Monday, November 5, 2007

What Is Wellness?

We assume we have it, and we take it for granted until we're sick. I'm referring to "wellness." Webster's dictionary defines wellness as "the quality or state of being in good health especially as an actively sought goal." This means we have to make an effort if we want to be healthy -- something many of us don't do.

You probably think of wellness as simply the absence of chronic disease. If you aren't sick, then you must be well. That definition simply won't cut it because it can take years, if not decades, for diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer's to finally emerge. The seeds of chronic disease are planted at an early age, sometimes even as early as our childhood. Our genes, body weight, dietary habits, and physical fitness all determine whether we are in a state of wellness, and whether we are already moving toward chronic disease in the years to come. They also determine whether we have a stealth killer: silent inflammation. Having increased levels of silent inflammation means you are not in a state of wellness. In fact, here's my personal definition of wellness:

Well ness\'well-ness\n: the absence of silent inflammation.

You may be asking yourself, What on earth is silent inflammation? Even more perplexing, How can inflammation be silent? Silent inflammation is simply inflammation that falls below the threshold of perceived pain. That's what makes it so dangerous. You don't take any steps to stop it as it smolders for years, if not decades, eventually erupting into what we call chronic disease.

I can't emphasize enough how strong the link is between silent inflammation and life-threatening chronic diseases. If you have high levels of silent inflammation in your body, even if you are not actively sick, it means that you simply cannot be well.

Ironically, inflammation is the life-saving component of your immune system that helps fend off bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbial invaders. It also helps damaged tissue repair itself from injury. Without inflammation we would be sitting ducks in a very hostile world, with no way to repair the damage constantly being inflicted on us. But inflammation also has a dark side if it isn't turned off. Study after study points to myriad ways in which chronic inflammation does great harm to the body. It has a damaging effect on arteries, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. It destroys nerve cells in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. It depresses the immune system and helps promote the formation of cancerous tumors. In essence, silent inflammation is the polar opposite of wellness. It lays the groundwork for chronic disease. What's more, it has become an epidemic in America -- and threatens to destroy our health care system as we know it.

The good news is that you can do something to alter your future if you're now on a course to chronic disease. You can achieve a state of wellness when it's still early enough to head off heart disease or diabetes. This, of course, requires you to take action. First you need to find out whether you're in a state of wellness or on the path to disease. If you carry excess body fat, eat poorly, and get little exercise, you're probably heading down the wrong track. That should be fairly obvious, but measuring the extent of silent inflammation in your body will reveal just how bad off you really are. What's amazing, though, is that your state of wellness can now be measured scientifically. Blood tests can reveal your level of silent inflammation. If you have high levels, you need to take the next course of action-to move into the Anti Inflammation Zone, which is the pathway back to wellness.


All pain is ultimately due to inflammation. You generally begin to notice inflammation if you have swelling in your joints and tissues, but you really begin to pay attention when it creates pain. This kind of inflammation manifests itself as what I call screaming pain. You know it when you have it, and probably deal with it by reaching for an anti-inflammatory drug like aspirin or ibuprofen. If those over-the-counter drugs don't work, then you may reluctantly go to your physician for more powerful drugs.

If you ask your physician what inflammation actually is, he or she will simply tell you that it's very complex. This is medical shorthand for saying, "I really don't know, but it's probably bad." In fact, the primary focus of medicine since the beginning of time has been the search for compounds that reduce pain. Although pain medications can be very effective at providing temporary relief, they are powerless to stop what's causing the inflammation in the first place.

Let's take this one step further. Let's say you are lucky enough not to have a condition that causes chronic screaming pain. You think you're feelingjust fine. You might still be suffering from the dangerous effects of chronic inflammation that is below the threshold of perceived pain. Your body suffers without complaint from this silent inflammation. You might even consider this to be silent pain. You don't feel the pain of this type inflammation as it relentlessly takes a toll on your brain, your heart, and your immune system.

The Anti-Inflammation Zone
Reversing the Silent Epidemic That's Destroying Our Health. Copyright © by Barry Sears. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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