Health and Disease Are Dynamic Complex-Adaptive States Implications for Practice and Research

Author: Joachim P Sturmberg1,2
1 Faculty of Health and Medicine, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW, Australia.
2 International Society for Systems and Complexity Sciences for Health, Waitsfield, VT, United States.
Conference/Journal: Front Psychiatry
Date published: 2021 Mar 29
Other: Volume ID: 12 , Pages: 595124 , Special Notes: doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.595124. , Word Count: 252

Interoception, the ability to convey one's overall physiological state, allows people to describe their health along an experiential continuum, from excellent, very good, good, fair to poor. Each health state reflects a distinct pattern of one's overall function. This assay provides a new frame of understanding health and disease as complex-adaptive system states of the person as-a-whole. It firstly describes how complex patterns can emerge from simple equations. It then discusses how clinical medicine in certain domains has started to explore the pattern characteristics resulting in the heterogeneity of disease, and how this better understanding has improved patient management. The experiential state of health can be surprising to the observer-some are in good health with disabling disease, others are in poor health without the evidence of any. The main part of the assay describes the underlying complexity principles that contribute to health, and synthesizes available evidence from various research perspectives to support the philosophic/theoretical proposition of the complex-adaptive nature of health. It shows how health states arise from complex-adaptive system dynamics amongst the variables of a hierarchically layered system comprising the domains of a person's macro-level external environment to his nano-level biological blueprint. The final part suggests that the frame of health as a dynamic complex-adaptive state defines a new paradigm, and outlines ways of translating these expanded understandings to clinical practice, future research, and health system design.

Keywords: complex adaptive systems; health; non-linear dynamics; philosophy of medicine; physiology; psychoneuroimmunology; somato-psycho-socio-semiotic model of health; systems thinking.

PMID: 33854446 PMCID: PMC8039389 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.595124