At this time of great turmoil when there is so much confusion, fear and anger in the world, many of us are earnestly trying to focus on the positive and tease meaning out of the chaos. From my perspective and experience, the significance of the COVID-19 pandemic and particularly, the world’s reaction to this novel virus, SARS-CoV-2, is very clear. Since the dawn of recorded history, much of mankind has been in an all-out battle to conquer the natural world. We are now reaping the consequences of these actions.
Although microbes, first molds and then bacteria, were discovered as early as 1665, viruses were not identified until 1890. Around that same time, Louis Pasteur discovered that particular microbes could cause specific diseases. Although this theory was initially scoffed at and opposed, as all new scientific theories are, once it was accepted by the general public that microbes, or “germs” as we like to call them, were causing disease, people set about finding ways to destroy them.
This war on microbes continues, despite that we have known for many decades that we are completely and helplessly dependent on many microbes, which we like to call “friendly” bacteria, for nourishment, health and well-being. As it turns out, and prophetically so, we are waging war against ourselves.
It does not take much digging to find evidence that the current pandemic could be an indirect consequence of our long-term, continual battle with our environment and the bugs that inhabit it. We simply have to look at the known effects of chemical toxins, antibiotics and pesticides on the microbial world. Everyone who has heard of MRSA knows that bacteria survive antibiotics by mutating to become resistant to the drugs.
Viruses, while they are not actually alive and need a host to replicate, are also considered part of the microbial world. Viruses can also mutate to become more effective and resistant to our means of exterminating them. Viruses mutate in response to a changing environment and can sometimes jump species in order to more efficiently replicate themselves. There is also evidence that viruses can develop drug resistance in response to antiviral treatment.
About 8% of the human genome is made up of virus fragments leftover from viral epidemics our ancestors survived. While some viruses cause sickness, disease and death, many viruses live harmlessly in a host and may even be symbiotic, or mutually beneficial. There are thousands of known viruses, and who knows how many yet to be discovered.
Viruses combine and mutate regularly, and if these mutations are beneficial to their survival, they create new, or novel viruses, such as the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Vaccines can help our immune system to recognize a virus and respond more quickly to protect us, but effective and safe vaccines take years to develop and they do not work universally, adequately and safely for everyone.
It seems our best avenue of defense is to arm our immune system with what it needs to resist harmful viral invasion. There are many known and studied plant and mineral substances that do exactly that – prevent viruses from invading and replicating. Even more important is the fact that an inherently strong immune system has this ability on its own.
The innate immune system can detect and eradicate viral invaders, even when they are new mutations that we have never seen before. The cells of the innate immune system, called phagocytes, gobble up foreign invaders without discretion to whether they are recognized as past invaders. And there are particular nutrients that are well known to help the innate immune system and prevent viruses from entering our cells and replicating.
Your immune system does not provide 100% protection against all threats, but it does a pretty good job when operating at its best. Which lead us to what we know about those most vulnerable to COVID-19. The at-risk population is anyone with underlying conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, respiratory diseases, immunosuppressive diseases and even obesity. Most of these risk-increasing diseases and conditions are preventable, lifestyle-mediated diseases that are affecting a growing percentage of our country and the world.
We also know air pollution is a factor. Harvard University did a statistical analysis of those who became sick with COVID-19 and found that people living in polluted environments are far less able to fight off the disease. And global warming plays a role too. Leading climate scientists believe higher temperatures will lead to increasing concentrations of allergens, ozone and small particles that irritate the lungs.
I am a proponent of addressing what we have control over. I believe we have already proved we cannot control microbes. The more we try, the more havoc we create. However, we can control our own environment and lifestyle habits. If we focus on fixing the problems, (i.e. air pollution, weakened immune systems, nutrient deficiencies, overactive stress response, poor sleep, etc.), we take back our control and create meaningful steps toward solutions.
The blame-game is not helpful and does not advance solutions. The only helpful choice is to make the assumption that most people are doing the best they can and what they believe to be right. The bottom line is that we are all responsible for the current situation of the world and need to shoulder this responsibility humbly. Is it possible our ability to co-exist with microbes and acknowledge their importance in the grand scheme of life is a metaphor for our ability to honor opposing viewpoints, beliefs and cultural differences in our fellow Americans?
My main fear is that if we do not, once and for all, understand and begin to enact peaceful coexistence with the natural world (and our fellow human beings), we will encounter increasing number and virulence in microbial pathogens. It is critical that we stop in our tracks and recognize that our current way of operating is making the problem worse … and then find another way.
Please see previous blogs for my recommendations of lifestyle changes and helpful supplements to protect yourself and support your immune system. Or just call my office (540) 899-9421 or email me to find out what is best for you and your situation.