An interesting aspect of the early Seventh-Day Adventist health message is the belief in vital force. In his book, Handbook of Health, J.N. Loughborough, an early SDA pioneer, defined it this way:
What is the vital force of the human body? It is that power placed in the human body, at its birth, which will enable the body, under favorable circumstances, to live to a certain age. It is this which enables the body to rally and bring to bear its energies in throwing off disease.J.N. Loughborough, Handbook of Health, pg. 14-5 (1868)
It was believed by many of the 19th century American health reformers that all human life had a vital force, sometimes referred to as vitalism. Doing certain things would more quickly diminish this vital force, leading to a shorter life span. This theory was developed by Jöns Jacob Berzelius and went on to be disproven in 1828 by Friedrich Wöhler.
However, because the SDA Church esteems the writings of Ellen G. White to be divinely inspired and correcting of inaccurate interpretations of scripture, they have to stand by the many statements Mrs. White made in this vein which she claims came directly from God.
One such example is what John Harvey Kellogg claimed, which is that sexual intercourse is one of the most exhausting acts of the vital force. Because of this, it was taught in the early days of Adventism that married couples should limit the amount of intercourse to preserve the length of ones life and that women have less vital force. She also claimed that the work Kellogg was doing in this regard was from God and to reject it was to reject God. Over and over again she claimed that sexual intercourse diminished one’s vital forces and would lead to a shorter life, which goes against the SDA health message.
It’s also because of vital theory that she spoke of meat eating as blunting one’s senses to the truth, exciting one’s animal passions, and that anything that does such is a sin. Which means that meat eating is supposedly a sin.
The foundation for this theory being true was an alleged 45 minute vision that Ellen White received in Oswego, New York where it’s claimed that medical facts were presented to her decades ahead of her time.
The Bible is clear that it is wrong for a spouse to withhold sexual intercourse from their partner, except in the case of an agreed upon period of fasting (1 Corinthians 7:4-5). This does not diminish one’s longevity. In fact, modern studies show that opposite to be the case.
Furthermore, the Bible does not condemn the consumption of meat. Paul warned Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:1-4 that false teachers would come along teaching doctrines of demons, one of which includes forbidding the consumption of certain foods.
Paul also explains in Romans 14:1-4 that one person eats only vegetables and another doesn’t, but God accepts both people. The one who eats only vegetables being called weak in the faith. This is also inline with what God told Noah after the flood (Genesis 9:1-3). The same Paul very plainly says that food does not bring us near to God and we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do (1 Corinthians 8:8, 10:25-9, Colossians 2:16-23).
Furthermore, Jesus himself said in Mark 7:14-23 that all foods are clean and it isn’t what goes into a person that defiles them, but what comes out of ones heart.
Mrs. White did not receive this information from God, but was a product of her day. She was clearly influenced by other “health reformers” around her, took this information, and then pawned it off on being a thus saith the Lord, something God strictly forbids (Jeremiah 23).