines”. There are also many scientific studies and evidence about the effectiveness of our medicines. Among other things, they show that significantly fewer antibiotics are needed if taken in conjunction with complementary medicines, including anthroposophic medicines. But there aren’t enough good studies yet, which is one of the reasons I am at Weleda. I come from the natural sciences, and my task is to scientifically prove the positive effects of our medicines on a wider scale.
Tell us more about your professional background
AA: I am a micro- and molecular biologist and have worked in the synthetic pharmaceutical industry as well as in oncology. It was through herbal medicines that I found my way to anthroposophic medicine in all its variety.
What convinced you to work in this field?
AA: The power of nature. We have copied everything from nature, isn’t that amazing? Sixty to seventy percent of all conventional medicines come from nature or are derived from it. For instance, the salicylic acid used in painkillers is an isolated active ingredient from willow bark. Isn’t it an obvious choice to go straight to nature?
How do you intend to provide even better proof of the effectiveness of Weleda medicines?
AA: Through substantial investment in research and development. Over the next five years, we will be investing tens of millions of euros to investigate the effectiveness of current medicines as well as to develop new ones.
NY: We also want to develop new methods to show how self-regulation works and its impact on more subtle aspects of the organism, such as mind and spirit. We have already set up working groups on these topics.
Ms Yarmolenko, as part of the Weleda Executive Board you are responsible for the Market Division. How is a holistic view of human beings compatible with economic reality?
NY: I am a physician and joined Weleda in 2002. During my work as a physician, I had very good experiences with anthroposophic medicines, and I thought to myself: “If I really want to make a difference, I need to help make this kind of medicine available to more people.” At Weleda we follow the principle of “purpose over profit”. Our values are more important than our profit. But of course, as a business enterprise, we also have to be healthy ourselves. Combining the two aspects is not an easy task. However, the privatisation of the healthcare sector in Germany has shown how problematic it can become when health is driven mainly by economic goals. At Weleda we are trying to take a different route by first asking: What helps people and nature?
How important is it for Weleda where and how the raw materials for its medicines are sourced?
NY: It is central for us. We see path that the substance has taken in nature, its biography so to speak, as part of the quality of our products. So it’s important that our raw materials come from nature. Take, for example, our cold remedy, Infludoron. For this we need, among other things, iron, from sustainably extracted iron ore. Ecology and sustainability are essential issues for us. Many of the herbal substances we process come from our medicinal plant garden in Wetzgau, near Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany. Among the many plants we grow there are henbane, donkey thistle and cowslip, which we need for Cardiodoron, a medicine to treat cardiovascular disorders. This makes it a regional product, which is good for people and for nature.
AA: Until now, ecology and sustainability have only been of secondary importance for the pharmaceutical industry. But that’s changing, and not just on a national level. The European Union has recently issued a new pharmaceutical strategy, which now includes ecological aspects. We were naturally very pleased to see this, because that has already been important to us for 100 years, not to mention our cultivation projects. That’s also why we joined the Union for Ethical BioTrade (UEBT) in 2011. In 2018, we became one of the first companies in the world to be certified by UEBT for our consistent ethical sourcing of raw materials.