Homeostasis vs. Allostasis







I was watching a video by Dr. John Bergman today, and among other things he discusses the difference between the homeostasis that conventional medicine seeks and allostasis which anyone with a clue about what they are doing would be seeking.  This isn’t a distinction which many people are aware of, and since I haven’t discussed this much on this site, I felt that this would be a good idea for the topic of a blog post here.

I want to start by pointing out that this video is well worth watching if you’re not that familiar with the evils that conventional medicine visits upon us, and although there’s little connection directly with diabetes, it’s still a good watch.  I’m here to talk more about homeostasis and allostasis and why this is at the heart of what’s wrong with conventional medical approaches to disease, including ours, type 2 diabetes, and perhaps especially type 2 diabetes.

Many of us are probably familiar with the notion that conventional medicine’s goal is to just treat symptoms, whereas holistic medicine instead concerns itself with seeking to treat the underlying causes of these symptoms, and this is the biggest criticism behind conventional medicine.  However, looking at this from the perspective of homeostasis reveals the problem on an even deeper level and this is actually at the heart of the problem.

Allostasis is a new term, coined in 1988, to describe the dynamic state of homeostasis, as opposed to a static view of it.  So for instance we could say that normal blood pressure or blood sugar or temperature or whatever is the normal, resting, homeostatic state, and to pursue homeostasis alone we would seek to help regulate these markers, for instance with a blood sugar or blood pressure lowering medication.

So if someone has, for instance, a high temperature, then looking to give medicine to lower it would achieve homeostasis of body temperature.  If we were idiots we might think we’ve solved the problem here, but of course we know that a higher body temperature is indicative of something else gone wrong, the problem isn’t of course limited to the high temperature.

So while this is still all about homeostasis, a return to normal we could call it, the path to that often involves unbalancing certain things, like temperature when you have a fever.  So there are alterations here which are desirable and sometimes even necessary to achieve overall homeostasis, a state of health in other words.

These changes in markers, symptoms if you will, are seen as the sole problem, mistakenly of course, but it isn’t just that the real problems lie elsewhere, these symptoms aren’t just typically not a problem, they are often involved in the healing process directly, or at the very least, in some sort of adaptation that will improve one’s overall homeostasis.

I’m not crazy about using the term allostasis at all actually, as this distinction may be incorrectly perceived as being preferable to homeostasis, but it’s the homeostatic model that conventional thinking uses and not homeostasis itself that is the real issue here.  So it seems better to distinguish this by static homeostasis versus the dynamic homeostasis that allostasis implies, and even more importantly, to distinguish between homeostasis of a certain marker and what we could call holistic homeostasis, the homeostasis of the organism overall, overall measures of health.

This may seem a bit technical at first glance but it really isn’t, it’s just another way of elucidating treating the whole person rather than just a marker that is outside the norm, and especially realizing that it is probably outside the norm because it’s supposed to be, under these conditions.

So with diabetes for instance, the idea now emerges that our blood sugar may be higher than normal to various degrees not because this is a disorder in itself but due to a homeostatic adaptation to a disorder, just like a high temperature is an adaptation to a disorder, an infection, and helps the body cope with the infection by enhancing immunity.

The fever example is an easy one to digest, and it can be more difficult for people to be able to understand the idea that our high blood sugar could ever be a positive adaptation or contributing to overall homeostasis, but this is mostly because we see the high blood sugar and the diabetes as the same thing.

They aren’t of course, and the only way that you get to the root of anything is to look behind it, and there’s plenty indeed behind high blood sugar.  One of these things by the way isn’t one’s diet, eating things that non diabetics can eat without issue and then saying it’s the diet that is either causing it or perpetuating it.  At a higher level we may even wonder whether such changes even help, or maybe even hurt, but that’s another topic for another day.

Looking at higher blood sugar as a healthy adaptation is another topic as well and a huge one, and one that I’m not looking to say much about here, the idea right now is to just raise the possibility in your mind that this might be the case, as opposed to ruling this out due to our mistaken perception that this is in itself the problem.

If the static homeostatic approach, as we’re calling it, merely being concerned with lowering this marker, as we typically do, is worsening us, then we’re in a whole lot of trouble.  At the very least we know clearly that this isn’t the solution as it ignores the underlying causes of the high blood sugar, but it’s even more disturbing to realize we may be not only ignoring things but worsening them, the way that lowering temperature worsens the adaptation to an infection.

When we are willing to cast aside the foolish model of static homeostasis, we then move to why our blood sugar is too high, and we know there’s a reason for it, and it may actually be a good reason, to get enough glucose into our cells under the condition of glucose resistance for instance.

Don’t we have good evidence that intentionally lowering blood sugar artificially through the use of medication works and also improves outcomes?  Sadly, this is not the case, and we know that the opposite happens, as is the case with medications generally, outcomes are worsened, health is worsened, we need only look, but we tend to not look.

If we are kept blind, then people will not be afraid to continue to take this stuff dutifully, as prescribed, and prescribed is just another word for being shepherded, like sheep actually, under the control of someone else, who is ultimately under control of drug companies.

If people actually did get better from the stuff we could say that we were under the control of a benevolent master, but when we get worse and worse under this guidance, we’re dealing with a master of a different sort, a malevolent one, regardless of how much intent is actually involved.

The human body is a very complex organism, and is certainly much more complex than just looking at one marker and seeking to normalize that and assume all is now made well.  This is especially true when the results suggest otherwise in very clear ways.

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