We all want to stay healthy through the holidays. Never mind the misery of being sick, who wants to miss out on all the fun parties?!
We often think that staying healthy simply means avoiding “catching a bug” of some kind. In actuality, however, staying free of colds and flus is a bit more complex. Cultures taken from throats of healthy people contain various organisms that cause illnesses such as strep throat, meningitis, and pneumonia. In other words, we are always surrounded by, breathing in, and providing a home to potential pathogens. So how is it that we do – or don’t – get sick? What does it really take to stay healthy?
The common understanding that sickness comes from “bugs” goes back thousands of years. The origin of the germ theory of disease, as it is formally called, has been traced back to 50 BCE and was finalized by 1900. One of its most famous proponents you may already know: Louis Pasteur, the inventor of pasteurization. Pasteur spent almost all of his life arguing that diseases are due to pathogenic organisms.
One of his contemporaries, however, didn’t think it was quite so simple. Antoine Bechamp saw that organisms play a role in diseases, but he disagreed that they were the causative agent. Instead, he and other scientists argued that it was the terrain, or the health and condition of the individual that determined one’s susceptibility to disease. Specifically, he stated that the function of pathogens is to clean our tissues of debris and waste products. What we call disease symptoms are actually an indicator of too many waste products, which cause an increase in the population of bacteria. In other words, bacteria are not the cause, but the symptom of disease. As it turned out, Pasteur was on his deathbed when he finally proclaimed he his error and declared, “The microbe is nothing; the terrain is everything.”
Keep in mind that the bulk of research in germ theory happened in the 1800s. Pasteur died in 1895; Bechamp in 1908. Meanwhile, the field of nutrition was only beginning.
The first vitamin wasn’t officially discovered and recognized until 1910.
In the early 1900’s several diseases were treated with antibiotics because it wasn’t yet known that they were diseases of nutrient deficiency, such as beriberi. Without the knowledge of how nutrients affect our function and health at a cellular level, it was much easier to blame other organisms for our illness.
Once the field of nutrition was established, however, scientific interest in our terrain grew and a sudden flurry of nutritional discoveries began. Since then there have been numerous doctors, scientists, and other pioneers seeking to understand the role of food and nutrition in our health, resulting in the plethora of discoveries occurring still today.
Old folk remedies which had been dismissed as foolish are now regaining their stature as scientific evidence confirms what people knew commonly long ago. For example, if you are old enough you may remember having to take cod liver oil either daily or weekly as a child. This practice had fallen out of habit but is now regaining popularity due to its nutritional content. Cod liver oil is rich in vitamins A & D as well as essential fatty acids EPA & DHA. Vitamin A keeps our barrier to infections strong and is necessary for producing our immune system cells. Vitamin D enables our white blood cells to destroy viruses and bacteria. Essential fatty acids EPA and DHA are critical to the function of immune cells and serve to increase our immunity.
Chicken broth, long revered as Jewish penicillin, is rich in many minerals and especially in calcium. When calcium levels are sufficient, immune cells are able to function properly. Vitamin C, found in numerous fresh fruits and vegetables is also necessary for immune function and our reserves are depleted in the course of an infection.
At the same time that it is vital to eat the foods that boost our immunity, it is also necessary to avoid the foods that lower our immunity. Sugar is the culprit that tops this list as it impairs our immune system in a variety of ways.
Only one dose of sugar is enough to paralyze your immune cells for 5 hours or more. In other words, if you continue to snack on just a little candy here and just a little candy there throughout the day, you will essentially be paralyzing your immune system for hours on end.
Other culprits with a similar effect are refined flours, commonly found in other holiday goodies as well as white breads, bagels, pastas, etc. Because vitamin C uses the same mechanism to enter our cells as glucose, and because it doesn’t stay intact in our bloodstream very long, sugar will quickly out-compete vitamin C for entry into our cells, including white blood cells. Trans-fats and margarine are also to be avoided for a similar effect. As they are incorporated into the cell membranes of white blood cells, the cells became sluggish and stiff and unable to function properly. Caffeine from coffee or soda can also be problematic because it suppresses immune system function.
It is important to keep in mind that our cells are constantly dying and being reborn, and they are repairing themselves throughout their lifespan. In other words, whether you agree with Pasteur’s or Bechamp’s description of how disease occurs, the diseases we attribute to pathogenic organisms only manifest when we are deficient in the nutrients that enable our immune system – our terrain – to work properly. Because we are constantly surrounded by, breathing in, and providing home to numerous organisms, our health is dependent on maintaining sufficient nutrient reserves on an ongoing basis. Being healthy depends on each meal, every day throughout the year.
So how can we enjoy the holidays without compromising our health?
Eat a healthy breakfast to start your day, and be sure to save your sweets for the end of a full meal. Limit your consumption of goodies to only one time of the day so your immune system is only minimally suppressed. Be sure to eat fresh vegetables throughout the year and at every meal. We can only absorb so much of what we eat at each meal, so it’s best to make sure that we eat nutritious food regularly throughout the day.
In addition to preventing colds and flus, you can also increase your enjoyment of the holidays and reduce your risk of heart attack by eating carefully. Heart attacks are preceded by cold beverages 50% of the time, so avoid the cold beer and go for a hot toddy instead. Also, don’t overeat. If you are at risk for a cardiovascular event, overeating can increase your risk of a heart attack by 400%.
So…while you’re enjoying the holiday festivities eat well, be merry, but also be mindful! We wish you the healthiest of holidays!