What I Used to Think and What I Have Come to Understand About Health and Disease (Dis-ease)
By Stan M.Gardner, M.D.
Medical school for me was an adventure of discovery. I learned a great deal in a relatively short period of time. My perspectives coming out of medical school had changed from the perspectives I had when I was a college student. The years of training created a foundation for my future learning, which came and continues to come as I have practiced medicine. I was given new paradigms from which to view the world of health and the world of disease.
Two different paradigms can be likened to two cameras, each of which filters a different set of colors, seeing the same thing in a different light. By understanding the philosophies of each filter, it becomes easier to recognize the different shades and hues. Let us examine these two filters.
In my years of medical school, health was defined as "the absence of disease." 1 I quickly learned in practice that health is not just the absence of disease; additionally it is the absence of recognizable or diagnosable disease. This slight shift in meaning meant that if the disease had not yet been labeled, it did not "exist," and therefore could not be "treated" (this was the case with difficult diseases to define, such as chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia).
In the days of our grandparents and great grandparents, medicine was practiced from the standpoint of traditions and knowledge handed down, generation to generation. People relied on intuition, inspiration, knowledge of herbs and roots and healing elements in addition to what the doctor would say. In 1920 the Rockefeller-funded Flexner Report shifted the medical thinking to the scientific method as the basis for medicine. 2, 3. This meant that if it could not be seen, heard, touched, tasted or smelled in a measurable way, it did not exist. All "scientific" thought obeys the laws of chemistry and Newtonian physics, and everything could be explained by these laws (mechanics, molecular biology, pharmacokinetics, drug receptor interactions). This led to heavy reliance on "double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized" studies as the gold standard. However, scientific "progress" means that many concepts that we were certain about 20 years ago are no longer true. Unfortunately, if there is not a plausible scientific explanation, or it does not fit within the accepted present "box," its relevance is often discarded.
This shift created a new "color" with which to view the concept of health from our camera lenses. A drug and surgery emphasis has emerged. This new paradigm presents a dilemma: drugs tend to take over or block the body's normal physiologic (functioning) processes, and surgery tends to interfere with the healing pathways in the body. Do we rely solely on the modern lens to view health, or do we also give credence to the lens which looks at health from the standpoint of history-proven healing methods? Greater reliance on laboratory values and technological imaging reduced the focus from history-taking (listening to the patient) and physical examination. Then diagnosis and treatment went a step further, with insurance companies taking a physician's role. Now instead of allowing credence to insight, intuition, and plain old common sense, often decision making by consensus and protocols 4 influences the way medical care is provided.
In the last few years I have come to understand that a broad range exists between the "absence of disease" and optimal, vigorous health. Biochemical abnormalities at the cellular level occur long before organ damage or laboratory abnormalities appear. This means that our bodies may be striving to recover even when we are unaware that we are becoming ill. When proper attention is given to the vitamins and minerals which strengthen the body and help it to heal itself, these elements, necessary as co-factors in these biochemical reactions, can and do prevent disease.
Another frequently overlooked lens which affects our health perspective is poison and toxin exposure. Removal of harmful agents frees up the body's biochemical reactions so self-repair and maintenance can take place.
Finally, perhaps the most important recognition of my new understanding is this: there is a "force" or "spirit" or "energy" separate from and/or complementary to the physical body and its laws of chemistry and Newtonian physics. Einstein and his quantum physics laws established a relationship between mass (body) and energy (spirit) in the famous equation e=mc2. Joseph Smith understood that the faithful "are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies." 5 He recognized a relationship between an unseen force and body renewal. A dramatic example of healing took place when Jesus came to a "man which was blind from his birth. . .He [then] spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with clay." Then He "said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam. . . .He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing." 6 Is it possible that the Savior understood and utilized elements in the clay which could heal the man's sight? Or was the healing which took place entirely based upon the man's faith? [Miracles] "are called 'signs' as being visible tokens of an invisible power."7 Perhaps it was some of each. We now have documented the healing power of prayer with double-blind studies. 8 Some intangible force or energy can heal; separate from known laws of chemistry and physics. The gospel encourages us to seek and look for all truth, wherever it may be found.9 It is my role as a physician to seek the environment where healing can take place, both at the physical level and at the "spirit" or energy level. Then, with a lens which views health and dis-ease from a higher perspective, I am better able to help solve the puzzle of health.
Coming: Why We Get Sick, Why We Stay Well
1. Stedman's Medical Dictionary, 25th Ed., p. 686.
2. Cecil Textbook of Medicine, 19th Ed., p.2.
3. Rosen G. The structure of American medical practice. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania. 1983.
4. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 9th Ed., p.2.
5. D & C 84:33.
6. John 9:1-7
7. Bible Dictionary, p. 733
8. "Does Prayer Heal?" Readers Digest, March 1996
9. Discourses of Brigham Young, Edition of 1975, p. 11. "Our doctrine and practice is, and I have made it mine through life-to receive truth no matter where it comes from." 14:160.
1. The scientific method is able to explain many things about the ways our bodies function, normally and abnormally.
2. The scientific method may establish a point, but if it doesn't fit within present thinking, it is often overlooked or discarded.
3. There are changes in health that take place at an energy or spirit level that cannot be explained solely by the use of the scientific method.