Return to Health

By Todd Mangum

by Todd Mangum, M.D.

Western medicine’s 300-year-old mechanistic view of the body is due for a major upset as more people (and their caregivers) gravitate to a new model of wellness care that puts the person’s health, not the disease, at the center.

Consider this: Although a pharma­ceutical exists to treat nearly every ailment and illness, not a single illness or ailment is due to a deficiency of even one pharmaceutical. Although numerous diseases and disorders are due to deficiencies of amino acids, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, physicians rarely prescribe or even recommend using them for treatment and doubt nutritional supplements have any significant therapeutic value at all

It’s no secret medical training is brutal. Beginning in the third year of medical school and continuing until the end of residency, doctors in training are required to work 24- to 36-hour shifts at least once every four days, often for months before getting a break. Every morning on hospital rounds the ritual of “pimping” takes place. Pimping involves superiors asking questions intended to make subordinates feel stupid and inferior. Both patient and peers are often witness to one’s failure. Then, later that day, lunch is provided by the good graces of a pharmaceutical company along with a thoughtfully prepared educational lecture about its newest drug.

So what do sleep deprivation, humiliation and reprogramming amount to? Brainwashing. Through its massive funding of medical education and research and its astronomical advertising budgets, the pharmaceutical industry has convinced most physicians and a large part of our society that the ways of nature are inherently inferior to anything created by man.

Their message has been that natural remedies such as herbs and supplements are either completely benign (read “useless”), or they are poisonous and therefore deadly. We’ve been convinced that, for a substance to be truly effective and safe, it must be a pharmaceutical.

Misguided by the media and our own doctors, we question the safety of herbs and supplements. We then accept the toxic chemicals that come with our food, bodycare products and building and cleaning supplies.

Consider this: Although a pharma­ceutical exists to treat nearly every ailment and illness, not a single illness or ailment is due to a deficiency of even one pharmaceutical. Although numerous diseases and disorders are due to deficiencies of amino acids, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, physicians rarely prescribe or even recommend using them for treatment and doubt nutritional supplements have any significant therapeutic value at all.

Since most medications treat the symptoms, not the source of a disease, once started they are needed for life. In addition, many side effects from the medications in turn need to be medicated. Fanning the flames of the pharmaceutical frenzy virtually guarantees astronomical profits for the drug companies while failing to provide real solutions for the the patient’s original problems. This brilliant but diabolical scheme may be good capitalism but it’s bad medicine.

When medical specialists can’t see the organism for the organs, patients become fragmented. Once fragmented, each piece can be isolated and treated without the confounding and complicated relationships; interconnections that make us whole are no longer a concern.

In the West we have created a medical system based on a 300-year-old mechanistic worldview, one that presumes the universe to be nothing more than collection of lifeless parts spinning meaninglessly through space. In the Eastern traditions, such as in Chinese medicine, the body is viewed as a microcosm mirroring the macrocosm of nature and the forces that created us. In­stead, our medical model is based upon a comparison of our bodies to the inanimate machines we have created.

This mechanistic philosophy, which separates our minds from our bodies and our bodies from nature, fueled the creation of a medical system which no longer honors the partnership between practitioner and patient for the cultivation of health. We now wage war on disease in the battleground of our bodies, where the physician is the commander in chief who prefers strategic bombing over tactical effectiveness.

Rather than creating a harmonious balance between ourselves and the natural world we inhabit, our current model has given us the false impression that we have both the right and the power to dominate and, if necessary, destroy all of nature—which includes our bodies until they conform to our will. Caught in the crossfire of this struggle for power, it is the patient who continues to suffer.

To its credit, Western medicine has developed an extremely skilled critical care system to diagnose and treat serious illnesses, handle emergencies and correct myriad structural problems. Over the last century, medical technology has advanced by leaps and bounds. Blinded by the brilliance of these medical marvels, we have failed to see that our medical philosophy itself has been kept unenlightened and is now antiquated.

We are trying to solve our nation’s heath care crisis with the same flawed logic that has caused it. Our efforts will be fruitless if we continue to snip and prune only the branches and refuse to address and resolve the root of the problem.

We’ve been bamboozled to accept that suppressing the symptoms of an illness is equivalent to curing it and hoodwinked to believe wellness is simply the absence of disease. In other words, medicine has misplaced its focus on disabling the fire alarms while essentially ignoring the fires.

If our fire department made a similar mistake we’d soon have a colossal fire care crisis. Blind to the problem, we’d be oblivious to the solution, and instead hire more firemen to silence an ever-increasing number of screeching alarms needed by failing to put out the fires in the first place.

Our failure to provide adequate health care for every citizen is not because of insufficient funds, but because the foundations of our medical system are themselves fundamentally insufficient. We will never fix our nation’s “health care crisis” until we realize the real problem: that we do not have a health care system. Western allopathic medicine is a disease care system whose focus is the suppression of symptoms, not the restoration of health. Until we change the model, no amount of money will solve the problem.

The problems we face with our medical system are only reflections of a much larger problem. Our cultural paradigm itself is flawed.

What has happened to our health, our wholeness, our holiness is that we have lost the view of everything as sacred. We no longer realize we are part of a conscious, living universe. We can’t figure out what is the matter because we have forgotten that all matter is alive and all life matters. We have torn humanity from the fabric of life and the reverence for life from our hearts. The love of power has replaced the power of love as our culture’s highest ideal, leaving within us a vast, empty void that we have been we have been voraciously trying to fill ever since. The cultural idea of happiness now lies in ever-increasing production and consumption. To accommodate this need, we’ve allowed corporations to become irresponsible entities.

Growth for growth’s sake has become our motto. But growth for growth’s sake is also the ideology of a cancer cell—one cell which once lived cooperatively within the community of all other cells, who one day decides it has a right to all the resources available without regard to the problems it may cause others. It’s a cell, you might say, who suddenly thinks it’s the pinnacle of creation, divinely chosen to go forth and multiply.

The Hopi word koyaanisqatsi sums up our current state of affairs. It means “life out of balance” or “a state of life that calls for a new way of living.” A new way of living is needed locally and globally. How can we satisfy the needs of individuals and institutions as well as the needs of the planet? We need a model that puts life at the center.

It is time for a new model that treats the whole person, not just an isolated part or diseased organ.

Practitioners are already working to formulate a comprehensive and internally consistent worldview which is life-affirming and puts the patient’s health, not the disease, at its center. Core to this philosophy is the idea that health is more than the absence of disease and that we can all potentially achieve our own optimal state of health and well-being.

Like our medical system today, tomorrow’s health care system will be made up of many specialties linked through a common philosophy. These practices will consist of a team of healers which may include surgeons, acupuncturists, homeopaths, medical intuitives, body workers, counselors, herbalists, midwives, internists, family practitioners, psychologists and others working together for personal and planetary health.

In the coming months in a series of articles we will explore just what a real health care system can look like.

Todd Mangum, M.D., is a physician in family practice at the Web of Life Wellness Center in Salt Lake City. This is a bit of a manifesto that sets the stage for the practical, hands-on year-long series that begins next month.

This article was originally published on February 28, 2010.