A Brief History of Health
Let's take a look at where our current ideas of health developed. People have been trying to define and understand health since the beginning of time. From this pursuit came two very different schools of thought. The Eastern, which includes most of the Asian countries, and the Western, which includes European countries and eventually the United States. These two views developed completely independent of each other until about the 13th century when the Silk Road in China was at its peak. The Silk Road is a fancy name for an extensive trade route through China, other Asian countries and Europe. While products where traded heavily along the Silk Road so to were cultural ideas. Europeans started learning about Eastern medicine and visa versa. Despite Europe learning about the Eastern philosophies of medicine it was mostly ridiculed as nonsense.
Eastern medicine was built on the belief that a balanced mind and body was the best defense against illness. Relying on observation of folk remedies, Asian countries developed an extensive medical knowledge mostly designed at keeping the body healthy and able to adapt to environmental influences. Eastern medicine developed over centuries through observation of holistic and natural remedies to create a reliable system of abundant health, techniques and treatments.
Western medicine is the complete opposite to its eastern counterpart. Western doctors and philosophers felt that health and illness where two very separate things. Rather than focusing on how to maintain health they focused their efforts on how to remove sickness. "The Western approach clearly divides the health from the disease, yet the Eastern approach considers health as a balanced state versus disease as an unbalanced state" (2).
Western medicine, relies pretty much exclusively on laboratory tests , giving very little credence to folk remedies, individual experiences or trial and error. In other words doctors and scientist come up with a hypothesis for what will make you feel better when you get sick. From there they test different treatments and medicine to find which one has the most benefit with the least side effects. This reasoning was very important to the development of medicine, science and our understanding of pathogens and disease. Yet, it is another example in which Western medicine only has eyes for post illness. Rather than helping the body maintain a healthy balance or adapt to the various assaults from the world around us like viruses and bacteria, doctors aimed to change the environment. Kill all the bacteria with antibiotics. Wash away bacteria with sterilization, until we began living with a heightened sense of fear; on the look out for anything that may offend our delicate bodies.
Medicine in Europe, and eventually America, plodded by along the same trajectory. When America was first colonized, family doctors knew their patients well, often visiting them at home. This close relationship had its benefits, yet there was very little standard of care and doctors only visited patients when they were ill. Around the turn of the 20th century the AMA, American Medical Association, came into being. With its founding they brought strict rules and regulations into the medical world. As hard as it is to believe, the AMA brought even more focus on fixing symptoms, neglecting the power of the body to heal itself.
The goals of the AMA was to standardize medical education based on science and create common standards for public health including sanitation, food and drugs. This also brought about specialization with in the medical field in which doctors had highly focused training in a single area.
The AMA began regulating what treatments doctors could administer, where they could get their education and what their education would look like. So while some family doctors took it upon themselves to practice some elements of alternative or eastern health, those practices were quickly squashed in order to create standardization.
After WWII, the United States became aware of the scientific advances the medical field had taken in Europe and started a stronger push to incorporate strategic profit building research. Unfortunately, the science was used to further research and develop drugs and medical procedures. Scientist discounted the power of the human body to heal itself and ignored the complex and unique settings in which we function. This is when big pharmaceutical companies began to get a glimmer in their eye at the potential for earning big bucks at the expense of American’s health. Most research into the effectiveness and dangers of drugs is conducted or at least financially backed by pharmaceutical companies. It is in everyone’s best interest to look the other way and rubberstamp the drugs.
All of this culminated into our current state of mainstream medicine. I don't need to spend a lot of time on the philosophies and practices of mainstream medicine since we all live it every time we deal with doctors, health insurance, illness, nutrition or disease. The goal of mainstream medicine is to cure people after they get sick. This is an important distinction to highlight. Mainstream medicine waits for symptoms then attacks the entire body with various medicines, treatments and procedures in order to alleviate the issues symptoms.
Today 53% of all money spent on health care in the United States is put towards curative health, with only 3% being spent on preventative measures. With main stream health each doctor specializes in a tiny area. You have a different doctor for your gastrointestinal issues, one for your feet, one for your bones, one for your brain, and so on. Rarely do these doctors communicate efficiently and therefore lack the ability to see the big picture. They hunt for symptoms and try to eradicate them. The human body is actually very simple to understand. Doctors, medicine and drug companies make it difficult.
Naturally, we want to trust these medical "experts", but are they really experts on being healthy and what it takes to be healthy? How much time do they spend studying a healthy human body in medical school? How much time do they spend studying the effects of proper nutrition, exercise and meditation? They are trained to look for problems. The National Academy of Sciences recommends only a minimum of 25 hours of nutrition courses, which is nothing. Yet out of 106 medical schools surveyed, 60% offer less than that. What worse, 17 schools or 18 % required less then 10 hours of nutrition education. Imagine having a graduate from those schools as your doctor. To put this in perspective, the total hours needed to receive a degree as a medical student are about 2,047. Less than 24 hours out of 2,047? That means that only 1% of medical school is dedicated to learning about how food affects our bodies. (4) This is a scary fact especially given that food plays such an enormous role in our lives, health and happiness. Then these doctors claim to know what is best for us~(said with love)
Recently, I was watching the news and two doctors were on telling their audience that it was healthy for them to drink four to five cups of coffee a day. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Over the years, I have gone off and on coffee. As I write this, I am off again for the past eight months. I admit I like the taste and enjoy the small buss from the caffeine. It’s a choice I make. However I have studied the issue, and I know what happens to the body when one cup is ingested, let alone four to five. The body becomes extremely acidic, which leads to inflammation (more on this later), but see most doctors don’t know this ~ (again said with love). But the well intentioned public trusts them with out any thought and their advise is so far from the truth. It was the perfect exchange of mainstream medicine taking studies and correlations out of context and feeding them to the public as fact.
So why should we care about the history of health? Because the development of health care throughout our history informs our modern medicine. And modern medicine dictates most of the information that is out there about your health. You should be armed with information about what the medical professionals are trying to sell you. There are truths to be found about your health. You just need to know where to start looking.
Alternative health philosophies are not new, yet the attention, research and support that is being paid to them are a more recent phenomena. Alternative health, unlike mainstream medicine, focuses on prevention and feeling good. The label alone should give you an indication of how mainstream medical practitioners feel about the subject. Alternative connotes it is optional and some even go so far as to try to brand it quackery. This unfortunate PR against alternative health robs the majority of the people of a healthier life style.
Alternative Health does not focus on symptoms nor does it zoom in on a small specific area of your health. Instead it aims to understand you as a whole. Utilizing a wide variety of techniques to keep the whole body healthy in order to prevent disease, illness and symptoms before they start. With a healthy well functioning body, illness becomes obsolete.
Alternative Health as it has developed in the United States is a blending of Eastern and Western thoughts and techniques. It derives from the west, a reliance on science while from the east it takes the idea of health ultimately being the balance of your body. Once people begin down the path of alternative medicine, they tend to forego mainstream medicine all together because it provides a healthier more sustainable life style, and they just feel better. Like all of the other advice in this book, you have to come to them in your own time and do what is right for you.
As you learn the truths of a healthy lifestyle, you will realize that alternative health harnesses the power of the mind body connection. Alternative health utilizes all of the things that you are already naturally doing like eating, thinking, moving, praying, and living life to the fullest. It brings a mindfulness to each facet of your life.
Often, medical practitioners and average people fault alternative medicine for not being scientifically vetted. The bias of mainstream medicine has made it so that the scientific and medical communities have neglected to design rigorous test for alternative medical practices for a significant part of our history. Why have they not created rigorous testing? Certainty at least for some alternative medicines it is possible. To answer this question we have to understand that funding for medical tests comes largely from the pharmaceutical companies. Pharmaceuticals are not going to develop tests for alternative medicines because it would hurt their bottom line. No one is set to make a profit from alternative medicines. Often tests designed by mainstream medicine are not relevant because they are designed to look only at cures rather than overall benefits of health. It is unrealistic to use the same type of test or hypothesis that you would for the testing of the effectiveness of a drug on alternative therapies such as nutrition. The aim of the drug is to squash or hide the symptoms on the other hand the aim of nutrition is to heal and cure the body. Scientists approach and scope for study is far to narrow to encompass the healing powers of a natural and healthy diet or the power of meditation. Unlike with the testing of a drug, you cannot create a placebo or double blind study for nutrition; it would be unethical and virtually impossible. Tests typically used for traditional medicines are study only in the short term. Yet, the long-term effects of the drugs may and have had adverse reactions, which are not known until patients begin to suffer side effects after taking them for years.
The limitations of traditional science in the study of alternative medicine not with standing, there is a growing body of scientifically based research that strongly supports the use of alternative therapies over traditional drugs and procedures in the promotion of lasting health and happiness. Alternative health has consistently been prove to be safer and more effective in maintaining health in longer term studies. The HALE (Healthy Aging Longitudinal Study of Europe) compares the health of Europeans who eat a traditional European diet and those who eat a healthier natural based diet. The results are amazing. It shows a 50% lower all-cause mortality rate amongst 70-90 year olds.
Some of the greatest breakthroughs in medical science have come from therapies that were considered alternative therapies. Even sanitation and basic hygiene was considered an alternative therapy when it was first introduced. More and more people have been turning towards alternative health therapies and medicine in recent years to find safer and more effective ways to manage or reduce pain, cancer, autism, diabetes, obesity, arthritis and the list is pretty much endless because when you have stronger overall health, illness is less prevalent (7). In just 5 years from 2002 to 2007 the use of alternative medicine in the United States increased from 35.1% to 38.3% (7). That means that as of 2007, the most recent survey, 4 out of 10 adults have discovered the trusted benefits of alternative health.
The amazing thing about alternative health is that the truths that have been derived from it have remained constant through all of time. This is distinctly unlike mainstream medicine, which changes with every new fad, study or wave of thinking. Doctors once convinced us that fruit juice was a much healthier alternative to drinking soda, only to tell us a few years later that the sugar content is just as unhealthy. Once fat was the devil, so fat was being artificially processed out of "food", now doctors have realized that fat probably wasn't the culprit in heart attacks.
Along with all of the scientific research that supports alternative health, the experiences of millions of people across centuries of history have value as well. We cannot allow the biases of modern medicine to discount and discredit the human element. Animals in the wild have a natural understanding of their own needs that are not backed by scientific testing. We too have natural instincts that have been suppressed through modern living. We need to trust our selves and our experiences to find the truths. The truths of natural health that were true still are true and will remain that way.