There is a forbidden word in medicine. This word is gradually disappearing, actively shamed, banned to the 'alternative' fringes of medicine, and replaced by newfangled, more fashionable terms. It is also being replaced, in many cases, by its opposite.
The forbidden word? CURE.
Have you noticed? More and more diseases are defined as 'incurable'. There is no cure for the common cold, but that's not all. Alzheimer's is incurable (but we're raising funds to search for a cure). Parkinson's is incurable (but we're raising funds to search for a cure). Cancers are incurable (but we're raising funds to search for a cure). Diabetes is incurable (but we're raising funds to search for a cure). Hypertension (high blood pressure) is incurable (but we're raising funds to search for a cure). Do you notice a pattern here? Almost every disease today is incurable, and every disease has an organization, or two, or three, raising funds to search for a cure.Even one of the newest diseases, in terms of being classed as a disease - obesity, has a foundation the "Obesity Treatment Foundation" with a goal - not to cure - but instead of "Optimizing Treatment, Increasing Awareness".
Depression used to be curable, in many cases, but today it is 'treatable'. It seems to have become incurable. How can that be? Why is it so? Is the field of medicine moving forwards, backwards, or perhaps sideways? First we need to understand the actual medical meaning of 'cure'.
What is a cure?
Webster's dictionary defines cure as:
"recovery or relief from a disease"
"something (such as a drug or medical treatment) that stops a disease and makes someone healthy again" That's half right. Stopping the disease is a cure. "Making someone healthy again", or restoring the healthiness that was lost due to the disease, is healing, not curing. If we cure a leg infection by cutting off the leg, the cure does not 'make them healthy again'. If we only cut off part of the skin, and it grows back - healing makes them healthy again, not the surgical cure.
Definitions in medical dictionaries tend to make more confusion, not less - with definitions that are so broad that almost any aberration from 'average' can be viewed as disease. Mosby's Medical, Nursing, and Allied Health Dictionary defines cured broadly as "restoration of health to a person with a disease or other disorder", and defines disease with uncommon restrictions, as "a condition of abnormal vital function involving any structure, part, or system of an organism" and "a specific illness characterized by a recognizable set of signs and symptoms, attributable to heredity, infection, diet, or environment." Stedman's Medical Dictionary online at Drugs.Com defines cure as "to heal, to make well". But, surely healing and curing are independent concepts: the body heals, a treatment cures. Both of these definitions of cure allow the disease to continue to exist, as long as the patient is viewed as 'healthy' or 'well'.
Cure, if we are to find real cures, must be defined as stopping the progress of a the disease.
To understand the word 'cure', we need a clear definition of the word 'disease'. Webster's, unfortunately, does not provide one.
What is a disease? Webster's gives a similarly poor, weak definition of disease: "a condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms". According to this definition, every physical condition that 'impairs normal functioning' is a disease. As a result, every symptom - a migraine, obesity, can be classified as a disease. Even perfectly natural attributes, like sexual preferences and left-handedness, might be considered diseases. I'm not suggesting that Webster's is at fault. Webster's simply documents what the collective experts think.Why is there no simple, clear definition of disease in the entire field of medicine? If you look everywhere for diseases to treat, you find diseases everywhere, like a boy with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
But the medical hammer is not a cure, it is a 'treatment'. In most cases, medicine is simply not looking for cures.
The news media is making the search for cures worse, not better. A quick scan of Google news for the word 'cure' gives everything but actual cures. The first 15 Google News hits using the word 'cure' in the title gave the following results:
- 7 articles about fundraising. None of the fundraising organizations spend a majority of funds searching for cures, they search for 'treatments', and ways to help patients 'live with their disease'.
- 5 articles about 'searching for a cure'. None of the articles were actually about real cures for real diseases in real people. Fake diseases in mice. Treating symptoms. No hint of actual cure.
- 3 articles about nonsense 'cures'. A cure for boredom, golf slumps and retail store summer doldrums.
There are no articles about actual cures for actual diseases. In the first ten pages of a Google News search for a disease cure, there is exactly one. A cure for Hepatitis C, a drug that kills the virus. It is notable that the only 'cures' that are actually documented as true medical cures are toxic chemicals that kill invading bacteria or viruses. There are no other disease cures in medical texts.
Why does the news media misuse the word 'cure' so much? Because the word cure has sizzle, gets attention - and also, because there are so few actual 'cures' to report on. Fewer than 1 per decade is my best estimate. How many new cures for were discovered in the last 10 years? The last 20 years? The last 50 years? The last 100 years? How many patients were cured of their diseases this year, last year, the last 10 years? We don't know. There are no statistics for cures. There is no science of cures. As a result, there is no news about cures. Lots of fundraising and non-cures for non-diseases. Few cures.
The science of healthicine provides a definition of disease designed to facilitate 'cures'. A disease is not a physical state, it has an active progression.
a disease is an ongoing progressive negative medical condition, that has an ongoing cause.
With this definition, all diseases can be cured.
- It is cured when the cause is removed or stopped.
- If it cannot be cured, it is not a disease.
It is important to recognize that diseases are progressive. If it does not have a progression, it might be a disability, a dysfunction, or a simple attribute of the patient, but it is not a disease. If the progression is stopped, the disease is cured. Every disease has a cause, or causes - and if key causes are removed, the progression will be stopped, and the disease has been cured. If the cause returns, the disease will appear again, as a new disease, due to the 'new (similar) cause'.
There are lots of things that do not cure disease, but are sometimes presented as if they were cures. A 'treatment' is not a cure, unless it 'stops the disease'. A symptomicine is not a cure. Aspirin and Tylenol are not 'cures' for headache. They are symptomicines, hiding the symptoms, but not addressing the cause, not curing the disease. When their 'hiding' fades, the symptoms reappear.
It is important to clearly distinguish between 'remission' and cure. Remission is a remission of symptoms of the disease. When symptoms go into remission the disease is hidden, but the cause might not have been addressed. In these cases, remission of symptoms actually facilitates the progression of the disease. When symptoms are not visible the patient and doctors are less vigilant. Today's medical systems have great difficulty distinguishing between remission and cure. Was the patient cured, or is the disease in remission? We have no tools to tell the difference in many cases.
A vaccine is not a cure, it is a preventative, although there are many preventatives, that are also cures. Vitamin C, or foods that contain Vitamin C, prevent scurvy. If you get scurvy, Vitamin C, or foods containing Vitamin C, are the cure. No 'medicines' can cure scurvy.
One of the most famous medical books, the MERCK Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, does not call Vitamin C a 'cure' for scurvy. It says: 'Treatment consists of oral Vitamin C', but does not use the word 'cure'. Has the word cure become forbidden. If you check the MERCK manual a bit more carefully, you will learn that 'cure' is not defined, is not in the index, and not in the table of contents. Cure is not clearly defined by the field of medicine, it seems to be forbidden. Or at best, ignored, pushed to the side, discounted, not clearly defined.
It's clear that scurvy can be caused by lack of Vitamin C (there might be other causes). It is also clear that scurvy caused by deficiencies of Vitamin C can be cured, the progression can be stopped, with Vitamin C, or foods containing Vitamin C. Furthermore, once scurvy has been cured, or before scurvy is present, it can be prevented by appropriate consumption of Vitamin C. The cure for scurvy is not 'remission' of symptoms - it is a true cure. The disease is no longer present, although if the disease caused physical damage, that damage might never heal completely.
Many nutritional deficiencies lead to specific diseases that progress as long as the cause is present. In all cases, the only cure is to meet the deficiency, not medicine can cure these diseases.
It is also clear that a new case of scurvy will arise if the cause returns. It is important to note that this is not a return of the disease, it is a return of the cause. If a person fails to consume sufficient Vitamin C - either in foods or in supplements - the person will get scurvy, or get scurvy 'again'. A new case of scurvy. When a patient's scurvy is cured and then reappears, there is no 'remission' of symptoms, and 'worsening' of symptoms. There is simply a cure, and a new occurrence.
Nutrient toxicity, or over consumption, is also a disease that cannot be cured by medicines or medical treatments. If you are consuming too much Vitamin A, you will get the disease hypervitaminosis A. There is a cure. It is simple. Stop consuming too much Vitamin A. No medicine can cure hypervitaminosis A, and any attempts to develop a medicine to treat hypervitaminosis A would be seen as nonsense. There are many diseases that can be cured, but not with medicines.
Obesity is medically classified as a disease - although it can easily exist as a stable state not an active progression. It would not be classified as a disease in the science of healthicine. The process of becoming obese, of continual weight gain could be classified as a disease, but presence of excess weight is simply an attribute, or a symptom, not a disease.
If someone is obese, and they lose weight, such that they are no longer obese, are they cured? The Obesity Treatment Foundation does not mention 'cure', does not suggest that obesity can be 'cured'. They ask for donations to promote awareness and treatment, but the word "cure" is avoided.
Symptoms of obesity can be cured by food restrictions. However, if this temporary fix does not address the causes and the should be considered a cure. If the cause is addressed, obesity can be cured and reversed. If the cause comes back, the disease will return.
We pretend to know that the cause of obesity is overeating. But we don't know the cause of overeating - and there is considerable evidence that the cause of overeating is obesity. We will not find the cure to the 'obesity epidemic' until we find the real causes.
We will not find the cure for any individual patient's disease, nor for any class of diseases, until we find and address the true causes.
How might we find cures? How might we find the causes of today's many 'incurable' diseases?
We can only find cures for diseases when we use better definitions for disease, and better definitions for cures.
cure: stopping the progression of a disease. A treatment that stops the progression of a disease by addressing key causes.
to your health, tracy
Tracy is the author of two books about healthicine: