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Salutogenesis: The Literal Key to Health

What a funny word, "salutogenesis."  The root "genesis" is pretty intuitive, it means ORIGIN, CREATION or BIRTH.  What is "saluto," then?  Well, it's from the Latin root "salus," meaning HEALTH.  Taken together, these two roots bring forth the literal meaning, "the creation of health."  The term salutogenesis was originally coined by Aaron Antonovsky, PhD, whose life work focused on the interplay and relationship between stress, health, and well-being.  (Who'da thunk those three things could be related?.........)

To better understand salutogenesis, let's contrast it with its equal opposite: pathogenesis (meaning the genesis or development of pathology, or disease).  These two trends, trajectories, or directions - because that's what they are, movement - are interrelated, as illustrated above.  Our bodies are never static or unmoving (by definition: when it comes to the human body, the other word for completely static is "dead").  At any given time, blood is moving, air is moving, organs are pumping, nerves are firing.  It's a beautiful symphony with many players large and small.  And it is with any movement, there is direction and change, flux.  Sometimes faster, sometimes slower - like your heart, its beating can increase or decrease with any activity you do.  At any given time, your body is changing its myriad activities to perfectly suit the challenge it sees at hand - in a nutshell, that's ADAPTATION.

Let's break that down a little further.  Adaptation can be executed perfectly - for example, if you misstep with your foot on uneven ground, your body can correct very quickly and adjust itself to maintain upright stance.  We've all done it!  Alternatively, adaptation can be unsuccessful - we've all also had the same experience of a minor misstep with different consequences, like my sprained ankle in October!  Adaptation happens everywhere in your body at all times, often unseen and unfelt.  That urge to stretch?  Adaptation.  Your body is re-setting muscle tension and body position.  That slight uptick in heart rate as you go up the stairs?  Adaptation.  Your body need a bit more oxygen and fuel, so it pumps a bit more blood.  That quick bathroom visit after accidentally eating spoiled food? ADAPTATION!  Your body identified something that didn't belong or might cause harm or damage, and hit the "eject" button.  Your pupils getting smaller to block out bright sunlight as you walk outside?  Adaptation!  Adaptation happens when your body detects a challenge and makes a decision to execute an action of change that improves its well-being.

Let's flip that over and think about what happens when your body is not "on its toes" - a deficit of adaptation can result in a problem, a mess to clean up.  Let's say you're adaptive immune response is hampered for some reason, and your body doesn't identify a pathogen quickly (as per our last blog on Host versus Pathogen!) Given the rate of replication of bacteria, or of a virus, a lapse in detection and appropriate immune system adaptation can result in a growing problem that's going to take more resources to clean up.  Inefficient adaptation therefore may have consequences, and a lapse in optimal adaptation can detract from the body's well-being.  

To take that a step further: if adaptation is defined as how quickly and how well a body detects and "cleans up" a problem, maintaining its well-being then most diseases in the human body (or recovery from accidental harm) could actually be seen through a lens of adaptation.  Cancer could be seen as the result of the body's immune system failure to adapt to accidental DNA mutation and resultant abnormal cell growth.  Type 2 diabetes could be seen the result of a decline in the body's ability to adapt to excess blood sugar.  Balance problems show a deficit in the body's ability to sense and adapt to gravity.  Viewed from this lens, adaptation is your body's best reactive defense to challenges from its environment, both internal and external - and it essential for health and well-being.

It follows, then that if your body is adapting well, and always aiming to adapt better, your body is in a trajectory of SALUTOGENESIS - the creation or generation of a state of health and optimal function. Conversely, if your body is not adapting well, and problems are piling up uncorrected, your body is in a state of PATHOGENESIS - the creation of disease and dysfunction.  By this reasoning, anything that promote efficient and effective adaptation would be expected to support and enhance salutogenesis, and anything that may inhibit adaptation would be expected to promote pathogenesis.

And certainly in these trying times, adaptation and salutogenesis have never been as important.  We have emotional stress to adapt to, physical health challenges that we are all likely to have to adapt to, and we are all adapting to sudden socioeconomic change.  What are the things we can do, to generate and create health and well-being in the face of today's challenges? Well.......  what supports, improves, or enhances adaptability?

If your body is dehydrated, will it be able to sweat out a fever?  Drink water to support your body's adaptability!

If your body does not have enough building blocks to properly repair a broken bone, how would that heal?  Eat good quality food that provides your body with the building blocks it needs to restore and maintain cells, tissues, and organs!

If your body is deconditioned from a lack of exercise, can you run fast enough to stop your dog from doing something you don't want them to do?  Make sure your body's at the ready for any challenge you, ahem, may encounter!

When you don't sleep well, do you adapt to the stresses in your life well?  We all know that getting enough sleep helps you adapt better to every single stress in your day!

And: if your body is hampered in any way in its ability to accurately PERCEIVE information from its environment - gravity, temperature, oxygen, pathogens, sunlight, an approaching bear or tiger (input) - to make sense of that incoming information (integration by the brain), or to be able to execute a timely and appropriate response (output), will your body be able to adapt optimally?  Probably not.  In computer-ese, that's a concept called garbage in, garbage out.

The next logical question, then, would be what may hamper any of these components of information flow (inwards to the brain, within the brain, and outwards to the body)?

It turns out that something very simple may impact any of those three information-flow arms (input, integration, output): vertebral subluxation complex.  Subluxation is a condition where the normal position or movement of the segments of the spine, or the spine as a whole, has been altered, resulting in abnormal signaling within the input-integration-output loop and therefore decreased adaptability.  Correction of vertebral subluxation by way of the chiropractic adjustment (well, I'm taking a small liberty here - the actual article title describes "manipulation of dysfunctional spinal joints") has been shown to affect sensorimotor integration in the brain's prefrontal cortex - in simpler terms, the adjustment and correction of subluxation may affect brain integration of incoming information.  To me, that sounds like something that could affect adaptation!  Other published research studies have shown that chiropractic care delivered to correct or reduce subluxation is associated with improvements in reaction time (indicating that the body is adapting faster, literally), balance (which means the body is adapting to gravity better), whole body motor task response time (again, adapting faster), normalization of resting blood pressure (which would be expected to support the body's ability to adapt to stressors), and in heart rate variability (a reflection of how well the body's cardioautonomic system is adapting).  In sum, a small body of research has begun to elucidate that chiropractic care may support and enhance the body's neuro-structural and autonomic adaptability.  That sounds pretty important to me, in the context of what I've written here about the importance of adaptability to salutogenesis.

This focus on adaptability is what I have always offered to my patients.  We have always focused on outcomes that reflect enhanced adaptability: I love to hear about improved marathon times, improved ability to participate in and enjoy yoga, normalizing blood pressure that your PCP reports back to you, enhanced ability to ski the East with sharp reflexes, improved balance and coordination in sports, improved heart rate variability, improved muscle activity and balance, improved ability to handle the stressors in your life- because these outcomes indicate that your body is literally adapting better!  in short, my focus is on your movement towards salutogenesis, and away from pathogenesis, and my way to do that is by locating and correcting vertebral subluxations that are interfering with your body's capacity to adapt.

And as we navigate these challenging times, adaptability is exactly what I'd love to help you with.  (It's what I'd like help with too, frankly!!)  Stay tuned as we continue to map out our plan for how to offer our help to you in the best possible way.  We're adapting to our challenge, so that we may move towards.... salutogenesis.