So many times when dealing with patients, I feel like I am “swimming upstream” against their current of beliefs about health care. I look at health care a little differently than most of my patients, and quite a bit differently than I did myself several years ago.

What is this “upstream” attitude? It could be summed up as working to restore health, rather than attack disease.

We are steeped in the idea that we should attack diseases. There are “wars” on cancer and other diseases. We are urged to have to all kinds of screenings, including blood tests, X-rays, yearly physicals, etc., so diseases can be detected early. We are bombarded with drug ads. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 75 percent of medical visits involve drug therapy, 48 percent of the population is taking at least one drug, 21 percent are on at least three medications, with 10 percent of us on five or more drugs. There were 72 million surgical procedures in the U.S. in 1996, including surgical tests. Finally, the CDC recommends about 48 doses of vaccines for 16 different diseases by the age of 18.

I understand this way of thinking; I was raised in the medical culture. As a child, whenever I had an ear infection, which happened fairly often, I was given antibiotics. Imagine my surprise when an ear infection drained and my fever dropped immediately after the first chiropractic treatment to my neck. That infection resolved without any antibiotics, a first for me. I have since seen similar reactions in many patients.

The wellness idea of restoring health takes a little getting used to. With wellness care, the idea is that the patient’s condition is more due to a problem with the internal workings of the body, like an imbalance of hormones from long-term stress, misaligned spinal bones interfering with local organ function, or a blockage in the flow of energy throughout the body.

My chiropractic training was not focused on disease, other than those cases that need emergency care and referral.

When we studied nutrition, we studied all the usual nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, carbs, fats, etc. But more importantly, we were taught the basic principle that food is most nutritious in its intact, whole state. Many of our nutritional problems today are related to the fact that we eat so much highly processed food (think trans fats, sugar, sodas, and white-flour products). We did spend a lot of time studying different diseases that could show up in the X-rays we took, but as incidental findings in films designed to study a patient’s posture or spinal alignment. I would not take an X-ray if I suspected a disease. I would send that patient to a facility where the films would be read by a radiologist, who specializes in looking for disease.

I cringe at the drug ads that urge you to “take action against your disease” by going to the doctor and asking for the newest medication. Is that really taking action? Not in my book. Taking action is improving your lifestyle and getting involved in treatment that will actually restore your health. Of course, after these ads’ call to action, there is a list of side effects to the recommended drug. Does that mean if you suffer from one of them, you should “take action” by getting more meds to suppress the them?

There is a better alternative, but it requires a change in thinking, and being willing to swim upstream. It’s OK — most of us could use the exercise.

Dr. Michael Noonan practices chiropractic, chiropractic acupuncture and other wellness therapies in Old Town. He can be reached at