Friday, January 8, 2010

Health Defined

What is health? What is healthy? What is illness? What is medicine? What is practicing medicine? What is food? What is a drug? What is a treatment?

Health is a very complex topic. If you go to your doctor for a checkup, you might be declared ‘healthy’. But what is that? Does healthy mean you are 9 on a scale of 10? Or does healthy mean you are at 6 on a scale of 10, but not sick? What if you have a condition, like diabetes, which can be measured on a scale, but you are otherwise healthy? Arrrgggg.

WHO, the World Health Organization was formed in 1948. At that time, they defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”,

I suspect this definition came from a committee. It has the mark of a committee – sloppy English and muddled thinking. As written, it is a definition of perfect health ‘a state of complete ... well-being’, followed by a waffle clause – ‘and not merely’.

I think the intended meaning was: the health of a personal, group or a nation can be defined as

the combined state of physical, mental and social well being.”

What is personal health freedom? The freedom to take subjective and objective measurements of your levels of health and to take any actions you believe will change your level of health in the way you wish.

What is health? The question is often stated, definitions are often proposed. We need a definitive one. I’ll start. Help me out with constructive criticism if you can. I will use the term ‘being’ as short for ‘person, group or nation’ to avoid wordiness and repetition. I hope you will find my definitions useful and provocative.

Health is a measure of the state of wellness of a person, or community.

note: The following section of the blog is historical, as I developed my ideas.  The structure for studying health has been updated and expanded in the Hierarchy of Health blog which shows a slightly different structure - and one more suited to further analysis. 

Nutritional health is the wellness level of nutrients in and consumed by the being. Nutritional health is the foundation for all health. Without nutritional health – all other health components will start to fail. Nutritional health is dependent on foods consumed in the past, present and future. From a cellular point of view - and we consist of our cells, nutritional health is measured by the health of the 'soil' that is our body's food supply to our cells as well as the food delivered thru food.

Cellular health is the wellness level of the cells of a being. Nutritional health is required for cellular health; however cellular health can also be affected positively or negatively by other factors from genetics and exercise to toxins and radiation. Cellular health of a person includes the healthy presence of non-human cells, bacteria, viruses, etc.

Organ health is the wellness level of the organs of a being. Eg. Liver, lungs, skin and heart. Cellular health is required for organ health.

System health is the wellness level of the various systems that exist in a person. Including the circulatory system, the respiratory system, the nervous system, the elimination systems (of which the respiratory system is one), and the hormonal systems. System health is dependent on the health of the organs supporting the system, and thus dependent on the nutritional health and cellular health.

Physical health is the wellness level of the entire body, including muscles, tendons, bones and hair. Physical health is dependent on all prior levels. Note: 'the body' might be 'the body of the community being examined'.

Mental health is the wellness level of the being, including memory, calculation and planning. Mental health is dependent on the health of all prior levels. Note: what our society defines as 'mental illness' is often not directly related to mental health - and may be closer aligned with spiritual and social health.

Sexual health is the wellness level of the sexual interactions of a being. Sexual health is dependent on all prior levels of health.   I have come to the conclusion in later blog postings that sexual health is a system, not an element in the hierarchy. 

Spiritual health. Spiritual health is personal. It is not dependent on freedom. It can help maintain a healthy balance when other health components are severely affected. You might think that spiritual health is independent. It is possible to have a strong spirit when your main health status is ‘your legs are being eaten away by cancer’, but maybe that’s not a healthy attitude. It is important to distinguish between 'strong spirit' and a 'healthy spirit'.

Social Health - was renamed and redefined as community health upon reflection and analysis. 

Community health is the wellness level of the communities of humans and their interactions. Community health is dependent on freedoms to associate and work together for health - a freedom that is currently severely curtailed in many areas.

I tried to sequence the components of health in a logical, dependent order, from the basics of nutrition to the complexities of community health. Did I miss anything? Let me know your thoughts.

Tracy is the author of two book about healthicine: