When I began practice as a young doctor, I thought that the treatments I gave to patients were the primary reason they got well. But after almost 40 years of seeing patients as a mainstream family doctor, diving deeply into the science of healing at Walter Reed, the National Institutes of Health and Samueli Institute, and working with practitioners and patients using a wide variety of approaches from many medical traditions, I discovered to my astonishment that most of the treatments we think produce healing do not deliver much when exposed to rigorous scientific scrutiny. I also discovered that, despite this, most people get better. There is something we do that helps people heal.
Most people understand healing the way I used to. Whether they believe in modern science and technology, using new drugs, laser or surgical approaches, or whether they seek out ancient and alternative practices like acupuncture or herbs, the draw to believe that treatment agents are producing healing is strong. Yet most people also know something is amiss with modern healthcare. They want something safer, more effective and less costly. They want more value than healthcare delivers.
Most of healing arises from our own inner healing capacity. We have a healing agency that is more powerful than any agent. If we understand how healing really works for the most common conditions, we can take greater control of our own recovery, increase the likelihood that any specific treatment will be effective, prevent many of the diseases of aging, and radically reduce our dependence on the medical industry.
Our healthcare system works quite well for acute illness or injury. However, it works less well for chronic health conditions.
More than half of the top 25 chronic health conditions, including hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, obesity, chronic back pain, asthma, anxiety, and depression, can be managed not primarily with medications, but with lifestyle and alternative approaches. These include better nutrition, physical movement, stress management, sleep, social support, and evidence-based complementary medicine such as yoga, acupuncture, and massage therapy.
Lifestyle factors, including smoking and diet, are the primary causes in seven of 10 deaths and 40 percent of all premature deaths. Social factors, such as poverty, education, racism and the living environment either enable or inhibit a person’s ability to engage in modifying those causes.
Thus, preventing and managing chronic disease requires an approach in which all aspects of a person’s life are considered—one in which the focus is not just on treating disease, but also on promoting health. This requires fully integrating preventive care, complementary care, and self-care into the prevention and treatment of disease, illness, and injury.