Saturday, March 3, 2012

Healthiness: Balances in Motion

The hierarchy of health is a hierarchical view of the major components of healthiness from genetics, thru cells, tissues organs, etc. to community.

Each element in the hierarchy has many health components and sub-components as well as processes and sub-processes.  For each major component, sub-component, process and sub-process, there are healthy balances - and possibly deficiencies or excesses.  Serious deficiencies or excesses result in illness.

We can represent the comprehensive overall view of someone's healthiness with a very, very tall spinning top with the health factors as spindles. Many of your health factors are in balance and the top spins healthily.

Maybe you don't get enough Vitamin C - that health factor would show as a minor deficiency, creating a slight wobble. If your thyroid gland is slightly over-active, you have a minor excessiveness creating another minor wobble in your health balance.

If you have an serious deficiency, then the bar is farther to the outside - demonstrating that your health in that area is more off balance.  A similar bar appears when you have a seriously excessive health factor.

Here is a hypothetical Health Balance for Nutrients - only a few nutrients are shown.

The diagram might be a result of the following data:

Vitamin A - blood test shows healthy levels of Vitamin A.  Dietary analysis shows healthy intake of Vitamin A and Vitamin A precursors.

Vitamin B12 - blood test shows healthy levels of Vitamin B12.

Vitamin C - dietary analysis indicates that the subject sometimes meets the daily requirements for Vitamin C, but often falls below the RDI minimum for several days in a row.

Water - dietary analysis indicates that the subject consumes slightly more than the normal amount of water per day. This may indicate health deficiencies in other areas.

Omega 3 - dietary Analysis indicates that the subject does not consume sufficient levels of Omega 3 for optimal healthiness.

Calories - dietary analysis indicates that the subject consumes not just more calories than are required, but sufficient excess that healthiness declines.

When we map the healthiness, deficiencies and excesses onto a spinning top - we can see that each will create a wobble in your healthiness.  Some more than others. Our medical systems are quite experienced in measuring illness caused by dietary deficiencies and excesses.  But do little to measure how healthiness is affected. Our bodies are quite good at re-balancing.  We feel healthy.  Our doctor says we are healthy. It's easy to ignore small unhealthinesses when we "feel healthy".  Sometimes our bodies create an unhealthiness to balance another unhealthiness.  Sometimes we take unhealthy drugs to counter-balance an unhealthiness.

With the Health Top, we can display healthiness for very specific health factors.

To chart the health a more complex health factor, of someone's diet for example, it is necessary to combine the bars for nutritional elements to create an overall bar for nutrition.  In this case the health top may be required to represent deficiencies and excesses for diet in the summary bar.  You might be deficient in Vitamin C, Essential Oils, and Vitamin D, while you are consuming an excess of calories.   A combined or summary bar would show a health factor that is both deficient and excessive.  The details must be examined to see what changes might be effective.

How are the many nutritional factors combined to create a summary bar for nutrition?  It's very complex.  Complex is not impossible - but I believe it can only be done by a computer analysis technique that can evolve over time.

There are over 100 nutrients that are essential to health.  We have no information at present that helps us to compare one deficiency to another and create a useful summary. At present, we can only assume that all are of equal value until we learn more.  Remember - health is different from illness.  Healthiness changes slowly.  Illness can proceed slowly or quickly.  Measurements of healthiness are less critical than measurements of illness.

It gets more complicated.  There may be essential nutrients that we don't know about. Some people might have more essential nutrients than others.  Our essential nutrients for health might change as we grow, mature and age. Understanding healthiness is a complex puzzle. It's much easier to understand illness - most of the time.

But that's no reason to give up.

To create a Top Diagram of Healthiness for the elements in the Hierarchy of Healthiness, we need to measure as many elements as possible and combine them to create summaries for each element in the hierarchy. The truth is - we don't know how many elements there are. Does this matter?

We might never create a perfect diagram of healthiness - but each diagram is better than none - and every diagram can be used to create a better version. Let's start with a simple diagram for nutrition.  Each nutritional health measurement that is made provides information about the overall nutritional balance.

Some measurements are more useful than others.  For example, the measurements on the USDA's food plate are almost totally useless to measure healthiness.  Did you consume 2 cups of fruit a day - is the USDA measurement for health.  But 1 banana counts as 1 cup of fruit, as does 1 cup of 100 percent juice of any fruit. Notwithstanding the fact that it is almost impossible to buy 100 percent juice - 1 banana has vastly different nutritional properties than 1 cup of apple juice. The RDI for Vitamin C is 60 mg per day - this is the minimum to avoid deficiency.  If you eat one large apple a day, the USDA recommendation for fruit, as your source of Vitamin C - you will be deficient every day. Two McIntosh apples will provide about 10 mg of Vitamin C. Two bananas a day provides less than half the RDI requirement. It is extremely difficult - probably impossible - to meet your health needs, for optimal health, using the food plate.

Is there a reason to measure healthiness this thoroughly?

I see two major reasons.

First - to optimize, or facilitate optimal healthiness in individuals.  Most of us, as well as our doctors, have only a vague idea of our level of healthiness.  The more measurements we can take that truly measure healthiness - the more opportunities we have to improve our personal healthiness. Remember that healthiness measurements are not 'immediate' - they are measurements over time. Illness can strike fast.  Healthiness does not 'strike'.  It is a measurement of your overall state of health.  Today, we try to guess which unhealthiness is most critical - do I need to lose weight?  Do I need more vitamins? Minerals?  Do I need to exercise more?  As we develop and study the measurement of healthiness, we will gain more understanding of the importance of different factors in individual cases. We will learn more over time, taking our understanding to a new level, and then moving beyond that level.

Second: if we are to learn more about healthicine - the study of healthiness, including illness - we need to measure and track healthiness in a comprehensive fashion. This type of measurement can lead to many insights that cannot be attained by looking solely at illness.

There may be some illnesses, or syndromes, that only appear when a specific set of unhealthiness conditions is met.  It is easy to imagine someone who has 10 or 20 or 30 low level deficiencies or excesses, but does not have a specific illness.

In a previous blog titled "Are you sick? Or Just Unhealthy" we met Alice and Zizi.  Both are 'relatively healthy' according to their doctors.  But Alice gets many colds a year - and Zizi gets almost none.  Alice's colds have severe symptoms and last a long time.  Zizi's colds have few symptoms and last only a short time.  There are many Alice's and Zizi's in our medical system - and they are all treated pretty much the same.  Medicines when they are diagnosed as sick.  Nothing when they are diagnosed as healthy.

When we begin to measure healthiness effectively, we will learn that Alice and Zizi are very different.  Zizi might be 'very healthy', with few imbalances.  Alice, somewhat healthy, but with many health imbalances.  Which imbalances lead to an 'Alice'?  We can learn when we begin to measure healthiness.

Healthiness is not a single state.  It is not a binary condition, where you are either healthy or not healthy.  Our bodies are alive and in motion.  Healthiness is about the many balances that are in motion in our bodies as we live, grow, heal, spin, and eventually die. To truly study health we must study all of our healthiness, not just our illnesses.

You have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of healthiness.

to your health, tracy

Tracy is the author of two book about healthicine: