If I were to ask you if you were healthy, what would the answer be? What if I were to ask if you were in optimal or ideal health? No matter the answer to those questions, it’s striking to think of all the different answers one might hear. Through the next series of blogs we will be discussing optimal health. We’ll discuss what it looks and feels like, how to maintain it, why our bodies become sick, and what we can do to change the our cells’ environment if we are sick. Additionally we’ll also be discussing the connection between mind and body and how it plays into illness, and the effects of our genetics and social environment on our physical and mental state.
When it comes to health, most of us can’t accurately describe what it means to be healthy. Although we can pinpoint some parts of it, many things are overlooked. Some things we can probably agree on though, are:
- The absence of any pain, inflammation, or discomfort; whether internal or external
- Having enough energy throughout the day
- Physically functioning
- Emotionally healthy
- Accurately perceiving our health
- Emotionally functional
- Maintaining quality relationships with family and friends
- Good digestion and metabolism
- Excellent immune system front line and back up immune response
With this now in mind, let’s talk about why we get sick.
Believe it or not, the main reason we get sick is due to our own behavior. Our behaviors influence us biologically and emotionally, changing our bodies from completely healthy to chronically ill and everything in between. A simple and common example is the consumption of alcohol. We all know alcohol has detrimental effects on the body and mind. We need not go into detail on this example, but it’s clear that this behavior affects all those who participate in it. This isn’t the time to celebrate though, if we don’t drink. Other behaviors can have equally negative effects as drinking. In any case, it’s important to keep in mind that the basis for our behavior are our thoughts. Thus our thoughts and behaviors/habits affect, for better or worse, our health.
I started out asking if you thought you were healthy. Well what does health mean to you? Is it about physical strength? Stamina? Is it about family relationships or emotional health? Is it about living a long life? Spending time with others? Spirituality?
Nowadays health is understood in this way- a resource which helps an individual live without any physical, emotional, and/or mental impediments to achieve their pursuit for happiness, interests, and goals. So another question, are you and your family living in such a way that you can maximize your priorities and achieve your goals?
When an individual is in optimal health they are able to achieve personal goals and carry out daily plans. These could be personal, family, work related, spiritual, community service, intellectual, and other endeavors, from intimacy to learning, to entertainment.
With this description established we can begin to look at what optimal health is all about.
Optimal health is:
- The absence of physical pain or discomfort
- Presence of physical energy
- Well regulated inflammatory response
- Ability to deal with stressors of the day or difficult events without getting trapped into emotional crisis
- Able to sleep a full night and wake up rested in the early morning
- Good eating habits, including a lack of cravings for junk food
- Interest in physical activities
- Good, functioning metabolic system
- Strong immune system
- Hormones well regulated
- Intestinal tract functioning well (normally measured by regular stool removal and lack of inflammation)
- Body weight under control and matches height
- Normal levels of libidos
- Motivation to pursue goals
- Behavior which deepens quality of relationships with family and friends
- Willing to provide service and contribute to others
- Being compassionate and empathetic
- Spirituality part of our life
It was stated earlier that our behaviors dictate much of our health. But what is happening in the body that makes us sick? Many factors play into illness, so to understand we need to discuss several things about how the body functions. Let’s start with some basic biology. Our bodies are composed of more than 60 trillion cells. Cells gather in groups to form tissues, bones, systems, and organs. Each cell communicates with neighboring cells and brain cells and, depending on their location, produce certain biochemicals which help regulate self and other parts of the body. For cells to function correctly they need food. Nutrients allow the cells to metabolize food in order to produce energy and other chemicals, keeping the cell alive and allowing it to perform its important tasks.
Each cell or groups of cells are different, all depending on where they are located in the body. These differentiation were established long before we were born; in the womb. While we developed as an embryo cells begin to be assigned to various areas and given specific tasks. Cells work together to keep us alive and healthy.
Inside each of these microscopic cells are small organs called organelles. Each organelle has a specific function. Together all these small parts work to produce thousands of chemical reactions every second. For example, using nutrients specific organelles use natural chemicals to produce molecules that are used as energy for the entire cell. These organelles work as a nuclear energy plant for the cell. Other organelles work like a factory or as transportation. At the center of each cell is the nucleus. Here information is processed to give specific instructions that keep organelles and chemicals in check/regulated. This is all a very complex, but exact operation. Any internal imbalance creates internal cell oxidation, this in turn causes internal inflammation. If not controlled or repaired internal cellular changes are initiated, creating a sick cell. Sick cells produce toxins as discussed earlier. Toxins produced by sick cells have a domino effect if not regulated and removed. As the microenvironment of cells become filled with toxins other neighboring cells grow sick. This is the beginning of chronic illness that continues to have domino effect on organs and other parts of the body.
How does this happen? Going back to our behaviors, nutrition or lack of it is vital factor which can’t be emphasized enough. Tens of thousands of chemical reaction occur in a cell that allows it to perform its functions. All these reactions require nutrients. When nutrients don’t reach the cell, it is faced with many problems including being unable to repair itself because they don’t have the tools they need. When it is unable to repair itself it becomes sick.
If a cell grows sick and can’t repair itself there is a gene it can turn on to initiate apoptosis. Apoptosis allows the cell to kill itself in order to stop the spread of toxins and potentially harm organs or the whole body. This cellular regulatory gene is found in all cells; in cancerous cells this order has been changed. Apoptosis however, requires nutrients to activate. Thus if nutrition is a problem sick cells may stick around. Our bodies have another line of defense, though- the immune system. Immune cells patrol the whole body scanning cells to detect and remove sick ones. Keep in mind though, that the immune system also needs nutrients to work correctly.
If there is a problem with our immune system however, then we are in real trouble. Unhealthy cells will continue to produce toxins causing damage and affecting more and more cells each day. These toxins or conditions however, are hard to detect early on through lab test and lack of symptoms. The body does all it can to keep us alive and functioning, meaning it does all it can to keep any toxins out of the blood stream and keep the Ph level and normal as possible to assure that oxygen and nutrients are delivered throughout the body. By the time we are diagnosed with an illness it is already in the advanced stages and many cells are already damaged.
The good news though, is the body can and will heal itself if we make the necessary lifestyle changes. We’ll discuss some of these changes in the third part of this series.
In our next blog we will discuss how chronic stress, anxiety, and depression affect cellular function including immune response and disorders, nutrient absorption, and hormone regulation. Stay tuned.