The United States healthcare system (and many others in the world) are built upon the pathogenic paradigm. The term “healthcare” is a bit of a misnomer to begin with. It implies that this system exists to care for the health of its citizens, but if you take a brief glance around in any public place, you will quickly observe that there are very few people who are truly healthy, especially in a holistic health sense. It might be more accurately called a “sick care” system. A pathogenic way of viewing healthcare refers to the way that the US medical system views people in terms of disease rather than health. The question is almost always about eliminating or managing disease or, at best, preventing disease. But rarely is the question asked about how we can help people to achieve or maintain optimal health, wellness and vitality.
The system is broken. It clearly isn’t working. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s look at some statistics and research. Where does the US stand as compared to other countries? We are supposed to be the “leaders,” right? We are leading alright… Down a fast track to the grave.
- The US spends more on healthcare than other developed countries (almost twice as much!). 1 We are sinking loads of money into “healthcare,” but is there a good return on this money?
- The life expectancy in the US is one of the lowest1
- The US also has the highest rates of chronic disease and suicide.1
- The number who are obese are twice that of other developed countries.1
- The US also has some of the highest rates of death and hospitalization for preventable causes.1
You are more than a bag of chemicals:
The allopathic (medical) pathogenic (disease-based) model for healthcare tends to view people as a bag of chemicals. They rarely ask about how patients are thinking or feeling or about the support they have at home, if they enjoy the work that they do, if they have purpose in life, or if they are happy. All of these things have a major impact on a person’s health.
Think about the simple task of eating lunch at your desk under the stress and pressure of a job you don’t enjoy. How well do you think you will be able to digest your food in that case? Not well at all!2 The implications of poor digestion go on and on. If you can’t digest your food, even if you’re eating the best diet ever, you will have a multitude of health challenges.
Salutogenesis- A Superior Approach to Health
Salutogenesis is a profoundly different and better way to approach healthcare. Instead of coming at it from the perspective of seeking to get rid of disease, salutogenesis focuses on how to become healthy. It’s more than just doing early detection testing (which often causes more harm than good), such as mammograms and colonoscopies. It’s more than just avoiding disease and not being overweight. It’s about actively promoting the benefits and methods of radiant health from infant through adult. It’s about recognizing how stress, emotions, a lack or abundance of support and purpose in life all play a role in holistic health. But from where we currently are, how can we shift this paradigm? I propose that there are at least 4 steps to get us started.
- We must recognize, educate about, and promote the idea that a patient’s health is in their own hands. So many health conditions could be eliminated or at least alleviated somewhat by good self-care practices. This includes everything from learning about healthy whole food prep, shopping and eating to increasing physical activity and exercise to learning about the value of mediation and knowing when to seek counseling (just to name a few). This is why, in my own initial consultations with new clients, I spend over an hour with them. I want to hear their story and also have time to do some teaching about what naturopathic medicine and holistic healthcare should look like for their unique circumstance.
- We need higher standards. Most so called “health standards” are not set for optimal wellness and health. Many of the RDA’s for nutrients are set to the level you need to avoid disease. Avoiding disease should go without saying but that is a low standard. It’s possible to not be bad enough to have a diagnosis but still have poor sleep, low energy, infertility, and mood swings. There is no disease in that case but there’s no reason someone should have to live in such misery. The same is true for blood tests. Most norms are based on the average person. Who wants the health of the average person? Not me! And not my patients! For example, for the vitamin D 25 hydroxy test, the normal range is between 30-100. First off, that’s a huge range. To say that you are healthy regardless of if your level is 30 or 100 is unlikely to be true. Personally, I have never seen anyone with ideal health who didn’t at least have a level over 55 or so. I have also seem tons of clients who had every symptom of thyroid dysfunction but, because they didn’t meet the medical criteria for a diagnosis, they were told that their thyroid was “fine.” Waiting until you qualify for a disease diagnosis is not a prudent way to practice. It’s been my pleasure to help many pro-active clients, through healthy lifestyle habits, reverse subclinical issues before they became worse. We need to care less about the “normal” range and more about the optimal range.
- As previously alluded to, we also need to include non-tangible, non-physical factors into a person’s healthcare. Asking patients about these things gives an opportunity to refer to counseling, meditation groups, support groups, orthomolecular practitioners or other resources. This would be of great help for conditions such as stress induced health challenges, anxiety, depression and other issues. Because the state of mind greatly impacts the physical body, this would indirectly but profoundly have far reaching impact in other disease conditions as well (such as heart disease, diabetes, digestive challenges and more).3 In my clinic, I spend lots of time talking with clients about how they are doing in life, not just about their symptoms. We also do a couple of types of emotional therapy to support clients as needed. You just can’t ignore this!
- We also need a model that goes back to nature’s principles such as, first do no harm. No matter what the condition, before invasive surgeries or drugs are used, we should be ensuring that the person has a basic foundation for health. A classic example of this is with a symptom such as constipation. It is important to eliminate daily for ideal health. If you are constipated, before using harsh and often habit-forming prescription laxatives, patients should be educated about the benefits of proper hydration, adequate fiber and regular exercise. No medication can do what those things can do and all with only side-benefits, rather than side-effects. Medications and other invasive treatments should be a last resort.
How can we make this shift both at the national level and at the local level?
I believe the answer is the same for both. In short, it is education and it starts with YOU. There are still too many people who don’t understand how to properly care for their own health. Too many Americans are taught from a young age to use the band-aid approach for any potential symptom. This can alleviate pain temporarily, but it doesn’t address the root cause. This often means that the storm is still building steam in the background of our health. When it re-appears, it’s usually worse than it was before. Seeking to educate people on naturopathic principles, how to be optimally healthy and also to seek root causes to health problems, would be a huge shift in the right direction. This education needs to happen in homes, churches, schools, community centers, parenting classes, healthcare facilities, and anywhere people meet. It starts with you. First, you have to apply what you already know and allow it to change your life. Then, you need to share it with your friends, family, coworkers and neighbors. This can take many forms… Make them a green smoothie, always have water on hand, get your kids or grandkids in the kitchen making healthy food with you, bring amazing healthy dishes to pass to the next gathering you go to, etc.
We have to do this together. Let’s be the change and improve the health of the world, one person at a time!
- Tikkanen R, Abrams M. U.S. Health Care from a Global Perspective, 2019: Higher Spending, Worse Outcomes? The Commonwealth Fund.
- Armata PM, Baldwin DR. Stress, optimism, resiliency, and cortisol with relation to digestive symptoms or diagnosis. Individ Differ Res. 2008.
- Salovey P, Rothman AJ, Detweiler JB, Steward WT. Emotional states and physical health. Am Psychol. 2000. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.110