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Monday Health & Wellness: A Holistic View of Illness

admin February 11, 2013

Image by the italian voice

These days, we’re afraid of illness.  We think illness is something bad, something we should strive never to experience.  We also think that illness is serious – knock-down, drag-out, stuck-in-bed, type of illness.  Both of these thoughts about illness are wrong, though.

Before you can feel comfortable treating illnesses holistically, you must change your view of illness.  If illness is serious and scary, a problem to be fought off, then a holistic approach is not what will be used.  People want to stop the symptoms, stop feeling miserable, and make the illness go away.  Unfortunately, this does not actually help the body.

Encountering “Germs” in Every Day Life

Every day we are coming across foreign bacteria and viruses.  We encounter them in public, at friends’ houses, at work, everywhere we go.  There are plenty of “healthy” people who are about to get sick, have recently been sick (and are still contagious), or have a subclinical illness (symptoms which are minor and the person may not realize they are sick) out there. There are the few people who know they are actively sick and are out anyway.  This is pretty much a nightmare for a germophobe.

Whether or not you get sick at any given time isn’t dependent on what you run across (for the most part).  It’s dependent on whether or not your body can effectively fight off or detox the “junk” without producing serious clinical symptoms.  The less able to fight your body is, the more likely you are to get sick – or to have complications.

The average person is sick several times per year.  This includes illnesses like colds, flu, ear infections, sinus infections, bronchitis, etc.  Most of these people want to “get rid of” the symptoms and they use suppressive medications like acetaminophen, cough and cold syrups, aspirin, anti-diarrheals, anti-nausea drugs, and other OTC drugs that alleviate symptoms but don’t address the underlying causes.  This practice actually halts the body’s mechanisms of healing itself and prolongs illness, and can make it more serious as well.  (The increased seriousness happens because instead of your body killing the ‘bad’ bacteria so you get better, the bad bacteria replicates more and penetrates more deeply since you stopped the body’s mechanisms of flushing it out.)

Others turn to pharmaceutical drugs.  They choose antibiotics, steroids, etc. that either suppress symptoms or which kill off everything in your body, including your healthy gut flora (a major part of your body’s line of defense).  Many people who have taken antibiotics find themselves with repeated infections and repeated courses of antibiotics.  Still others find themselves feeling weak and sick and experiencing chronic diarrhea.  Some experience yeast infections caused by the antibiotic use.

The good gut flora has been shown to be related to our ability to break down and absorb nutrients, prevent obesity, regulate hormones (including serotonin, responsible for mood), prevent allergies and asthma, and more.  In fact, the more that children are exposed to antibiotics in the early years (especially early months), the more likely they are to suffer from allergies or asthma!  (And just as a fun side fact, Splenda has been shown to have a serious negative impact on gut flora.)

Image by Tracy Hunter

Susceptibility to Illness

It is possible to run across all of these immune threats (bacteria in our environments, being around sick people) and not get sick.  It has to do with the body’s susceptibility to illness.  When a person is not deficient in nutrients (and levels ought to be a lot higher than most doctors consider ‘normal’) and has strong gut flora, they often will not get sick, even when faced with these immune challenges.

However.

It is a myth that “healthy people never get sick.”  Healthy people still come across the same immune challenges that unhealthy people do, but their bodies react differently.  Rather than quickly being overcome by the illness, or seeming to “catch everything” they run across, a healthy person may display minor symptoms or even sub-clinical illness (they may not realize their body has ‘caught’ something).  A healthy person will deal with most illnesses in this way.

Occasionally, even a healthy person’s body needs to detox, and they may get actually sick – need-to-lie-on-the-couch sick.  It shouldn’t have complications, it shouldn’t last more than a few days, and it shouldn’t happen more than a couple times a year.  But it is a healthy reaction to “get sick” now and then!  It means the body is handling challenges in the way that it should, by producing necessary symptoms to detox.

Some peoples’ bodies can become overloaded by toxic influences so that they can no longer detox effectively.  These people are more likely to catch everything they run across, because the only way for their bodies to deal with the illnesses is to produce serious, clinical symptoms.  Toxic influences can come from eating poor quality food, having nutrient deficiencies, toxic personal care products (most on the market are toxic), or other environmental issues.  The solution is to remove these influences as much as possible, then help to rebuild the body over time.

When I personally notice I feel a bit “unusual” now, I assume that my body has run across something that it is dealing with.  I might feel slightly more tired than usual, notice my nose running a bit, have certain food cravings or notice an appetite increase or decrease, or other interesting symptoms.  I usually do not feel sick or need to “take a day off” my normal activities.  Others would not describe me as ‘sick.’  But I can feel something minor is going on.

Rather than ignoring these minor symptoms or taking medication to suppress them, my goal is to support and allow them.  I can detox an illness in a matter of hours in many cases, certainly within a day.  Others who are dealing with similar circumstances may be sick for days or weeks and may actually need to slow down or stop for a few days.

There was a circumstance recently where a family member had a severe norovirus (I’m guessing – it was a stomach virus of some sort) that caused weakness, vomiting, and diarrhea on and off for three weeks.  We were around this person on a couple of occasions during the illness.  We also had other people come into our home three times during this period of time who ended up sick within hours or day or so after.  Yet…none of us got sick.  Then my husband got something like it but not nearly as severe.  Then it hit me – for a couple hours, and I never “felt sick” per se (if you want the TMI version, I felt a bit tired, kidney pain, and some loose stools for a very short time).  And…that was it.  So, after all those exposures we did need to “deal” with the junk we’d picked up, but none of us had a real “illness.”  Nobody had to stay in bed or miss work.

Why This Matters

We need to understand what our bodies are going through — coming across various immune challenges constantly, and trying to deal with them and clear them.  We need to help our bodies along the way, not fight off symptoms so we “feel better fast.”  That is no way to build a stronger body!

Because I’ve developed this holistic view of illness and no longer fear it, I have completely changed the way I handle illness in myself and my family.  I no longer find it appropriate for us to use any form of medications, either OTC or prescription.  Others take a more moderate view of these medications, but they do interrupt the body’s pathways for healing in many different ways.  I find supportive care much more effective in both the short- and long-term than suppressive care.

(That is not to say that if it were a truly serious situation that we would not consider using a prescription.  It would need to be very serious and we would need to be unable to treat it holistically.  So far this has not happened and it is a situation I would expect to occur very, very rarely.)

Next week, I’ll discuss how we go about detoxing from illness, both “real” and “minor” illnesses (or even just after we have been knowingly exposed to something) and rebuilding our bodies naturally.

How do you view illness?  Are you afraid of it?

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5 Comments

  1. Great post! I’m looking forward to the “how-tos!” All of this GI health stuff was new to me until a year or two ago…it’s such a different perspective than the typical medical model, but to me, makes so much more sense.

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  2. Good thoughts! I am seeing this play out in myself. I’ve cleaned up my diet and am a much healthier person these days. And I’ve wondered how I would deal with an illness. Last night I ran a fever and had only the slightest tightness in my chest. I let the fever run and took a homeopathic remedy and today I feel almost back to normal! A little wimpy from lack of sleep and I can tell my body is still fighting something. But if this is me getting sick, I can deal with it.

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  3. While I have a rather different view of whether or not we need to be sick in order to fight further illnesses, as per my faith, I do agree that how we treat being sick is the key should it happen. Also, now that I own and operate a detoxing cleansing spa, I see more and more how the body was created to heal itself, given the right nutrients and path to healing. Most importantly, eliminating the fear factor of illnesses and diseases (dis-ease) goes a long way to speeding up recovery. Even the medical community is now recognizing that 80% of recovery is attributed to overcoming fear. Thanks for posting this!

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  4. […] of illness? Do you think it is inevitable, or avoidable? Do you fear it, or welcome it? Check out this holistic view on […]

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  5. I’ve been caring for my daughters who’ve been down with the flu bug this week. We’ve been keeping them comfortable and supporting their bodies with cod liver oil, vitamin C, herbs, and lots of bone broth. I’ve been thinking along these lines about illness too. I’ve had quite a few instances myself this winter where everyone around us has been really sick, and I’ve noticed that I’ve felt a little “off” or had the drainage or sore throat, maybe a little tired, but that was it. It’s the first time I’ve noticed my immune system at work like that. Kind of exciting!

    I really believe that one of the reasons for the “take something to mask the symptoms” reaction is because as a society, we don’t feel like we have time to rest and heal. We don’t listen to our bodies when we’re feeling run down and respond with an earlier bedtime or nap and a cup of herbal tea. Instead, we take a sudafed, drink more coffee and keep running, further depleting our immune system. Then we get into the cycle of illness after illness and limp our way through the cold and flu season with lots of meds, never completely recovering or replenishing our bodies.

    After about a week of taking care of my kids, I start to feel the sore throat coming on. I want to take your (and my own) advice and give my body the best chance possible to fight back.

    I shared about some of our simple immune supporting strategies…
    http://redeemingthehome.com/2013/02/23/nourishing-natural-remedies/

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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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