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Implications of Medicine for Self-help

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Medicine is far too complex of a field to summarize in a few short paragraphs. Our intention here, rather, is to point out a few of the larger lessons that can be taken from the study of medicine. Contemplation of these lessons will help frame your thinking about the nature of your problems.

Medicine is essentially an applied branch of biology and chemistry which deals with human beings and their health issues. The human body is understood as a complex bio-chemical and bio-mechanical sort of machine composed of many parts or systems, such as the digestive system, the nervous system, the circulatory system, the skeletal system, the immune system, etc. Each system is normally self-regulating, meaning that it has been designed in such a way that it innately knows how to stay in balance, without need for instructions from without. Bones know how to grow just enough new bone and then stop when no more new bone is needed, for example. The lungs know to take in just the right amount of air (Heavy breathing occurs automatically when the body senses it is not getting enough). All of these systems are coordinated, so that they work together as a group to support the overall functioning of the person.

A person is understood to be healthy when all of their major systems are in balance and working properly. A disease state is said to have occurred when some systems become compromised, and goes out of balance. When the body goes out of balance, we go out of balance as people too. Disease states can be caused by many different things, including infection (by bacteria, parasites or viruses), poisoning, starvation or lack of adequate nutrition and trauma or injury. Medical doctors treat disease states by taking action to return the affected systems to a more natural state of balance. For the most part, they use medications (which are chemicals known to have particular effects on the body) and other physical treatments to accomplish this goal.

Medicine teaches us that the body is a physical system which is vulnerable to getting out of balance when the conditions that support its continuing existence are compromised. There are a few implications of this truth:

  • We are vulnerable to disease, and disease is a negative state. We are most effective; our quality of life is highest; when we are in a disease free state. To the extent that our health deteriorates, our quality of life goes down.
  • It is better to guard our health through careful prevention before we have problems, than to try to play "catch-up" with heroic efforts after the fact. Preventing disease means never having to deal with it in the first place. Once you require medical intervention because of a disease state, you're then in the position of having to recover something precious you've lost.
  • Guarding our health means, in part, taking care to perform the maintenance that the body require to remain healthy. Guarding our health also means taking care to take any preventative steps necessary to avoid future preventable disease. Our bodies and minds require regular exercise, nutritious food consumed in proper quantities, restful sleep, and opportunities for relaxation and freedom from stress in order to function well. It may also be necessary to go above and beyond these normal preventative measures and take medications as prescribed so as to manage or ward off chronic diseases like bipolar disorder, heart disease or schizophrenia.

A key insight to take away from a discussion of medicine is that your physical health is the foundation upon which your mental health and happiness rests. It is always important to consider whether the life problems you are facing might have their basis in a medical problem which would improve with proper treatment. It is a good idea to consult with a doctor whenever you aren't sure. It is also a good idea to cultivate a healthy lifestyle and to maintain your body as well as you can so as to reduce your chances of developing serious illness.

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