Disease as a solution: the unexplored hypothesis
Before deciding to post this article on Medium, I explored the possibility of publishing it in some medical journals. Of course, I did so without being particularly optimistic, its content being decidedly in contrast with the dominant medical thought. The first attempt I made was with the journal Medical Hypothesis (Elsevier). The Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Manku, wrote to me that “On balance, I feel that this interesting study/observations is not appropriate for this particular journal but should be submitted to a more specialized journal”. This was a little surprising commentary to me, since in my view the article was much more “generalistic” than “specialistic”, also considering that I’m not a physician, or a medical researcher, but a physicist. Then, I submitted it to a journal which is definitely used to published unconventional voices, the Journal of Scientific Exploration, of the Society of Scientific Exploration, of which, by the way, I’m also a member. Here the Editor-in-Chief, Stephen E. Braude, wrote to me that my paper is thoughtful, but not quite within the JSE’s purview. Following that second refusal, I tried the journal Explore (Elsevier). The reviewer wrote to me that the paper was “biologically not well motivated” and that “nothing new was to be found in it”. Clearly, these are two mutually contradicting statements. Also, my intention with the paper was to invite the scientific community to have a closer look at one of our core assumptions about what health and healing are, and explore new possible insights that can be obtained by reversing our usual perspective. Hence, it is an invitation to find, if any, those precise biological “motivations” in support of the thesis. Anyhow, not knowing that I did so already, the Co Editor-in-Chief of the journal, parapsychologist Dean Radin, suggested that I should send the paper to the journal Medical Hypothesis… My next attempt was Springer’s Acta Biotheoretica. Its Editor-in-Chief, Frans Jacobs, wrote that, “after considering your article and in agreement with the conclusion of my associate editor I have decided not to send out the article for external review. Though the manuscript provides an intriguing new philosophical perspective on the nature of disease, it fails to engage with the existing literature on health and disease. We would welcome a new submission of this material with proper reference to its position in ongoing debates about the nature of disease.” I must admit that this is a fair criticism. Not being directly involved in medical research, I understand that my essay is not adequate as regards the inclusion (and discussion) of references to authors and works who have possibly presented similar ideas, in the context of different approaches to medicine, allopathic, complementary, preventive, traditional, etc. Too bad that the reviewer did not help me in this regard (sometimes it happens that a reviewer takes the trouble and time to improve an article, providing the submitting author the missing information, but unfortunately this is nowadays increasingly rare). Long story short, I decided that the nature of this article is too “hybrid” (and also too long) to easily find a venue in an academic journal. At the same time, I think the ideas it contains are important to ponder, so in the end I decided to publish it here on Medium. I hope you will enjoy.
We suggest that disease, a state usually interpreted as a problem requiring a solution, could be in itself a solution. Founding our analysis on an ultra-simplified model of the human being, we find that the problem for which disease would be a solution can be traced back to a situation of lack of proper nutrients and intoxication. We encourage the pursuit of new lines of medical research based on this inverted disease-solution paradigm, with the aim of facilitating the obtainment of a more lasting state of health, not reducible to a mere absence of disease. We also emphasize that the interpretation of disease as a useful process does not necessarily imply that it wouldn’t be strategic, in some circumstances, to suppress the disease-solution, as is clear that not all solutions are risk-free. However, from the viewpoint of our hypothesis, therapeutic efforts should never primarily concentrate on suppressing symptoms, but instead on increasing the psychophysical resources. Our hope is that this change of perspective, if explored without prejudice, can give birth to a new category of pro-symptom patients, more responsible for their health and more proactive in preserving it, as well as to a new category of pro-symptom physicians, more oriented towards prevention and more collaborative with the solutions that are expressed by their patients’ organisms.
Generally speaking, disease is understood as a state associated with specific symptoms and signs, negatively affecting an individual’s life by altering the structure and/or function of some organs and tissues (organic disease) and/or by affecting cognitive processes, emotions and behaviors (mental disease). Apart the case of congenital diseases (like genetic diseases), which would require a separate discussion, beyond the scope of this article, disease is something that appears at some point in the course of an individual’s life, and because of its association with unpleasant and painful symptoms, dysfunctions and abnormal behaviors, possibly also leading to death, it is generally interpreted as the expression of a problem in need of a solution. Consequently, a treatment that is carried out to facilitate or to allow an individual’s recovery of the lost state of health is generally interpreted as a solution to the problem posed by disease.
The hypothesis proposed here offers a very different perspective: one where disease is not interpreted as being the expression of a problem, but of a solution. The main interest of this inverted perspective is that it then allows to ask an important question, which is the following:
If disease is a solution, and not a problem, what is the problem it would be a solution for?
It is the purpose of the present article to propose a general answer to the above question, based on an ultra-simplified model of a living entity, and to suggest that by possibly mistaking a solution for a problem the risk is that we have embarked on a dead end that might explain the current health crisis, with the observed growth of systemic and degenerative diseases.
2. Problems and solutions
First thing, we need to clarify how the notions of solution and problem have to be understood in the present context and how they relate to the notion of goal. Reality expresses a natural resistance to change, as it provides support to a vast number of competing alternatives of change. Problems can therefore be understood as the manifestation of solutions (processes) promoting possibilities that are incompatible with our goals. Generally speaking, a goal is something that we want to achieve; a problem is what prevents us from doing so, acting as an obstacle, and a solution is what allows us to reach the goal, despite the presence of the obstacle. In other words, the triad “problem-solution-goal” characterizes the possibility of a process of change.
According to the standard view, asserting that disease is a problem, the goal disease would prevent us to achieve is that of health, usually understood as a mere absence of disease. The solution that is typically adopted to achieve the goal of health, when the obstacle of disease stands in its way, is to receive a medical treatment. To simplify the discussion, in the following we will consider the prescription and taking of a drug as the paradigmatic medical treatment adopted to overcome disease, when understood as a problem. The achievement of the goal of health is then typically associated with the disappearance of the symptoms associated with disease, when a suitable drug is taken.
A first difficulty inherent in the above vision is that since people tend to get sick again and again, this means that the problem of the unpleasant symptoms is not permanently solved. However, a problem should be said to be solved only if it is permanently solved or, to put it differently, a goal should be said to be achieved only if it is achieved in a stable way. (Here we are interpreting the symptoms of different diseases as being part of a same “syndrome,” which manifests through a succession of pathological episodes that are usually considered to be unrelated, in the sense of not being attributable to a same set of contributing causes, capable over time to sequentially produce different effects. See the discussion in Section 7.) This simple observation is sufficient to question the standard assumption that disease would be comparable to a problem. Indeed, if a problem does not generally admit a solution (i.e., a permanent one), then it has to be understood as a false problem (or apparent problem), generated by an unattainable goal. In other words, something generated by the choice of an impossibility rather than a possibility. And if we consider the escalating cost of healthcare per capita, in the industrialized countries, this seems to confirm that health, understood as a mere absence of disease, is an unattainable goal.
Coming to the hypothesis of the present article, if disease is a solution, instead of a problem, what problem would it try to solve? Or, to put it differently: what goal would it try to achieve? Well, the goal is always the same, that of health, but then not anymore to be understood as a mere absence of disease.
3. Real and apparent health
If what we usually consider to be an obstacle, standing between us and the goal of health, is instead what allows us to reach that goal, the following question arises:
How did we mistake a solution for a problem?
To answer this question, we have to start by redefining health. As a first step, we can simply observe that health is a state that can be lost. This is the reason why health is often associated with the outcome-state of a healing process. Disease would then be a process (a solution) that allows this to happen. In other words, the hypothesis that disease is a solution means that disease would be nothing but a self-healing process. Of course, to say that health is a state that we recover upon completion of a disease process is an obvious and uncontroversial statement. What is less obvious, however, and certainly controversial, is to equate the process of disease itself with a self-healing process.
Going one step further, it is also uncontroversial to say that when we speak of health, we speak of the state of a living entity (to be understood as a condition of dynamic equilibrium with its environment). A state is characterized by a certain set of properties, those that precisely need to be actual for the entity in question to be in that state. Some of these properties can be assessed by third-person observations, other by first-person observations. Concerning the latter, one of the most significant properties of the state of health is that of being pleasant. In other words: health is a pleasant state. Here we will consider as pleasant any sensation that is not in itself painful.
As is well-known, the utility of pain is to transmit information that can promote a timely action to prevent an organism to suffer structural damage. This means that all damaging stimuli, internal or external, are potentially painful. Roughly speaking, we can distinguish two typologies of pain. There is a first pain that helps us not to hurt ourselves (like the one that makes us withdraw our hand when we touch a burning object, communicated by the so-called nociceptors) and a second pain that, if we cannot avoid an injury, helps us to heal, forcing us to minimize any possible interference in the natural healing process (hyperesthesia).
In general, this condition of non-interference with the healing process occurs when we keep the injured part protected and at rest. If this happens, this second form of pain can also decrease considerably, or even cease completely. So, in the same way that pain informs us of the need to adopt an appropriate protective behavior, the absence of pain, i.e., the return to potentially pleasant sensations, informs us of the cessation of an aggression and that the healing process is in progress.
So, to return to the question of why it is easy to confuse a real (long-lasting) health with an apparent one, unstably reachable following for example the taking of a drug, a possible answer is that both are characterized by the cessation of pain, and therefore by the emergence of potentially pleasant sensations. But of course, pain and the cause of pain are not one and the same thing. Pain can cease for two distinct reasons: (a) the action of the informant is no longer necessary, as the danger has ceased, and the necessary protective measures have been activated; (b) the informant was unable to transmit its message.
Unfortunately, the elimination of unpleasant symptoms, typically obtained by taking medications, most often corresponds to the elimination of the useful informant and not to the cessation of the still ongoing aggression, for which the informant tried to solicit an adequate response. In that respect, medications might act as powerful anesthetics, which by eliminating the painful symptoms associated with the disease process also eliminate the sensory information associated with them, exposing the organism to all sorts of possible dangers.
Following this line of thought, it is conceivable to argue that, in their overall action, treatments are like ultra-solutions that we enforce on our organisms to fight diseases, i.e., to neutralize solutions the aim of which is to promote self-healing. By the term “ultra-solution” we mean here a process that sets itself the unattainable objective of permanently neutralizing another process that, by its very nature, can only be temporarily neutralized. In that respect, ultra-solutions are false solutions, or apparent solutions, which by aiming at a false goal they unfailingly end up reaching the opposite goal (Watzlawick 1988).
In the past, doctors used to say that disease has to run its course. Today, with some exceptions, they don’t say that anymore. Today’s doctors and patients no longer align with the objective of disease understood as a solution. Their goal has changed. If the hypothesis proposed in this article is correct (or partially correct), their goal has become that of a false health made of absence of disease. And to achieve such goal, ultra-solutions, like taking medications, are systematically employed. However, they have to be repeatedly dispensed, since the false problem of disease will inevitably reappear.
This could explain why people’s health is today increasingly compromised. Although certain diseases of the past have disappeared from our wealthy societies, others are booming, like colds and flus, neuroses, allergies, chronic tiredness, depressions, phobias, panic attacks, obsessions, digestive problems, obesity, metabolic disorders like diabetes, skin problems, eating disorders, cardiovascular diseases, rheumatisms, autoimmune diseases, tumors, AIDS, and numerous other chronic degenerative conditions.
At this point one might ask:
If disease is a self-healing process whose purpose is to bring the organism back to a condition of optimal functionality, called health, within the limits allowed by the available resources, does this mean, in particular, that microbes should not be considered to be responsible for diseases?
Within the paradigm of the thesis presented in this article, the answer to this question is negative. Microbes are indeed to be counted among the vehicles of those powerful solutions we call diseases, their main task being apparently that of demolishing degenerate structures and recycling the toxic substances and metabolic wastes present in our organisms. If this is correct, when we uncritically eliminate pathogenic microbes from our body (not to mention those that everybody consensually considers useful), we also eliminate potentially useful solutions, without bothering to replace them with more efficient and effective ones.
But it is now time to address the crucial question of identifying the problem disease would be a solution for. To offer a possible answer, we must first introduce an ultra-simplified model of a living entity, which will help us describing and analyzing in very general terms the dynamics expressed by the disease-solution.
5. An ultra-simplified model
Our model is based on the observation that a living organism is an open dynamical system capable of self-regulating by exchanging all sorts of substances with its environment, selectively opening or closing with respect to them, depending on the circumstances. It is then easy to convince oneself that there are only 3 possible fundamental movements of substance for an organism:
(a) absorption, or interiorization;
(b) emission, or exteriorization;
(c) adaptation, or internal reorganization.
We also assume that the organism in question pursues a specific life goal. For the sake of our discussion it will be sufficient to assume that such goal is that of survival (not necessarily only individual, but also, possibly, of the entire species to which it belongs). Of course, in case of complex cognitive entities, like human beings, survival can be considered to be only a sub-goal of a more far reaching goal, like for instance that of growing in knowledge.
Bearing in mind that our model is deliberately ultra-simplified, we now introduce a general goal-dependent classification of the substances that a living entity is able to come in contact with. We only consider two categories: toxic substances and nutritive substances. More precisely, a substance will be said to be nutritive (respectively, toxic) for a given living entity if it is able to promote (respectively, to hinder) the achievement of the life goal of that entity (for example, its survival).
Note that this classification is not only goal-dependent, but also contextual, in the sense that the classification of a substance as either toxic or nutritive also depends on the environment in which it is located, the circumstances of the moment and the available resources. Sometimes, paradoxically, the best strategy for achieving an objective is precisely that which contemplates a temporary process of an opposite nature. Think of a metal bar that you want to straighten and the fact that it might be useful first to “loosen it” by bending it even more, to then be able to straighten it more easily.
That being said, it follows from the above that it is in principle possible to subdivide each of the three above-mentioned fundamental movements (interiorization, exteriorization and reorganization) into two more specific sub-processes, which are the following:
(1) absorption of toxic substances = intoxication;
(2) absorption of nutritive substances = nutrition;
(3) emission of toxic substances = detoxification;
(4) emission of nutritive substances = deficiency;
(5) adaptation to toxic substances = degeneration;
(6) adaptation to nutritive substances = regeneration.
We already mentioned that health should be understood as a condition of dynamic equilibrium of an organism with its environment. More precisely, health can be defined as an optimal condition of stable dynamical equilibrium, perceived as well-being, in which an organism manifests an optimal functionality. This state of dynamical equilibrium is to be considered stable in the sense that an organism that is in good health has the ability to promptly restore it, by means of appropriate self-regulating mechanisms, whenever it is altered by environmental stimuli of aggressive nature. Disease, interpreted as a self-healing process, would then be exactly this: a self-regulating process whose purpose is the restoration of that state of dynamical homeostasis that is health.
Homeostasis should be understood here not only as the stability of the internal functions of an organism, in response to external stimuli that continuously try to alter them, but also, and more generally, as a complex adaptive mechanism (hormesis) that produces continuous changes aimed at harmonizing the internal environment with the external one. This means that health, as a state, also depends on the environmental conditions.
If the substances present in the environment of an organism undergo radical changes in a too short time, such organism would ipso facto lose its state of health, as the latter precisely expresses a viable equilibrium in the exchange between internal substances (present in the organism) and external substances (present in the environment). For example, below certain values, the ingestion of environmental toxins has no detectable consequences for the health of an organism, which thanks to the relevant excretory systems can promptly and effectively eliminate them from its system, leaving no traces. But each organism, depending on its characteristics, the inner resources it has access to and the nature of the aggressive substances with which it comes into contact, has a very personal breaking threshold, beyond which the structural integrity can no longer be ensured. When this happens, the organism has to implement an exceptional strategy aimed at restoring its integrity and balance, i.e., at recovering its lost state of health. When this strategy is manifested by means of measurable symptoms, we are dealing with what is usually called a disease, here interpreted as a biological solution.
We are now in a position to answer the question we addressed at the end of the previous section: If disease is a solution, what problem does it solve? According to the aforementioned model and the different possible typologies off exchange of substances with the external environment, there are only two processes which, if promoted to the bitter end, are capable of compromising the functionality and development of a living entity. These correspond to the processes (1) and (4) indicated above: intoxication and deficiency (of nutrients). This means that following our definition of disease, and our ultra-simplified model, the onset of a disease is to be understood as the consequence of an intoxication-deficiency process.
In the ambit of our toy model, this is the only possible cause of disease. Indeed, the absorption of toxins/poisons and the loss of nutrients are the only two exchanges of substance with the external environment that are capable of negatively affecting the homeostatic balance of a living entity. Note that even an accident, like breaking a leg, can be understood as a process of absorption of a toxic substance. Here we have to understand the term “substance” in a broad sense, including also the propagation of a compression wave ensuing a mechanical shock. Following the latter, numerous cells and tissues in the body will be destroyed, thus forming a toxic mass of dead or damaged cells and tissues that were not present prior to the accident.
Note also that the toxic or nutritive nature of a substance also depends on the amount that is ingested in a given time period. As an example, we all know that water is fundamental for our survival. However, drinking too much water in a too short lapse of time can produce an electrolytical shock and become life-threatening.
A metaphor à la Dirac
Clearly, the problem of an intoxication can only be solved by means of an inverse detoxification process, and a problem of deficiency can only be solved by means of an inverse nutritional process. However, most of the substances used in today’s medical treatments are certainly not comparable to nutrients, but rather to toxins with all sorts of negative side effects (it is maybe no coincidence that the term “pharmacology” derives from the Greek “pharmakon,” meaning remedy, but also poison). Therefore, in principle they cannot solve the fundamental problem of intoxication-deficiency, and in the long run they will make it even worse (certainly so if nothing else is undertaken in conjunction with their intake).
Note that intoxication and deficiency can be seen as the two sides of a single medal: the higher the level of intoxication of an organism, the higher also its nutritional deficiency, and vice versa. To explain this last statement, it is instructive to briefly mention Dirac’s hole theory.
Dirac was one of the founders of quantum theory, as well as the discoverer of one of the most beautiful and remarkable equations of modern physics, that today bears his name. Thanks to his equation, Dirac was able to provide an adequate explanation of the properties of individual electrons, only starting from very general hypotheses. His equation, however, presented a serious difficulty: the existence of negative energy solutions, which from an interpretative point of view made no sense.
Dirac then hypothesized that these negative energy solutions described an infinite sea of electrons. Following this hypothesis, every time an electron jumped out of Dirac’s sea, it left a hole in its place, and Dirac discovered that these holes behaved like particles, whose nature, however, was antithetical to that of the electrons. In this way, he was able to predict the existence of antimatter (Dirac 1928).
Instead of Dirac’s sea of electrons, we can now consider the structure of an organism. In very general terms (and always considering that we are reasoning here in the ambit of an ultra-simplified model), we can view a toxic substance as a substance having a corrosive action, generating holes in the healthy structure of an organism, producing in this way its degeneration. Nutrients, on the other hand, can be viewed as substances having a constructive action, able to fill the holes that are present in a living structure. This means that the overall effect of a toxin, generating a hole, is to also create a deficiency of vital substances, i.e., a deficit of nutrients, precisely those that are needed in order to regenerate the tissues that were compromised. And if these nutritive substances are not obtained from the environment, they have to be taken from the inner reserves, if available, or from other healthy tissues.
Nutrients are of course also necessary to carry out the normal functions of an organism. So, regardless of the level of absorption of toxins from the surrounding environment, if an organism is not adequately nourished (qualitatively and quantitatively), the depredation of nutritive substances from its own cells and tissues (cellular cannibalism, autolysis) will end up promoting the decay of these structures, with a consequent increase in endogenous toxicity.
Following our toy model, we explained that the fundamental cause of disease can be assumed to be a process of intoxication-deficiency, and that disease would then be a biological solution activated by an organism in order to promote a reverse process of detoxification-nutrition. Of course, for this process to be effective, the availability of suitable nutrients (macro and micro) is needed, to be used to eliminate the toxins and repair of the damaged tissues, as well as to supply the entire organism with new reserves to face future possible aggressions with a sufficient safety margin. However, not all solutions need to be pleasant, nor free from danger: all depends on the nature of the problem to be solved and the resources effectively available.
More precisely, the more an intoxication-deficiency problem aggravates and becomes widespread within an organism, and the more the disease-solutions that are cyclically activated will become unpleasant and dangerous, up to the moment when the only possible solution will be that involving the death of the organism itself.
The reason why there is usually an escalation in the seriousness of the problem causing the activation of the disease-solution, is that instead of collaborating with the latter, favoring the detoxification of the organism and a higher intake of high-quality nutrients, the typical intervention is that of neutralizing the solution at its birth, by means of an ultra-solution, such as the ingestion of specific drugs suppressing the unpleasant symptoms. Indeed, the repeated and continuous intake of anti-solutions engenders a vicious circle (actually, a vicious spiral) that leads the organism to the threshold of its structural collapse.
As we mentioned already, an anti-solution is a false solution that tries to solve a false problem, which is in fact unsolvable, by achieving a false goal, which is in fact unattainable. Because one thing is to neutralize a solution temporarily, and another thing is to believe that it is possible to neutralize it permanently. In the first case, we are dealing with an achievable goal, in the second case with a false goal, because unachievable. The ultra-solution fails because the real causes that did promote the disease-solution are still active and that the ultra-solution does not act at the level of such causes. Rather, it becomes part of the problem, which with each intake of ultra-solutions becomes more severe and therefore more difficult and dangerous to solve.
Indeed, after a first phase of neutralization of the disease, through the suppression of its symptoms, if nothing is done at the level of the real causes, a biological solution will at some point present again, possibly in disguise of a new disease. But it will not be really a new disease, it will be a new version of the same disease-solution, which now has to face an intensified problem. Therefore, it will be even less pleasant than the previous one and will promote a change that the person who suffers from it will feel even less able to face.
The danger is then to believe that the new disease-solution constitutes a new problem, which would have nothing to do with the previous one, while the ultra-solution previously assumed will be wrongly considered to have been effective in solving the alleged previous problem, i.e., in permanently neutralizing the previous disease-solution. In this way, taking another anti-solution to eliminate the alleged new problem will appear to be something reasonable. But in consideration of the intensification of the symptoms, the intake dose of anti-solution must be increased. And continuing with this iterative dynamic, one goes through a vicious spiral that sooner or later is likely to lead to the structural collapse of the system.
This corresponds to the most radical possible solution of the original problem of intoxication-deficiency: the one that eliminates the very goal of which the problem was an obstacle. Indeed, without an organism, all goals associated with it no longer apply, in particular that of survival. This can be summed up in the famous saying: operation successful, patient dead.
8. Reversal of perspective
We have seen that ultra-solutions are illusory solutions that promote self-deception, as they prevent us from seeing the causal link between the different stages of disease, which is not eliminated by taking an ultra-solution but only put to sleep for some time. Self-deception also lies in not understanding that taking anti-solutions intensifies the original problem (particularly so if nothing is done in parallel), promoting in this way the activation of increasingly radical solutions. In that respect, we could say that many patients are today like chronic drug addicts who have to take always higher doses of drugs to continue to feel good and avoid the withdrawal crises, which are essentially detoxification crises, i.e., healing processes. Over time, repeated and increased drug intakes lead to an overdose, resulting in the body’s death.
Many important scientific discoveries result from a reversal of perspective, which initially might be strongly opposed. A reversal of perspective does not mean, however, that the old perspective is inherently wrong. Think of the Ptolemaic system, which considered the Sun rotating around the Earth; it was surpassed by the Copernican system, which reversed that perspective and placed the Sun at the center with the Earth orbiting around it. The latter allows many more phenomena to be explained in more simple and effective ways, but the Copernican perspective certainly remains valid when one wishes to describe the motion of celestial bodies following a geocentric viewpoint.
Similarly, the passage from the view of the disease-problem to that of the disease-solution is a reversal of perspective that might open to the possibility of more advanced ways to understand and address pathological phenomena (or some of them). This possibility, however, does not necessarily imply that the “old” view cannot continue to play a role in certain intervention strategies (for example, when a certain solution becomes too dangerous; more on that later).
According to the disease-solution view, an infection is not primarily determined by microbes, but by the condition of the biological terrain of an individual, whose degree of toxicity may or may not favor the development of certain “symbionts,” capable of promoting detoxification and regenerative processes. This is in accordance with the observation that not all people who come into contact with a pathogen necessarily get sick. Here we have to understand the notion of terrain in a dynamical sense, including the immune system in its definition.
It is not the purpose of the present article to analyze specific diseases and show how they can be understood as solutions that are activated following earlier intoxication-deficiency episodes. Our purpose here is just to motivate and stimulate future researchers in that direction. Nonetheless, to fix ideas, we provide below two examples, inevitably of a very controversial nature, of two well-known diseases which might also be beneficial to consider being caused by an intoxication-deficiency.
It is well-known that scurvy (known in the past as the sailors’ disease) is a pathology resulting from a lack of ascorbic acid (vitamin C), producing a dissolution of connective tissue in the body, including the blood vessels’ walls. Hence, it is a typical case of disease caused by deficiency (and of course, today’s medical practice recognizes the existence of these situations). In this case, the biological solution boils down to just the resistance of the organism against its gradual and inexorable deterioration, caused by such insufficient supply of micro-nutrients.
Consider however atherosclerosis. Its exact cause is still considered to be unknown by the majority of physicians. Certainly, the building up of plaque inside the arteries is not usually viewed as a solution. A different perspective was however offered by Matthias Rath and collaborators (Rath & Pauling 1990, 1991; Cha et al 2015); see also (Price et al 1996; Clemetson 1999). They observed that different from most animals, humans cannot synthesize their own vitamin C, which is essential for the production of collagen and other connective tissues in the body. This means that in a situation of deficit of vitamin C, arterial walls will be weaker and more in need of repair, because of the impaired collagen synthesis in the body.
One can then interpret the accumulation of cholesterol transporting molecules (such as LDL and Lp(a)) in the vascular walls as the temporary solution adopted by the organism to repair the weakened arteries. Of course, in the long run this will also give rise to the plaques, thus increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke. So, atherosclerosis, usually perceived as a problem, would be instead the best possible solution activated by the organism to stay alive (and being able to reproduce), given the (lack of) resources available. In other words, what is believed to be the cause of death (the plaques) would be instead what allowed the organism to survive for so long.
Consider also the spectrum of conditions known as acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). The actual consensus is that AIDS would be caused by the human immunodeficiency lentivirus (HIV). This hypothesis is however not without difficulty and has been put into question by many researchers; see for instances (Broxmeyer 2003; Papadopulos-Eleopulos 2004, Bauer 2007) and references cited therein. Numerous hypotheses have been advanced for an alternative origin of the syndrome, and among the first ones there was the proposal that AIDS would result from recreational and anti-HIV drugs consumption, as well as, for African countries, malnutrition and poor sanitation. In other words, according to these views, it would be primarily the result of an intoxication-deficiency condition responsible for the degradation of the biological terrain of certain individuals, then manifesting as a collapse of their immune system (Duesberg 1992, Baum 2013).
As we said already, we understand that the above two examples are highly controversial, and we certainly do not want to imply here that they would be correct. Note however that one of the shortcomings of the current view of ‘disease as a problem’ is that it has become so rigid during the years that researchers who venture into exploring the ‘disease as a solution’ hypothesis are typically ostracized by the community of their peers, and obviously this does not facilitate the search for truth.
According to the paradigm presented in this article, we can speculate that people do not die from disease: they die despite the presence of the disease-solution, from a lack of resources. In that respect, it is important to emphasize that a solution needs resources to be implemented, and if during its execution some of them are missing, or become unavailable, this can even transform a solution into a problem.
Considering in particular the issue of so-called infectious diseases, which can of course also lead to the death of an organism, our hypothesis is that it is the level of toxicity-deficiency of the biological terrain that primarily determines not only the possibility of an infection, but also the intensity of the associated symptoms. Note that according to the prevailing view, the cause of an epidemic is always an intrusive pathogenic microbe. According to our hypothesis, the cause of an epidemic is instead always an intoxication-deficiency condition that people who get sick have in common.
We stress again that we intend here the notion of terrain of an organism in a dynamical sense, including in its definition the functioning of the immune system. An intoxicated and impoverished terrain is therefore also to be understood as a terrain that cannot get rid of unwanted substances and microorganisms.
From a logical standpoint, we have to distinguish a state of apparent health from a state of actual health, in the same way that we have to distinguish the situation of dying following a disease from that of dying because of a disease. While causation and correlation can exist at the same time, correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation. In order to demarcate between correlation and causation, Robert Koch identified more than a century ago four basic rules that must be verified in order for a disease to be considered contagious (Evans 1978). The first one is that the microbe allegedly responsible for a disease must be in each patient in relevant quantities. The second one is that it has to be possible to isolate the microbe and grow it in the laboratory. The third is that the microbe, when injected into a healthy person, must invariably cause the disease. The last rule is that it has to be possible to isolate again the microbe from the inoculated person and check that it is identical (for all practical purposes) to the originally injected.
For all sorts of reasons, the four Koch’s rules are rarely checked in today’s medical practice. For our discussion, it is important to observe that the application of the third rule remains rather delicate. Indeed, how do we identify a truly healthy person? Is it just a person without symptoms? Again, we face the problem of the insufficiency of a definition of health as mere absence of disease. If a person is only apparently healthy, we can expect a pathogen to easily multiply within her/his terrain, whereas in a truly healthy individual microbes will not have sufficient degenerate tissues to “feed on” to multiply, and also their spread will be kept under control by the organism’s immune system.
With reference to our ultra-simplified model, we can say that pathogenic microorganisms act as if they were biological solvents used by the organism to dissolve degenerate structures; see for example (Arab 1999). If there are no such structures to dissolve, their action is not needed, and one can expect the organism to block the reproduction/replication of such solvent-like substances and get rid of them. Note that we are here again reversing the standard perspective where an organism is only viewed as a passive victim, and the pathogen is only viewed as an active aggressor. Of course, this reversal is only meaningful if the immune system is able to keep the pathogens under control, which also means that the pathogens in questions have to be part of the organism’s historical ecosystem.
Always in consideration of our ultra-simplified model, generally speaking, microbial infection can be understood not as a cause, but as an effect, resulting from an alteration of well-established equilibria between an organism’s internal terrain and its external environment. The breakdown of these equilibria can produce mutations and loss of functionality in an organism’s historic allies and corresponding bioantagonists, promoting the onset of so-called opportunistic infections. These would be nothing but the means through which an organism tries to create new equilibria. This obviously takes time: an organism not yet knowing how to behave when facing new, mutated microorganisms, living in a mutated external environment, will have to make numerous attempts, and only over time it will possibly be able to integrate them in a useful way (by also transforming them in the process).
Simplifying to the extreme, it is a matter of transforming a potential aggressor into an ally, and the price to be paid for that can be high, depending on the inner resources available to each individual organism.
To give a simple example of what we mean, consider the case of an intestinal infection that a tourist develops when she suddenly lands in a country where the local microbial flora is very different from what she was used to, and despite she left her hometown in perfect health, once in place, eating the fruits and vegetables of that country without precautions, she becomes ill (which does not happen to the inhabitants of that country). This underlines what we have already expressed: that a state of health is the result of a dynamic equilibrium between a person’s internal environment (terrain) and the external environment in which she lives. We can be genuinely healthy in the place where we usually live, and no longer healthy in a new location on the planet where we suddenly land. In the example in question, the intestinal infection is interpreted as the way the organism tries to solve an abrupt biological conflict and adapt to the new bacterial population.
In view of the above, we are certainly not arguing that every microbe always and necessarily behaves like a biological solution for every single organism, in every single circumstance. This is only a working hypothesis supported by a certain logic, which must be fully explored in order to delimit each time its field of applicability. Logically speaking, when we are dealing with a microbe, there are only two possibilities: either the microbe is the vehicle of a biological solution, useful or potentially useful to that organism at that moment, or it is not. If it is not, it could become so in the future, but this does not mean that in the short distance it would not be advisable to get rid of it, to avoid paying too high a price for an adaptation to be achieved (this of course depends on the resources available to each individual).
However, only getting rid of the pathogen does not represent a long-term stable solution, if in parallel we do not take care of also reducing the possible level of toxicity and nutritional deficiency of an organism (or ensemble of organisms). Moreover, it becomes crucial not to alter our external environment to a point that no future adaptation becomes possible.
Our prediction is that if the disease-solution hypothesis will become more objectively evaluated by the scientific community, without the prejudices of today’s germophobia, fewer and fewer people will find themselves with organisms so debilitated to fear not surviving their own self-healing or self-adaptive crises. In that respect, it is of course also imperative to maintain safe habitats in order not to create conditions which would facilitate entering into contact with microorganisms towards whom we are not necessarily able to develop viable alliances. (And in parallel to this, it is of course equally imperative to promote those practices that are able to strengthen people’s immune systems.) The current SARS-COV-2 pandemia is a recent example of this kind of danger (Gorbalenya et al 2020), i.e., the fact that different species carry microbes (like viruses) to which they are typically immune, but which can become deadly to other species.
10. Mental diseases
The disease-solution hypothesis is in a sense easier to accept when referred to so-called mental diseases. Here the typical ultra-solution is that of taking a psychotropic drug to get rid of the undesirable and/or disabling psychic and behavioral symptoms.
Note that in ultimate analysis, within the disease-solution paradigm, even somatic diseases would be caused by an intoxication initially manifesting at the mental level, if we define mental toxins to be false theories of reality (false beliefs), which when they are acted can produce conflicts. If, say, I believe that a poisonous plant is a food, then my false theory about the plant, when acted, i.e., when I eat from that plant, will produce a physical intoxication, which in turn will activate a disease expressing the tentative of the organism of eliminating/neutralizing the ingested toxins. On the other hand, when the false theory induces a conflict primarily manifesting not at the biological level (at least initially) but at the psychic and relational level, the result is what we usually indicate as a mental disorder.
As an example, consider a person who after being rejected (for example, in childhood) begins to believe that he has no right to exist (the false theory). By giving value to this judgment, he will then activate survival strategies. For example, a possible reaction could be to escape. And if this escape reaction lasts long enough, it can give life to a real false identity: that of a fugitive precisely, according to which the individual must always run away and hide, in any situation.
This false assumption, acted to the bitter end, will produce not only specific behaviors, but also internal dialogues, emotional reactions, etc. The “fugitive” person will thus experience growing discomfort, manifesting for example panic attacks, depression, or other psychic symptoms that eventually can also lead to physical symptoms, such as heart problems, respiratory problems, asthenia, etc. All these symptoms, however unpleasant, are actually solutions, because paradoxically they protect the person from himself, i.e., from the suffering of his own self-refusal (implicit in the believed false theory of reality). In other words, the person prefers the discomfort of those symptoms rather than the deeper suffering of the experience of his self-rejection: he opts for what, from his point of view, represents the lesser evil.
An example of a psychotherapeutic approach that recognizes that cognitive “disorders” are useful processes, i.e., solutions, which the person has more interest in having than not having, given the available resources, is Coherence Therapy, founded by Bruce Ecker and Laurel Hulley in the 1990s. The term “coherence” refers here to the coherence of the symptom, in the sense of its full intelligibility, relevance and necessity. Theirs is therefore a ‘symptom-solution therapy’, where symptoms are not counteracted, but accepted, validated, explored and experienced for what they are (Ecker & Hulley 1996, 2000).
Again, it is a question of increasing the person’s resources (in this case, the cognitive ones) in order to correct the false theories that up to that moment are considered to be true. This will make obsolete the solutions that until then the person had more interest implementing than not implementing. In essence, it is about working on the level of causes (the elimination of the mental toxins) rather than simply eliminating a solution, only because unpleasant (the anti-symptom position), through an ultra-solution.
11. Concluding remarks
It follows from our analysis that, as a general guideline, to improve a patient’s chances of survival, the best strategy is to collaborate with the disease-healing process, trying to increase, rather than decrease, the organism’s resources. To this end, total rest and a vital and nutritious diet (preferably respectful of circadian rhythms) should always be prescribed, in a reassuring environment capable of conveying a full understanding of the self-healing process that is underway. To our understanding, modern medicine knows very little about the course of disease in conditions where a patient’s resources are maximized rather than minimized.
By total rest, we mean here reducing the interference of everything that hinders the process of recovery of our energies and the proper activation of natural self-healing processes. Regarding what a truly nutritious diet is, this of course would go beyond the scope of the present work. However, our analysis allows at least to state a fundamental and very general dietary law, which is the following:
When a food cannot be completely assimilated without promoting deficiencies and/or leaving residues that in the long run weaken and/or poison the body, then it is not a suitable food for that body.
Among the advantages of the perspective we have proposed, if taken seriously and explored with success, there is that of a greater empowerment by people for the quality of their biological terrain, therefore for their lifestyle. Indeed, if in numerous situations it can be established that disease is not an unpredictable process that can affect anyone in the same way, regardless of their state of health, then, undoubtedly, such understanding will lead to a greater responsibility and, consequently, to a reduction in costs of public and private health.
The adoption of the disease-solution hypothesis, as a concurrent hypothesis with respect to the standard disease-problem hypothesis, also requires to properly investigate the demarcation between those disease-solutions with which it is possible to collaborate, and those that it is more advantageous, in a given moment, to depotentiate, or even totally neutralize.
To use a metaphor, imagine that a house is burning. The firefighters arrive to put out the flames, using high pressure jets of water. However, if the walls of the house are no longer strong enough to withstand the pressure of those jets, these, while extinguishing the flames, could also reduce the house to a pile of rubble: operation successful, patient dead! The action of the firefighters is obviously a solution, which however could prove to be too destructive if the structure of the house has been extremely compromised, by a lack of maintenance work. In this type of situation, it is necessary to determine what is capable of destroying the house more quickly: fire, or the firefighters’ jets of water under pressure.
In this metaphor, fire corresponds to toxins, the unsafe walls to the deficiencies of the organism, and the water under pressure to the disease-solution, conveyed for example by some specific microbes. Obviously, in some situations, weakening the firefighters’ action could still be the best solution to adopt in order to avoid the destruction of the entire building. But the partial or total blockage of the disease-solution by means of an ultra-solution, if not accompanied by a parallel process of nutrition and regeneration, would only make things worse in the run and simply delay the inevitable collapse.
The hypothesis we have here presented and tried to motivate is undoubtedly not new. The author first heard it about thirty years ago by the nutritionist Giuseppe Cocca, one of the pioneers of natural hygiene in Italy. Natural hygiene (orthopathy) is certainly an ambit where ideas similar to those we have presented have been widely discussed. However, they have remained extremely controversial, probably also because of the too radical way in which they were often expressed, of the aprioristic opposition of many naturopaths to all forms of conventional medical practices, and of a lack of sufficient evidence for the real benefits of certain alternative medical practices.
In a sense, the purpose of this article is to re-invite the scientific community to look at one of our core assumptions about what health and healing are, and explore the new possible insights that can be obtained by reversing our usual perspective.
To conclude, it is important to also address the so-called elephant in the room. There is no doubt that the disease-solution hypothesis, regardless of its scientific value, is poorly compatible with the profit-oriented mission of the global pharmaceutical industry. This could be a serious obstacle to the correct scientific evaluation of this hypothesis. In some edicts of ancient China, it was declared that doctors had to be paid by their patients only as long as they remained healthy, while payment had to cease as soon as they fell ill. We believe it is important to reflect on how to apply simple solutions like this to our modern health care systems, to guarantee that medical treatments are always carried out in the patient’s interest and in order to achieve, in the long run, an optimal, stable and sustainable state of health.
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