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Health and Paradigm Shift


Health: Transcendence of Established Paradigms

Our health system is based largely on the Biomedical Model  attributed to Descartes a 17th century philosopher who championed the scientific method of analysis.  This model makes the following assumptions: 1. There is a direct linear link between an illness, it's cause and it's cure 2. Health is dependent on cures that can be weighed, measured and statistically deduced using the scientific method  and 3. Anything that cannot be measured in this way does not exist or is not valid. The scientific method by nature takes a close look at one aspect of the whole, rather than the whole itself.  It looks at the trees (or a leaf on a tree) rather than the forest.    By the 19th century the  biomedical model was highly successful in identifying main causes of illness and death , which were accidents and infections.  Further this model has allowed for enormous advancements in the field of medicine, such as: 

•A vastly improved understanding of the human body.  Latest example: the “Human Genome Project”
•Surgery made relatively safe and effective
•Allowed for the control contagious diseases

The biomedical model suggests that humankind only becomes ill or injured  from things which invade the body or from immediate accidental damage. Also the biomedical model suggests that we are either healthy or ill - there is no 'in between.' It focuses on detection  of a problem (illness) and fixing it. Treatments based on the biomedical model rely heavily on chemicals (drugs) and surgery. 

Industrialization changed the nature  of society. As the 19th  century progressed the number of individuals who died from infections decreased (thanks to the contribution of the biomedical model).  Living conditions improved for the majority of the population and better nutrition was possible for the average person. People began to live longer.  The old major causes of death were contained and minimized. New illnesses such as coronary heart disease and cancer became the leading causes of mortality and morbidity. Social, psychological and environmental  factors as well as life style habits began to  play a larger part in the burgeoning new causes of illness and death. The biomedical model has become less effective. The biomedical model still excels today in identifying illnesses and diseases but does not explore the breath and depth of what causes them and what cures them.

We are now re-awakening our awareness to the possibility that  taking care of ones health is more complex than either being sick or not sick.  Perhaps there are all sorts of stages and states in between.  Perhaps there is a balance or homeostasis that the body would like to maintain.  Perhaps there is an interconnection between body, mind, spirit and emotions. (Traditional Chinese medicine states that all disease begins with an imbalance in the realm of emotions).  But the Biomedical Model has a strong foothold, both economically and in our  perspectives of care. Let's take a look at some facts.

Despite the fact that science acknowledges that the chronic diseases we see today are largely preventable with changes in lifestyle, there is an absence of  sufficient  graduate and postgraduate education in nutritional and lifestyle approaches. Presently, mainstream health professionals, including doctors, nurses and pharmacists, have very limited formal training in either nutritional or lifestyle strategies and healthcare delivery is primarily curative rather than preventative in nature. Since the development of  chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease,cancer, obesity, diabetes and osteoporosis, is dependent to a large extent on nutritional and lifestyle habits exercised during childhood and early adulthood, curative approaches are both relatively ineffective and are certainly uneconomic as compared with preventative strategies applied during the earlier years of life. 

Robert Verkerk PhD, Alliance for Natural Health, Dorking, Surrey RH4 1XA, United Kingdom, in his paper “Can the failing western medical paradigm be shifted using the principle of sustainability?” writes the following: 

The last two or three decades have seen an unprecedented increase in the use of new-to-nature therapeutic agents (drugs) in an attempt to treat, prevent or cure disease. Americans on average make over 1.1 billion visits to physicians or hospital outpatient departments annually, amounting to an average of around 3.8 visits per person. About 65% of all patient visits to physicians result in drugs being prescribed. Over 3 billion prescriptions are filled each year, averaging around 10 prescriptions for every person in the USA annually.  With an average cost of $54.34 per prescription in n2007, the , annual cost of these prescriptions is about $165 billion, the equivalent of $550 for every American each year. Adverse drug reactions (ADRs), which increase exponentially in those taking 4 or more different medications, are now the fourth leading cause of death in the USA putting them in front of pulmonary disease, diabetes, AIDS, pneumonia, accidents and motor vehicle deaths.

Again, using data from the USA, if the estimated 98,000 deaths associated with preventable medical and surgical injuries in hospitals, as well as the estimated 90,000 deaths associated with preventable infections in hospitals are added to the estimated 106,000 deaths from ADRs which  follow the non-error prescription of medications, orthodox medicine is unequivocally the third leading cause of death in the USA.  The situation appears similar in most other western countries. 

Aside from their deleterious effects, a mere 13% of drugs are known to have beneficial effects, while Dr Allen Roses, vice president of genetics for Glaxo Smith Kline, the world’s second largest pharmaceutical company, admitted in 2003 that:“…the vast majority of drugs ‐more than 90 percent ‐only work in 30 or 50 percent of the people".   

Overall there is a wealth of evidence to suggest that orthodox or Allopathic medicine has had very limited success in dealing with the major disease burdens, namely the chronic diseases.  These diseases generally progress exponentially in population groups over 50 years of age.

Finally, Western medicine, particularly by comparison with Eastern and other traditions, places very little emphasis on the psychological and emotional health of the individual, particularly where physical symptoms are the most obvious presentation. Such avoidance, coupled with the difficulty of affording expensive medications by the socioeconomically disadvantaged, means that quality of life (QOL) considerations are to a large extend ignored.

From a total cost-benefit perspective, where financial, environmental, emotional and other short and long-term costs and benefits are adequately considered, it would be difficult to uphold th eWestern medical model as one that is either efficient or indeed sustainable.  The spiraling costs of drugs, the rise in ADRs and increasing patient resistance to using drugs as the primary therapeutic tool, further exacerbate the lack of sustainability of pharmaceutical-based health care that has come to epitomize the western medical paradigm.



The evidence points to the fact that we humans are far too complex to be treated as if we are statistical averages or like parts of our bodies are separate from the rest of our body/mind system.  Our health, our homeostasis, our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual balance is affected by an array of factors both internal, based on heredity and habits over time and external, based on environment and situational factors. Our quality of life depends on us acknowledging this and taking responsibility for our own health. A martial artist is trained to have a broad sense of awareness of his or her surroundings so that he or she can make subtle adjustments as needed. If an emergency situation arises however, such as a direct attack, a martial artist will shift their awareness to an acute focus on the immediate crises. I suggest that care of one's health needs to be cultivated in the same way.  One should keep a broad focus on maintaining balance in the whole body/mind system and attend to emergency situations with the best means available. 

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