In last week’s column, I wrote about two differing views on wellness and prevention. I was taught that both should be largely free of side effects, actually prevent the disease in question (rather than provide early detection) and improve overall health. But these terms are also used to describe screenings and drug therapy to reduce the risk of disease; to me, these do not meet the strict criteria for true wellness.
One of the difficulties in writing about wellness and prevention is that our health-care system — in fact, our whole society — is focused on disease. Television shows like House M.D. and ER show dramatic, extreme examples of patients with life-threatening problems.
Wellness care just isn’t that dramatic. I doubt there will ever be a TV drama about the chiropractic patient who didn’t need back surgery because of his care, and also didn’t get an ulcer because he was able to stop taking his ibuprofen. Or about the acupuncturist who saved a patient from a hysterectomy because the treatment balanced her hormones naturally.
True wellness and prevention restore health and function without serious side effects, or causing other health problems. When a person’s overall health is restored, seemingly unrelated conditions may resolve. Chiropractic treatment for back pain has been shown to have such “side effects” as improving digestion and reducing blood pressure and menstrual pain.
Acupuncture also has secondary benefits. I recently treated a patient for chronic pain who mentioned that her depression was also much better after a few treatments. I have seen similar results with asthma and digestion. A study of stress in rats showed that electro acupuncture reduced the levels of hormones associated with the negative effects of chronic stress, while treatment of a random spot on the skin did not have the same effect.
As for dietary recommendations, current medical advice is that saturated fats contribute to plaques around the arteries to the heart, so a low-fat diet is recommended. But most low-fat foods are highly processed, and have their flavor improved with artificial sweeteners, sugar, or high-fructose corn syrup. Diets recommended to prevent a specific disease are not going to be as effective as the true wellness advice to eat minimally processed, natural foods. This diet will naturally prevent most of the “diseases of civilization” that are the true cost drivers in our health-care system, including heart disease.
The largest wellness study I am aware of was published in 2007. This study compared medical costs over six years for patients in traditional HMO insurance to patients who chose a wellness provider for their family doctor. For the first few years, only doctors of chiropractic were used as the wellness providers; later on, they included medical doctors and osteopaths. The results were remarkable — compared to the traditional medical group, the wellness group had 60 percent fewer hospital admissions, 62 percent fewer outpatient surgeries and procedures, and an amazing 85 percent lower drug costs.
Our exclusive focus on disease just leads to more of it. Even our supposed wellness programs have side effects. When you focus on health, you usually get healthier. However, it requires you to change the way you think.
It took me several years of practice before I started to see the difference between treating disease and restoring health. Until we learn this distinction, we will be stuck with a health-care system that damages our health while it attacks disease.
Dr. Michael Noonan practices chiropractic, chiropractic acupuncture and other wellness therapies in Old Town. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.