Germ war and peace

I am more than a little discouraged at the polarization of viewpoints over various elements of the pandemic at a time when curiosity and cooperation could not be more important. Social media has become a hotbed of fear, anger and shaming over how individuals choose to respond to the situation. Not only is there little agreement,  there is no room for disagreement over such basic questions as whether masks are effective tools in protecting people’s health; whether, when and how much we should be able to return to daily life outside our homes; and even the extent of the threat – or very existence – of a virus itself. And to my great confusion, these questions have become partisan issues, making it difficult if not impossible to question and examine without immediately attracting an unwanted and unwarranted label. 

We’re moving from theory to practice, from preaching to teaching, from knowing to asking questions, from big picture to little picture (details). We need to cultivate Gemini perception, recognise duality, engage rational and intellect. This isn’t about accepting what we’ve been told, instead it’s continuing to enquire so that we find our own answers.

Leah Whitehorse

For someone who believes neither in the mainstream narrative nor conspiracy theories, any conversation becomes a minefield. But from my perspective, not only are we missing the mark on addressing the underlying causes of one new, virulent virus, but many of the commonly accepted solutions have the potential to make our health, both individually and collectively, worse, especially in the long term.

The fundamental mainstream narrative of the pandemic rests on the assumption we are helpless victims of a viral invader, and only technology – from masks to vaccines – will save us from its clutches. Yet protection from invasion is only one part of the story of health, and an old and destructive one at that. It is based in our unconscious mindset of warfare and conflict, and the even more unconscious assumption that as human beings, we are separate individuals, each self-contained and ending at the outside edge of our skin. Based on this erroneous and incomplete worldview, our culture sees disease as something outside of ourselves, a foe to be conquered. We have a war on every thing we label as illness; we talk about survivors and victims; sickness is caused by an external enemy we can identify and kill.

One consequence of this thinking has been our war on microbes and ‘germs’, based on our embrace of germ theory, which has become an unquestioned assumption on which the conventional medical model – from research to treatment – rests. Antibiotics and their overuse, anti-bacterial soaps, chlorinated water, and even health laws requiring sterile containers for making cultured foods such as cheese, show the extent to which we have gone out of our way to limit or eradicate the microbial population with which we come into contact. And sadly for our health, we have been far too successful.

In recent years, the conventional medical world had just been discovering the problems this war on germs was creating, such as strains of ‘super-bugs’ that are harder to kill and more destructive. And then there is what natural health practitioners know and honor: our bodies are not all human. Bacteria and viruses – our ‘microbiome’ – make up a significant proportion of what we think of as ‘our’ bodies by such measures as the proportion of the total cells with human DNA versus ‘other’ DNA. We are not separate and ‘pure’ humans, but living, breathing, animate ecosystems, and these non-human parts of ourselves are essential to our ability to digest food, eliminate toxins, and manage less-helpful microbes from our environment. We have been poisoning ourselves with antibiotics and medicines meant to attack invading diseases. 

We have also poisoned ourselves by poisoning the Earth – and our soil and food- with pesticides and herbicides (not to mention pollution) designed, again, to kill the plants and creatures we deem enemies. The result has devastated – I don’t think that’s too strong a word – our digestive systems. It is difficult to find a statistic for it as our conventional medical world doesn’t even know how to measure it, but we can point to the rapid and exponential rise of everything from ‘irritable bowel syndrome’ – a catch-all for conditions physicians don’t know how to treat – to gluten intolerance and all sorts of food sensitivities, as well as so-called auto-immune conditions. Interestingly enough, one of the most promising new treatments for some of the most severe digestive conditions is fecal matter transplantation (FMT), which involves refining feces from a healthy person and transplanting into the sick person to recolonize their lower intestinal tract with ‘good’ bacteria. And of course, in the natural health world, a key recommendation is often to take ‘probiotics’ or to eat fermented foods in order to add back in some of the bacteria killed off by our modern lifestyles.

Before Covid, we were just beginning to see more focus on the natural and ‘alternative’ medical view of addressing health by strengthening the whole person, rather than just focusing on disease. In other words, make the terrain inhospitable to the invader. A primary line of defense agains ‘bad’ viruses and bacteria is having enough of the good ones; our microbiome is an inextricable component of our immunity. 

Yet now, here we are right back to using anti-bacterial soaps, hand sanitizers, disinfectant sprays and all sorts of ultra-cleaning techniques in a bid to eradicate one virus. And, lest it needs to be said, eradicating a whole lot of beneficial microbes along with it. Just as with the natural world, that loss of biodiversity within us has severe implications for our health.

Another tragedy of the current shift to repelling invasion and finding a technological cure for any illness is the helplessness it engenders. In the case of Covid, we are told to sit tight, keep your distance, close yourself off and wait for the technological silver bullet. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the mainstream narrative around Covid for me and other natural health practitioners I know is the utter absence of any advice or even analysis on how people can strengthen their own resistance to the virus. Instead, we have social distancing and masks, both of which have very unpleasant and even health-threatening consequences, particularly over the long haul. And since we are at war with the virus, adopting these measures is implicitly related to being a good and responsible citizen for many, contributing to the politicization of the issue.

This time affords us the opportunity to learn how to be healthy instead of simply continuing our failing war with disease. To begin with, we can recognize that health does not come from a one-size-fits-all approach. There is no one right way to eat or to exercise; each of us has a unique constitution. 

We must also expand our thinking beyond the simple questions of what goes into our mouths and how many calories we burn. When and how we eat, how much television we watch, and other lifestyle elements such as sleep habits have significant impacts on our health. For some, the shelter-in-place orders may have led to the discovery of the importance of downtime and rest for everything from digestion to sleep to mental clarity. 

And while we are at it, we can start breaking down the artificial barriers between body, mind and spirit/soul.

The war on germs and disease is costing us our health. It is time to make peace.

4 Comments

  1. emmajarrett

    Thank you, Kristine. I really enjoyed reading this, probably because it matched my opinions, but also because it is a clear articulation of them. I am finding it hard to understand what is going on on all the levels of this. You article brought things a bit more down to “gut level”, for which i am grateful.

    I just waded through Stephen Dinan’s article on Medium which I found difficult because of his writing style but also the dense nature of the ideas, but it’s an interesting take on where we are, though not all of it do I agree with. I wonder whether you have read it?

    I feel your article has brought me back into balance with all aspects of my being. Thank you again.

    • kristineeb2013

      Thank you for your supportive words, Emma! I have read a couple of Dinan’s articles, but would love to know which one you are referencing, if you remember the title.

  2. Dawn Basini

    Amazing how this is what I have been thinking. Illness is an opportunity to see ways to strengthen our own systems. Hadn’t thought of it in terms of the corona virus but it makes perfect sense.

    • kristineeb2013

      Yes – one writer talked about identifying with health instead of illness. Thanks for your words.

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