To safeguard our material wealth, an elaborate insurance system has been created. To protect financial loss concerning our health has led to the development of medical insurance. Because this makes people feel more secure and because such insurance covers the material costs of an illness, many people think they do not need to reflect on the reasons of illness, and do not feel responsible for their health. Yet, while medical insurance is certainly a good thing and an essential element of modern life planning, we can only obtain and maintain good health through our own behaviour and by taking proactive steps.
Three doctors, three prescriptions
If you have a particular health problem and consult three doctors, you are likely to get three different diagnoses, opinions and prescriptions. The result is not any better, and probably more confusing, if you consult with three different alternative health practitioners or traditional healers. It is a perfect chaos of opinions, contradicting studies (both proper and bogus ones), and sometimes quite unfounded and misleading conclusions, of which many could be eliminated by clear thinking.
We all need a practical path to help us achieve full health as it was meant to be, so that hopefully we will only ever need insurance for the much rarer accidents we may also face in our lives, but much less for the largely avoidable diseases.
Without health, everything else is irrelevant. As Gandhi once famously said, it is health that is real wealth. If one has just reasonably good health, however, the general focus of most people shifts immediately onto material wealth, entertainment and other things. Good health is something you can largely influence, provided you live in a socio-economic and political environment that allows you to determine your lifestyle, take responsibility for your emotional state, and choose what you do and eat – with the latter choice being one of the most important environmental exposures we face.
Understanding the laws of nature
The quality of human life depends on our understanding of nature. If we act against the laws of nature, we will lose, suffer, get hurt, and die; if we act in harmony with nature, we will win, prosper, and live well. This is true for all facets of life. Illness is not natural; nature produces healthy life. Health is a state of higher order, illness a disturbance of that order. To heal is to restore that order. If we consider how animals live in wild, undisturbed environments, we will find that they mostly lead healthy lives until they ultimately perish of old age within a short period of time or predator attack. If we consider instead how domesticated animals and pets develop all kinds of diseases similar to humans, regardless of how much love and care we give them, it should be easy to comprehend the importance of healthy life habits. Animals in free and undisturbed natural environments, as well as some of the last remaining indigenous people who continue to live undisturbed by civilization, have no choice but to abide by the laws of nature, and accordingly stay healthy during the majority of their lifespan. “Civilized” human beings, however, have developed a way of life, which is far removed from the original state where the fundamental laws of nature were observed naturally. These laws still apply, of course, and we are now undoubtedly dealing with the consequences of breaching some of them. This is particularly obvious – and severe – in matters of environmental pollution, lack of daily movement of the body, and nutrition. Despite this situation, we can still influence and reverse some of these negative trends.
The search for and study of universal principles in nature governing our life is entrenched in us as much as our desire to procreate and our need for food and water, and lack of knowledge is assuredly the principal limitation to human development. On the other hand, it is sometimes easier not to investigate everything and rather follow your instincts, apply clear thinking and common sense.
With regard to health, in fact all we need to be well and in good health throughout our lives is readily available; the answers are known, practical and possible to implement. What we can analyze and conclude during our lives, is nothing new, it is nothing we have to invent, nor is it some business plan in the form of a diet regime with expensive supplements or products or fancy exercise courses.
Preserving a holistic view
The increasing specialization in science has led, on the one hand, to significant advancement, with unprecedented technological innovations. On the other hand, that same specialization and segmentation of scientific research and technological development has also brought about a progressively narrowing perspective. When you focus on the structure and processes of specific elements and subsystems, you automatically tend to neglect looking at the entire system holistically. In the act of dissecting and tearing things apart, we lose the overview, lose the understanding. The “renaissance man” is rare to find in today’s world of increasingly narrow research fields. In the area of health, however, a narrow focus is sometimes counterproductive, dangerous even. Of course, specialized research is important in this area as much as in any other, but when one deals with highly complex biological systems – and, in particular, with the human body – it is important to preserve a holistic view.
As Malcolm Gladwell demonstrated so brilliantly, we actually need to know very little to find the underlying signature of a complex phenomenon, and extra information and detail is sometimes worse than useless: it can be downright harmful and confusing.
This is complicated further by the fact that when we feel to be in possession of quantifiably more knowledge, we develop an enhanced illusion of skill and become unrealistically overconfident. Medicine and nutritional science is largely empirical and observational, characterized by many and often quite disconnected insights. As such, it is particularly susceptible to foster this kind of overconfidence.
In biological systems we deal with intricate mechanisms which are built out of chemical components that are often modified by other, later, mechanisms added to the earlier ones. This interrelation makes it appear inappropriate to use a narrow focus in biological research.
Yet, we already know all we need in order to make the right choices in our lives to be healthy. Indeed, the answers to some of the most important questions in life can be known to everyone, almost regardless of their background and education. It is a matter of wisdom, of keeping a holistic view. This is hard to admit, and even harder in particular for the most sophisticated scientists. However, if we have the humility to acknowledge this fact, true understanding and insights follow. The most important thing to remember and focus on is simply that health is the real wealth, and act accordingly to protect it for life.