Chances are, the last time you stepped outside, you also saw or heard someone discuss the “bug that’s going around.” But, where’s the “bug” actually going? If you pay any attention to the news, you might think that a newly discovered disease is among us. However, at the same time each year, it seems that we’re all having the same conversation about germs. Which begs the question, where do germs go the other 8 months of the year?
The truth is, germs are everywhere, all the time. Did you know that germs are actually necessary for good health? For example, have you ever heard of the Human Microbiome Project (HMP)? This project was established by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2008 in order to study the effect that microorganisms have on health and disease. Among other findings, the HMP has shown that microbes including bacteria, viruses, and eukaryotes, actually contribute more than 90% of our genetic material. Furthermore, according to researchers at the Baylor School of Medicine “we are dependent on these bacteria to help digest our food, produce certain vitamins, regulate our immune system, and keep us healthy by protecting us against disease-causing bacteria.”
Unfortunately, we’ve been told by some health authorities and companies that bacteria are the enemy and should be destroyed at all costs. Many of these companies create products that claim to eliminate “99.9% of all germs.” So what happens to the other 0.1%? Is it possible that by using products like these, we’re actually creating more powerful, antibiotic resistant “superbugs?” Many researchers think so, and in addition it turns out that many of these products actually contain the chemical triclosan, which has been shown to hinder electronic function of both cardiac and skeletal muscle.
Along the same lines, unless you’ve lived on a deserted island for the last three years, you know that there has been much discussion about healthcare, more specifically, access to health insurance. The truth is that much of our time, energy, and money goes to the practice of “sick care.” That is, spending money on technology, care, and life saving measures for people who are already sick. Even the practice of “preventive medicine” assumes the worst-that we are all bound to breakdown and get sick. This practice seeks to find signs of disease at an early stage so that it can be treated, often with drugs and surgery.
One such example is that of the flu vaccine. Many members of the healthcare community recommend annual flu vaccines in order to avoid the flu, but did you know that according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the effective rate of the flu vaccine for people over the age of 65 last year was only 9%. That means that for every 100 people who received the flu vaccine, only 9 people received the intended benefit. In contrast, some of the most commonly reported side effects following the flu vaccine are nausea, muscle aches, fever and fatigue; very similar to the symptoms of the actual flu. According to Johns Hopkins scientist, Peter Doshi, Ph.D., “the vaccine may be less beneficial and less safe than has been claimed, and the threat of influenza seems to be overstated.”
What if, instead of talking about access to a broken system, we instead taught people how to actually take care of themselves? What if, instead of spending money on sick care, we spent money on healthy food, exercise, and health interventions which promoted well-being with the intention to help people thrive. What if, instead of studying disease states, we studied the people who are the healthiest & happiest and tried to reproduce that on a larger scale? In this scenario, not only would our outcomes be different, the whole conversation about what it means to be healthy would change for the better.
There are basically two ways to look at this issue. Either you can aim to treat or prevent signs of disease, or you can put your time, money, and energy into being as healthy and happy as possible. In one scenario, all of your focus is on disease, in the other, on health and well-being. Regardless of other factors, studies show that people who are happier also have fewer symptoms and live longer lives.
With that said, here are several recommendations that I have for people who want to live a healthy, happy “flu season” and beyond:
- Eat real food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Practice general cleanliness behaviors.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Get plenty (6-8 hours) of rest.
- Deal effectively with physical, mental, and emotional life stress, or seek the help of someone who can help you to do so.
- Spend time outside, or consider a Vitamin D supplement.
Although this is not a comprehensive list and there are no guarantees in life, I’ve made a choice to take steps to produce a healthy and happy life for myself and my family, and fortunately, it’s a choice that we all get to make.