The societal response to the pandemic as we enter the month of May is transforming each and every one of us. Like many doctors, I have dedicated my life’s work to understanding health and how we can do our best with the resources available to treat disease and support health. Unlike most doctors, I chose Naturopathic medical school due to its open acknowledgement of the many traditions of treating disease from around the world.
In this article, I hope to shed light on the situation of our global health that you may find helpful and empowering to your daily choices.
Part 1: The truth will set you free...
There is no viewpoint of absolute truth we are able to agree upon as a community for the appropriate response to this pandemic. Medical experts and political authorities around the world have widely varying viewpoints in terms of what is really going on today.
Most medical systems in the US focus their education on pharmaceutical drugs as the only resource for health, and a narrowed lens on science from what the American Medical Association integrates as relevant information. Naturopathic medical training is a systems-based approach to health as opposed the allopathic reductionist lens. This boils down to even such notions as germ theory. Consider the example of 2 different viewpoints; you walk into a farm and see an overcrowded population of animals living without adequate air circulation, inappropriate food and contaminated water. You then learn from the farmer that there is an illness destroying his crop. From a germ theory perspective, we focus on the organism that’s the problem for the health of the farm animals. From a systems perspective, we look at the environment from which it comes to see if there are factors of dis~ease in the population that should be addressed. Both systems are valuable but we cannot resolve the problem entirely until the environment has been addressed.
Naturopathic and integrative systems of medicine seek verification for our theories from nature. Our concepts for treating disease must parallel the observations that are made of other biological systems. We endeavor to seek out the cause of health imbalance as opposed to just its expression in order to address that as the core. Once the germ is identified, we have to look to explore how it came to be to understand why it exists and how we can heal the whole system. If our new ideas on health and disease are incongruent with what ancient traditions utilized for generations of supporting health, then we are prompted to look deeper, because we may not be seeing the whole picture.
There is a great deal of conflicting data in the world today about this pandemic. We know it is an aggressive virus and behaves differently that other viruses that we’re more accustomed to seeing. Whether our current health threats are something manufactured out of the incessant curiosity of humans whatever their intent may be, or the result of a natural evolution out of a diseased human and animal relationship is in some ways insignificant to how our bodies must respond.
Here’s what I think is really helpful to understand:
In traditional systems of medicine, it has been recognized that the times of seasonal change create significant stress in all life forms. The dynamic of autumn energy is such that the life force has an opportunity to descend into the storehouse of energy of the being. If the storehouse isn’t adequate, the life force will diminish and may perish. Likewise, in the springtime the energy of life has the impulse to grow and expand. If the inner resources to do this are inadequate, the life force will not continue. Death is as natural as birth, and the seasonal changes create an opportunity for every life form to make a shift.
Chinese medicine is an incredible wealth of information, not only as a resource to understand health and treat disease but also due to the fact that it is likely the vastest collection of historical data on human health in the world. There is detailed documentation on the trend of disease, how it impacts people and populations for thousands of years. What are described as “Warm Diseases” predominated as a focus of healthcare for extended periods of time in our human history. This is the illness characterized by rapid onset, febrile pattern that can progress in a variety of ways very quickly. Warm diseases tend to have a severe effect on the weak and old in a population. We have seen a global decrease in warm diseases over the course of several hundred years. Warm diseases still emerge today on a seasonal and periodic basis. When there is a significant proportion of reduced health in a community or eco-system, the warm disease erupts and can make a radical shift in the community very quickly.
Cold diseases predominate in our current era. These are diseases of gradual weakening systems, faulty development that result in sensitivities and the slow breakdown of the body. Cold disease patterns include cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal ailments, kidney failure, prolonged healing time, etc… Historically, cold disease patterns were seen in people as they grew old, and were seldom observed in children and young adults.
Today our world is very different. We have factors contributing to weakened systems everywhere we look. Pesticides, heavy metals, chemicals from plastic use and manufacturing, air pollutants, auto exhaust all contribute to weakening of the body systems in one form or another. Cold disease states predominate and are growing at exponential rates. Neurological diseases affect more than 1 in 10 children. One in 4 children have a dysregulated immune system where their bodies do not appropriately differentiate between a pathogen or a non-pathogen. Today we have the largest population of unwell children ever, and this is especially true in the United States.
In nature, the dynamic between these warm diseases and cold diseases creates a complex and complementary pattern. Periodic warm diseases strengthen the bodies that survive through it, and assist the dying process of the weak. Cold disease patterns can allow unwell beings to live a longer life by not reacting as strongly to a seasonal change. This is true in all species within a biological system. Just as in nature, the human body's response to an acute illness has the potential to improve chronic health problems, if the body’s resources are strong enough. Getting seasonal acute illnesses are a necessary part of building health, and can improve health if we know how to respond to it in a way that augments the body’s natural transformative ability.
The most fascinating thing to me in all the world is the meeting place where ancient systems of medicine becomes “discovered” through modern science to be true down to the cellular matrix. Modern immunology is an amazing demonstration of this the further we travel into the minutiae of exploration.
Those who are versed in the basics of immunology and microbiology know that we depend intricately on daily interaction with the world. To cultivate a normal, functioning immune system you need the everyday exposures to build a strong immune system. This is essential to stay current with our world, build our immune memory bank for our longevity, and to be able to more rapidly respond to an illness the next time we encounter it. Just as a limb immobilized grows weak in a few weeks' time, the immune system also diminishes when less is asked for it to respond to.
A much more complex picture of the immune system is formed when we dive into the broader reaches of how this system interrelates with every other part of the body. It intersects with our well-being down to the cellular level by conducting the complex orchestra of neurotransmitters, the mood regulators of the body. It regulates the dynamics of the cardiovascular system, our stress response, our circadian rhythm, our hormones and so much more. The emerging field of medicine, psychoneuroimmunology continues to unravel these mysteries and has been a focus of my continuing education for over a decade. The feedback loop of how our immune system regulates our emotional state and the emotions regulate our immune system continues to amaze me.
We humans are social beings. Our ability to know ourselves is formulated in so many ways by those we co-exist with. Our stories become us, and those that tend to be the most formative are the stories of interaction with other humans. Self-knowing is discovered through the interactions we have that formulate our sense of safety. This determination is also intricately dependent on the immune system. Building trust in our relationships, our communities and our world not only through the mind-body connection, but also in the cellular response to continuous stimuli is foundational to our ability to thrive in our environment.
Where does a virus come from?
The pandemic is not the disease. The virus is a symptom of a diseased system of humans and the environment. The cause of the disease is an over-zealous consumer-driven machine of our society that has exhausted the resources to such a dramatic extent that now it is self-destructing. This disease is something we all know very well and lives inside us all. It is the disease that allows us to eat animals that have lived a life of abuse by their handlers. It is the disease of greed that drives us to purchase goods made far across the world by someone who did not get the respect of a reasonable wage for their efforts. It is the disease that allows us to justify the use of batteries that require materials that have destroyed entire ecosystems and communities in 3rd world nations. It is the disease that we feed when we travel to distant lands contributing more jet fuel to the air that others breathe than we could ever possibly clean up in our lifetimes. It is the disease that allows us to flush toilet paper from virgin forests into clean, drinkable water to collect in a system of waste that requires chemical processing that will impact the downstream creatures for countless generations. It is the disease that allows us to consume chemically altered foods that destroy the soil rather than real fruits and vegetables from our own backyards. This disease is so intricately interwoven into who we are as a nation and it is destroying us.
Today, we are in the midst of the 6th global extinction. As rapid as every 20 minutes another species on this planet goes extinct. Our runaway train of society is crashing and the greatest tragedy is that it is taking the innocent lives of countless beings along the way. Yet within each and every one of us exists the conscientious choice to stop the train. It is each one of us human beings that sits in the driver's seat and the more resources we have access to, the more responsible we are to change.
This is one of hopefully many silver linings of the pandemic. We have temporarily slowed the train by a magnitude larger than was conceived to be humanly possible. And not just one train car, but aspects of the entire complex of the global network of consumerism, pollution and ecological destruction. We have done the impossible thanks to this pandemic and from this moment we have an incredible opportunity to alter the course of history.
How this relates to your health:
Reducing societal and environmental contact for 1-2 months is a significant diminishment to our microbiome, especially if people are routinely interacting with antibacterial and anti-viral chemical products. Shelter in place decreases the immune system by virtue of contacting less of our world. Having less stimuli biologically to determine what we need to fight against and what we need to accept quickly shifts the immune system's ability to differentiate. Simultaneously, the current paradigm of fear of others accentuates the diseased pattern of "us vs. them" thinking that plagues humanity. We are in a time that accentuates the wounds of racism, sexism, classism and the ailments of modern society and degrades our ability to shift into a more whole and considerate worldview. Our shift away from in-person conversations where we can not only hear and see each other, but also feel each other and exchange the subtle energies between one another allows for a far deeper connection and understanding. When navigating difficult times, physical separation only intensifies our intellectual and spiritual divide and makes greater room for misunderstanding.
We cannot sustain the reduced connection in our communities and families if we hope to achieve a healthier state and prevent disease. Our vulnerability increases the longer we isolate. Just as psychoneuroimmunology is a fantastic exploration of how humans work, the deeper understanding of microflora is transforming concepts in medicine, agriculture and global health rapidly. The microbiome is the world of the unseen organisms that coexist within us and around us. This is the field of microscopic organisms that also must be nourished routinely in order to thrive. It is well understood that when we use a pharmaceutical drug to kill harmful bacteria, we inadvertently create a disruption in the body’s health by disrupting the healthy organisms as well. We have more microorganisms in our bodies than our own human cells. A handful of healthy soil contains a universe of beings within it. We depend on these organisms for our vitamin and nutrient production, our circulation, our neurotransmitters and most relevant today, for our immune function.
The microbiome is everywhere, and it’s not just about touching our faces. When we interact with another person 10 feet away, our microbiomes are communicating. When we interact with someone 6 feet away, another level of communication is happening. When we are within 2 feet of another, the exchange of information changes and deepens yet again. When we hug, the microbes do a happy dance with us. This communication is about safety, trust, exchanging insight and most importantly sharing the warmth of vibrant life energy in a way that connects our hearts and minds.
The microbiome is not just relevant to our personal health, but is the key to balancing the dynamics of the health of our ecosystem as a whole. The soil degradation of our entire North American continent has stripped away an enormous resource from each and every one of us residing here. The continued degradation throughout the landscape of our Earth for the appetite for animal products, cheaper than reasonable goods and toxic materials has disrupted our biological systems to the core.
It is time for us to reconnect with the value of our soil, as it is integral to our health. We can no longer justify the stripping away of resources from part of the Earth to justify any short-term gain. We must fight the COVID infection and all the other infections waiting for us to grow weaker not by self-isolating but through reestablishing our vast network of microscopic and macroscopic allies. Prevention is the best form of cure and we have the resources in our hands and beneath our feet to do just that.
How can we avoid getting sick?
The most important thing anyone can do to prevent the risk of severe impact from a virus is to nurture the health of the lungs, reduce co-morbidities and increase overall health. The most consistent factor that leads to severe complications for individuals’ health is air pollution. Fortunately, with the reduction in human activity the pollution is significantly diminishing in cities in a short period of time, yet for many people the air pollution in their homes is far worse.
· Lung Health – The lung is the core of immune protection. Recently, I have begun offering a resource to improve the health of your lungs with qigong classes online from the comfort of home. This gentle movement meditation is an ideal practice for lung health. Lymphatic stimulation, activating the body’s circulation and bringing awareness to our protective energy is a significant component to this 2,000-year-old traditional practice for health. This and dozens of natural medicine resources are available through Stillwater’s apothecary and my online classes.
· Reduce Co-morbidities – If you have been diagnosed with a chronic disease, the time is now to engage in individualized integrative medical care to guide the path to reduce disease progression in the body. While pharmaceutical drugs may be necessary to intervene in a dysregulated body system, nutritional therapies and lifestyle factors are essential to repair and regain health.
· Increase Overall Health – This season I’ll be offering my seasonal cleanse program as a more elaborate online system for supporting any variety of ambition to experience the wealth of resources available through a cleanse process. This program incorporates nutritional changes, detoxification tools, mindfulness practices, exercise and fasting for people to choose for themselves the intensity of the course they are willing to experience. Stop using anything that is harmful to the microbiome within you or around you. Learn about plant medicine to support your routine health, get enough sleep, exercise, laughter, play and work that feeds your soul every single day.
The next most important thing to avoid this illness is to learn how to support the body through a viral exposure to produce an optimal response. This is something that was more common knowledge before society was undermined when women were convinced that breast-feeding was unfashionable and fevers were dangerous. Our opportunity to develop an optimal immune system has been significantly challenged by today's world. The systematic infiltration of our food supply with chemicals that damaged our health slowly, the confusion of the immune system receiving virus particles in a toxic formula from an injection rather than an inhaled particle that the body is designed to handle have all disempowered individuals at the core. Both allopathic and holistic providers are now recognizing that one of the most harmful things a person can do at the onset of the infection that targets the lung is to use Tylenol or Ibuprofen to stop the symptoms, yet that is in nearly all of the most common over-the-counter cold and flu remedies on the market today. It not only blocks the body's system of defense, which is most effective at the start of an illness, but also damages the lung tissue and allows the virus to progress deeper into the body.
It is time to re-learn how to nurture a fever and how to sustainably build lifelong immunity to whatever comes our way. Removing risk factors and co-morbidities with the support of natural medicine is at your fingertips with traditional medicine systems that have effectively been transforming individuals' health for as long as we can track. Hydrotherapy, herbal medicine, homeopathy are, in my experience the best medicines for supporting the body during acute illness. I am in the process of creating online courses to share this information broadly and hope it can be a resource to you all. At the first sign of illness, schedule an acute care visit to gain knowledge and individualized support to make the most of the immune systems expression.
Avoiding an acute illness altogether is unlikely and even potentially unfavorable for long term health. Thus, building the integrity of the immune system while using our resources to help address the underlying conditions that make us vulnerable is where our energy can best serve ourselves and our world. Meanwhile, all our days are numbered especially with the current projections of climate change. The actions we each take over the next 8-20 years may be all we have left by many models of projection to avoid complete biological systems collapse. While we wait out the passing storm of the coronavirus, our government is reducing environmental protections, increasing investment in pharmaceutical research, diminishing resources to the most vulnerable economic groups and perpetuating a community of disparity amongst neighbors.
It is time to put focus on building our networks of support, cultivate our local networks, invest our energy in sustainable resources and solidify our commitment to building a healthy future for our planet. For educational resources for immune support, visit my growing resources on my online school, https://hart-healing-arts.teachable.com/ or schedule an appointment with myself or our other trusted providers at Stillwater Clinic & Apothecary.