OXFORD — Health is not the absence of disease. Optimal health occurs when all the systems within a human being are functioning in perfect harmony.

Our current health care bureaucracy is mainly focused on sickness. It might better be called “sickcare.” We go to the doctor when we are sick in order for the sickness to be “cured.”

In optimal health, as opposed to sickcare, the immune system functions optimally. David L. Woodland, immunologist at the Trudeau Institute, has said, “The immune system is directly related to your general state of health.” The more optimal the state of health, the better the immune system keeps us healthy. It is a self-perpetuating process.

In sickcare, the body is primed to become sick again after a cure, perpetuating a cycle of sickness and non-sickness often ending in chronic disease.

Being optimally healthy is based upon a crucial organizing principle.

Mind and body work as a single entity. If professionals choose to view that single entity from different vantage points, it does not change the fact that the body is designed to function as a whole. The current distinction between mind and body, mental health and physical health, is a major block to the achievement of optimum health.

An example: Stress is currently considered a mental health problem. It is usually referred to a mental health professional. An almost instantaneous response to stress is a dramatic change in body chemistry. That is the bailiwick of a medical doctor. It makes no sense to view a complex system piecemeal. Stress affects the entire body and must be examined holistically.

In pursuit of optimal health, care should be a continuous loop. Prenatal care, for example, does not begin at the time of conception. It begins with the health of both parents. They are prime conditioners of the egg and sperm that will combine to affect the health of the new life.

Here’s what I think would support optimal health:

At the outset, when a person, not a patient, enters a health care facility, he or she should get a baseline evaluation. All subsystems should be subject to examination by a team of people schooled in the ways the many parts of the body are interrelated: how they function seamlessly on a moment-by-moment basis. It is the responsibility of that team to understand the person as a unique individual.

The evaluation is the basis for the care of that individual. A generalist, trained to work with people on a one-to-one basis, should be in charge of ongoing contact with the person. His or her goal is to be a guide and interpreter of knowledge gained from the evaluation. Maintenance of optimal health requires lifetime continuity with regular re-evaluations.

Expensive? Sure, in the short run, but not in the long run. People who are well do not get “sick” as often as those who are not well. People who are well are happier, more energetic, more involved in their lives than those who are not well.

It is just possible that people who are well will not pick up an assault weapon and commit murder. People who are well are less likely to feel vulnerable or fearful. Less fearful people are less aggressive. Think about fewer jails or wars or other human plagues.

The above is not presented as a plan of action. Rather, it is a plea for concerted study of the implications of setting a goal of optimal health care. That study must include the multitude of factors that influence health. The external environment is an integral part of optimal health care.

Professional education, child-rearing practices, life in communities, the meaning of work and play, the way we carry on economics and industry would all be subject to change in order to foster optimal health. The ways we treat each other and ourselves would have to change.

Poverty, inequality, injustice all contribute to unhealthful living. Overpopulation, scarcity, pollution, unemployment are likewise optimal health antagonists.

We don’t consider these variables as part of health care when we use a sickcare model. That must change.

Abandoning sickcare to adopt optimal health care would produce a sea change in the way we live our lives. It is a better way. To begin the process, conceive of its possibility. Once it is conceivable, it becomes possible. If it is possible, it can be done.

— Special to the Press Herald