September 24th, 2012 by Digestive Detective
Medicine and health-care have changed dramatically over time from a model that was largely based on the person as a whole to a focus that largely took the person out of the equation and focused mainly on a part of the individual (system, organ, cell). Luckily, the pendulum is beginning to swing back in the direction of viewing health from a perspective of wholeness and wellness. This poses a question to us as individuals seeking to improve our own health: How can we best support our own vitality and what habits are essential for creating a model of "self-care" in our lives? As individuals or within our families, are we establishing strategies to build "health prosperity" or are we living in a state of "health poverty" - lacking a richness of vitality and well-being? As proactive participants in our own state of health, there are clearly specific areas we can address to build our health capital and attain a "wealth of health".
From Suffering in the Home to Microbes in the Laboratory
Before we determine our personal state of health & well-being, it's important to first take a look at the development of the definition of health and how the medical field has approached health-care over time:
The development of Western biomedical knowledge began in the home as "bedside" medicine. Bedside medicine was largely associated with traditional remedies and care of the patient by the physician in the home. The focus was on the person as a whole, and the body (microcosm) viewed in the context of the world at large (macrocosm). This orientation meant that treatment included not only the body, but the mind and spirit as well - that all 3 were relevant to the disease.
The next shift was towards clinical/hospital medicine where physical diagnosis was more relevant and systematized inspection, palpation, percussion and auscultation were utilized. From this context, the patient was seen as separate from the disease - that, in essence, the disease was "stuck in the organs." Here, surgery became a significant part of medicine.
Finally, the last big shift came with the birth of modern cellular pathology and laboratory medicine. In this paradigm, the body was further divided with cellular and biochemical inquiry becoming a focal point.
That brings us to the current conventional medicine approach which combines clinical/hospital medicine and laboratory medicine - one often of isolation versus integration of the whole person and the aspects of mind, body, spirit, and social into the achievement and maintenance of health & wellness. Integrative medicine is now attempting to bring back the features of bedside medicine in its holistic approach.
So what are the implications for us as patients/individuals? This frame of reference helps us define health in the eyes of practitioners and begin to shift our own paradigm of health towards greater self-care and ultimately towards the tangible steps we can take to build our own "health endowment".
Now that we've examined the history of the medical approach to health, let's broaden the definition to examine how we can individually attain greater health in our own lives.
In the broader context, health is the external experience of vitality - of life "going well". Health, from a modern perspective, involves adaptability, resilience and robustness:
- Adaptability - Homeostatic and allostatic regulation; ability to adapt to environment and maintain a similar condition or move through different states
- Resilience - Positive adaptation and functioning despite experience of chronic stress or detrimental circumstances
- Robustness - Functioning despite internal/external disturbances
As an analogy from a more practical perspective, elements of health can be viewed as "capital" - an endowment of health reserves that ensure our well-being. Just as with money, we can build or spend our capital through our own actions and behaviors. The concept of a health endowment is comprised of:
- Biophyscial Capital
- Psychocognitive Capital
- Social Capital
Building Your Health Capital
"The greatest wealth is health." - Virgil
While there are a variety of ways to build and increase your health capital that may vary from one person to the next, as a foundation, reinforcing the following health-positive environmental inputs and behaviors is a solid basis for everyone:
- Nutrient-dense nutrition
- Adequate sunlight
- Appropriate physical activity
- Sufficient sleep
- Meditation & prayer
- A supportive social network
In the following articles, we'll examine each of these areas independently to provide some guidelines that you can use in your own life. For now, simply begin to reflect on the six areas and ask yourself some probing questions:
- Which of these areas do you thrive in from day to day?
- Which areas are you lacking or could use some room for improvement?
- What one actionable step can you begin taking TODAY to enhance that behavior or input in your life?
To begin, identify one area that you could further develop and refer to the corresponding article in this series for some innovative and tested approaches to build your health capital.