Some illnesses are complex, the result of multiple causes. However, many are simple or trivial to understand, although they might not be trivial to treat or cure. Simple, or primary illnesses are those that have a single cause. The value in understanding these illnesses is in our ability to prevent them, once we understand the cause.
Secondary illnesses are illnesses that have sequential causes. Complex illnesses are those that have multiple causes.
The basic primary illnesses flow right out of the hierarchy of health. Because each of the layers in the hierarchy is dependent on the health of the layer below, a health deficiency, or excess in one layer can cause an illness in a higher layers, in other components of the same layer - and even, in exceptional circumstances in layers below.
So, the first list of primary causes of illness is the list of components in the hierarchy of health: genetics, nutrients, cells, tissues, organs, systems, body, mind, spirit and community - in deficiency or excess.
If this list seems short, remember that nutrition alone has over 100 components that are critical to health. We don't have a comprehensive list for nutrients. Nor do we have a comprehensive list for cells, when we recognize that some of the cells essential to health are bacteria that contribute to health.
A specific deficiency in nutrition might cause scurvy - which affects cells, bones, organs and systems, but only when it becomes severe. Before that point, it is just a deficiency.
Technically, an illness is something that can be diagnosed, and sometimes treated. A simple excess or deficiency might not be sufficient to cause an illness. There must be significant severity, and possibly duration, for an illness to develop and be diagnosed.
To this list, we can add other deficiencies and excesses. A deficiency, or excess of growth can lead directly to illness. There may be a 'deeper cause' of the growth deficiency or excess, making the illness a 'secondary illness', caused by one health issue, which caused another health issue. However, if the excess growth leads directly to the illness - it can be classified as a direct cause of illness, even it it is not the primary cause. In this case, the illness does not have a primary cause.
A primary cause of illness exists when a single deficiency or excess is the only cause of an illness. Vitamin C deficiency is the primary cause of scurvy. A bullet in the shoulder can be the primary cause of a flesh wound.
A direct cause of illness exists when a single deficiency or excess is directly responsible for the illness. If that cause had prevented, or removed removed in time, the illness would not have occurred.
All primary causes of illness are direct causes of illness. Direct causes are not necessarily primary causes.
Can we create a list that categorizes all primary causes of illness? All direct causes of illness? I don't know, but I have created a list that covers a majority. I'll be happy to add to the list if you can tell me something I've missed.
Each individual cause of illness, primary, direct, or secondary is the deficiencies and excesses of some component of health. To the list of health components from the hierarchy of health, we should add:
The six senses: vision, hearing, touch, smell, taste and balance. A deficiency or excess of any of these senses may indicate illness and may cause further illnesses.
Pain: a deficiency or excessive ability to feel pain may indicate illness and may cause further illnesses.
Growth: a deficiency or excess of growth may indicate illness and may cause further illnesses.
Healing: a deficiency or excess of healing which includes the immune system, repair systems and growth systems may indicate illness and may cause further illnesses.
Stress: a deficiency or excess of stress may indicate illness and may cause further illnesses.
Like the components of health, each of these causes of illnesses is necessary to health. Illness appears when they are deficient, or when they are in excess.
With any illness, if we can clearly identify a single direct cause, we can work directly to prevent and possibly to cure the illness.
Primary prevention (or direct prevention) of illness is an action that directly tackles the primary causes of illness. This is a fundamental health concept of prevention.
However, take care when reading the latest health news. You might read that red wine has been shown in statistical studies to prevent heart disease. Ask yourself, is this a primary prevention? Does it prevent specific types of heart disease - those caused by a deficiency of red wine, in every case? If so, then it is a primary preventative. If not - it is a statistically possible preventative but not a primary preventative.
This important concept, of primary, or direct illness, and primary or direct preventatives is very powerful. If we have a primary preventative - then searching health for the hint of an illness - before a full blown illness develops, might be combined with the preventative to eliminate cases of the illness.
This can be especially effective for any illness where a cause results in minor health issues in the short term - but serious issues in the long term.
At present, we tend to focus our 'health' care on diagnosed illness, not on health. So we tend to ignore causes that take a long time to develop into a diagnosed illness. I'm not discussing 'cancers caused by smoking'. Rather, I'm wondering what illness might be caused by a low level deficiency of a single nutrient, or a combination of nutrients - when the deficiency exists for years or decades.
We need a better understanding, and better studies of primary illnesses and direct illness so we can learn more about health - and how to improve health. With this understanding we might learn the causes of some illnesses that are mysteries today.
Yours in health,
Tracy is the author of two book about healthicine: