News & Spotlights

The Roots of Health Run Deep

March 6th, 2015
Stories, Wellness

The Roots of Health Run Deep


Have you ever seen a Redwood tree? The average Redwood tree is 200 lbs and 10-15 feet in diameter. Dr. Mary Koehnke, HealthPoint provider, talks about how, aside from a vast difference in size, we are similar to these massive trees. We need to take good care of our "roots".

When I was a kid I used to hike in redwood tree forests in northern California. Have you ever seen a redwood tree? They are grand and majestic with thick regal trunks that you can’t fit your arms around. I’ve grown to think about my health like a redwood tree.

There is a very thick, hefty fundamental base that provides nutrients for the tree. That base has roots which run deep into the ground to support and sustain its life. At the top the trunk separates into smaller branches with a million little needles similar to leaves. When we think about our own human health, we have a similar fundamental base that supports us for life. In medicine we like to call that support the “Determinants of Health”.

The Determinants of Health are the basics that humans need to be healthy: healthy food, vegetables, daily physical exercise, clean water, regular good quality sleep, basic nutrients, healthy relationships, a sense of self worth. Much like roots feed the tree these things feed our health. Just as you would expect, if a tree has diseased roots or trunk, problems arise at the top. The branches aren’t getting the basics that they need so they struggle to survive. Eventually you see diseased or rotting leaves which are a symptom of lacking fundamental support from the roots and trunk that support it.

Similarly, I see this in my patients: when one (or more) of the Determinants of Health is lacking (like poor sleep or poor nutrition), symptoms and conditions start to evolve and eventually cause trouble in their lives.  Many times patients have chronic disease symptoms that result from lacking the basic Determinants of Health. (Some people may need modifications of basic determinants such as fluid restriction, exercise restriction or specialized diets. Talk to your doctor if you think you’re in this group.)

When I was a resident physician, I saw this happening in my own life. I was maximally stressed, didn’t get enough sleep, ate too much frozen processed food and didn’t get enough exercise.  And what happened?  My ‘branches and leaves’ started to have symptoms. My asthma got worse, my blood pressure got higher, my cholesterol started to creep up, sleep got worse. The basic fundamentals of health weren’t being addressed and symptoms started to develop. The awesome thing is that all of these things were reversible. With a little better diet, more vegetables, more exercise and daily meditation, my cholesterol and blood pressure have returned to normal and my asthma is well under control.

For me, that was a reality check about the way I was living my life and how I was taking care of my body. I’m grateful for the reality check because it changed the course of how I will view my health for the rest of my life.

Take a moment to look at your own Determinants of Health. How is your diet? Are you getting daily exercise? Are you getting the recommended amount of sleep? Is it good quality sleep? How is your stress level and is there anything you can do to reduce stress? How are your relationships? Are they supportive of a healthy life?

If you have questions about your own ‘branches and leaves’, be sure to schedule an appointment with your HealthPoint provider. Prevention really is the best medicine and in some cases it’s good disease treatment, too. Check out this link to the American Heart Association for more info.

Written by Mary Koehnke, ND, Naturopathic Medicine Physician at HealthPoint Bothell.