WE ARE now at a time in the world's history when the human organism is approaching its lowest ebb of inherent vital energy. We possess only the limited amount of resistance to disease that has been handed on to us after many generations of forefathers who carelessly disregarded the laws of health.
We have two advantages, however. First, we have a clear knowledge of a way of life that will conserve our inherent resistance to disease. If we choose to fol low this way of life, we will receive the reward for compliance in the form of relative freedom from illness.
Second, we are in a position to reap the benefits of recent advances in medical science, by which many of the precipitating causes of illness can be modified or controlled. These have come in partial fulfillment of the prophecy that knowledge will be increased in the last days of earth's history. With this in mind, let us consider the six classic factors that predispose to illness.
1. Degeneration of tissues. In some persons one organ or another begins to wear out. Certain kidney disorders occur because some of the functioning cells within the kidney lose their ability to perform their usual tasks. The tendency to arteriosclerosis becomes greater the longer a person lives and therefore depends, in part, upon degenerative changes within the tissues involved. Many diseases of the nervous system, such as Parkinson's disease, involve degenerative changes in the cells that compose the brain and its related structures. Some of the forms of deafness and of handicapped vision also represent degenerative changes.
Even as long ago as the time of King David, the human body tended to wear out within a span of 70 years (Ps. 90:10). At the beginning of this century, the average life expectancy in the United States was about 45 years. At present this has increased until it again approaches the threescore and ten mentioned in the Psalms. This recent increase is not due to a fundamental improvement in human vitality, but, rather, to the near conquest of many infectious diseases.
2. Physical injury. The first death recorded in the Bible was that of Abel, who died of a physical injury inflicted by his brother. The tragic casualties of warfare are brought about, for the most part, by way of physical injury. Death caused by accident now ranks fourth in the list of the causes of death in the United States, highway accidents alone taking their toll of more than 50,000 lives each year.
Extremes of temperature, either heat or cold, provide another example of illness and even death that comes as a result of unfavorable physical factors. The breathing of certain industrial dusts causes damage to the lungs, reducing their functional capacity and thus shortening life.
The tar and other noxious agents contained in cigarette smoke may be classed either as harmful physical agents or as chemical agents that injure tissues. The damage to the human body resulting from the use of cigarettes accounts for more than 60,000 deaths in the United States each year because of lung cancer, and an additional 200,000 deaths by in creasing the incidence of heart disease.
3. Chemical injury. In this category we mention poisonings first, of which there are more than a million cases each year in the United States, with at least 3,000 deaths. One third of the deaths from poisoning occur in children under five years of age, and in this group the lowly aspirin tablet is the worst offender.
The thalidomide tragedy of the early 1%0's awakened the world to the danger of untoward consequences from the introduction of chemicals into the human body. It is the more surprising that in spite of this new awareness, the epidemic of drug abuse has overtaken young adults throughout the world.
Even such a "harmless" drug as caffeine, which is contained in significant amounts in coffee and tea, as well as in the caffeinated soft drinks, has its unfavorable influence on the human body. A recent scientific study indicates that the incidence of heart disease is greater among those who are habitual coffee drinkers. Also, it is observed that the control of diabetes is more difficult among coffee drinkers than among those who abstain.
4. Invasion by microorganisms. In the late nineteenth century such medical pioneers as Pasteur and Koch made discoveries that led to the realization that some diseases are caused by the invasion of germs into the human tissues. It developed, furthermore, that there are many kinds of germs, and that these are specific in their disease-producing possibility, so that one kind of germ produces a particular kind of disease.
Based upon this developing knowledge, several of the contagious dis eases were "controlled" by isolating the person who was stricken, so that other persons would not "catch" the disease from him. This was a modern application of some of the laws of health and hygiene that had been enunciated many centuries before Moses.
Efforts to control the diseases for which germs are responsible has taken two separate directions. One has been the effort to find chemical agents that would be capable of destroying certain kinds of germs without, at the same time, damaging human tissues. For ex ample, the drug salvarsan was developed to kill the organism that causes syphilis. Salvarsan contains a small amount of arsenic--just enough to cause the death of the spirochetes--but not enough to prove fatal to the individual who is receiving treatment for syphilis.
Beginning in the 1930's, great strides were made in the development of sulfonamides and antibiotics, which are relatively harmless to the human being but are capable of destroying various kinds of germs.
The second line of thrust in the con quest of germ-related diseases has involved the artificial development of immunity within the human organism by means of vaccination.
Most of the infectious diseases now are virtually under control. There is a present tragic paradox, however, in the handling of infectious diseases. Many years ago the germ that causes the venereal disease, gonorrhea, was identified. A satisfactory treatment by the use of antibiotics is now available at every clinic and in every physician's office. In spite of this, however, gonorrhea has recently been declared by the Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service to be out of control. This provides an alarming example of the relationship between a disregard for the principles of morality and the occurrence of illness.
5. Physiological abuses. The way a person lives has a great deal to do with his state of health. Avoiding extremes, practicing temperance, and exercising common sense in the expenditure of one's energy are conducive to good health. Carelessness in these matters, however, draws too heavily on one's precious store of vital energy and makes one susceptible to various kinds of illness.
In matters of diet there are two extremes, either one of which predisposes to serious illness. A deficient diet, continued over a period of time, leads to one of the deficiency diseases. Overeating, at the other extreme, produces the condition of overweight, which contributes to arteriosclerosis, heart disease, diabetes, and orthopedic problems, to name a few.
The human body has been designed to function in cycles. Any way of life that interferes with the balance of activity required by these cycles thereby con tributes to a state of ill health. Take the cycle of the digestive organs, for example. The process of digesting a meal requires several hours. Taking food between meals upsets the cyclic activity of the digestive organs and thereby contributes to digestive disturbances.
There is another cycle by which sleep alternates with wakefulness. Here again there should be regularity with provision for an adequate amount of sleep at about the same time each night. Forcing oneself to work long hours without adequate sleep brings about a condition of chronic exhaustion that gradually depletes the supply of vital energy, and makes the individual vulnerable to illness.
There is also an important balance to be maintained between physical and mental activity. The proper use of the brain has a vitalizing influence on the body's organs and tissues. Even the per son whose means of livelihood requires him to engage in strenuous physical activity each day should take some time for study and meditation along lines that are challenging to him and that provide him with courage and confidence. Perhaps the more common danger is that of engaging in mental activity to the neglect of the use of one's muscles. Daily physical exercise not only maintains the muscles in good tone, but even more important, it keeps the heart, the lungs, and other vital organs in good condition. Physical exercise facilitates the circulation of blood through all the body's tissues, enabling them to carry on their functions in the most efficient manner. It therefore benefits the brain, enabling one to think more clearly and effectively.
6. Psychological tensions. The entire body is responsive to one's mood and state of mind. The Creator designed the body this way to enable the organs to adapt themselves to changing circumstances.
Just as the heart beats faster and the cycle of breathing becomes more frequent when a person uses his muscles vigorously, so these same organs respond to one's emotional states. When one becomes frightened his blood pres sure increases, his digestive organs temporarily stop their function, the heartbeat is accelerated, breathing is deeper, and the concentration of blood sugar in creases. These physiological responses to a state of fright are designed to make the individual alert and capable of what ever activity is appropriate.
When anxiety persists, or when one's emotions continue to be in conflict, then the body's emergency status is pro longed. This causes the organs to function at a disadvantage, to the extent that symptoms of illness eventually appear. For example, under continued emotional stress, the blood pressure tends to remain high, thus laying the foundation for arteriosclerosis and its attendant complications.
In some individuals it is one organ system, and in some another, that breaks down first under the stress of psychological tension. In some persons it is the development of peptic ulcer that first causes illness and suffering. In others it is colitis or migraine headaches. In still others a predisposition to arthritis or to asthma is aggravated.
Thus it is that "the condition of the mind affects the health to a far greater degree than many realize. Many of the diseases from which men suffer are the result of mental depression. Grief, anxiety, discontent, remorse, guilt, distrust, all tend to break down the life forces and to invite decay and death." --The Ministry of Healing, p. 241.
The human body is the masterpiece of God's creative genius. It is finely tuned and remarkably adapted to the uses for which it is intended. Under normal conditions, its various functions are carried on automatically and most efficiently. Inspite of the gradual deterioration of human vitality that has occurred through the centuries the human body still has a remarkable capacity for adaptation. But there is a limit. When the individual fol lows a way of life that is reasonable and temperate, his body's capacity to meet changing circumstances continues at a satisfactory level. But when he disregards the natural laws that contribute to the state of health, then the vital forces of his body are gradually depleted and he becomes susceptible to illness.