Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What is the difference between health and illness?

Our medical systems do not study health and hardly study illness, preferring the concept of 'disease', which is controlled by the medical profession.  As a result, there are no useful definitions of health or illness to be found in medical reference texts. There is also no simple definition of disease. We can only say that "a disease is what a doctor diagnoses".  It is sometimes said that "A patient visits a doctor with an illness, and goes home with a disease."


Healthicine, the arts and sciences of health and healthiness, provides clear useful definitions for health and healthiness:

Health is a general term covering all aspects of healthinesses.
Ill is a general term covering all aspects of illnesses. An illness is a specific instance of ill.  An illness consists of a cause (the drop in healthiness or increase in unhealthiness) and the negative consequences of that cause.

A healthiness is a specific instance of health. We can compare healthiness, not health, to illness.

This diagram illustrates the difference between healthiness and illness.

Health is whole. An illness is a hole in health. A healthiness is a specific instance of health, a whole, consisting of healthinesses and unhealthinesses.

Illness appears when healthiness drops to the illness threshold. It is cured when healthiness rises again, above the illness threshold. However, when unhealthiness breaks through the illness threshold, it might fall much farther due to other consequences of the illness, as shown above.


To clearly understand these basic concepts of health and illness, we need first to clarify what we mean by 'health' in the study of healthicine. In English we often use the word 'health' to refer to illness, or medical care. Health Care is actually care for those who are ill, and would more accurately be called 'Illness Care'.  Health Insurance insures against high cost of medical illness.  It pays for medical expenses in case of illness.Health insurance is actually 'medical insurance' or 'illness insurance'.

We also need to recognize that health is a general concept, while an illness is a specific case in a specific patient. Health, or healthy, is the opposite of ill, or sickly, general statements, not specific cases.

Instead of asking, "What is the difference between health and illness?" we need to ask:

What is the difference between a healthiness and an illness? 


What about disease?  Should we, be asking about the differences between healthiness and disease?

No. There are many important differences between illness and a disease..

A disease is a very specific illness defined such that it can be diagnosed by a medical professional. 

An illness must be present before a disease can be diagnosed.  Some illnesses cannot be diagnosed as diseases. Some are diagnosed incorrectly, or over diagnosed or under diagnosed. Many illnesses are not diseases, some diseases are not illnesses. The ICD10, International Classification of Diseases, Version 10, is a list of about 16,000 disease names used for statistical tracking of diseases, medical conditions, and mortality. However, the goal of the ICD10 is to be inclusive of anything that might be diagnosed worldwide.  As a result, it distinguishes poorly between signs and symptoms, disabilities and handicaps, diseases and more. In some cases even specific tests billed as a disease. Diseases, the concept of a disease, is very poorly defined in modern medicine, because the goal is not to create a scientific classification, but to be inclusive of every conventional doctor around the world - although not every medical practice.

Is illness less well defined than disease in current medical practice.  A patient can have an illness that has no name. However, an illness must be present before it can be diagnosed as a disease. An illness might arrive and be cured by natural activities, or by the health of the patient, before it is diagnosed. Many, perhaps most cases of illness, like the common cold, influenza, and food poisoning, are never diagnosed.

To understand the differences between healthiness and illness, we need a clear, simple definition of illness.

In healthicine: an illness is a single, measurable instance of 'ill'.  

A simple illness, an illness element, is defined as:

The intersection of a single cause, or causal chain, and the resulting negative signs and symptoms:
  • every illness has a cause. Every cause is part of a chain of causes identified by asking 'What is the cause of this cause?' when a cause is identified, or by digging deeper with questions like "what causes of illness are caused by this cause".  In order to better understand the illness, and to better search for cures, we might also ask the question: "How is the patient benefiting from this cause?"
  • every illness is a negative judgement with negative signs and symptoms, resulting from the cause.
An illness is a concept, not a thing.  It exists as a concept, when we link a cause with negative consequences.  The cause, in itself, is not the illness.  It is possible to have the cause without illness being present.  The cause does not always cause an illness. It is also possible to have the signs and symptoms of a specific illness, without having that illness.  There is overlap between signs and symptoms of many different illnesses. A specific illness only exists when a specific cause leads to negative signs and symptoms.

A simple illness is an illness element. A complex illnesses consist of combinations of simple illness elements, with a single cause.  A compound illness has multiple causal chains, consists of multiple
illness elements.

In healthicine: a healthiness is a single, measurable instance of health.

Health is not a single thing, any more than illness is a single thing. An indication of healthiness requires two measurements that form a percentage to create an indicator of healthiness or of unhealthiness. Health is whole.  A healthiness is a measurable instance of health. The corresponding unhealthiness is the inverse of the measurement of healthiness. When we measure a healthiness, or an unhealthiness, we can calculate the inverse, because by definition, healthiness and unhealthiness add up to 100 percent. When healthiness grows, unhealthiness shrinks.  When unhealthiness grows, healthiness shrinks. Together, they make up the wholeness of health.

A simple measurement, like blood pressure cannot be a measurement of healthiness in itself.  It can be a useful measurement if it includes another measurement - for example, a health goal.  If a person's blood pressure exactly matches their health goal, their blood pressure healthiness is 100 percent.  In most cases, their blood pressure healthiness does not exactly match the goal.  For example, if the patient's blood pressure healthiness is within 90 percent, higher or lower, than their goal, their blood pressure healthiness is 90 percent, and their blood pressure unhealthiness is 10 percent. Of course a single measure of blood pressure is a very weak measure of healthiness, because blood pressure varies widely throughout the day, and as a result of exercise and restful actives.

At present, there are no standards for measuring healthiness, no standards for measuring unhealthiness.  We can develop standards, and improve them, but today, there are none. Healthinesses are many, rich, varied, compound and and complex. 

Hierarchy of Healthiness

We can see a big picture view of healthiness in a hierarchy of healthicine which includes both components and processes.

At the foundation, healthiness begins with genetics, and nutrition.  Genetics is the template,  the master plan for how our individual health will become us.

Nutritional healthiness is the health of our diet, with regards to nutrients necessary and responsible for health. Many nutrients affect our health positively, and many affect it negatively.  Even nutrients that affect health positively, can also affect health negatively when they are deficient or when excessive.  In addition, a nutrient that is valuable for one person, or one life entity, might be dangerous to another.

Cells arise when genetic elements successfully cooperate, with the aid of nutrients, to create living cellular entities. Cellular healthiness is health of the cells, including healthy bacteria. Our bodies are made of hundreds of different types of cells. Many of them are not 'ours', not human cells.

Tissues, and tissue healthiness emerges when cells cooperate.  Healthy tissues require cells to act in competition - to create healthier cells, and in cooperation to create healthy tissues - muscle tissue, connective tissues, etc.

Organs and limbs emerge when tissues cooperate.  Healthy limbs and organs require cells to compete as individuals, and to cooperate as tissues. They also require tissues that compete and cooperate in health as individuals and as members of the community - the organ or limb. Heart and lungs, arms
and legs, are made up of cooperating communities of tissues.

Organs, tissues and cells cooperate to function as systems to create healthy circulatory systems, respiratory systems, digestive systems and more. Limbs cooperate and coordinate to create healthy, complex patterns of movement.

Thus, in cooperation, genetics, nutrients, cells, tissues, organs and systems comprise healthy bodies.  But that's not sufficient to understand healthiness. We also need to study intentions, or spirits. Cooperation drives to the next level.  But at every level, intentions are the life spirits of individual entities.

Every cell has individual intentions, to live, to grow, to reproduce, to evolve, to eat and excrete.  As long as it acts on those intentions, it is alive.  When it ceases to act on those intentions, or when those intentions cease to be, it is dead. Intentions are the spirits of life.  When a cell loses its life spirits, it is dead.

Every tissue also has intentions of life.  They are different intentions, at a higher level than the intentions of a cell.  However, we can see that the tissues also want to live, to grow, and to evolve. 

Each individual tissue type has other intentions - which, from our egotistic perspective, we call functions, as they serve our body. Connective tissues intend to hold parts of the body together.  Bone tissues provide structure. Muscle tissues facilitate coordinated movements. Nervous tissues sense internal and external environments and communicate what is sensed to other tissues and cells. When a tissue loses its intention, its life spirits, it might go astray, and become a cancerous tissue, or simply die. In many life entities, the loss of some tissues is not a problem.  Plants, trees, and even some animals can shed tissues, limbs and other body parts, and continue to grow and thrive.

Nervous tissues work with bodily organs and limbs to coordinate and enhance function and to ensure coordination with the whole body. As the body rises in sophistication nervous tissues form into nervous systems, a system that senses and communicates information about sound, information about sight, and information about smell. As nervous tissues cooperate, they raise the complexity and create brain modules, nervous tissues that can filter information, remember past events, even calculate and predict future events. These tissues have intentions to encourage cooperation throughout the entire body.  Those intentions become our most important intentions, or spirits of life.

When these brain components begin to cooperate, a higher level life entity develops, one that gradually - as complexity rises, gains conscious sense of self, even conscious of the mind itself.

The mind emerges from the cooperation of processes in nervous tissue bundles, of brain components and sensory components. However, the mind is an active cooperation and competition not of physical components, but a cooperation and competition of memories and processes. Ideas and memories in the mind develop into life intentions and spirits of the individual. The mind rises above the status of a simple organ or organ system, even above the physical body.

The intentions of the mind, the spirits of the mind, are the spirits of life in higher level animals. If the spirit wants to live, and pushes the body to live, sometimes to unbelievable, or seemingly impossible actions.  Sometimes, the spirits decide there is no point in pushing, the entity loses the life spirit, and dies. When the highest level spirits, or intentions of a life entity fade and die, all lower layers of spirits also die quickly.

The primary layers of healthiness are genetics, nutrients, cells, tissues, limbs and organs, bodily systems, body, mind, and spirits. Each layer interacts with every other layer in the symphony of every individual life entity.  Our cells interact with our organs.  Their spirits interact with the spirits of tissues, organs, and every other layer.  The interaction of two different layers of healthiness is a secondary aspect of the study of healthiness.

Health exists in every individual component, and in every process and every community. Communities in lower layers become individual components in higher layers competing with other components, cooperating to raise the bar to the next level.

 You can learn more about the primary and secondary disciplines of health here.
There is one more layer in the hierarchy of healthicine.

Community is the final layer of the hierarchy.  At every layer, as noted, the path to the next layer is through cooperation, through community.  Communities of genetics and nutrients give rise to living cells.  Communities of living cells give rise to tissues.  Communities of tissues create limbs and organs.  Communities of organs create organ systems and the body. Communities of process build the the mind, and the spirits.
Many animals also live in communities, families.  When we look closely, even simple living plants live in communities, competing and cooperating.  Humans take this farther.  We create communities for many purposes - and the healthiness of these communities affects and is affected by all of the members.  Our healthiness does not stop at our bodies, it is affected by, and has effects upon our communities.

If we want to measure health, or healthiness, completely - we need to measure the health of each layer. Which brings us back to the question.  What is the difference between healthiness and illness?
Healthiness is the opposite of unhealthiness. Unhealthiness is the opposite of healthiness.
What is illness?  An illness is a hole in health. An illness is the absence of specific aspects of healthiness. As stated, every illness is negative.  Every illness is a judgement.  Every illness has a cause, and negative consequences.  Because of the complex hierarchy of healthiness, an illness in a single area might have negative consequences in many different areas of healthiness.


Simple, or elementary illnesses have specific causes.  Scurvy is caused by a deficiency of Vitamin C (in theory), a single cause, a single causal chain.

There are three basic types of elementary illnesses and they can be represented in a circle:
 - causal illnesses elements have an active cause. The cure is to address the cause.
 - injury illnesses elements consist of damage to body, mind, spirit, or community. The cause is gone.
The cause is in the past.  Injury illnesses are cured by healing.
 - blockage illnesses elements block the natural healthy flows of life. The cause is gone, in the past. Blockage illnesses are cured by transformation, which often causes damage that must be healed.

Most illnesses are cured by health, by healthy activities. Each illness element requires an individual cure. A single cure cures a single illness element.

A complex illness consists of two or more elements of a simple illness element, with a single cause.  For example, a case of scurvy might be so severe that it not only causes signs and symptoms of scurvy, but also causes injuries. A complex illness requires two cures.  A complex scurvy illness requires a causal cure - to address the cause of the illness, and a healing cure, to heal the damage done by the illness.

Compound illnesses - are the result of multiple causes, with similar or overlapping signs and symptoms, often interacting over long periods of time. Many common compound illnesses can also exist as simple illnesses.  Depression can be a simple illness, with a single cause - or a compound illness consisting of several depression illness elements, each with individual causes or causal chains.

Our medical (health care) systems focus time, energy and money on prevention of disease, treatment of disease and (occasionally) curing disease. In current medical theory, most diseases cannot be cured. Little attention is paid to healthiness. Health insurance will not pay for you to improve your healthiness - if you have no disease.  If you have no disease, you cannot go to a doctor or a hospital and expect treatment.

Improving your healthiness is personal, it's up to you.

to your health, tracy
Founder: Healthicine
Note: This post was first published in 2011. It has been updated several times, with a compete revision in November 2017, as the study of healthicine progresses and provides new insights.