Our current 'health system' tends to focus on symptoms and treatments. Disease is diagnosed through symptoms. And we often treat the symptoms instead of the illness ignoring the cause. Often we hear someone raising money to find 'the cure' for cancer --why? Is it because we have given up trying to find the causes. Is cancer is a monster of so many different causes - and our medical and health systems cannot deal with this reality. Or is it simply that you can 'sell' a cure, or sell the search for a cure - but you cannot sell a 'cause'. I believe that a more thorough study of disease causes, in general and in specific cases, will improve our health status.
Are diseases, illnesses and infirmities defined by their symptoms? Or their causes? Answering this question is not as simple as you might guess. However, we can clearly define and categorize the basic causes of disease and infirmity. Is it a disease, an illness, an infirmity? The words have similar, overlapping meanings. I will use the word 'illness' from this point forward.
There are six basic causes of illness. They are: genetics, nutrients, parasites, toxins, stress and growth. In each case, the illness can be tracked to a deficiency, or a surplus of some health factor. In this simple chart, you can visualize the scale for each of the six basic causes of illness as simple deviations from a healthy status.
Genetics - we are each conceived with a specific genetic code. In some cases, this genetic code is faulty, leading to illness, sometimes very quickly, and sometimes after a very long time.
Genetic factors can be deficient - where the person does not have genes to avoid an illness, or healthy, or excessive - where the genetic factors have a negative effect on the person's health.
Nutrients are a key to health, but also a key to illness. Many essential nutrients have corresponding deficiency illnesses. Scurvy is a severe deficiency of Vitamin C. A healthy intake of nutrients leads to healthy cells and a healthy body. Excesses of essential nutrients can cause illness. Nutrients can clearly be seen as deficient, healthy or excessive depending on the amount consumed. The most challenging question about nutrients is 'what is optimal' at this point in my life, and my health. Illness caused by nutrient deficiencies or excess can be easily diagnosed if they occur in the short term. Illness caused by long term nutrient deficiencies or excesses are more difficult to understand.
Toxins are often cited as causes of illness. As with other health factors - we can demonstrate that many toxins can be deficient, leading to unhealthy states - or sufficient for health and health enhancement, to excessive, leading to health problems. As we create new chemicals daily - it is very difficult to track which might be fast, or slow toxins. Note: I have taken care to not label nutritional excess as toxicity - to clearly differentiate between nutrients and toxins. Nutrients are foods that we need to live a normal healthy life. Toxins are not. However, many foods contain toxins - plants and animals develop toxins to defend themselves from predators. And many plants create or use chemicals that are toxic to people.
Parasites, bacteria, viruses, etc -are one of the most commonly cited causes of illness. However, even with parasites, it is important to remember that you can suffer from a parasite deficiency. Your body may be blessed with healthy bacteria. Some parasites can cause illness. Like genetic and nutritional factors, parasites can be deficient, healthy or excessive.
Growth and healing systems are another potential cause of illness. Our bodies are well adapted to dealing with health issues. We have systems that protect us and heal us when any of the above five factors create health issues. We have growth and healing systems, and an immune system. But sometimes these complex systems go off the rails. Our bodies require healthy immune systems and healing systems to deal with the stress of day to day living. If these systems are deficient, as they often are elderly people, illness can creep in. Alternatively, healing and growth can also become excessive, running amok, leading to a specialized set of infirmity or illness, ranging from allergies to tumors.
Growth and healing systems can cause illness when they are out of balance. Like each of the others, these factors can be deficient, sufficient or excessive.
Stress is the final potential cause of illness. Too little stress, specifically in the forms of physical and mental exercise - can turn our muscles and brains to mush. A healthy amount of stress is vital. But excessive stress can lead to physical or mental illness and even to broken bones. Technically, we could view most illness causes as 'stress'. Nutrient deficiency, toxin excess, etc. However, for the purpose of categorizing causes of illness we need to limit stress to stresses not covered by other categories. Things like physical, or mental 'whacks on the side of the head'.
That's it. Six causes of illness. When we speak about health and illness, we can clearly see how they are linked together. Healthy is the balance point for each of the factors. Go too low, or too high - and you throw your body out of balance, and illness is the result. This is one important way of looking at, and classifying all illness.
Note: the sequence has been updated from the original post to create a hierarchy that can be aligned with the hierarchy of health. It can also be noticed that each of the elements in the hierarchy of health can be a source of illness when they are out of balance.
We know it's not that simple. Many illnesses are caused by secondary or tertiary health issues, or combinations of health issues. However, it is important to understand the primary causes of illness as a foundation to the study of health, and also to effectively study preventatives.
You may be suffering from several different deficiencies and excesses, from mild to severe. The health issue then becomes - which is most important - and what actions should be taken today, this week, this month?
Those decisions are personal. Actions to prevent illness and to deal with illness are also personal. It's about Personal Health Freedom.
Tracy is the author of two book about healthicine: