Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Scientific Measurement of Healthiness

Can we measure healthiness scientifically?

Note: this post was written at the beginning of my explorations of Healthicine. The book:
Introduction to Healthicine: Theories of Health, Healthiness, Illness and Aging , published in early 2014, provides a much more comprehensive, up to date view of health and healthiness - as well as a framework for measuring healthiness.

Let’s look at two hypothetical women, introduced in a recent blog about detox and cleansing.

Alice and Zizi, both in their mid-forties, have no identified medical issues. They are each relatively normal, with one notable exception. You might know someone in each profile.

Alice gets, on average 5 to 7 colds a year, over the past 10 years. When she gets a cold, she is quite seriously affected, and the cold lasts, typically, between 8 and 10 days.

Zizi gets on average, a single cold every 1 or 2 years.  Her colds typically last 3 to 5 days and she suffers only minor systems.

That’s what the health (medical) system knows about Alice and Zizi.  About their illness.  The health (medical) system never looks at their health; in fact Alice and Zizi only contact the health (medical) system when they are sick. And Zizi, because she is generally not seriously affected by her colds – has almost no contact with the health (medical) system.  Alice is well known at the clinic, if not looking for medicine; she is at the very least, looking for a doctor’s note to stay home from work.

Now, the critical question.  Who is healthier, Alice or Zizi?

I think we can agree that Zizi is the most healthy.  But we can also see that she is ignored by the (so called) ‘health system’, because the ‘health system’ is in fact a ‘medical system’, not a health system.

Our health systems are ignorant of the healthiness of Zizi.

If Alice and Zizi go to a doctor, when they do not have a cold, they might both be told they are 'perfectly healthy'.  As if health is measured using yes or no answers.  "No illness" equals perfect health. 

We don’t have a health system. There are no professionals, there is no scientific community that studies Zizi – and no-one that studies the differences between Alice and Zizi.  Our medical system pays a lot of attention to Alice, and tries to cure or prevent her colds – and it ignores Zizi. Zizi is healthy, and there is no ‘health system’ to take notice of Zizi's healthiness.

Why is it important to study Zizi?  As long as we only study illness - we have an incomplete image of health and healthiness. Our concepts of illness, treatment, cure, prevention, and health are all distorted by a view that does not understand or measure healthiness.

I believe Zizi is healthier - and the cold makes no difference. That's my opinion.  But I would like to have a scientific answer.

A scientific answer should be independent of my opinion. It would make objective measurements and decide who is healthier.  Of course there is debate, even in science, but we need a science first - before we can start a scientific debate. Today, there is no science of healthiness. 

How would we obtain an objective, independent, scientific measurement of the health of Alice and Zizi?

Is it appropriate to measure healthiness – every day?  Or can we only measure sickness every day? Maybe, when we study healthiness – we will learn that the minimum resolution of a health measurement is 3 weeks.  Or perhaps longer. That a health measurement of one day, or even 3 or 7 days is irrelevant to health status, only relevant to ‘illness status’.

Or we might find that some measurements of healthiness are immediate and effective. A visual examination of the blood cells of Alice and Zizi might consistently reveal that Zizi is healthier. While examining their colds and sickness status requires analysis over several months or years for an accurate result.

Individual illnesses are measured by a different set of symptoms, tests, and observations. But these symptoms, tests and observations do not necessarily measure healthiness. Nor does the absence of symptoms. 

I believe an objective test for healthiness must ignore the cold, which is a temporary ‘illness’.  When we have true tests for healthiness - they will detect a significant differences between the healthiness levels of Alice and Zizi, without reference to a specific incidence of a cold.

Our medical systems ignores the difference between Alice and Zizi, and has no officially recognized way to measure it.  If someone says "Zizi is healthier than Alice" - there is no proof.  Even a historical record of the frequency of their colds does not constitute proof.  It is simply historical and anecdotal.

How can we measure healthiness scientifically? We have some crude measurements - most are designed to measure populations, not individuals. BMI tells us if a population is overweight or underweight.  But we are cautioned against using it on individuals.  And if Alice and Zizi have simiar BMI scores - that does not help. Most medical tests are designed to measure illness, not to measure healthiness.

I believe we can measure healthiness scientifically.  I'm not a scientist, but I have faith in science.  If it can be measured, science will find a way. And healthiness can be measured.

If we are to measure health, we need to develop scientific measurements of various elements in each of the layers of the hierarchy of health - genetics, nutrition, cells, tissues, organs, systems, body, mind, spirit and community.

There are over 100 nutrients which are critical to optimize health.  To develop a scientific system of healthiness measurement we need to:

a) identify, for each nutrient, the optimal range
b) develop tests to determine if the person being tested is above, below or in the optimal range
c) determine which nutrients are most critical to optimal health, and which are less critical.  This cannot be done until analysis of each nutrient progresses to a point where comparisons an be made reliably.  eg. A long time in the future.

Similarly for each cell type in the body, we need tests to measure their health level. However, testing some cells, liver cells, for example, might entail serious risk.  I believe that the first tests of cell healthiness will be done by measuring the healthiness of blood cells.  We may find that testing the healthiness of blood cells is a reliable indicator for the health of many different types of cells. We can also test cells in the skin, mouth and hair - without serious risk.

Each layer in the hierarchy of health is 'greater than the sum of its parts'.  Measuring the health of your genetics does not necessarily determine the health of your nutrients.  Measuring the healthiness of your nutrients does not necessarily provide a useful measure of the health of your cells.  It might be an influencing factor, but not necessarily the complete picture.  If you are suffering from toxins, measuring nutritional health - of essential nutrients, will give an incomplete picture. Of course if you improve your health in any area - you should expect that this improvement will permeate the hierarchy to some extent.

As we move through layers in the hierarchy of health, the relationships are farther apart.  Of course there may be direct links - a specific genetic unhealthiness might cause unhealthy white blood cells.  But in general, results measured in one layer cannot be used to make assumptions about other layers in the hierarchy.

There is also the possibility that deficits in healthiness in higher layers will cause deficits in lower layers, or in all layers.  If you live in a community that consumes a less than optimal diet - your nutritional health will probably be less than optimal as a result. This may lead to other health deficits.

I believe we can measure health.  One place we could start is in the laboratory.  Maybe we should try to measure the health of lab mice?  We need to find two lab mice, name one of them Alice, and one of them Zizi - and compare their healthiness. At present, I suspect that lab mice are only used for tests of illness, not tests of healthiness. I also suspect that, like the human Alice and Zizi - if the mice are not 'sick', our current system measures them as '100 percent healthy'.  Just like we do for people.

When we learn to measure the healthiness of lab mice - we will be closer to measuring the healthiness of humans.

When we start to measure the healthiness of humans - we will take the first steps towards optimal health.

What might the world, what might our health systems look like when we can measure health?

That is an interesting question to be discussed in future blog posts.

You have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of healthiness.  Pursuit of healthiness is impossible if we cannot measure healthiness.

Yours in health,  tracy
Tracy is the author of two book about healthicine: 

Personal Health Freedom