In western societies, we are accustomed to classifying disease by a description of signs and symptoms identified with the main body part involved, usually a Latin or Greek name.
Examples: arthritis (inflamed joint(s), jaundice, yellowish), tonsillitis (inflamed tonsils), lung cancer, etc. Western medicine has a long history of this classification.
Then in the 1800’s, the germ theory of disease evolved and we came up with names associated with microbes and viruses, so we have names like smallpox, tuberculosis, hemolytic strep, pneumococcal pneumonia, and many others.
A consequence of that paradigm shift is the emphasis on a single germ or single factor as a cause of a particular ailment or disease, sometimes referred to as the magic bullet theory and concurrent with the rise of the single factor concept there was and is a minimizing of the notion of constitutional or nutritional factors and/or toxins as a cause of the diseases de jour… like a teeter-totter, one idea is up and the other is down.
The single factor idea is seductive. If the invading germ or virus can be identified, then a neutralizing agent can be found or invented and the corresponding disease can be cured or eliminated. And for the last 100 years or so, most of the efforts have concentrated on that paradigm of disease. And so we have vaccines and antibiotics and many infectious diseases have been wonderfully controlled. Some of that success is illusory, however – some of that success can be accounted for by societal changes. Cleaner food and water supplies, proper waste disposal, improved nutrition. All these make a person less susceptible to infectious diseases.
Now we have a new and more complicated variety of diseases to confront. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, autoimmune problems, to name a few.
And so we need a shift back toward the multifunctional etiology of disease such things as the person’s constitutional status (think nutrition, lifestyle, environment) and the person’s genetic and cultural background as we come to confront the many viral and degenerative disorders that plague our society.
A new paradigm of disease then requires that we look beyond the outward and superficial manifestations of disease and search for underlying causes. These causes may be a biochemical imbalance, hormonal imbalance, enzyme imbalance or lack, physical trauma, mental trauma, nutritional excess or lack, and environmental toxins or stressors.
It’s a different world today- it’s not black and white, not sick or well. It is a world of graduated wellness or illness, a continuum. And it requires a different perspective. We now understand the concept of biochemical individuality – everyone is different from everybody else. That’s why everyone in the room can harbor a cold germ or virus and only some will get sick, others may feel bad for a while but not really be sick and still, others will be unaffected.
Optimal health then could be thought of as the best it can be within the constraints of your certain genetic, constitutional, environmental, and cultural limitations. Let me explain these limitations.
- A genetic limitation might be, for example, cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, Huntington’s disease, Polycystic kidney, sickle cell anemia, in a word heredity.
- A constitutional limitation might be a weak immune system, or weak lungs, or small bones, or weak eyes, or a faulty nervous system (think ADHD), or some aspect of autism.
- An environmental limitation could be living in an area of unusual pollution – smog from a geographic location – lack of iodine in the soil – thyroid problems, too much fluoride in the soil – chemicals in water or food, your house, or your workplace – skeletal fluorosis, radon on the soil – concern living too close to high voltage electric wires – leukemia
- Cultural limitation – diet – polished rice, thiamine deficiency, beriberi – Vitamin C – scurvy, corn mono-diet leads to low niacin – pellagra, too much alcohol – liver problems, starvation.
So, the paradigm is shifting as more people realize there is no single factor for every disease. Most, if not all diseases and ailments, are multifactorial. Such things as diet, exercise, stress, social integration, sleep, predominant or most common thought patterns (think attitude).
All these have an influence on a person’s constitutional health and resistance to insults, be they physical or mental.
So where is this leading us? A new approach to health and disease is struggling to be born. It Is being forced into existence by an array of societal factors that refuse to be ignored – here are a few of those factors.
On one end of the spectrum, there is a new constellation of childhood diseases: autism, ADHD, and ADD, obesity, diabetes. I call it a constellation of diseases because there are common threads amongst them, a predominant one being nutrition.
On the other end of the age spectrum is the over 65 population – people are living longer and age-related diseases are overloading our health care system. Such things as the various heart diseases, lung diseases, autoimmune diseases, arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, cancer, various genetic disorders, and others.
In the middle ages of 20-65, we are seeing more predominately the diseases of stress and malnutrition. Anxiety, depression, gastrointestinal problems come quickly to mind. Just Watching the TV ads for prescription drugs gives you a clue.
It is relevant to consider what perspective we are moving from and what perspective we are moving toward as regards to healthcare. What we are moving from is a perspective of managing the disease (or ailment) with drugs and chemicals and radiation and surgery. It is interesting to note that for a majority of illnesses the remedies applied do not cure. The remedies provide some degree of control of symptoms and progression of the disease, and reoccurrence of the disease is not just likely, it almost guaranteed. In more than a few cases, the remedy may be what terminates the patient.
This is not to condemn the medical society as uncaring or not competent. It is the underlying paradigm that’s not working, that needs a change of direction, a change of emphasis. And you folks are part of that change. You realize, perhaps sub-consciously, that a different approach to healthcare is needed. Most of us are starting to “get it” on a personal level. We can see that the old way isn’t working very well, we can’t always count on the doctor or the hospital to make us well. We have to start taking on the responsibility for our own health.
That brings us to the emerging paradigm. The new paradigm is prevention – or preventive medicine if you will. You are all familiar with the idea, you may think “this is not new”.
In terms of a cultural shift, it is very new. It takes one, two, or three generations for new ideas and concepts to be accepted and internalized. Some take longer than others because of entrenched vested interests. Think energy, think Middle East. And so it is with our health care system. Think pharmaceutical companies, cancer research and cancer therapies, heart hospitals and heart surgeries. These are multibillion-dollar industries and employ hundreds of thousands of people, most of whom are conscientious and well-intentioned. But it is apparent, on sober reflection, that the current paradigm is not working very well.
What then is an individual to do? There are several avenues for action, which can be pursued more or less concurrently.
The first action – make the decision to be personally responsible for your own health. All of life is about choices, and this is an important choice. To quote John R Lee, M.D. “a healthy life is one’s most treasured gift, but it requires some tending to. It rarely comes to someone who ignores the lessons of nature, especially in the circumstances of our present environment.
Good health requires proper choices in the matter of what we eat and drink and how we live.” He goes on to say “once the basic concepts and fundamentals are understood, and application of them undertaken, the benefits will follow. Later, as further knowledge unfolds, additional refinements can easily be adapted. The care and tending of optimal health is a continual life process, a path of enlightenment, empowerment, and joy which returns the responsibility for health to the proper party – you. Each one of us carves but a single path through life. Why not make it a healthy one?
The obvious choices are what we eat and drink and how much we eat and drink. Less obvious choices are how we deal with stressors in our life. Stress can be physiologic, psychologic or physical. Dealing with it can mean learning the physiologic mechanisms of stress, the potential consequences of stress and learning adequate coping techniques.
Other important choices are about exercise. How much, how much, how often, what kind and how much is too much. All very important.
And perhaps the least obvious choice, yet one of the more important choices is how you Nourish your mind. Do you give it rich mental protein or is it getting junk food and leftovers? Are you feeding it deliberately or just leaving it to chance? Are you taking responsibility for what you let in or is everything accepted? Much like a computer, it’s “garbage in – garbage out”.
The basic concept of health starts on a foundation with knowledge of food. Like a building, we need a solid foundation to support our prevention paradigm.