Naturopath & Medical Herbalist
The traditional medical establishment often defines health as simply the absence of disease. However there are so many layers to wellness and health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defined health in its broader sense in 1946, stating that health is “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
This definition is starting to get closer to a holistic definition of health and wellness. In 1986 the WHO went on to extend the definition of health beyond it being a state to achieve, saying that health is “a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living. Health is a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources, as well as physical capacities.”
A true definition of health needs to take in all layers of our being – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. If something is out of balance in any of these areas of our life, we are bound to end up sick. Most health approaches to wellness focus on supporting the physical body. The physical body is incredibly good at maintaining health and balance when we look after it in the right way. This includes making good lifestyle choices, eating nutritious foods and getting regular exercise. However, wellness may also mean letting go of thoughts, feelings and beliefs that are getting in the way of achieving happiness in any given moment. This mind-body connection in health and disease is now well established in even mainstream medical research. Our state of mind has a powerful influence over our physiology. It is hard to feel physically energetic and well when we are experiencing sadness or depression. Yet it also follows that with a healthy frame of mind, wellbeing and happiness can even be experienced despite physical ailments.
In Australia we have a system of health care that is considered amongst the best in the world. Like most western countries however, our ‘healthcare’ industry could really be better defined as a ‘disease care’ industry. Mainstream medicine is good at managing diseases with their armory of drugs, surgery and technology. However, they are not so adept at preventing people getting sick in the first place. In traditional Chinese medicine doctors used to only get paid when their patients were well. As soon as a person got sick they stopped paying their doctor – as they were deemed to have not done their job properly if someone got sick under their care! This seems like a good system – but it is a far cry from how medicine is practiced in most countries today. Yet, so many of our chronic diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes are considered diseases of lifestyle and could be prevented.
When you focus on promoting wellness and preventing disease there should be many steps to take before you end up on drugs or undergoing surgery. Attending to the basics of sleep, exercise, good nutrition and stress management is a great place to start. Then non-invasive therapies like meditation, counseling or yoga may be useful, followed by safe and supportive treatments like herbal or nutritional supplements or physical therapies like acupuncture or chiropractic. Powerful pharmaceutical drugs and surgery should be a last resort and while we are grateful that they exist, unfortunately they are a first resort in many instances for basic health issues.
As a naturopath, I feel like I have done my job properly if I can motivate and support my patients in making good diet and lifestyle choices that prevent them getting sick. Educating and empowering people to take charge of their health and look after themselves is a foundation of holistic healthcare practice. The next time you are faced with a health issue, take some time to reflect on what might be out of balance in your life. Then take some steps to make positive changes to your lifestyle before popping the next wonder pill on the market!
By Karen McElroy
Naturopath & Medical Herbalist