Winter will be here soon (although tomorrow December 15, 2015,) is expected to reach 70° Fahrenheit. As the season’s change we begin to see the typical runny noses and scratchy throats. This time of year even has a nickname; Cold Season or Flu Season. We are provided instructions each year to reduce our chances of “catching” these illnesses. We are told to (1) wash our hands regularly (many recommending to use anti microbial soaps,) (2) cover our mouths with our arms if we cough or sneeze, (3) sanitize our office space, (4) carry our own pen to public areas instead of using public pens, (5) place clean towels on public yoga mats before exercising, (6) breathe out if walking past a person sneezing or coughing until 6 to 10 feet beyond the individual, (7) use sanitize wipes on our cell phone throughout the day, (8) get a flu shot.
These tips seem to offer good advice because they reduce the chances of exposing our bodies to germs and appear to protect our bodies if they are exposed. Does this mean the mechanism for becoming sick is germ exposure? The answer may surprise you.
For over 38 years I have been exercising at various health clubs in various states. These gyms are reservoirs for germs. Bodily fluids and sweat produce enough germs to easily infect anyone inside these environments. Why aren’t most members CHRONICALLY SICK? Are they not exposed to countless germs?
As a doctor my job required direct contact with my patients (ex. physical examinations, treatments, etc…) thus placing me in close proximity on a daily basis. I was exposed to sick people regularly and inhaled (breathing normally) all kinds of germs for more than 20 years. I missed 4 days of work during my tenure. (Two episodes of illness that lasted two days each.) Why wasn’t I CHRONICALLY SICK under the circumstances I worked? Was I not exposed to countless germs on a regular basis?
Public bathrooms, public escalators, movie theaters, etc… the list is endless. Are we not exposed DAILY to countless germs?
Regardless of our attempt to sanitize everything we can, the germs survive AND enter our bodies on a regular basis. If illness was caused merely by exposure to germs, why aren’t we all CHRONICALLY SICK?
Exposure to germs IN AND OF ITSELF is NOT the cause of disease.
Why is it then that most of us still believe that “germs” make us sick? Is it because we here stories such as e. coli “germs” (bacteria) in food causes illnesses? Is it because when we’re sick our doctors prescribe antibiotics to “kill the germs (bacteria?) that give our illnesses names. Is it because we are told our best defense against illness is to kill ALL GERMS POSSIBLE (a reason for constant sanitizing?)
This model doesn’t make sense. A family that lives in the same house exposed to the same germs will not (in most cases) all get sick. Nor will the intensity or duration of any illness be equal.
THERE IS A MISSING PIECE OF THE PUZZLE THAT EXPLAINS WHY SOME GET SICK AND SOME DO NOT! WHAT IS THIS MISSING PIECE?
ANSWER: OUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
For the most part, germ exposure is NOT the underlying CAUSE why we become sick. Personal neglect and abuse resulting in a compromised immune system makes us vulnerable to disease and illness. As I have written in the past, HEALTH is the natural state of the body; DISEASE is the end result of a deficient immune system . Those who consciously work on maintaining a strong immune system do not typically experience illnesses that most people do.
When you go to your doctor to prevent winter illnesses, what protective steps are taken by your physician? Do they suggest diligent sanitizing? Do they recommend the flu shot? What other steps do they recommend you take home and implement to protect YOURSELF?
Do they recommend the following:
Drink water approximating half your body weight (in ounces.) Dehydration places stress on all systems of the body reducing the effectiveness of the immune system.
Drink tea (black and green?) Polyphenols in tea are strong anti-oxidants which help boost immune function.
Eat good healthy sources of protein (an important macronutrient) in a healthy diet. Whey protein, specifically, can help fight off colds and flu because it contains beta-glucans and immunoglobulins, which protect your immune system and support your body’s natural detoxification processes.
Eat fermented foods with prebiotics and probiotics to improve the quality of”gut bacteria?” Pickles, sauerkraut, yogurt and kefir are the more popular sources. Others, less popular in the United States include natto, kimchee, miso and tempeh. Over 70% of the immune system is found in the GI tract.
Eat blueberries, raspberries and blackberries which contain powerful phytochemicals, such as anthocyanins that are strong immune boosters?
Get at least 6-8 hours of QUALITY sleep each night to provide adequate time for the body to recover and reproduce new healthy cells to strengthen the immune system in preparation for a new day?
Reduce stress! Since stress increases stress hormones such as Cortisol which weakens immune function, it would be an important component necessary to prevent disease.
Exercise! This helps improve respiratory function and offers the potential benefit of clearing bacteria and other microbes from the lungs. It also increases lymph flow which clears debris from the body. The increase in body temperature during exercise (low to moderate intensity) provides an environment that is hostile to “germs” preventing them from multiplying. Exercise appears to increase the rate of white blood cell circulation (immune cells) potentially making them more efficient at detecting and “killing” invading germs.
These eight steps provide better protection from winter illnesses than ANY other step you can take including sanitizing and vaccinating. Naturally, I encourage good hygiene practices, however, I DISCOURAGE OVER SANITIZING. Constant sanitizing removes protective beneficial bacteria from the hands. As we touch public items, our hand bacteria prevents other forms of germs from infecting us. As we follow these eight steps, we strengthen our immune system which keeps our bodies in their natural state of good health. As you experience these benefits, your fear of “germs” will dissipate.
Whether you choose to vaccinate in addition to the eight steps I’ve discussed is a personal decision. According to the Centers for Disease Control approximately 75%+ who received the flu vaccine for 2015/2016 “will likely get sick anyway if exposed to the virus.” This is because the strain the vaccine was created for was “mismatched” with the strain that actually exists. Each year, a “best guess” approach is used when developing this vaccine.
So, the next time you see a commercial that asks, “have you taken action to prevent getting sick this cold and flu season,” what will your answer be?
(A) Yes. I went to ___________ (Walgreen, Doctors Office, Costco, etc…) and got my flu shot.
(B) Yes. I learned what it takes to prevent disease and implemented an eight step program to strengthen my immune system to fight off disease and maintain good health the way we are designed to.
(C) No. I’ll just hope for the best.
Being armed with the answers for better health is a powerful position to be in. What you choose to do with these answers may determine your future health.