Health: a “new” perspective

Most of the time we look at health in a negative way, from the perspective of the lack of it; when we are sick, when we need a doctor and when the doctor diagnosis an illness or pathology.

But let us look at health from its own perspective, from biology and adaptation to life as it is presented to us, from the perspective of function.

This is not as abstract as it looks at first sight.

We can be called sick, but without any symptom or without any limitation to functioning or, the other way around. And this is why I write about this subject: many people visit my office, having seen a doctor, a specialist, a hospital or clinic being diagnosed thoroughly, being tested extensively only to be considered perfectly healthy. Their blood tests and scans show no trace of pathology and still they are far away from normal functioning. You can’t see stress from a blood panel or fatigue in an MRI.

Most of their complaints are stress-related, an imbalance between the total load of life, being mental and/or physical, from  work and/or private life, real and/or perceived at one hand, and the ability to handle, process and cope with that load at the other hand.

Since stress and also fatigue are not pathologies but normal physiological phenomena, the medical world has no ways to quantify or qualify, to diagnose and to treat these complaints adequately, they are educated to look for well-defined diseases.

The new concept of health is not really new at all. Already the classical Greek doctors distinguished several levels of health, instead of the simple distinction between healthy or sick.

But it was the German pathologist Virchow, who wrote in 1876: “It is the miraculous capacity of adaptation, which defines the limits of pathology. Disease starts at the moment when the body’s regulation mechanisms are insufficient to deal with the disturbances. It is not life under abnormal circumstances that causes disease, but the limitation of the adaptation systems. This explains why people with a strong adaptation system get away with minor symptoms, while people with a weak system really get sick”.

Hard to disagree with since it sounds logical, doesn’t it?

I bet you know people around you that you would call “robust” and others that you would see as “fragile”. Robust people possess large mental and physical resources and are hard to bring out of balance, and if this happens, the bounce back quickly. Fragile people posses smaller amounts of resources and get off-balance rather easy and take a long time to recover and bounce back.

And of course you probably wondered too: why only a few children get sick from a viral infection at school rather than the whole group as the virus is omnipresent. Or while some people get stuck with a lifelong problem after being witness to a traumatic event, while others never even have a sleepless night after such an event. And why some people get an upset stomach after eating something bad, whereas others who ate the same or more, never were affected.

But if it is like that, why did we build our total health care system (a misnomer then) around the combat against “disturbances” like trying to kill the bacteria or the virus, and waging war against the tumour, etc.

No doubt this approach has given us great advantages at times, but it has its limitations, since major “killer-diseases” like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer are increasing instead of decreasing, despite all medical and technological progress. Infection diseases are replaced by new ones. And of course there are the novel threats: mental problems and stress-related affections: anxiety, depression, and exhaustion.

Maybe it is time to focus on maintaining and improving health rather than diagnosing and treating diseases. Let’s change before we are forced to, as we are living longer and health care costs are exploding.

My approach to health, functioning and vitality is based on this “new” concept: look for and measure the factors that maintain and improve health, and measure how the body-mind is able to adapt, assign an important role to life-style and focus on quality of life instead of on try to heal diseases only.


  1. Erik hein

    You are right!

    I prefer gezondheidskunde boven geneeskunde! Focussing on (research on ) healthy living instead of treating disease. What I find fascinating is that for most physical and mental problemen the interventions are all the same: think right, eat right, drink right, move right, sleep right, poop right, talk right and enjoy life. You can ad easy stress management tools like going green and take time to play a little.

    But if this is so easy and everybody knots it…why do we find so many unhealthy people?
    What forces us not to do these right things?

    1. Erik, a good question.
      Against the forces that drive us to adapt a healthy lifestyle like you described, like common sense, self-preservation are opposite forces, which are much stronger. Here are a few drives that limit our healthy behavior:
      -prevention is long term, pleasure is immediate, so yes, we know we have to eat a little bit less, but the reward for that might be in 15 or 20 years from now, and that cake looks extremely tempting right now! (And I’ll go on a diet tomorrow) Prevention is an investment in the future and most of us are hort-sighted and would rather look for certain and immediate gratification.
      -marketing: food equals pleasure, and creates health, at least that is what the ads are promoting, Look at the ads anywhere suggesting this. The food lobby (sugar, diary, meat, soy) is extremely strong and huge financial interests are at stake. Multinational food companies are rule much of the laws and regulations through their governmental lobbies.
      -“efficiency” the magic word of the 20st and 21st century, again a short-term concept. Elevators, escalators, shopping malls outside the inner city have taken the place of your neighborhood grocer, so now you have to take the car instead of biking or walking home with your groceries. Very”efficient”, not a calorie spent too much, just….. no contribution to your health. Our general trend to be more “efficient” has lead to paradoxical results in many fields of life, to industrial scale food production, global connection of banks, less need for physical effort, etc.
      If everything is so much more efficient than before, where is the extra time we saved, why is everything so much more expensive instead of cheaper?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *