Chapter 8 – Human Health and Disease

Health, for a long time, was considered as a state of body and mind where there was a balance of certain ‘humors’.

This is what early Greeks like Hippocrates as well as Indian Ayurveda system of medicine asserted. It was thought that persons with ‘blackbile’ belonged to hot personality and would have fevers.

This idea was arrived at by pure reflective thought. The discovery of blood circulation by William Harvey using experimental method and the demonstration of normal body temperature in persons with blackbile using thermometer disproved the ‘good humor’ hypothesis of health.

In later years, biology stated that mind influences, through neural system and endocrine system, our immune system and that our immune system maintains our health. Hence, mind and mental state can affect our health.

Of course, health is affected by

  • genetic disorders – deficiencies with which a child is born and deficiencies/defects which the child inherits from parents from birth;
  • infections and
  • life style including food and water we take, rest and exercise we give to our bodies, habits that we have or lack etc.

The term health is very frequently used by everybody. How do we define it? Health does not simply mean ‘absence of disease’ or ‘physical fitness’.

It could be defined as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. When people are healthy, they are more efficient at work.

This increases productivity and brings economic prosperity. Health also increases longevity of people and reduces infant and maternal mortality. Balanced diet, personal hygiene and regular exercise are very important to maintain good health.

Yoga has been practised since time immemorial to achieve physical and mental health. Awareness about diseases and their effect on different bodily functions, vaccination (immunisation) against infectious diseases, proper disposal of wastes, control of vectors and maintenance of hygienic food and water resources are necessary for achieving good health.

When the functioning of one or more organs or systems of the body is adversely affected, characterised by various signs and symptoms, we say that we are not healthy, i.e., we have a disease.

Diseases can be broadly grouped into infectious and non-infectious. Diseases which are easily transmitted from one person to another, are called infectious diseases.

Infectious diseases are very common and every one of us suffers from these at sometime or other. Some of the infectious diseases like AIDS are fatal. Among non-infectious diseases, cancer is the major cause of death.

Drug and alcohol abuse also affect our health adversely.

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