Scientists expend much time, energy, and money looking into the mechanisms by which life-enhancing methods actually work. What’s the mechanism of action that induces the adaptive response, science wonders?
One of the answers related to changes that occur in the body resides in the nervous and endocrine systems. These are the two great coordinating systems in the body, allowing it to function like a grand orchestra. The exposure to stresses that lead to corrective adaptations and ones that damage, operate through these two systems. It’s important to know how these systems work because this knowledge allows us to identify and to prioritize the strategies we will use in our own disease prevention/life-enhancing strategy.
We needn’t start at square one because many of the conceptual details of health and disease were unearthed many decades, no centuries, before our modern times. The leading 20th-century figure who pointed to stress as a common thread in all diseases was Dr. Hans Selye.
As a young medical student at the University of Prague in 1925, Selye was struck, during a medical lecture, by the similarity of the symptom picture presented by patients diagnosed with different conditions and diseases.
Selye concluded that a similarity of symptom patterns occurred in many, “perhaps even in all,” diseases. He was puzzled that so many different disease-producing agents — such as measles, scarlet fever, influenza, allergies, and infectious disease — led to expressions of the exact same types of symptoms.
Selye was perplexed that since the very dawn of medical history, physicians have attempted to distinguish and to name individual diseases and to discover remedies that were specific for the named disease, rather than to direct their attention to the much more obvious “syndrome of just being sick.” But it was only in the 18th century that the idea of organ or location, gained popularity. Previously, attention focused on the disruptions to the whole organism, that disease was a function of a disharmony in the whole body.
Selye concluded that it might be more important to learn something about the mechanism of being sick and about the means of treating the general characteristics of sickness that seemed to him to be superimposed upon all individual, specific diseases. He believed that — if science could determine the mechanisms of response by means of which Nature defends against a wide variety of injuries and assaults — we could learn how to improve and further stimulate this in-born healing, defensive reaction.
The notion of the body possessing a natural, in-born defense system has been with us for thousands of years. Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, taught his disciples in Greece that disease is not only suffering, but also toil: the “toil” (the fight) of the body to restore itself to balance.
These early medical workers believed strongly in a vis medicatrix naturae that’s described as the healing force of Nature, i.e., the ability of the organism (body) to heal itself by using its own in-born resources.
This important point, despite being constantly rediscovered over the years, isn’t yet generally understood even today. It leads us to believe that disease isn’t a mere surrender to attack, but also a fight for health; unless there’s a fight, there’s no disease. An understanding of these concepts is critical in choosing therapeutic programs that assist a sick body in its effort to regain health or a healthy body to become healthier.
In the late 1800’s, physiologists taught that one of the most characteristic features of all living beings is their ability to maintain the constancy of their internal milieu (internal core or biological terrain) despite changes in the surrounding external environment. This means that the physical properties and the chemical composition of our body fluids and tissues tend to remain remarkably constant despite all the changes going on around us.
Whenever this self-regulating power fails, there’s disease or even death.