What Does ‘Healthy’ Really Mean?

By Justinne Lou Go

 

BEING “healthy” may be a universal aspiration — consistently taking the number one spot on most people’s New Year’s resolutions — and yet there is much confusion on how healthy one should be. The root of the confusion lies essentially in one’s definition of “healthy.” Is this exclusively in the context of physical condition alone?

Image: Institute of Functional Medicine www.ifm.org

According to the world’s authority on health, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Although there is now some debate on what health really means in this modern age, taking from WHO’s definition, we find that health is not only based on one’s physical condition; mental and social well-being are now both equally considered.

The inclusion of mental and social well-being in the context of health only makes sense because one’s health condition certainly has effects on one’s social relations and mental productivity. Health is no longer based on just the absence of disease, but rather, quality of life is of greater priority. To expound on this, one can be free from disease and yet not feel optimally well. On the other hand, one may have a chronic (long-term) disease and yet is able to cope and thrive in social and work environments as when he or she did not have the disease yet. In that sense, how an individual feels about his or her health is now the more relevant basis for health rather than the presence or absence of disease.

An emerging approach to the medical practice, called Functional Medicine, uses a concept that seems to address the WHO’s definition of health. This concept is depicted in the form of a tree, which the practice calls The Functional Medicine Tree. The leaves and branches represent symptoms and diseases; the foundation of the tree, which are the roots, represent the true root causes of disease — Sleep & Relaxation, Exercise & Movement, Nutrition, Stress, and Relationships. These “roots” may also be known as the “determinants of health” as these are the factors to consider in evaluating one’s true health status.

Functional Medicine is a practice that looks at the body as a whole — an integrated system, rather than segments of organ systems that operate independently. As traditional medical practice addresses symptoms or the “branches and leaves” of the tree (i.e. high blood pressure, elevated estrogen hormones, high cholesterol, etc.) often through prescription of pills, Functional Medicine addresses the root causes of disease through prescription of lifestyle modification.

If you can observe from the “roots” of the tree, these health determinants involve all aspects of health — physical, social, mental, and even spiritual (relaxation). Nutrition, however, is the forerunner among these.

The significance of nutrition is that this is what prevents one from developing and progressing into disease. And often, if not all the time, we are led back to focus on nutrition in the management of disease. Health is truly rooted in and dependent on nutrition. Nutrition is the beginning and the end. It is my dire hope that more doctors will acknowledge and appreciate the vital role of nutrition in health and disease care — Medical Doctors and Nutritionists-Dietitians working hand in hand in managing people’s health.

You may not be diagnosed with any disease right now but can you say you’re truly healthy? You may want to run through the determinants of health to check on your total well-being. To know more about Functional Medicine, visit their website at www.functionalmedicine.org.

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