Thursday, August 30, 2012

What is Healthiness?

Some time ago, I realized that 'healthiness' was not in the dictionary.  If you search for healthiness, you will (as of today, August 7, 2012) find yourself re-directed to 'health'.  But if you search for 'illness', you are not re-directed to 'ill'.  Why?

I later noticed that 'healthicine' is also not in the dictionary, and commented about these missing words in several blog posts, as I tried to understand their meaning. As I explored by blogging, I found that blogging only gives a small view into the total concept of healthicine and healthiness. As a result, I have decided, and started to write a book on Healthicine, which will be available through online purchase to articulate my ideas about healthicine and healthiness.

Many years ago, I read Kurt Vonnegut's essay 'New Dictionary', in the collection "Welcome to the Monkey House".  At that time I realized that dictionaries are created by people, people with understandings, mis-understandings and points of view.  I take all dictionary definitions as - interesting starting points, to be used to further our knowledge.

Of course when a word is not even in the dictionary, we have to make do. Long before the internet, I saw a common word: 'tare' on the side of many trucks.  I looked and looked in dictionaries, but could not find it.  Finally, many years later, it appeared in dictionaries.

When will 'healthiness' appear in dictionaries?  Today, Wiki re-directs to 'health', Merriam-Webster, and Oxford redirect to 'healthy'.  Wiki and Merriam-Webster make no further reference to the word, providing no further clarification. Oxford Online simply says "healthiness: noun". Healthy is defined: "in good physical or mental condition, in good health", healthiness is the noun, not really defined.

The suffix 'ness' is defined.  Merriam-Webster defines '-ness' as: state : condition : quality : degree .  Oxford dictionary says: denoting a state or condition.  

Healthiness therefore refers to a state, condition, quality, degree, of health. 

Illness - refers to a specific type, or state of 'ill', healthiness refers to a specific type, or state, or quality, of health.

Health is often considered to be present or absent.  Either you 'have your health', or you don't (eg. you are ill).  The word healthiness can be used to indicate a state, or status of health on a scale. Health is not typically measured, because it is very complex and poorly defined.  Each healthiness can be measured. We can measure height, weight and calculate BMI.  We can measure heart rate, respiration rate, temperature.  Some measurements are mechanical and objective - they could be done by a machine. We can also measure subjective healthinesses, like pain - how much pain do you feel, what kind of pain do you feel, how frequently do you feel pain.

When we are 'ill' there can be many different types of illness present, and there can be varying degrees of 'illness'.  You might have a mild cold, a bad flu, or a terminal cancer. There are many unique illnesses, and each unique 'illness' can have many dimensions. The same is true for healthiness.

When we first think about health, we think of it as an overall condition.  He, or she, is healthy (or not healthy). If we translate this to healthiness, we want to know the quality of healthiness.  He, or she, is very healthy, somewhat healthy, a little unhealthy, very unhealthy, etc.

It is possible to be very healthy, somewhat healthy, or unhealthy - without being ill.   It is possible to be healthy, somewhat healthy, and unhealthy, and be ill at the same time.  Thus: "Jim has a cold, but he is a very healthy person, so we expect him to recover quickly." or "John has a cold, and his health is so poor we are worried he will get pneumonia."

Each healthiness is an independent state, although each can affect the other.

When we start to study healthiness, we recognize the need for more detail. Because we don't study healthiness seriously, we have very poor information about the many scales of healthiness. Healthicine is the study of healthinesses. Today, healthicine is not even in the dictionary, and therefore it is not studied seriously by anyone.

On any healthiness scale, the status of an individual person might be deficient, or in the normal range, or excessive.  We know that all illness is the result of a deficiency or an excess.  The challenge is to know learn is normal, and what might be an optimal range for each type of healthiness.

Resting pulse, for example, is a measure of healthiness. Resting pulse might be too low - a deficiency, that can indicate or cause illness, it might be in the normal range, or it might be too high - an excess that indicates or causes illness.  But it gets more complicated. A healthy resting pulse for an athlete is very different from a healthy resting pulse for a senior. A healthy resting pulse for someone with a large heart is lower than for an equivalent person with a smaller heart.

We also need to distinguish between average, normal, healthy and unhealthy. The average adult has less than 2 legs - about 1.9995, because some people have had a leg amputated.  A normal adult has two legs.  An amputee, having less than two legs, can be healthier than a normal adult with two legs.

And so it goes for each healthiness indicator.  Each healthiness has an average range, a normal range, and a healthy range, which may vary depending on the individual being assessed.

Some indicators might have no deficiency level or no excessive level (in normal situations).  For example, mercury provides no useful contribution to health, so there is no possibility of a 'mercury deficiency'.  Because mercury is toxic, the optimal level for health is zero.  The average level is typically higher than the optimal level, because all of us, living in today's society, have some mercury in our bodies.  The amount of mercury that is excessive is not clearly defined - we don't know the level required to create illness, and it varies depending on the specific form of mercury and the individual being assessed.

Some health issues, some healthinesses, are very controversial, or very confused by current medical studies.  What is the optimal level of 'fat' in a healthy person?  Many people believe that less fat is healthier, but this is not proven.  When certain types of fat levels drop too low, healthiness decreases.  The  healthiest levels of fat might vary from person to person, depending on genetic or other factors.

We need to learn to measure healthiness more effectively than we currently measure illness. We tend to not measure illness either. Doctors 'diagnose' illness.  When it is diagnosed, they prescribe treatment. Statistics are collect about the incidence of disease - less frequently about severity.

How many different measures of healthiness are possible?

Is it possible to create a useful 'overall measurement of healthiness'?  Is it useful to create a measure of healthiness at each layer in the hierarchy of healthicine? Each layer in the hierarchy consists of many, many different aspects of healthiness, each of which can be measured.

Which measures of healthiness are most important indicators of overall health? We tend to measure and investigate indicators of 'illness', but not indicators of healthiness.  I believe this missing link, the study of healthicine, is very important, critical to our understanding of healthiness and illness.

Physical Healthiness

We can, in theory, measure the physical healthiness of someone's genetics, nutrients, cells, tissues, organs, systems, body, mind, spirit, and community - each layer in the hierarchy of healthicine.  Which is most important?  For each of the layers in the hierarchy of healthicine, there are thousands of health measurements we can study. We might measure the healthiness of the heart, the lungs, the kidneys.

We might measure the size of the heart, the strength of the heart, the flexibility of the veins in the heart, the fat content of the arteries... and so on. For each organ there are many healthiness measurements. Most of the attention paid to the heart, by today's researchers, are measurements of illness, not measurements of healthiness.

Process Healthiness

Each genetic process, nutrient process, cellular process, organ process, system process, bodily process, mental process, spiritual process, and community process also has healthy aspects that can be measured.  Respiration, heartbeat, memory, coordination, faith, and cooperation are all aspects of healthiness that can be measured and possibly found to be deficient, healthy or excessive.  Today we hardly know what is normal.  Our ability to identify processes that are deficient or excessive is much lower.

Sensory Healthiness

Each of the five major senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell) can be deficient, normal, optimal, or excessive in healthiness. We have many other senses - sense of balance, sense of time, and even common sense.

The sensation of pain can be deficient, normal or excessive. Each deficiency or excess can indicate unhealthiness and may be caused by other unhealthinesses.  Each sensory deficiency or excess can result in other illnesses. A deficiency in "common sense" might also result in (or be diagnosed as) illness.


Healthiness therefore refers to a state, condition, quality, degree, of health.  So what is unhealthiness?  An unhealthiness exists when a specific healthiness is deficient, or excessive.

Note: Unhealthiness in this model is a point on the scale (or two points, one for deficiency and one for excessiveness).  It is not a judgement of 'bad' vs 'good', it is simply a tool to help us understand and improve healthiness.

Like healthiness, there are many different types of unhealthiness.  An overall measurement of unhealthiness is the opposite of the measurement of healthiness.  A trivial example, resting pulse rate.  A healthy resting pulse rate for a normal adult is between (approximately) 60 and 75 beats per minute.  A pulse rate that is considerably below 60 is deficient, and a rate over 75 is excessive.  Each of those may indicate a minor, or a serious unhealthiness, as might an irregular heart rate.

In Conclusion

Doctors measure 'illness' rather than healthiness - in order to treat illness.  The tools and techniques we have to measure healthiness are very poor quality.

We have a lot to learn about health and healthiness; the field healthicine, of which medicine is a small but important subset.

When do we start to learn about healthiness?

to your health, tracy

Tracy is the author of two book about healthicine: