Guardian of Health
Uncategorized, Wellness Culture

Immune System Basics in the Age of Pandemics

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

~HELEN KELLER

This quote really resonates right now for me. Many people around the world are suffering , and yet there are so many brave courageous people overcoming and saving lives as we face this pandemic. There are also excellent doctors sharing information on how to survive the corona virus and how to avoid catching it.  I am not a doctor, nutritionist or a scientist, but I do spend a lot of time and energy cultivating wellness wisdom and sharing the best of my discovery here at World Wise Beauty. This post may not be prolific or profound but my feeling is there may be a need for the basics and reviewing how our immune system works.  Recently the Governor of New York used ‘Gears’ as metaphor for getting his city rolling and I thought it was good descriptive word to illustrate how so many sectors in the city are meshed. There is a certain synchronicity involved in it’s day to day operations and an inter-dependency between all people who live in any city. Living in a global world we all realize this very concept applies to us all. Nature has been trying to teach us inter-dependency since the beginning of time. This corona virus has painfully illustrated how every cog in a wheel matters. We are all cogs with a purpose and we all matter. Another insightful quote captures this very idea beautifully…

  “So divinely is the world organized that every one of us, in our place and time, is in balance with everything else.”

~GOETHE

I  love how wisdom never ages or expires. Goethe was a poet and scientist  in the early 18th century. The point of wellness wisdom in particular is it usually has a universal and time tested foundation to it.  For example, what we have in common is our humanity and we all pretty much need the same things to stay alive and well.  We all need to sleep and we all have an immune system that relies on good sleep to stay well. I interviewed The Sleep Doctor, Dr. Michael Breus here at World Wise Beauty and I recommend you read his book to learn more about the powerful and healing restoration sleep provides us and our immune system.

Here is where it gets more complex. Our individual immune systems differ because our genetic makeup, environment, and lifestyles are different. I thought I would review the basics about our immune system here today so we can put all the information we are hearing about the virus in context for our own individual health. There are links throughout this post from respected medical experts and institutions that will be speak with more authority about immune systems, and I highly recommend clicking and reading. My aim here is to illuminate the basics about immunity and why a strong immune system matters to our everyday health and especially in a pandemic crisis.

The following story is what compelled me to write this post and it occurred yesterday…

“Fear, left unchecked, can spread like a virus.”

I happened to be reading an Instagram thread on a high profile wellness personality page. Her husband had Covid 19 and then after caring for him she eventually came down with it too. The woman is a wellness passioneer and believes in holistic approaches to maintaining health and fighting illness. All good! Everyone has their personal prescriptions for staying well or getting better. We all have our ‘go to remedies’ and our ‘go to health regimens’.  Apparently she believes the virus started with a sinus infection, which caused hundreds of followers to chime in about their sinus experience with the virus. They commented on how they believed their symptoms also started with their sinuses. I imagine after this explosion of ‘me too’s’ there are thousands of people who believe their sinus symptoms may be Corona. As I read this stream, I found myself wanting to offer context to this confusing stream by asking more questions.

This social stream of comments was a viral runaway train in terms of  passing on information. It is true, we don’t know everything about Covid 19 and especially about how easily it is transmitted, but we do know Corona 19 is respiratory virus and does seem to present similar symptoms like the common flu but more erratic and complex. When there are so many unknowns people conflate and confuse things with their own subjective experience because they are afraid. This woman had sinus issues and then got the virus. But, there was so much more to her story. The first fact is she was taking care of her husband who was very sick with Covid 19. The virus is contagious! The second fact is her sinuses if infected did have the ability to lower her immunity response to the virus. You can have both. This much we know.

Sinus infections are bacterial and do weaken your immune system if not treated. We also can develop a bacterial sinus infection if we catch a virus and don’t allow our immune system to rid of it properly. But a virus is not an infection and a sinus bacterial infection is not a transmittable/contagious virus. The only thing they have in common is they both challenge our immune system. How crazy is it that doctors have been writing antibiotics prescriptions ( some reluctantly) to us for colds for two decades! Remember our immune systems require very important lifestyle habits to work efficiently for you. We’ll get to those basics soon.

“An approximate answer to the right question is worth far more than a precise answer to the wrong one.”

~JOHN TULEY

The main question I had with this story is, did Covid 19 present first as a sinus symptoms? We can only connect the dots and guesstimate. First, she more than likely caught the virus from her husband, and second the stress of caring for him and her family probably challenged her immune system. The other contributing factor no-one asked about in her stream is it’s allergy season and allergies can lower our immunity. We have been experiencing highly unstable barometer changes in the Northeast. This kind of erratic Spring weather creates pressure in our sinuses which cause headaches, congestion, and stuffiness as well. Barometer changes can be found with fast moving weather systems and storms which create unstable temperatures. For example, 6o degrees by day and 36 degrees overnight. Learn more about this here. Our sinuses are affected by these extremes and especially if we have allergies, infection and asthma complications. Does Covid present with sinus like symptoms?  More than likely not. It seems to present as fever, chills, and body aches much like a traditional flu except it’s more powerful and can advance to pneumonia like symptoms affecting the lungs. With or without a virus, if sinus infections are not treated they will lead to respiratory issues because infected congestion can travel down to the lungs.

Here is what matters. What Covid 19 or any other flu virus finds welcoming is open doors and an easy point of entry. Think of  your immune system as a BIG DOOR and it keeps out threatening invaders like viruses. This is why older people are so vulnerable to the virus. When people age their immune systems can weaken and they aren’t as hardy. The other population vulnerable to Covid 19 are people with active underlying health conditions ( think -heart disease and auto-immune conditions) who are already compromised. The immune system is key to preventing and fighting off any virus and most modern day diseases. Also you should know there are many other things besides our personal lifestyle habits than can weaken the immune system ( think -medical treatments like chemotherapy, prescription drugs, and chronic stress).

If your allergies are out of control or you have developed a sinus infection, you do need to isolate and stay safe from invaders like a bad Covid 19 virus. But your sinus symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have the virus. Again I am not a doctor, I am just connecting the dots in this particular story and using the wellness wisdom I have cultivated over my life to hopefully quell some unnecessary panic. I should have commented on the Instagram post yesterday, but it wasn’t one I regularly commented on and it was too much to explain on a social media page! The truth is we don’t have enough understanding of Covid 19 to be absolutely sure about how it operates. Science is connecting the dots, but social media streams are not necessarily scientific. When communicating on social, listen, share, and ask a lot of questions. Staying well requires discernment, judgement and acquired inner wisdom.

I often hear people say ‘well this person was the picture of health’ and still got the COVID. Again, it is a contagious virus and we all know that what we look like does not necessarily determine our health on the inside. I remember working in an office with people catching cold and flus all the time, and I did not come down with it. Does this make me superwoman? Definitely not!  I just know the only time I ever got any cold or flu is when I neglected the care of my health and immune system or I was emotionally distressed ( think high stress life events like loss of job or loved one). Knowing myself well, I always knew when I wasn’t taking care of myself, and was never surprised when I got sick.

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

~WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION

I have friends who claim they only get sick around the holidays. This makes sense for many, because we challenge the immune system with stress, bad diet, poor sleep and drinking more alcohol during the holidays. Drinking too much by the way, will compromise your immune system. We all know how to isolate and practice self distancing (which is staying away from the virus) but do we really understand what keeps our immune system strong? It is not just taking a vitamin, herb or eating a specific fruit ( although all can help) but rather taking care of your body, mind, and spirit with daily practices all humans need to function. These basics habits are necessary and life saving.

BASIC IMMUNE SYSTEM CARE & MAINTENANCE

1- Nutritious Food ( many of the books featured at World Wise Beauty focus on healthy immune diets)

2-Restorative Sleep (7-8 hours)

3-Daily Exercise & Stress Management ( this includes things like play & pleasure and meditation & prayer)

4- Supportive Connections, Friendships and Relationships

With advanced science we do know these specific things are the pillars of a healthy immune system for humans. In our modern culture today, there are many external threats that challenge our health like chemicals in products we use and air pollution. These things often seem out of our individual control. But the four pillars listed above are non-negotiable. We do know what strengthens or compromises our immune-systems and much of it we can control to a certain degree!

One example of my immune system becoming challenged is the frequent traveling I did for work. I had to be extra militant about taking care of myself when I traveled. Business travel affected the important pillars of my immune system. I slept less, ate less healthy and didn’t keep to my exercise regimen. I had to pay attention to all of these things as I traveled more frequently. One part of my body that suffered was my sinuses. I had to make sure I didn’t allow them to get out of whack because of cabin air on plane, bad air vents in hotels, and compromised sleep. I made sure to drink more water, and increased my Vitamin C intake while traveling and go for walks in fresh air. This is just one example how modern life can challenge your immune system. For anyone struggling with sinus issues, I also recommend this classic book ‘Sinus Survival’ by Dr. Robert Ivkar DO who was the former President of the American Holistic Medical Association. He was one of the first medical experts to connect the dots between environment and respiratory illness. The book is a combination of western science and a holistic approach to treating common ailments like cold, flu, allergies and sinusitis. What he did successfully was sound the alarm on the increasing cases of sinus infections in our country.

We take modern living for granted, and we don’t connect our lifestyle with our immune system’s ability to keep us well and fight off illness.  Much of this topic ‘Lifestyle as Medicine’ is covered via my Q&A’s with respected doctors, experts and visionaries in wellness culture here at World Wise Beauty.  Following World Wise Beauty you will build your own wellness library so you can cultivate your individual wellness lifestyle with discernment and wisdom. You will go beyond the soundbites like I did yesterday, and connect all the dots as it relates to your health and wellness. Keep asking questions, learning and reading, as this is how we cultivate wisdom, discernment, and good judgement. To stay healthy, you must know your own body and immune system inside and out,  so you can take care of yourself properly and well.

WELCOME TO YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM!

Your immune system is a 24 hour a day operation designed to keep you healthy and ALIVE. It protects us from just about everything when it comes to our health. Everything from a cold to cancer! But in the context of infectious diseases, the enemies our immune system has to combat are the following:

BACTERIA, VIRUSES, FUNGI & PARASITES OH MY!

Here is a basic quick review and refresh for your understanding…

BACTERIA: These one celled organisms are tiny creatures capable of eating, developing and reproducing by themselves. A healthy immune system is capable of seeking out and destroying bacteria. Today we know a lot more about good bacteria and bad bacteria in our gut. You have heard the term microbiomes. We now know the gut microbiome plays a very important role in our health, by helping control digestion and benefiting our immune system. The advent of antibiotics had helped us fight off challenging bacteria but it also caused another problem of killing off our good bacteria which we now are understanding better. Generally bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. Think of sinus infections, gastro infections, and the candida infections we have encountered over the last thirty years. Many of these infections are caused by an imbalance and we are learning more how a poor diet ( think too much sugar and processed chemicals in the diet) can contribute to developing the infections. We are also learning how to strengthen our immune systems so we don’t have to assault our bodies with so many drugs to treat these imbalances.

VIRUSES: These are very different from bacteria. They are complex molecules found in all cells of the body, either DNA or RNA and have no life of their own. They exist and survive by INFECTING and TAKING OVER host cells within our bodies. In our modern world we have developed medications and vaccines to help fight off the more debilitating ones. But for the most part our immune system, when working properly can protect is from these bugs called viruses. Understanding these basic facts will help you understand why people who are not healthy or vulnerable because of age are so threatened by this new virus called Covid 19. There is a door open which allows the virus to infiltrate and do great damage.

FUNGI: Fungi are everywhere. Sometimes, they are too small to see with the naked eye.There are millions of fungal species, but only a few hundred of them can make people sick. Molds, yeasts, and mushrooms are all types of fungi. Here is a very good link from the CDC to explain the types of Fungi and more specific fungi that can harm people with weakened immune systems.

PARASITES: These organisms like a virus (but different) must rely on another living thing to survive and usually very harmful to the host ( think you). The one parasite experience we all know about is ‘food poisoning’ from poorly prepared food. This is becoming more common now as our food distribution channels are more global and less regulated .

WednesdayWisdomLIfestyleWith so many intrusive INVADERS our immune-system deservedly can be called ‘The Department of Defense’ and indeed it wards off many threats if we take good care of it. What we are learning a lot more about via Brain Science is our state of mind or mental health is also key to keeping our immune system strong. I interviewed the author of the The Telomere Effect here at World Wise Beauty. Visit the Q&A page and read the book to learn more about telomeres and your immune system! Through research scientist have found the body reacts the same way when we have a bad cold as when we are depressed. In presence of a pathogen ( think cold) or sever emotional stress, the body reacts in virtually the same way. Stress (especially un-managed stress) can make you very sick. This is a whole area of health we are beginning to understand better, and it is valuable knowledge when we see auto-immune conditions in our society rising.

As you are reading, I am sure you must think about how many people in our society aren’t able to take care of their own immune systems. All of this pertains to public health and socio-economic disadvantages. This virus is now illuminating the huge disadvantage a large portion of our society experiences on so many levels. It also is revealing how fragile and broken our healthcare system is. I opened up with a quote by Helen Keller to remind us there IS a lot of suffering in this world.  But there’s also many people and cultures who have overcome extreme stress and still managed to live, survive, and thrive. Science now has uncovered the importance of of social bonds and soulful practices in our lives and how important they are to our immune systems. In the Blue Zones we learn that even seemingly poor cultures of the world ( compared to Western societies) survive and thrive with limited resources. They seem to have a little bit of each of the important pillars to stay healthy. As said, we are all the same and yet we are different. Genes, lifestyle and environment all play a role in our health and well-being. There are variants but there’s also universal wellness wisdom that can be found around the world. Right now it has come down to this very wise quote from Maya Angelou…

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” 

~MAYA ANGELOU

My guess is the variances in health worldwide is the reason why there are so many different stories about the Covid 19 virus. We are also seeing how differently governments around the world are responding to the crisis too. Our bio-individuality ( biology and chemistry) and our state of health determines how we will fare in illness. What we know definitively is our lifestyle habits ( taking care of the four pillars that strengthen our immune system) can also determine our health and longevity for the better.  This means we can overcome!  Most of our health is in our hands, but we are not ‘immune’ to the culture we live in.  Covid 19 has shown us what a global connected world can do to us on the negative side. Yet, the American culture I am living in right now has the highest rate of obesity and diabetes in the world. There are a lot of very sick people in this country and they were here long before this virus came along.  Most of these illnesses are preventable and this is the sad aspect of our on-going health crisis.

The Covid 19 virus started in a wet market in China. This was part of the culture but also was fueled by a global market to help sustain it. The question moving forward for me is, how do we develop an ethical wellness culture so all of us has a chance to live life well? Cultivating wellness wisdom begins with learning from our mistakes and missteps and asking more questions so we can improve and do better. What we do next really matters, because the next crisis could be another pandemic, climate catastrophe or both! Planet earth is running out of patience with us. Let’s do better and overcome.

NOTE: The featured image for this post is from a beautiful illustrated calendar of angels I gave my Mom years before she passed from Cancer. I remembered I still had it in safe keeping and wanted to share it with you. It was named ‘Guardian of Health’.  We need a Guardian of Health angel now more than ever, and what I would like to believe, is there are many guardian angels among us who will rise to the calling and guide us back to a healthy life and planet. Look out for them and support them as much as you can!

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Laura Connolly, Founder of World Wise Beauty

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