For many years I have been bemoaning the fact that our world acclaimed National Health Service, our NHS that is held in such high esteem by all of us, is without any doubt, an excellent medical service free for all, a shining example to other nations, but, it has failed miserably to be a health promoting, health educating, health focussed service.
Perhaps modern medicine , not just our NHS, has lost its way on its great evolutionary journey over the past century? It has gained great advances in understanding the mechanisms of disease, it has developed amazing diagnostic technologies, it has discovered ways of ameliorating or controlling most mortal diseases with new drugs, surgery and other medical procedures, extending the lives of us all; the science of pathology has become the bedrock of our healthcare system.

Medical training has become dominated with teaching pathology, diagnosis and treatment  and has almost left out the teaching of ethology, of health promotion education, healthy lifestyle development, wider community, social and environmental health factors. Our mental health has been simply added to the physical medical treatment with drugs as the key approach.

As a therapist trained in osteopathy, although I know mechanics have a great impact on our health and wellbeing, I have never been able to separate mind and body in the way that modern medicine has done. When I see a patient who may come wanting help with a back problem, I try to look beyond the physical symptoms and be open to their talk about their daily life, just being a good listener can be an added help for their ”back problem”! My training as a Buteyko Breath Educator highlighted these connections for me. Over the past decades I have found over 75% of my patients coming to me for physical problems have all been also suffering from chronic hidden hyperventilation (CHHV). CHHV is so called because this habit of over-breathing is rarely noticed by their doctor or themselves and even when it is, little or no help or advice is given to correct it. CHHV has usually arisen from either stress, diet or old respiratory problems that cleared up but left the patient still breathing badly.
Why diet? Again over the past years in practice, checking patient’s diets and breathing I have found a strong correlation between the two. What you eat affects the way you breathe and the way you breathe has an impact on your eating habits. Put very simply, someone who is severely stressed will tend to eat comfort foods, will eat on the run, and will foods that increase the body’s acidity, this triggers increased breathing to “wash-out” the excess carbon dioxide that is causing the acidity. A person who is unstressed and calm will be breathing more normally, be more aware of what they chose to eat, eat when relaxed and sitting down often in the company of others, and their diet will generally be less acidic with better quality foods, more vegetables, fruit, whole grains and less processed food.

So, returning to the title of this article, we have a Ministry of Defence that is responsible for the procurement of arms and training of soldiers to fight wars, really a Ministry of War. Our Ministry of Employment  is primarily concerned with the social and economic problems of unemployment. Likewise the Ministry of Health, is primarily the Ministry of Sickness, as I have outlined above, it  is largely concerned with problems of Disease and Illness. So do we need a Ministry of Wellbeing or even a Ministry of Happiness? This may sound just a bit whacky but it was a suggestion made by the great physician, Lord Horder in the 1930’s.

Knowledge can increase without limit and with it an increased understanding of all those things that can be readily measured or defined but Wisdom is another matter! I have spent most of my career trying to understand “what health is” and have made a little progress but we would need many lives to even get close to defining Wisdom. Perhaps because Wisdom is the sum total of all knowledge, the measurable and the immeasurable, the visible and the invisible, the material  and the immaterial. It is said that one of the benefits of growing old is that we attain increasing wisdom! I don’t believe this is always the case, but it does make sense that the more we experience of life the deeper our understanding can become and hence we may become wiser.