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A Systems Approach to Wellness

© Joseph Pizzorno ND
 (Excerpted from Total Wellness: Improve Your Health By
Understanding the Body’s Healing Systems
, Prima Publishing)

Our bodies have a tremendous ability to heal, if just given a chance.

In conventional medicine, the primary function of the physician is diagnosis, i.e., identifying which disease a person is suffering from. This disease-diagnosis orientation leads to the disease-treatment, symptom-relief system that dominates health care in our country. As discussed in Chapter Two of Total Wellness, this system is failing. We need a different kind of health care thinking and a different kind of physician. If we want to be healthy, it's up to us. We must become more aware of our bodies, learn how they function, understand what makes us healthy or sick - in short, become our own best physician.

Being Our Own Best Physician
Daunted by the prospect of self-diagnosis? Indeed, it is an almost impossible task to determine which one of several thousands of different diseases you may be suffering from. Physicians with thousands of hours of sophisticated medical training and years of practice frequently make inaccurate diagnoses where specific diseases are concerned. However, I believe the name of the disease is not what we need to know to get well. The necessary diagnosis is actually much simpler. In fact, our cultural obsession with complex diseases not only blinds us to the real causes of illness but disempowers us and gives over control of our health to doctors in a system that often relieves only symptoms. It's as if we spent all our time and resources hiring highly skilled specialists to repair a crack in the ceiling with spackle and paint when the root of the problem is a structural weakness in the building's foundation.

Consider the following:

  1. We are often quite capable of treating ourselves without resorting to physicians. In 70 to 90% of all episodes of disease, we recover without seeing a physician.1

  2. Our bodies have a tremendous ability to self-heal. When we go to see a physician, we, of course, expect to receive an effective therapy. The current "gold standard" for determining the efficacy of a therapy is the double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study, where neither the patient nor the physician knows if the patient is receiving the drug or the placebo. However, research demonstrates that 35 to 70% of the time, the patient gets better on the placebo! While a somewhat larger percentage get better on the drug, they also suffer the consequences of its side effects and expense. Even more interesting is the observation that the placebo patients in double-blind studies who comply with their therapy, that is, religiously take the placebo as directed, exhibit far more favorable results than those who do not comply with the therapy. Clearly, our beliefs profoundly affect the healing process.

  3. Focusing on the pathology obscures recognition of our inherent healing power and disassociates us from understanding our body's signals. For example, in one study of the efficacy of a particular drug as compared to placebo in the treatment of endoscopy-documented stomach ulcers, 27% (12 of 45) of those whose ulcer had healed continued to have symptoms, while 55% of those whose ulcer had not healed became asymptomatic, no matter what treatment they had received.2 In other words, the therapy focused only on the pathology, which, while recognizable, was not the only or even the primary factor causing the patients' symptoms. Disease orientation is focused on end-stage pathology, whereas much of symptomatology, i.e., what we actually experience, is actually due to either the body's efforts to heal or messages that the healing process needs assistance. The challenge then is not to diagnose which particular end-stage pathology has developed, but rather to recognize the impediments to healing. I believe the very best physicians are those who understand the body's healing processes, recognize what the body needs to facilitate the healing processes, and encourage in each patient the belief in his or her ability to heal. I also believe each of us is capable of developing this understanding of our own body, and that ultimately, each of us can be his or her own best physician - if taught how.
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About The Author
A leader in the field of natural medicine, Dr. Pizzorno is a practical visionary. His uniting the healing traditions of natural medicine with the rigors of the scientific method has resulted in major advances. Co-founder and founding president of Bastyr University, he led Bastyr to become the first ever accredited, multidisciplinary university of natural medicine in the United......more
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