What is Health?


   It is a sad commentary upon our educational system that, however well informed our people may be upon most matters that affect their lives, they are generally very ignorant upon all subjects that pertain to their mental and physical health. Although of foremost importance with everyone, health is the subject of which he or she knows the least. Our people live very haphazardly; they have no philosophy of life, nor have they any well-thought-out and well-arranged plan of living. Irrationality characterizes their modes of living and they are almost constantly suffering the ill consequences of their unreason.

   Health is a much neglected subject. Medical literature does not contain a definition of health. This is not surprising, as health has never been the subject of the medical man's attention. Disease has been his speciality, cures his stock in trade. With all of medicine's preoccupation with disease, medical literature does not contain a definition of disease. Beyond the vague generalization that disease is a departure from the normal, the medical profession possesses no semblance of a definition for that which is the object of its special attention.

   If we may accept as true the proposition that disease is a departure from the normal, then it follows, logically, that the normal is health. But what is normal? The normal is the standard and it is possible to accept false standards, even very low ones. The word normal is all too commonly used to mean the usual, the customary, the average. In its very nature the average is a low standard. It is much below the higher standards represented by those specimens that are above the average. It is a radical fallacy to assume that to average the blood pressures presented by the common run-of-the-mill man or woman presents us with a valid physiological norm of blood pressure. It is equally as foolish to think that to average the weights of people of various heights will produce for us a valid physiological norm of weight. All of our norms, not only of weight and blood pressure, but of metabolism, of urinary reaction, of vision, of childbirth, etc., are but averages and these averages have not been made by choosing the best specimens of men and women and working from these, but by deliberately choosing the sick men and women we see around us. Thus it becomes evident that if we define disease as a departure from the accepted norms, we merely accept as sickness a slightly lower state of disease than that which is accepted as normal.

   In a nation of cretins, a healthy man would be regarded as abnormal; in a community of color blind people, a man with good color vision would be regarded as abnormal; in a nation in which everybody has defective teeth, a man with a good set of teeth would be regarded as abnormal; in a nation of rachitic people, bow legs would be considered normal, while the man with sound bone structure would be considered a freak. Thus it is evident that we cannot accept the common definition, vague as it is, of disease, as valid.

   We cannot afford to accept anything but the highest standard of physiological and biological excellence as normal. Anything short of the highest excellence and integrity of structure and the highest vigor and efficiency of function must be recognized as a state of impaired health. The low standards that have been established by the medical profession and accepted by the public cannot be reasonably regarded as anything other than marked departures from the biologically normal. This is to say that our normals are themselves disease, as the term is vaguely defined. We accept as normal various degrees of defectiveness of our organisms and of lagging functions of our various organs.

   Man is a being made up of many correlated and integrated but quasi-independent structures and when we understand the normal functions of these individual structures and their normal structural and functional correlations, we can form a valid ideal of mankind or humanity in the full and harmonious development of all the parts of his nature. Regarding the harmonious development of all his several parts and functions as an attainable ideal of man, we can urge the necessity for those changes in his ways of life needed to form a proper basis for the attainment of this worthy ideal. While we cannot attempt anything higher for man than his perfect development, we surely cannot settle for less, unless we permit fancy to dethrone intellect and judgment. Nothing but this will enable man to form a harmonious ideal of that state of development to which he may attain.

   It may be urged by the devotees of the various schools of so-called healing that they also recognize the imperfections in human development, but they offer no valid program for human improvement. It is true that we are agreed upon the anatomy of the body and, as far as is essential, we are agreed in reference to its organic functions; we also agree generally as to the inutility or, rather, utter worthlessness of drug medication; but although we and they teach all these things, we part company with them when we come to the practical application of our common knowledge to the general improvement of mankind.

   Our word health is derived from the Saxon word for whole. Heal is derived from the same word and means to restore to a state of wholeness, soundness or integrity. Holy comes from the same root and signifies wholeness and purity of mind. Taken in its fullness of meaning, health is completeness and perfection of organization, fitness of life, freedom of action, harmony of functions, vigor and freedom from all stain and corruption-in a phrase, it is "a sound mind in a sound body."

   Health is a condition of perfect development, a state of wholeness and harmonious development and growth and adaptation of part to part, of organ to organ within the organism, with no part stunted and no part in excess. In this state of organic development lies the perfection and symmetry of beauty. Beauty is but the reflection of wholeness, of health. It is easy to demonstrate that the forms and proportions of man and of every animal and plant, which are in their highest and most perfect state, are also the most beautiful.

   When every bone is of the best form and size for its service in the total organism, there is perfect proportion; when every muscle is fully and proportionately developed, with just enough fat in the cellular tissues to round out the muscles, we have the highest beauty of form. When the texture of the skin is finest and the circulation of the blood most vigorous, the body well nourished and freed of all waste, there is the glow and charm of the finest complexion. The highest beauty is the expression of the highest health.

   Partial beauty, fading beauty, decaying beauty--these are but expressions of partial, fading or decaying health. They represent unsatisfactory and painful states of existence. Beauty belongs to glowing health and perfection of organization. It is impossible for us to separate these ideals. We cannot picture health in terms of the conventional, for contemporary man is far short of this wholeness of organization and vigor of function that is health.

   If we try to picture health, what do we see? A form of perfect symmetry and proportion; a clean, smooth, semi-transparent skin, with the red blood shining through, especially in the cheeks and ends of the fingers and toes; glossy hair that is full of life; clear, bright eyes that are full of expression and that dance with life, rosy lips that smile with the joys of life, pearly white, sound, even teeth; a breath that is as sweet as that of the kine in the springtime; freedom from disagreeable body odor, indeed, where health is perfect, emitting an agreeable aroma; a body that is filled with activity, delighting in work or exercise, and a happy, courageous, mirthful and hopeful disposition and a desire to help others.

   Such a picture of health can come only from the orderly, regular and perfect performance of the functions of life--from a sound heredity, a congenial environment and conduct that conforms with the constitutional nature of man. It is the perfect combination of bodily organization, intellectual energy and moral power in harmonious unity. It means perfect organization of brain and nerves that are as finely proportioned as the bones and muscular systems. In such a being we would expect to see the symmetry and proportion of head of the Cro-Magnon, not the asymmetry and disproportion of head of modern man. Unconsciousness of action is a true test of perfection of function. If you are conscious of your stomach, your bowels, your heart or some other part of your body, there is something wrong. But health is far more than a mere absence of symptoms of illness. It is a state of positive well-being that is manifest by a euphoria that is but rarely experienced by modern man. Health consists not in bulk, but in quality or excellence--a flea may be healthy; an elephant may be sick. Fleshiness (overweight) has no significance so far as it represents healthiness. Health means physiological and biological normality in everything--in all the tissues and organs and in all the functions.

   Man's life should begin with a painless birth and a perfect organism, marred by no hereditary defects and deformities. A healthy baby is one of smiles, love and joy. The whole period of youth is naturally one of greatest happiness, consisting of continual and developing strength and capacity, of novelty and physical and mental activity and enjoyment. This is followed by the full vigor, firmness and strength of manhood, with all its powers of action and its capacities for happiness. Then comes the calm serenity of age and at last, when the individual has fulfilled his work and passed through all the phases of his varied and glorious existence, he should go down to the grave without disease, without pain--a long and happy life closing with a calm and peaceful death. Such is the natural life and death of man.

   This being the natural course, the normal rule and law of human life, this being, in a word, health--let us look at the sad spectacle of human disease around us. View the misery of mankind and see a sight over which angels must weep. Children are brought into the world with sick and defective constitutions, amid the throes of mortal agony--the pangs of a diseased nervous system. They drink in the cause of disease with their mother's milk, poisoned, as it often is, with deadly narcotics and drug medicine. Infancy is one long agony of disease and pain. Childhood brings its peculiar diseases--the successive efforts of nature to purify a depraved system. Maturity brings its fevers, rheumatisms, functional failures, asthmas, anemia and the whole train of horrors which men inflict upon themselves and if existence is continued amid these sufferings, old age comes on with accumulated scleroses and agonies and death is the last struggle of nature with the causes of disease.

   Look closely at the young men and women about you. Are these the strong men that shall be, these the lovely women of the future? Few of them possess body and mind that will come to mature perfection. Slavery and death--these are the two words that describe the history of most of them. How gladly would we stop here, but we cannot; for before us we see the writhing forms of those whose nights are spent in groans, their days in pain. To such, the bright sunbeams are mockery; the delightful perfumes shed by lovely flowers fail to gladden their hearts, for the hydra-headed monster of disobedience has struck his fangs into their vitals.

   We see hundreds of them suffering in the delirium of fevers--fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, spending weeks yearly in anguish and crying out for relief, every joint racked with arthritic pains or with neuralgias, with bodies covered with sores, with stomachs distressed with ulcers, deformed, distorted, paralyzed and cancerous, great numbers of our children being carried to early graves.

   We could well divide the people we meet into the following categories:
        1. People who are definitely sick,
        2. People who are on the border-line of illness,
        3. People who are almost healthy, and
        4. People who enjoy high-level health.

   The first three groups constitute by far the greater part of our population. The latter group is made up almost entirely of young people, although comparatively few young people belong in this group. Just as the prophesy of the oak is written in the acorn, so the promise of the vigorous man is in the vigorous child. It is lamentable that our culture continues to seek to build vigorous manhood and womanhood out of puny and defective childhood.

Charles E. Page, M.D.

   Where is liberty? Where is life? Where is happiness? Where is beauty, in a world that is blighted by suffering and premature dying? If we go out in nature, where real wealth and luxury reside, we see the sparkling jewels of earth and sea. Brightly colored birds from every clime pour forth their sweet notes in grand concert; flowers are there--bright flowers of every hue, indigenous and exotic--while bright sunlight tinges all with its celestial beauty. Life, liberty, happiness, angels of love, dwell in these sylvan bowers, not in the haunts of man. Why is the highest of earth's creatures the sickliest and the most unhappy?

   There is no truth in nature more positive than that the normal condition of man is one of health. That all the organs of man's body are adapted to promote and maintain health appears to be so self-evident that to argue it would seem to be a work of supererogation. Health is the result of the normal performance of all the functions of life. From the rising to the setting of the sun, life and labor are pleasant to one in good health--to contemporary man, life is a burden and labor but another name for slavery. Health gives development, beauty, vigor and happiness and is characterized by strength of body, power and serenity of mind and keenness of enjoyment of all the good things of life.

   Disease is the result of any impairment of the normal functions. It hinders development, mars beauty, impairs vigor and destroys happiness. It is characterized by indolence, weakness, pain and misery, and brings a wretched life to a premature and painful end.

   As every organ of the body is essential to wholeness and integrity of structure and vigor of function, no organ can be spared. Not merely must the nutritive and drainage systems be perfectly adapted to the requirements of the brain and body, but the smallest and apparently least important parts of the body must be fully and harmoniously developed. As Dr. Nichols so well expressed it: "The smallest instrument out of tune brings discord into the harmony of life."

   Man can never rise above the excellence that belongs to his body, the infinite dignity that springs from it, and he should be satisfied with nothing short of the highest physical excellence of which the human organism is capable. So long has man lived in violation of the laws of his being--so long has he suffered disease and premature death--that he has come to forget or to lose sight of the fact that, instead of the sickly, deformed creature he is, with body and mind twisted and dwarfted in conformity with false conditions, he might and should be a healthy and well-developed being, in the enjoyment of the resulting consequences of such a condition.