How to stay healthy and fit in mind & body? That’s been a question for the ages. Why do some people get sick and others don’t? While I want to discuss mind & body, (and spiritual healing too) in this blog, I want to start with a simple example that is more relevant to most people as we head into fall and winter. How do we avoid colds and flus? If we get one, how does the body recover? Answering this question may be important to better understand the balance between mind, body, and spirit and why some people end up with depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions.
How to Stay Healthy in Mind & Body? Or Why Do Some People Get Sick?
There are many theories proposed to answer why some people get sick. My focus has been more about mental/emotional health and most of the time that’s what I write about too. But as we’ll see in future posts, there are layers and layers of complexity to answering this question. So let’s start with why people get a cold or flu. Modern medicine believes that we get sick because of a virus or bacteria that invades and overwhelms our immune system.
Colds and flu represents the number one reason for office visits to the doctor and the cause of the most days of work missed. Buzz Aldrin is quoted as saying, “we can put a person on the moon but still can’t cure the common cold.” Science thinks they know how and why people get sick but there is still no cure, interestingly enough. The theory, as it is understood in the mainstream, is that a pathogen (either a virus or bacteria) invades the body (an outside force) to cause an infection in the body and create the disease. (For a moment, turn the clock back 500 years and replace “pathogen” with “evil spirit” and you have a disempowering model once again. As an interesting side note, many of the texts showing pictures of evil spirits look a lot like the electron microscope images of viruses. I’ll save this discussion for another article though.)
The theory is a little more complex than that although it still isn’t completely understood. It is believed that a pathogen disrupts the balance in the body somehow. See, it’s not so much about catching a cold or flu, as most of the viruses are likely living on our body much of the time. It is only when they overwhelm our system for whatever reason that there is a problem.
Without getting overly political, I describe to patients that our body is kind of like the United States. There are citizens, documented aliens, and harmful undocumented aliens. (At the time of writing this, immigration is a hot political topic so patients can relate to this analogy. I don’t generally like to discuss politics with patients). There are 30 trillion human cells in the typical human body. Each cell has a particular function and specialty. We also have countless other documented aliens – mostly bacteria – that help protect our skin, help with digestion and so forth. The last group is the pathogens that we don’t want in the body. The reality is that there is no way to really keep them out 100%. Somehow though, our immune cells circulate through the body and keep the undocumented aliens (pathogens) in check most of the time. Every once in awhile they fail to do that and an outbreak occurs in the body. When this happens, our immune system sends out a larger alarm in the form of inflammatory cytokines (hormones that communicate to other parts of the body) to mobilize other parts of the immune system to fight the infection. This process is what causes us to have symptoms of sneezing, aches, chills, and/or fever. We’ll see in another post why this is key to understand some mental illness and chronic disease.
There is likely something to this theory as well. Washing hands, not picking your nose, and staying away from people who are sick definitely helps decrease the spread of disease. Other theories abound that are equally and maybe more plausible including a disturbance in Qi (from a Chinese medicine perspective), disruption of mental/emotional balance (Louise Hay and others), spikes in inflammation or detox reaction (many researchers), and a host of other possibilities. (Maybe washing hands is a form of psychic purification for example).
But let’s turn the current disease model on its head for just a moment. What if one of these other theories is correct? What if the Qi is disturbed, or there is a mental/emotional imbalance that causes illness? A different way to look at this is that a cold or flu represents a disruption of the balance or homeostasis in the body. On his deathbed, Louis Pasteur is said to have recanted his theory to say that Antoine Béchamp (his main rival) was correct. Béchamp proposed that illness is about the terrain and not about the pathogen. His theory is that the pathogens are typical inhabitants of the body and for the most part he has been proven correct. In other words, we don’t get ill because of the pathogen necessarily but rather that there is an imbalance in the body allowing the pathogen to take advantage of the body. The pathogens are already there. So could washing hands be a placebo?
Another possibility is that the body has too much toxicity (think heavy metals, too much sugar or alcohol, or breathing in soot when there’s a nearby forest fire) and it wants to purge that to bring the body back into balance. It isn’t uncommon for one to feel like one is getting sick after this and have all of the same symptoms (including fever) as if one has a cold or flu, but a pathogen isn’t the culprit. Rather, there is another imbalance in the system.
From this viewpoint, the treatments that we think of to prevent a cold or flu, Echinacea, zinc, vitamin C, and so forth may not be the best approach. Immune boosting vitamins may not have the intended effects that we want. Rather we may want something that helps the body better recognize toxicity so as to facilitate removal of those toxins. Or we may want to help the organ systems that remove waste be more open and efficient. This slight shift in paradigm changes the approach to disease and illness.
If the problem is mental, emotional, or spiritual then treatment and prevention must focus on those factors to heal. Maybe this is why the placebo effect may be helpful. Or why there are so many anecdotal stories of faith healers, spiritual healers, spontaneous healings, and so forth. Of course, there is still something happening at the biological level, but maybe we can see a connection between the realm of the seen and the unseen.