In this second part of our “Health and Nutrition Myths” series, we will focus on how we get sick, where infectious organisms are concerned, and dispel some myths about that and our immune systems.
If you missed the first part of this series, you can read it here. It was inspired by one of our readers, David and covered a few ideas about how tough our bodies are versus how they were really meant to function.
This part of the series is inspired by another one of our readers Amber, who thanks to her questions has opened up a platform for more in depth learning for all of us here, where the immune system is concerned.
This edition of “Health and Nutrition Myths” comes at a great time too, as reports of the swine flu continue to escalate and many out there are living with a lot of misinformation when it comes to our immune system and infectious diseases. This can be problematic in so many ways, as not having proper information on things like vaccines, anti-microbial products, cleaning products and how infectious disease actually work, can leave us vulnerable to more problems than we try to avoid. Thus in this series, we will address a few of these.
Health and Nutrition Myths, Questions and Answers
What I’m gathering from this is our bodies as a whole don’t work like our muscles do. If we damage them, we don’t get any stronger?
This is a great question and has a bit of a complicated, “yes” and “no” answer. However the quick answer is no, our bodies are not like our muscles in that the more we damage them, the stronger they get.
For starters, let us talk about our muscles and dispel any myths about them first. When we work out, we put pressure on our muscles. Various movements, lifting, pushing and pressing can all attribute to small tears, which ultimately we want. This is because when our muscles repair themselves, they build themselves back up stronger and in right instances bigger than before. This however is not an infinite process. Our muscles will not keep growing infinitely with increased work outs. Yes, we can continue to increase our strength, but not our size.
On this note however, over straining our muscles, to the point of serious damage, can actually lead to physical pain and even injury. So we cannot always think, that the harder I push the better. For best results, we must accommodate our exercises to our needs, respect our body and understand that proper growth and strength will occur if the body is able to have proper rest and nutrition, for healing and repair.
Now going back to our overall body. The best way to look at it, is to compare it to a car, not the muscles. This is a simple analogy, but it drives the point home (no pun intended). With this in mind let us consider this example:
Person A and B both bought the same car, on the same day.
Person A drives their car 3 times a week for 100km in total, gives the car regular washes, oil changes and other maintenance.
Person B drives their car 7 times a week for 600km in total, neglects to give the car regular care and maintenance.
Whose car (leaving chance factors aside) is going to last longer? And better yet, will person B’s car get “stronger” with this kind of activity?
I think the answer seems obvious.
Therefore, while our bodies may become “immune” to a certain disease from having gotten them at some other point in time, generally speaking any wear and tear or damage that we do to them is just that – damage. Poor eating, sleeping, lots of stress, lack of exercise, do not make the body stronger. These are all like driving that car too much, and not giving it the maintenance it needs. Ultimately, like the car, our bodies get worn out faster, aging is accelerated, healing is slowed down, weight control is harder and diseases easily set in.
Some people will still argue this, and give all sorts of reasons why they feel like the more stress they have, the stronger their health seems, but unfortunately this is an illusion. The body adapts to work in this “certain” environment, and on the outside all may look well. On the inside however, the adrenal glands are becoming depleted in function, liver, kidney and other organs follow suit, not to mention the heart, blood vessels, etc.
And while a major lifestyle change can undo some, perhaps even most of this damage over a few years, leaving it be, is definitely not making our bodies stronger, but on the contrary much weaker.
What about our immune systems? I’ve heard, that the reason why older people aren’t as susceptible to the H1N1 virus is because when they were younger they had a flu that was a similar strain. Therefore, they still have antibodies to protect them from it, so their odds of getting it are decreased?
When it comes to the immune system and antibodies, we move into a very complex area. In fact, the average person has but a tiny speck of how it really works. What we do pick up of a lot, is stories from other people. Many repeated facts over and over, our belief in them and no one ever actually looking into whether these facts are true.
So for starters, yes immunity to certain viruses, like the flu appears to last up to a lifetime. This is according to some researchers, like Eric Altschuler, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and co-author of a recent paper in Nature about antibodies to the 1918 pandemic flu virus.
What this means, is that in a perfectly controlled setting, if we got say strain ABC of the flu, and then flu ABC came around again, we would be immune to it and hence not get it. In fact, we would probably be immune to strain ABD, and similar strains as well.
However, life does not revolve in a perfectly controlled setting. For one, viruses are rapidly mutating all the time. This is one of the biggest reasons, why each fall there is a new flu vaccine, and getting last year’s flu vaccine, does not imply immunity to this year’s flu strains.
Secondly, and here is the biggie, the degree of protection depends on the health of the person involved. Even the CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is quick to point that out.
Generally speaking, the bigger factor is not whether one has had a particular flu strain in the past, but what kind of health are they in today, that makes the difference if they are going to catch a certain flu or even other virus.
The story then becomes easy to see that the case is not quite so for older people. Even though they may have had the virus, or a similar virus years ago, generally speaking, older people are in worse health and shape. This makes them become a prime target for many infectious diseases. The chance of them getting something increases if they are already suffering from other diseases, are overweight, smoking, drinking heavily, etc.
And likewise this makes us understand that younger people are not necessarily at a disadvantage because they did not have it. If one is in excellent health, getting proper amounts of sleep, water, nutritious food each day, exercising, and living low stress, then there is no reason why one would be susceptible to any flu.
The biggest thing that most people don’t know, realize or forget, is that our bodies were not designed to get sick - you can take this to mean infectious or chronic diseases. We have an amazing system – the immune system which provides an excellent line of defense against pathogens, but of course only if we support it properly, and not damage it or stress it beyond an acceptable range.
Your body’s defenses are not always going to be at 100%. What if… you were stuck in a room with say 10 people who were all sick, it was the dead of winter so your defenses were already weakened, and you forgot your lunch?
Great case scenario to consider indeed! And this one is actually very easy and gets a quick answer. It is not the conditions of one time that determine whether we will catch something infectious, but the overall pattern and lifestyle. In this case scenario if say the person ate great, nutritious meals every day, slept enough, etc, and then this one day gets placed in a situation like this, then it shouldn’t have any impact.
However, if the person is suffering from some stress, sometimes eating well, sometimes not, etc, then yes, this kind of case scenario may just be adding fuel to the fire, so to say and making the person very susceptible to an infection.
Bottom line, many factors come into play, but it is the general, overall lifestyle that determines our health, not the odd time.
Isn’t getting sick every so often better than when you do finally get sick, your body isn’t prepared and you get something really awful?
This is a great question and in fact a myth that plagues many, many parents in their reasoning of why they send their children to say daycare.
Many parents are under the assumption that a child will get sick no matter what – either sooner or later, but sick no matter what. This they believe is part of the natural way to build up one’s immune system. So the reasoning for many is that they prefer to send their children to daycare, knowing they will get sick, in an attempt to prevent sicknesses in the future, i.e. when they go to grade school. It is kind of the idea of “let’s just get this over and done with”.
But here is one big fact to dispel this myth that many people are unaware of: you do not actually need to get sick to build up your immune system.
In fact, we come across numerous and I mean numerous, in the millions if not billions micro-organisms everyday and don’t get sick. In fact, I sometimes think it is a miracle that we get as little as we do. But that is the power and the magnificence of our immune system. We were not put here as weak little bodies. We are literally invincible to the micro-organisms, if of course we support ourselves properly in mind, body and spirit.
Second of all, if you are properly supporting your body, it is ALWAYS ready to fight off foreign invaders, unless again of course there are other issues. The biggest of which are stress, lack of sleep, lack of proper nutrition, etc. It does not work in the way, that if we don’t get sick for a while, our body somehow “forgets” what to do and then we are prone to catching something “bigger” or “worse”.
So there is indeed a myth going around that those who get sick more frequently, are actually better able to fight off something “big”. Fortunately or unfortunately, not true. The more sick we get, the more run down our immune system gets, and having one infection, usually makes us that much more prone to getting another. This is why for example people who start off with a little cold, and say don’t take care of it, don’t rest, etc, end up fighting bronchitis next or worse yet pneumonia.
Our immune system is indeed probably one of the most intricate and poorly understood systems of all. Doctors and researchers are still each day learning new facts when it comes to this amazing system and the lines of defense it offers us.
Ultimately, I am going to repeat this again, we never have to get sick from any infectious diseases. Yes, our system is THAT good – but again, only under the right circumstances.
Now, many people may think that such “right circumstances” are unrealistic, but on the contrary, they are our natural birthright. We just don’t realize today, how badly we are abusing our bodies, with the chemical food we feed it, empty calories, toxins, lack of exercise, sleep and unnatural amounts of stress. We have accepted all these as “normal”, but they are so far from that or even from being “natural” in any way.
So the best defense against the flu, whether it be the swine flu or any other, colds and other infections is to support your body properly, which then in return will support all your systems to work optimally and keep you healthy and happy!