CALS Wellness Committee tip: Changes in health approaches over the years and being your own health advocate

Health and wellness have taken on several different definitions over recent decades and understandably so with so many changes in the field.  The World Health Organization sums it up nicely by explaining that wellness is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life…”Wellness is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”  In other words, an individual’s state of wellness is unique to themselves based on where they land on the scales of each of the dimensions of wellness; physical, emotional, financial, social, spiritual, environmental, and academic.  To a great extent, where we find ourselves on any given scale is largely determined by choices we make and therefore in our power to change.

Looking back to the 1800’s to early 1900s what is now referred to as “alternative” medicine was simply just “medicine.”  Homeopathic, naturopathic, and herbal medicine was routinely taught in medical schools across the country.  In 1910 the Flexner Report came along, and Western medicine changed directions toward a standardized system away from healing plants and herbs to be replaced with synthetic based compounds resulting in an entire new market-based industry of pharmaceuticals.

Modern medicine experienced exponential growth over the past 150 years with many scientific breakthroughs spanning “germ theory,” progress in understanding bacteria, viruses, identification and prevention of illnesses and disease processes.  We’ve also reaped the benefits of cancer therapies, stem cell and gene therapies not to mention continual medical advancements in diagnostics and robotics that have facilitated health care on many levels. Yet as a nation our populations still struggle with declining health tied to many disease processes that reduce many people’s quality of life.  Studies over the past 30 years indicate lack of nutrition as the most significant factor the reason people get sick.

Dr. Charles May (1900) stated “We are all afraid of germs…but what we should be afraid of is lowered resistance which comes from within… Normal resistance to disease is directly dependent upon adequate food. It never comes of pill boxes… Adequate food is the cradle of normal resistance, the playground of normal immunity, the workshop of good health and the laboratory of long life.“  And 93 years later Dr. Julian Whitaker stated “The greatest medical discovery of our time is the awesome power within the human body to heal and rejuvenate itself! This tremendous discovery is destined to change the way we practice medicine in America. In the future, instead of cutting the body…instead of drugging it…instead of working against its natural systems…doctors will strive to feed and enhance the body’s amazing power to self-heal. We’re starting to see the shift in awareness already.”

Western medicine has become expert at acute care, lifesaving treatments and procedures but perhaps falls short with illness prevention and treating long term chronic disease.  Cardiologist Dr. Mimi Guarneri feels her medical education trained her to be reactive, disease driven, to treat specific parts or organs and in doing so a great deal of important information was missed. Information that could lead to helping her patients earlier in their illnesses and improve their health sooner. She adds that nature provides some of the best solutions for prevention and long-term treatment, speaking of real, whole foods coupled with exercise and regular attention to one’s emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

A gradual shift toward integrated holistic medicine; combining conventional medicine with complementary therapies such nutritional, exercise, acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, herbal, massage, etc. is occurring.  Integrative medicine focuses on caring for the whole human being, not just flesh, bones, and organs.

Many of us have become complacent with our health and we need to be our own advocate while working closely with our health care providers. Research, ask questions, fully understand what you are eating, taking etc. and don’t make assumptions or be afraid to seek additional information.  It’s okay to question things that don’t seem logical or “feel” right especially when it comes to your health, your body.  You are the one that cares the most!  Consider that it could take more than one or two types of health care providers to skillfully manage the complexities of the entire human body.

Perhaps think of your wellness as a “4-legged stool” comprised of body, mind, emotion, and spirit. Make sure your day involves a healthful dose of time, attention to each one of those legs daily.  As Jim Rohn states, “Take care of your body.  It’s the only place you have to live.”

Design and start your own personal journey at whatever pace and level suits you.  Perhaps ease into an increase in physical activity by adding incidental exercise, stretches/exercise while watching TV, choose water over other beverages, fill half of your plate with vegetables.  Even small changes add up to positive changes over time!  But in the end act on your own behalf because nobody else is going to do it for you!