I know many of the HIV threads here get very tedious and repetitive, but occasionally interesting things come out of them. Believe it or not, I’ve learned a lot about HIV denial over the past year and a half or so. I’ve long been familiar with Duesberg’s objections, but it wasn’t until more recently that I realized there still were active denial groups around, and even wholesale germ theory deniers. So to me, the threads aren’t all wasted.
Anyway, in one of the ongoing threads, there was discussion of one commenter’s “natural” remedies, and her claim that “Germs cannot get a strong-hold in a healthy environment.”
I noted that wasn’t true, and that healthy people came down with illness every day, giving the example of the role a robust immune system played in the 1918 influenza pandemic.
Pope then asked if it had ever occurred to me “that people might be more than what you call the ‘immune system’?”
Of course, regular readers know that certainly, I realize this. I’ve talked about disease resulting from the intersection of not only host and microbial factors, but as a result of the interaction of these with the environment (both within the host and externally) as well. However, while I’ve spent a lot of time discussing disease, I don’t remember a post specifically defining “health.” More on that after the jump.
As I mentioned later in that thread, during my time at the University of Michigan, the school of public health had a mural when you entered the building. I can’t find it online at the moment, but it was something along the lines of “health is more than the absence of disease: it is a state of complete physical and mental well-being.” There is a similar sentiment in the public health corridor here in Iowa. Health isn’t simply the default state when one is disease-free; it’s also being emotionally well, and of having rights and liberties in a free society.
However, many of these more holistic versions of “health” are quite difficult to quantitate biomedically. How does one measure “complete physical and mental well-being?” It’s very difficult–therefore, we typically employ a more reductionist view to measure different variables. For example, we have surveys that can be suggestive of one’s emotional well-being. We have many measurements and biomarkers that can give us an idea of one’s physical well-being, such as weight, BMI, heart rate, cholesterol levels, and yes, a number of markers related to the immune system. So therefore, in the literature, “health” does tend to get broken up into discrete numbers or characterizations that can be more easily examined, even though most of us do realize that “health” goes far beyond these numerical measurements (and far beyond the immune system), many times reductionism is a useful tool to get at one piece of the puzzle.
The key, to me, is to *realize* that this is a reductionist view, and that “health” encompasses much more. The challenge for folks like the commenter I mentioned, however, is that if they argue that we must always use a more holistic view of health in our research, that they give us a workable way to define and quantitate this for our studies.