Immunity: When the Cold Catches You
3.15.12

Had a cold lately?  Ever wondered what you can do minimize the likelihood of “catching” one the next time around?  Well, here’s a thought: Maybe you can’t really catch a cold.  Maybe the potential for a cold is always with you and occasionally it catches you with your defenses down.  While that thought alone has the potential to throw a huge monkey wrench into the whole idea of the war against microbes, my purpose in this article is much simpler: to help you realize that illness is more a matter of something you allow to happen to yourself rather than something “out there” that might catch you.

To give you a practical example of this, think of “cold and flu season”. When is it?  Winter, right?  What’s different about winter?  Well, we get less sunlight, which means we make less vitamin D to power our immune systems.  We typically exercise less because we stay inside to escape the cold.  Because we don’t exercise as often, we also don’t sweat as much, which means our bodies don’t quite cleanse as efficiently.  Since we stay inside more, we breathe less fresh air and more indoor air pollution.  Throw in holiday treats full of sugar that also compromise our immune systems and it’s no mystery why we succumb to colds more.

But back to this issue of the potential for a cold always being with us. Ponder these realities for a moment:

  • Have you ever wondered how yeast is made so it can be put into bread?  Okay, that’s a trick question…you can’t actually make yeast, you can only capture it from the air around you.  It’s always there.
  • It is estimated that we swallow about 10,000 pathogens a day and breathe in a number even higher than that.
  • A handful of dirt contains more living organisms than there are people on the planet.  The probiotic supplement I take has about 12 billion living organisms in a single capsule!
  • There are at all times more living organisms in your intestines and in your blood than there are cells in your body.  We’re talking trillions of individual organisms here—bacteria, fungi, yeasts, etc.  Some of them are good for your health, while others range from mildly to highly antagonistic to your health.

Pondering these realities for a few moments can lead to some fascinating questions.  Let’s start with this: Why is it that we can, for the most part, simultaneously exist with all these ubiquitous organisms living in us and around us and not be sick?  Many, if not most, of these organisms would gladly consume our bodies’ resources and/or feast on our tissues for lunch if they could.  Yet, in a healthy person, they do not.  Why?

A lot of the credit for how we stay healthy should go to your immune system, and given the bullet points above, it’s safe to say our immune systems are about 99.99% effective at their job.  If fact, it’s a bit of a morbid thought, but the reason we start to decompose so quickly after death (just like a banana on your countertop) is because organisms that eat our tissue can spread without any interference from the immune system.  However, health isn’t just about the immune system.  The immune system is only as good as the internal terrain in which it lives.  What that means is that our immune systems – or any systems in our bodies, for that matter – can only maintain health if they have a balance of the right resources and are not surrounded by filth.

Imagine what would happen if you didn’t clean your home for a year: Dirty dishes stay in the sink, you never clean your bathroom, you leave piles of laundry lying around your home, there’s no vacuuming and no taking out the trash.  It wouldn’t be long in that kind of environment before you starting growing all sorts of new life forms in your home.  And do you think you might get sick?  It’s obvious you would, but why?  Well, it’s not because some germs finally arrived on a plane from overseas.  Plenty of germs were already in your home before you stopped cleaning it.  In this imaginary scenario, you’d get sick because the terrain of your home became so unbalanced that the conditions conducive to good health did not abound.  Nature has a wonderful way of recycling just about everything if it has enough time.  A home filled with filth and decay is a bastion for unbridled growth of organisms that thrive on filth and death.  An abundance of those types of organisms make it difficult – if not impossible – to maintain health, and they will continue to do so until the terrain changes.  In a filthy home (or filthy insides), the organisms that thrive on keeping you healthy get crowded out because of a lack of the proper terrain where they can live.  You’d get sick because the “bad guys” achieve the upper hand against your overworked immune system.

Looking back at history, especially on this side of the invention of the microscope, it’s easy to see how a lack of understanding of sanitation led to the conditions in which microbes that thrive on decay could lead to shorter life spans and the infamous disease outbreaks throughout history.  In our own country, a quick survey of the death rates from infectious diseases shows a dramatic drop from 1900 to 1950 as we began to understand and implement measures that create more sanitary conditions.  Interesting side note: What many people don’t know is that the death rates from infectious diseases has stayed relatively the same since 1950 and virtually all of these declines happened before vaccines were made a standard part of medical care.  In fact, there has actually been a modest uptick in infectious diseases since vaccines were made standard.  But that topic is for another article.

Despite the tremendous advancements in sanitation, we’ve traded infectious diseases for the diseases of the civilized world—diseases like heart attacks, cancer, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, stroke and many more are the leading killers of today, not infections.  While we’ve done much better keeping the external terrain cleaner (sanitary) since 1900, it’s hard to say we’ve improved at all at keeping our internal terrain healthy enough to prevent degenerative diseases.  If history can be a good teacher here, then we might see that when illness occurs perhaps the first place to look is in the mirror, not through the microscope.  A more worthwhile question than “How can we attack illness?” might be to ask, “Where did I lack balance and allow illness to take a foothold?”

An even better question might be, “Since none of us are ultimately going to cheat death, how do we maintain a healthy internal balance and still live in ‘the real world’”?  Where are we individually and collectively responsible for preventing an environment where disease can flourish?  Well, if you think I have the all answers on how to best orchestrate this magnificent symbiosis, you give me too much credit.  I’ve studied this topic of health for about a decade now and it never ceases to amaze me how much I don’t know.

Still, I have learned a few things along the way and here is one bit of bedrock I build on: Your body is not uninterested in healing and maintaining vitality, and it is highly unlikely that it is incapable of doing so either.  Whenever someone approaches me with a question about health, sooner or later we end up back at the basics—a clean, nutrient-dense diet, exercise, sleep, relaxation, pleasure, hope, purpose, toxin elimination, stress management and holistic healthcare.  None of us have ever mastered or exhausted these components of health.

In the final estimation, we can only ignore these factors for a brief period of time before illness creep in.  Why am I not afraid of germs?  Because I understand them as ever present and I have come to see the interruption of illness is a friendly reminder that I am getting off track with regard to the balance in my life.  Microbes aren’t the problem.  I am.  Aiming for balance in life is no doubt an exercise of aiming at a moving target.  Still, the better my aim gets, the closer I get to finding a huge secret to happiness and the less likely I am to get “caught”.  With that in mind, here’s to balance, a clean home and the courage to dig deep enough to find the answers we’re all looking for.  Keep searching.  Life and health are too fragile, and too precious to do otherwise!

If this topic fascinates you, I’d encourage you to do an Internet search for “The Germ Theory vs. The Terrain Theory” . What you find just might blow your mind!

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