Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What is the difference between health and illness?

Update March 2014: the concepts explored in this post have been expanded into a book: Healthicine: the Arts and Sciences of Health and Healthicine. This book lays the foundation for exploration of healthicine. In November 2017 the post has been updated again to align with the most recent concepts of healthicine as explored at Healthicine.org. 
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What is the difference between health and illness?

First, we need to clarify what we mean by 'health'. In English we often use the word 'health' to refer to illness, or medical care.  Health Care is actually care for those who are ill, and would more accurately be called 'Illness Care'.  Health Insurance insures against high cost of medical illness.  It pays for medical expenses in case of illness.Health insurance is actually 'medical insurance'.

When we ask "What is the difference between health and illness?" we are actually asking the question: What is the difference between healthiness and illness? Health is the opposite of ill, a general statement. 

An illness is a specific case of ill.  A healthiness is a specific case of health.

What is health? What is illness? We can be 'very sick', or we can be 'very healthy'. Every illness has a scale of severity.  And every 'healthiness' also has a scale, from not very healthy, to very healthy.

There are many aspects of healthiness. We can view healthiness as a hierarchy of health states and a hierarchy of processes.

At the foundation, our healthiness begins with our genetics, and our nutrition.  Our genetics is the template, and the master plan for how our individual health will become us.

Nutritional healthiness is the health of our diet, with regards to nutrients responsible for health.

Cellular healthiness is health of the cells, including good bacteria that comprise our bodies. Our bodies are made of hundreds of different types of cells. Many of them are not 'ours', are not human cells.

Some of these cells group together into tissues - muscle tissue, connective tissues, etc.  Tissues are the third layer in our health hierarchy.

Organs are the next layer of the health hierarchy.  Your heart, your lungs, your pancreas.  Healthy organs are essential to overall health.

Organs, tissues and cells function as systems.  We have a circulatory system, a respiratory system, and a digestive system.  Systems are the fifth layer in our health hierarchy.

Nutrients, cells, tissues, organs and systems comprise our bodies.  The body is the next layer of the health hierarchy.

Your mind is, in many ways, like a very complex organ. It also creates consciousness and self awareness, rising above the status of a simple organ or system. Your mind is the layer in your health hierarchy above the physical body.

Above the mind are your spirits, your intentions. Every living thing has many intentions, most fundamentally, to persist in living, to grow, to reproduce and to evolve. You can see a chart of the primary and secondary disciplines of health here.

Community is the final layer of the health hierarchy.  Humans live in and create communities for many purposes - the healthiness of these communities affects and is affected by all of the members.

However, when we look back at the hierarchy, we can see that community pervades the entire hierarchy.  Communities of genes in cooperation and in competition, create cells.  Communities of cells, in cooperation and competition, create tissues. Communities of tissues, in cooperation and competition, create limbs and organs.  Communities of organs in cooperation create organ systems.  Communities of limbs in cooperation create a coordinated body. Communities of nerve cells create brains, communities of sensory organs, nerve cells, and brain components create the mind and the spirits.

If we want to measure health, or healthiness, completely - we need to measure the health of each layer. Which brings us back to the question.  What is the difference between healthiness and illness?

Disease is measured by diagnosis, and diagnosis is a very powerful, specific tool. Specific health problems must be present to diagnose an illness.

 If your health, in any layer of the health hierarchy is deficient - it does not mean you have a disease.  An illness requires specific health deficits, at specific thresholds of severity, to be diagnosed as an disease. An illness must exist before a disease can be diagnosed.

Simple, or elementary illnesses have specific causes.  Scurvy is caused by a deficiency of Vitamin C (in theory), a single cause.

There are three basic types of elementary illnesses:
 - causal illnesses have an active cause
 - injury illnesses consist of damage to body, mind, spirit, or community.
 - blockage illnesses block the natural healthy flows of life.
Note:  a single cure can only cure a single illness element. Most illnesses are cured by health.

A complex illness consists of two or more elements of a simple illness element, with a single cause.  For example, a case of scurvy might be so severe that it not only causes signs and symptoms, but also causes injuries.

Compound illnesses - are the result of may causes, with similar or overlapping signs and symptoms, often interacting over long periods of time. Most compound illnesses can also exist as simple illnesses.  Depression can be a simple illness, with a single cause - or a compound illness consisting of several depression illnesses, each with individual causes.

Our medical (health care) systems focus time, energy and money on prevention of disease, treatment of disease and (occasionally) curing disease. In current medical theory, most diseases cannot be cured. Little attention is paid to healthiness. Health insurance will not pay for you to improve your healthiness - if you have no disease.  If you have no disease, you can not go to a doctor or a hospital and expect treatment.  In civilized countries, you can expect to be treated without the destruction of your financial health.

Improving your healthiness is personal, it's up to you.

This blog is about Personal Health Freedom. I see governments and corporations placing restrictions on healthy actions, often for unhealthy reasons.  I believe we each have a right to health and a right to healthy actions - and that each of us has a right to decide what actions are healthy for us.
Tracy is the author of two books about healthicine: