Wrench a practicing doctor who qualified in the early 1900s, started his life in research, moved into practice, and later in life wrote several books. He was one of the few who saw knowledge of prevention and promotion of wellness as being at least as important as instruction on how to manage disease, and for that reason has been included here. He trenchantly observes in his book ‘Wheel of Health’ (see below):
“Why?” “Why disease? Why not health? “Why were we only taught disease? Why was it presumed that we knew all about health in its fulness? The teaching was wholly one-sided.”
His work also provides interesting background and contemporary information as to the work of McCarrison and others in determining early nutritional requirements, and their observation as to the robust health happy dispostions and general good demeanour of well nourished populations groups no matter the hardships of their existence, which in combination with observations of others including Weston Price, suggests, as does the biology, that poor or imbalanced diets will lead to sub-optimal neurological function and behavioural change.
This is an abstract from the Wheel of Health below in the hope it will tempt you to delve more deeply into this fascinating and recommended book.
“ IT should be clearly understood that a doctor is one so saturated with people’s illnesses and ailments that, if thoughtful, he is almost forced to look upon life as something heavily burdened by these defects.
I shall myself carry with me the profound impression of the first months I spent in the hospital wards and out-patient departments many years ago. I had come from the vigorous and exuberant life of an English public school, where everything that really absorbed one’s boyish interests was based on a glowing vitality and responsive health. After the penance of school hours there was plenty of time to let the muscles go–games, sports, ragging, bathing, or running and walking over untilled fields. All these things were of sunlight and wind or the raw cold, which made the blood snap round its course. Something of this life accompanies the early years of the medical student, but there is always about one the lure of the hospital work to draw one to its consuming interests. One is caught in the meshes of the problems of disease, from which one will not be able to free the mind for the rest of one’s life.
For impressions of youth are those that remain. They colour all one’s thought and experience, they largely select that thought and experience. And the impression of the quantity of diseases and the suffering due to them is a tremendous one. I used sometimes to walk about London with my eyes down and with the question “Why?” upon my lips until I saw pictures of the many maleficent objects of pathology upon the pavements, so vivid was the impression which the microscope and the post-mortem room made upon me.
The effect was not one of depression; that is not the effect upon healthy youth. It was one which stimulated one like a stouter opponent than oneself at boxing. Here was truly a prodigious opponent, the problem of disease, why man is so affected.
After debating the question–Why disease? Why not health?–again and again with my fellow students, I slowly, before I qualified, came to a further question–Why was it that as students we were always presented with sick or convalescent people for our teaching and never with the ultrahealthy? Why were we only taught disease? Why was it presumed that we knew all about health in its fulness? The teaching was wholly one-sided. Moreover, the basis of our teaching upon disease was pathology, namely, the appearance of that which is dead from disease. We started from our knowledge of the dead, from which we interpreted the manifestations, slight or severe, of threatened death, which is disease.
“Through these various manifestations, which fattened our text-books, we approached health. By the time, however, we reached real health, like that of the keen times of public school, the studies were dropped. Their human representatives, the patients, were now well, and neither we nor our educators were any longer concerned with them. We made no studies of the healthy–only the sick.
Disease was the reason for our specialized existences. There was also a great abundance of it. Between its abundance and its need to ourselves its inevitability was taken for granted. Gradually, however, a question forced itself upon me more and more insistently. Had not some of this “inevitability” attached to disease come about by our profession only viewing disease from within? What would happen if we reversed the process and started by learning all we could about the healthiest people and animals whom we could discover? This question pursued me with considerable constancy, but unfortunately I was not provided with that will which is a part of what I reverence so much–the genius of discovery. Those who possess it grip an idea and never let it go. They are as passionate for it to get on in the world as the mother is for her offspring; daring, as even weak animals do, to challenge hopeless odds on its behalf. After achieving a small local repute in research, all I did was to apply for scholarships, and in my applications I placed a subject of my own choice, to study the health of the healthiest people I could discover. I did not, of course, succeed. My proposal was probably looked upon as ridiculous. To research in health was a complete reversal of the accustomed outlook, which was confined by the nature of the profession to different aspects of disease. For to the profession disease is the base and substance of its structure and health just the top of the pyramid, where it itself comes to an end. To propose reversing this was like asking one to stand on one’s head to get the right point of view.
At any rate my applications came to nothing, though I was offered work upon the accepted lines. In this I had not the necessary faith, so I gave up research and went into practice. I remained interested in very healthy people and read what I could about them, but the work imposed by the war and by practice in the following years withheld me from anything more than an academic interest in the old question–Health; why not? It was not until two years ago, when I had more leisure, that a vivid sentence in the writings of Sir Robert McCarrison thawed my frozen hope. The sentence was: “These people are unsurpassed by any Indian race in perfection of physique; they are long lived, vigorous in youth and age, capable of great endurance and enjoy a remarkable freedom from disease in general.” Further study of his writings was very encouraging.
Here was a research worker who researched in health and healthy people; in fact, he presented to himself health as a problem, and produced answers to it, in some such words as the following: “Here is a people of unsurpassed health and physique, and here are researches into the reasons thereof.” In this way it will be seen we come as researchers straight to health without intervention, and to health in the full dictionary sense of the word of wholeness, namely, sound physique of every organ of the body without exceptions and freedom from disease. This is the knowledge which we all want to know.“
a study of a very
G.T. Wrench, M.D. (Lond.)
Originally printed in 1938
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