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Microb Biotechnol. 2013 Jul;6(4):341-8. doi: 10.1111/1751-7915.12063. Epub 2013 May 6.

What is health?

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Nestlé Research Center, BioAnalytical Sciences, Food and Health Microbiology, Lausanne, Switzerland.


Classical medical research is disease focused and still defines health as absence of disease. Languages, however, associate a positive concept of wholeness with health as does the WHO health definition. Newer medical health definitions emphasize the capacity to adapt to changing external and internal circumstances. The results of the 2010 Global Burden of Disease study provides keys for a quantifiable health metrics by developing statistical tools calculating healthy life expectancy. Of central social and economic importance is the question whether healthy ageing can be achieved. This concept hinges on theories on the biological basis of lifespan determination and whether negligible senescence and the compression of morbidity can be achieved in human societies. Since the health impact of the human gut microbiome is currently a topical research area, microbiologists should be aware of the problems in defining health.

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