December 16, 2018

Salutogenesis—Are You Focusing on Illness or Wellness?

“The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will instruct his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”

Thomas Edison uttered these wise words more than 100 years ago at the start of the 20th century. Unfortunately, modern ‘healthcare’ is in many ways a complete departure from Edison’s words. Current healthcare standards and practices have shifted towards a more disease and symptoms-based approach rather than a wellness and preventative approach. In other words, a ‘sickcare system’ that looks to diagnose a disease and match it with a corresponding drug. What problem has this caused? There is more focus on the study of illness and its treatment rather than a study of wellness and optimal health. Despite the amazing advancements in life-saving surgeries, acute issues and emergency care, when it comes to optimizing health and longevity, the current system is failing us. However, there is a body of work that suggests we look at the latter—the study of Salutogenesis.

What is Salutogenesis?

Salutogenesis is a term coined by medical sociology professor, Aaron Antonovsky. Andonovsky describes it as the study of human health and well-being, rather than a focus on factors that cause disease (pathogenesis). If we break down the word itself, sal?s in Latin means good health and genesis means generation, therefore salutogenesis literally means the generation of good health. Let’s explore some of the key differences between these two frameworks.

While pathogenesis takes a reactive approach to treating what’s wrong in the body, salutogenesis takes a proactive approach to adopting health-promoting behaviours. It assumes the premise that wellness is something that should be actively pursued and put effort into. When taking a disease-centred approach, the emphasis is put on deferring negative health effects and avoiding symptoms, whereas a wellness-centred approach emphasizes growth and striving for optimal well-being. Across a spectrum that ranges from disease to flourishing, where pathogenesis looks to bring people from unhealthy to neutral, salutogenesis looks to bring them neutral to high levels of wellness.

                      Image Source: John W. Travis, MD | TheWellSpring.com

How Can It Apply to You?

Seeing the darkness surrounding the conventional health care system, the time has come to take a more personalized approach to wellness – one that addresses the underlying causes of chronic illness by tending to the whole person, and not just an isolated set of symptoms. One that encompasses more than one’s physical health, but their emotional and spiritual health as well. One that emphasizes the importance of striving towards our fullest potential and not only avoiding disease.

There are numerous alternative practices emerging that focus on wellness rather than illness and offer sustainable solutions. Functional medicine being one. While mainstream medicine is structured to manage symptoms, functional medicine is primarily concerned with addressing the underlying dysfunctions of the body that give rise to symptoms. For example, if someone has high blood sugar, they are typically given medications that stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin, which brings the blood sugar down. Or, one is experiencing a longer-than-usual sad mood and is given an SSRI to inhibit serotonin reuptake (the happy hormone) and thus have a boost in mood.

Functional medicine asks why a patient has high blood sugar or depressive symptoms in the first place. No one becomes sick from a medication deficiency (or at least the last time I checked, Metformin or Prozac weren’t essentials for optimal living). They may have insulin resistance, brain-adrenal axis dysfunctions causing high cortisol and a chronic gut dysbiosis, all contributing to their high blood sugar. Or perhaps an imbalance in the gut microflora, which is now known to be the production center of 80 percent of our serotonin – causing low mood and energy.

In these examples there is nothing actually wrong with the pancreas or the brain, so while the medication will create a band-aid effect to make their blood sugar numbers look nicer on a lab, or cause a facade of boosted mood, they don’t address the reasons they’re dysfunctioning in the first place, nor do they promote flourishing health. So, in conjunction with your primary care physician, functional medicine can be the missing link to addressing the root causes of your issues, reducing the use of medications, and finally getting healthy.

By shifting the focus from a disease-centered approach to a wellness-centered approach, functional health practitioners and coaches evaluate interactions between genetic, physical and environmental lifestyle factors of their patients, enabling them to customize a “wellness prescription” that is unique to each and every individual. Focusing on elements such as diet, nutrition supplementation, exercise, hydration, stress management, and much more, functional health looks to improve the quality of life by tending to the core of health behaviors, to take a preventative approach to help avoid the onset of certain illnesses and conditions. Essentially, functional medicine professionals look to help the patient not only overcome illness but thrive with health and vitality.

We are on the verge of a major paradigm shift in promoting health and wellness. So if you have been experiencing health issues, are not feeling your absolute best, and are struggling to find the right solutions, perhaps it is time to seek out a functional medicine practitioner or coach who will take the time to evaluate your situation and co-create an ultimate wellness prescription to help you reach your best self.

Salut!

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