A broader view of health
21 Sep, 2009
In any meaningful discussion of health we should first define our terms. Health, says the dictionary, is “the state of being free from illness or injury; a person’s mental or physical condition.”
We should also look at a word that not only is getting a lot of current attention but is the focus of billions of dollars of taxpayer money. That word of course is healthcare. This, says our dictionary, is “the maintenance and improvement of physical and mental health, esp. through the provision of medical services.”
Former professor, now author and practicing physician, Leo Galland, MD [see Organic Connections, Nov–Dec 2008], explains in his book Power Healing, “Throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the healing profession in Europe was not called medicine; it was called physic (from the Greek word physis, meaning nature). Physicians were professors of physic and, consequently, were trained to be philosophers of nature. Medicine (from the Latin verb medico, literally translated, ‘I drug’) meant the treatment of disease with drugs; it was only a small part of the physician’s work, and the least highly regarded.”
OK, so we’ve got health being essentially a good mental or physical condition. I’m not quite sure why the “or” is in there. Wouldn’t a broader view of health take into consideration how the car (body) is running as well as the condition of the driver (you)?
Then we’ve got healthcare, where we get into maintenance and improvement of physical and mental health, with a tie-in to medical services. Let’s stop right here for a more in-depth examination.
In some older schools of medicine, notably Eastern, the healthcare professional got paid as long as you remained well. Just the opposite of what we’ve got in America. So much for maintenance. You’re pretty much on your own for that. How about improvement? Well, if you’ve been in a traffic accident and you take your car to the body shop, they can fix it up and you could certainly say that it has been improved from when you brought it in. But if you hadn’t been in an accident and you brought your car there, could the body shop improve your car? I doubt that many people search out medical care who are feeling good yet are seeking to achieve a new, higher level of health. That’s more the realm of nutrition—probably something the old professors of physic knew more about than today’s doctors of medicine.
So we find ourselves with a “modern” healthcare system where the “small part of the physician’s work” of treating disease with drugs has become the largest part. We’ve got about one drugstore for every 5,300 people (not counting drugstores in supermarkets and online pharmacies) and wall-to-wall drug ads on television. To put this into perspective, total US prescription drug sales in 2008 were $286.5 billion plus $41.63 billion in OTC drugs, giving a combined total of $328.13 billion. Meanwhile, the total sales of all organic products, food and non-food, were $24.6 billion. As a nation, we are spending roughly 87 percent more on drugs than we are on organic products. No wonder drug giants can afford to spend nearly $5 billion yearly on drug ads (that’s five billion).
Despite the best that modern medicine has to offer, somehow America, as rated by the World Health Organization, was in 28th place in comparison with other countries by common measures used to gauge our healthiness. But we did rank high in a couple of categories that I find both surprising and alarming. Out of 194 countries, America is the 9th highest in obesity and ranks 29th in the world for infant mortality rates.
Needless to say, this is not a showing to be proud of. But my point is not to bash doctors or drug companies. Something clearly needs to change. Does “the system” simply need more money? That seems to be the default Washington answer.
I submit that the roots of the problem lie in our too-limited definitions of health and healthcare. An increasing number of physicians believe this and we are seeing the growth of “integrated” medicine. The American Association of Integrative Medicine says, “Healthy means more than just the absence of disease. The human being is a fusion of body, mind, and spirit—one dependent upon the other for optimal quality of life.”
Dr. Galland says that “the outcome of all health care is strongly dependent upon four powerful influences in the lives of each person.” He cites relationships, diet and lifestyle, a healthy environment (protection from chemical and biological toxins) and detoxification (the body’s ability to self-purify).
There is a growing consensus within the medical community that an exclusive focus on drug treatments simply isn’t working.
At Duke University’s Duke Integrative Medicine, for example, the role of pharmaceuticals in patient treatment is considered—but so are supplements, preventive medicine, complementary and alternative medical treatments, and the areas of nutrition, exercise, relationships, physical environment, personal growth and spirituality, and mind-body connection.
There are numerous other examples, but the message is clear. Man does not live by drugs alone. A broader view of health in the twenty-first century will consider man’s spiritual and physical health, his or her surroundings and interactions, and will utilize time-honored methodologies that aim to restore natural function (conventional medicine aims to replace body functions through artificial hearts, dialysis and drugs).
What we know as “conventional” drug-based medicine has only been the convention since the early 1900s (a mighty short convention by historical standards). Today, in the wake of how our addiction to chemicals in manufacturing, agriculture and lifestyle has ravaged our health and our environment, we are starting to look at healthcare in a less dogmatic light. This opens the healthcare door to nutrition, traditional Chinese medicine, naturopathy, homeopathy, herbal medicine, Ayurveda, chiropractic, exercise, massage and more.
If we are really looking for healthcare reform, we need to look further than the doctor’s office, drugstore, hospital and insurance company. There’s a whole world out there and some of our best and brightest are beginning to discover it.