If you are just joining us, we are on a mission to learn about health by exploring the concept of frailty: what goes wrong when the systems of our bodies break down. But more importantly, we are examining what you can do to prevent our body systems from breaking down in the first place and how to support them if things start to go wrong.
Last week, we outlined the different windows we are going to be looking through in this series: inflammatory, endocrine, skeletal, neurological and integrative.
Sometimes, the best way to figure out how a complex system (like the body) works is to reverse engineer it. Reverse engineering is a process of taking the end product and breaking it down into its component parts in order to figure out how it works. Recently, I had the privilege of taking my dryer apart. I had no idea how it really worked and if you asked me to build one, I couldn't do it. But, with the help of Youtube, I was able to break it down and replace a number of different parts. Would you want to call me to come fix your dryer? Probably not. But I could most likely carry on a reasonable conversation with you or a repairman about the basics of how it worked. That is what we want to do with your body: give you a framework for how it should operate, then you can, on your own and with the help of various others, get and keep it working as best as possible!
What Your Doctor Typically Sees
In the last blog post, I introduced the journal article that inspired me to begin this series. The best description I have found of how traditional medicine looks at "health" (and frailty) is found in that journal article:
"Most practitioners of medicine have been trained to focus on specific medical diseases when approaching a patient. Frailty (and health) does not fit neatly into that practice pattern, because it is almost never the basis for a "chief complaint", and it's presence is often subtle or asymptomatic. Instead frailty is evident over time through an excess vulnerability to stressors, with reduced ability to maintain or regain homeostasis after a destabilizing event."
Mainline medicine and some of us as chiropractors often look for the disease and not the state of well-being and health of the patient. Now, don't get me wrong, this definitely needs to be considered, However, so many conditions that patients present with initially are not life threatening, but, if left uninterrupted, will become that way. Many patients are satisfied that they are not going to "die" and, since there is no medication to prescribe yet, patients are sent on their way until the condition becomes critical and available for more aggressive medical intervention. This is actually the start of frailty!
Lego Patterns in Health and Disease aka "Fractals"
Fractals are geometric sub-units that resemble larger-scale units. Consider the Mallard duck in the picture - he is made up of repeating small plastic bricks. If you took him apart, you would have numerous bricks that looked very much alike and only varied slightly in color and size. There would be a number of different groups (green ones, brown ones, three blockers, four blockers, etc) with a number of members, but they would all be roughly the same.
Your body is similar - you have millions of different cells that have some very common components, but that can vary slightly from others. Like the Lego duck, they can be put together as units to make an amazing thing: you!
Let's return to the duck for a moment: how many green blocks could you take away before he stopped looking like a duck? If you took away all of the yellow blocks, but left the rest, you might think you saw a duck, but would you? What if our Lego duck suddenly came to life missing half of his yellow blocks? Could he function? How well?
FRACTALS = FRAILTY = HEALTH AND WELLNESS
Again, quoting from the Journal of American Geriatric Society:
"Many anatomical structures and physiological processes such as alveoli (building blocks of the respiratory system), neural networks, and bony trabecula have such repeating sub-units and therefore fractal properties. It was theorized that, in part, a progressive loss of complexity in the fractal architecture of atomic structures and dynamics of physiological processes can characterize both aging and frailty (and I would say health and wellness!). This loss of structural and functional complexity may impair and organism's ability to communicate within and between systems and to adapt to stress."
In short, you don't break down overnight and you don't get healthy overnight. I didn't wake up one morning and say "Holy cow! Where did all my hair go?" No one goes to bed without diabetes and wakes up with it the next day. No one trains for a marathon by running only a mile. Health and Frailty are accomplished, in large, by only one way:
ONE BRICK AT A TIME!
In health care, we are trained to look at the different systems of the body and how they operate, mostly in disease and sometimes health. That, by default, is also how most of us view our bodies. If it isn't throwing up a lot of resistance in the way of pain or dysfunction, we just ignore it! If you want to feel, look and function your best for as long as you can, it is time to start focusing on the body as a whole, the way it operates day to day. You were created to function as a complex and beautiful integrated being; stop taking that for granted! Next week, we will start looking at the individual systems evaluated in frailty and health, starting with the inflammatory.
I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!
Yours in Health,
Doug Williams, D.C. Care Chiropractic Lafayette, Indiana