Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What is the difference between health and illness?

Update March 2014: the concepts explored in this post have been expanded into a book: Healthicine: the Arts and Sciences of Health and Healthicine. This book lays the foundation for exploration of healthicine.
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What is the difference between health and illness?

First, we need to clarify what we mean by 'health'. 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 costs of medical illness.  It pays for medical expenses in case of illness.Health insurance is actually 'illness insurance'.

What is health? We can be 'very sick', or we can be 'very healthy'. Every illness has a scale of severity.  And every 'healthiness' also has a scale, from not very healthy, to very healthy. Every healthiness is an individual aspect of health, just as an illness is an individual aspect of being ill.

When we ask "What is the difference between health and illness?" we are actually asking the question: What is the difference between healthiness and illness?

There are many aspects of healthiness. We can view healthiness as a hierarchy of health states.

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

Nutritional healthiness is the health of our diet, with regards to nutrients responsible for health.

Cellular healthiness is health of the cells, including good bacteria that comprise our bodies. Our bodies are made of hundreds of different types of cells. Many of them are not 'ours', are not human cells.

Some of these cells group together into tissues - muscle tissue, connective tissues, etc.  Tissues are the third layer in our health hierarchy.

Organs are the fourth layer of the health hierarchy.  Your heart, your lungs, your pancreas.  Healthy organs are essential to overall health.

Organs, tissues and cells function as systems.  We have a circulatory system, a respiratory system, and a digestive system.  Systems are the fifth layer in our health hierarchy.

Nutrients, cells, tissues, organs and systems comprise our bodies.  The body is the sixth layer of the health hierarchy.

Your mind is, in many ways, like a very complex organ. It also creates consciousness and self awareness, rising above the status of a simple organ or system. Your mind is the seventh layer in your health hierarchy.

Above the mind is your spirit and spirituality. The healthiness of your spirit is the eight health hierarchy layer.

Community is the ninth and final layer of the health hierarchy.  Humans live in and create communities for many purposes - the healthiness of these communities affects and is affected by all of the members.

You can see a chart of the primary and secondary disciplines of health here.

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?

Illness is measured by diagnosis, and diagnosis is a very powerful, specific tool. Specific health problems must be present to diagnose an illness.

 If your health, in any layer of the health hierarchy is deficient - it does not mean you have an illness.  An illness requires specific health deficits, at specific thresholds of severity, to be diagnosed as an illness.

Simple, or primary illnesses have specific causes.  Scurvy is caused by a deficiency of Vitamin C.

Secondary illnesses have sequential causes.  A puncture wound allows an infection to enter and grow.

Compound or complex illnesses - like many cancers - are the result of may causes, often interacting over long periods of time.

Our medical (health care) systems focus time, energy and money on prevention of illness, treatment of illness and curing illness.  There is little attention paid to healthiness. Health insurance will not pay for you to improve your healthiness - if you are not ill.  If you are ill, you can go to a doctor or a hospital and expect treatment.  In civilized countries, you can expect to be treated without the destruction of your financial health.

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

This blog is about Personal Health Freedom. I see governments and corporations placing restrictions on healthy actions, often for unhealthy reasons.  I believe we each have a right to health and a right to healthy actions - and that each of us has a right to decide what actions are healthy for us.
Tracy is the author of two books about healthicine: