Richard G. Petty, MD

Medicine and the Transformation of Illness

Something important has been happening in the medical field over the last century. And like most important concepts, once I mention it, everyone says, “Oh, that’s obvious.” Yet I have seen little discussion of it except in an occasional book or speculative paper.

The concept is this: modern medicine has been transforming the nature of illness in far-reaching ways. There are many illnesses that once were fatal, and which have now been transformed into chronic problems. Yet most conventional health care providers are still wedded to the short-term resolution of symptoms.

Let me give you three examples:

  1. The first is diabetes mellitus. There are two main types, and at least ten subtypes. Type 1 diabetes is what used to be known as juvenile onset diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes. It usually comes on in childhood or adolescence, is associated with severe damage to the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. People with this problem usually become very sick very quickly and need insulin to keep them alive. Until 1922, when the first patient was treated with insulin derived from cows, the illness was usually fatal. Insulin transformed it into a chronic illness. People were kept alive, but now we saw the emergence of diabetic eye disease (cataracts and retinopathy), disease of the blood vessels supplying the limbs, heart and kidneys, kidney failure, infections and many other chronic problems. In 1935 Sir Harold Himsworth, the father of a friend of mine, identified a second type of diabetes. He published a classic paper on his discovery of insulin resistance in 1936. This is what is now known as Type 2 diabetes, and used to be called maturity onset diabetes. This is a more chronic illness, but carries many of the same complications. The point about these two types of diabetes is not just that they have disturbances of glucose and lipid metabolism. That on its own matters little. It is the long-term consequences of the elevated glucose and lipids that causes all the problems.
  2. The second is hypertension. Again, this often used to be a fatal illness. Until the invention of the sphygmomanometer most people did not know that they had high blood pressure, and most often would die of strokes. Hypertension is now also a chronic illness. The problem is not the blood pressure itself, but the long-term consequences of an elevated blood pressure. That is why most physicians are now trying to prevent the damage to the heart, eyes and kidneys, instead of just focusing on the blood pressure numbers themselves.
  3. The third is Lyme disease. This is a bacterial illness that is acquired by being bitten by a tick. It is said to be the fastest growing infectious disease in the United States, primarily because we are spending more time venturing into the wilderness, and the deer population – a major carrier of the tick – is increasing in most Eastern states. Lyme disease can make people very ill. We identify acute and chronic types. The acute can usually be treated if identified quickly and if the correct treatment is given. But sometimes identification can be very difficult, and inadequate or even inappropriate treatment may lead to the chronic form. We have even seen people who have been treated exactly as the experts say, but have still developed the chronic form of Lyme disease. The biggest problem with Lyme disease is that it is a great masquerader: it can look like so many other illnesses, from multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis to chronic fatigue syndrome and syphilis.

We could pick out other examples. I have mentioned some of the problems of thinking that attention deficit disorder is just a problem with getting good grades in school. When in reality the problem is that inadequately treated ADD is associated with a range of long-term problems that occur outside of school hours.

For many years now some practitioners have been warning about the long-term consequences of symptomatic treatment alone. One of the most eloquent critics of this way of treating people is the Greek homeopath and teacher George Vithoulkas. I like and respect George, but he takes a militant view, saying that conventional treatment simply suppresses illnesses, rather than treating them. His solution is to use homeopathy for everything. He is a genius and also a natural healer, so he can probably get away with that. Most of us cannot.

So the fundamental tenets of Integrated Medicine include medical treatment to deal with the acute problem, but a combination of approaches to prevent the problem from becoming chronic. Or if it has become chronic, then how to change its course over time.

As I’ve said before: Combinations are Key. Not randomly giving an antibiotic as well as a homepoathic remedy, but precisely tailoring the combination to the individual.

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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