There is a lot of value in good health.

If you struggle to identify with that, talk to some one who had just paid for a $10,000 chiropractic package. Perhaps also talk to some one who works in palliative care.

Once we are in agreement that good health has insurmountable value, we can dig deeper to ask ourselves if prevention is then indeed better than cure.

What is the truth of that? The ancient phrase can be traced back to a mid-1200s book (or specifically, a dialogue) titled De Legibus by Henry De Bracton.

Did people know better then?

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Screenshot from one of the Singapore chiropractor’s website. ‘Wellness’ plans are sold in chiropractic clinics to help you prevent further problems or maybe live to your full potential. However, where is the evidence for this?

What even is ‘wellness’?

While the idea of being well is not unique to recent times, it wasn’t till the 1950s when Halbert Dunn first coined the word ‘wellness’.

In his work, he described “high-level wellness” as an approach where we look at ourselves and how we can work towards higher levels of function.

For context, the World Health Organisation published its definition of health in the same period as:

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Surprisingly, this definition has remained unchanged since 1948. 

At this point, three things should be clear:

  1. We care a lot about being well and understood its value since a very long time ago
  2. Health – to our understanding over the past half-century – is not just about an absence of diseases
  3. Wellness is distinctively separate from medicine. While medicine may concern itself with disease, sickness, and/or illness, wellness is – or should be – about maximising your potential function.

This all sounds reasonable. So, what happened? How did wellness become the dirty word?

Understanding the commercialisation of wellness

When it comes to wellness, different people think of different things. We can consider alkaline-water, multivitamins, essential oils, etc as examples of what wellness goods or services may look like.

For perspective, dietary supplementation alone is a $30 billion/year industry in United States alone.

While recommending the use of essential oils in place of air fresheners is a reasonable, selling essential oils as potential cure for cancer is dead wrong. There is no evidence to suggest that is true or plausible.

Just a few weeks ago, Netflix released the film The Game Changers. It is marketed as a documentary about the benefits of eating a plant-based diet.

The problem?

It was not a documentary. It was a film made by people with clear financial interests in supporting a plant-based diet:

  • James Camero (Executive Producer) is the cofounder and CEO of Verdiant Foods – sells plant-based (pea) protein
  • Suzy Amis Cameron (Executive Producer) also cofounder of Verdiant Foods – sells plant-based (pea) protein
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger (Actor) is the coowner of Ladder – sells vegan products

You can read more about the Layne Norton‘s scientific analysis of the film here. In his words:

There are one of two possibilities here. 1) Wilks/filmmakers did not bother to track down the actual scientific paper and just reported what they wanted or 2) they did read it and purposefully omitted that information. One is incompetence, the other is flat out misleading, which is odd considering their film is ‘fueled by the truth.’

Evidence-based wellness

It is true that there is a lot of fluff and – quite frankly – bullshit in the wellness industry. However, that doesn’t mean evidence-based wellness does not exist.

According to researchers, wellness can divided into six main domains: physical, emotional, cognitive, social, spiritual, and environmental.

For most parts, these unique areas are often closely intertwined in our daily lives. The current understanding is that they interact with each other to create a sum that is greater than its individual parts.

For example, we are starting to see some evidence of mindfulness practice helping with workplace emotional exhaustion and stress. In the same study, participants were also found to enjoy improved self-compassion and quality of sleep.

A separate study by Vitality and RAND Europe published that walking for an additional 15 minutes a day could improve work productivity to the sum of US$100 billion a year!

Be a discerning consumer, choose wisely

Admittedly research into wellness is still in its infancy. However, there are research available to suggest or contest efficacy.

It is well established that multivitamins offer no benefits in well-nourished individuals.

Aromatherapy DOES NOT decrease pain in cancer patients or improve nausea in children with cancer.

Wellness chiropractic packages are definitely questionable!

The moral of the story? Do not buy into stories. Always check the facts.

“In God we trust, all others must bring data.”