I Have Imagined You In Your Underwear
Or actually, just those of you that have attended my classes. Public speaking is, uh, not my thing, and I make no apologies for picturing you in pigtails and a purple polka dot sleeper with footies.
So, a few months ago I was sitting in the audience listening to my friend Dr. Betsy speak on nutrition and getting my polka dot imaginator revved up for my turn. Somehow, between the distraction of the butterfly riot in my stomach and the way my feet managed to turn into icy clumps in the middle of a Texas heat wave, a question of Dr. Betsy’s managed to grab my attention.
Do Healthy Kids Get Sick?
My first reaction was to nod my head yes. She paused meaningfully.
No? She smiled a playful smile and said nothing.
Back to yes. Definitely yes. Healthy kids get sick. Or do they? Oy vey.
By the time she answered the question I was so far down the rabbit hole I didn’t even hear. What I said when I stood up to speak that night I’ll never know, because all I could think was “WELL DO THEY OR DON’T THEY?!?!?” I am going to attempt to answer that question in this post, but first . . .
It Would Probably Help If I Defined “Sick,” Don’t You Think?
“When we come down with a cold or flu most of us imagine that some stress or other has weakened our ‘defenses’ or our ‘resistance’ and allowed ‘a bug’ (a virus or bacterium) to enter our body, where it multiplies and attacks us from within.
We think of this as ‘an infection,’ that the new bug within us is making us sick, and that we will feel better as soon as our immune system has killed it off. When we don’t feel better soon enough, we might seek remedies or antibiotics to kill the bug more effectively,” writes Tedd Koren in his book, Childhood Vaccination: Questions All Parents Should Ask (which by the way I cannot recommend more highly. A quick read, too!)
Sounds about right, huh? Meaningful pause.
Are you sure about that? Playful smile.
Believe it or not, that definition is completely wrong. From the moment we are born and every day thereafter we are “infected” with trillions of microbes – including pathogenic microbes like strep, staph, tuberculosis and diphtheria – usually without any symptoms.
Typhoid Mary – the infamous cook who was forcibly quarantined because she carried the salmonella bacteria into the homes the families she worked for – is a classic example. She never got sick with typhoid fever and neither did many people she “infected,” yet others died from exposure to her. So if the mere presence of these germs in our bodies is not what truly makes us sick, what does?
It is the rapid proliferation of them in our bodies. Oh, you knew that already? Why am I bothering will all this nonsense about where germs live most of their lives if they’re basically doing the the thing we’ve been taught they do: proliferate and make us sick?
The reason is this: We need to stop thinking of these germs as predators from the outside and start thinking of them as scavengers within. They are not attacking us, they are opportunists that clean up the messes we are leave in our own bodies. Gross, I know, but true.
Most of the time we live in relative peace with a host of pathogenic germs. “Asymptomatic carriers,” is the official term, I believe. But too much stress, or sugar, or whatever knocks our body off balance biochemically, leaving a glut of food that one germ or another prefers, so it takes us up on our generous offer and has a nice old sit down dinner. Does this make us sick? Not really.
If the microbes are predators, “we would expect their proliferation to coincide with the worst of our symptoms, but this is not the case. Most of the germ proliferation, which we falsely imagine as an inner attack, happens during the incubation period of the illness when we have little or no symptoms. Viruses and bacteria may enter our bloodstream in large numbers, and may even start to leave our body . . . without any awareness of illness on our part besides possible minor malaise, headache or tiredness.” (Koren p. 107)
What DOES Make Us Sick – And Why It’s A Good Thing!
Oh my goodness, are you still here? Okay then, I am going to cut to the chase. Illness is not caused by the germs, it is caused by US. Imagine that our bodies are a house, and that those biochemical disturbances I mentioned are like dust and dirt and bits of food that accumulate on the kitchen floor over time.
“Our immune system is the housekeeper of our body. Usually our inner housekeeper keeps well abreast of her work quietly, escorting dead and dying cells to the exits of our body and making sure that waste matter and poisons are cleared from the body . . . From birth until death, this ongoing maintenance work never rests, and is responsible for our keeping healthy and free of illness. But occasionally our immune system/housekeeper determines that a deep cleaning is needed. That’s when the dust flies and we get sick!
If you are wondering where the germs are in this comparison of the human body to a household, they are the flies, ants, cockroaches or mice which live in the house’s inner recesses unreached by the housekeeper and which feed on the crumbs and kitchen scraps that accumulate in the house.”
And what, do you imagine, is the housekeepers favorite cleaning tool? “Inflammation, as the word implies, is like a fire in the body which burns up the waste and debris, along with the germs which feed on waste and debris, and cleanses the body. Thus it is our immune system which causes us to become sick, by creating inflammation to drive out infection and renew us.”
Here’s the kicker: The stronger our immune system, the stronger the illness. Bouts of intense illness – or “healing crisis” as they are sometimes called – indicate the presence of a thorough housekeeper. Chronic symptoms of “feeling bad” and fatigue without periods of acute illness, on the other hand, are signs of low-grade toxicity in the body – “the result of our housekeeper being too weak to do her job and allowing kitchen debris to accumulate, followed inevitably by the flies and ants.”
In Other Words, Don’t Worry If Your Kids Get Sick
Be more concerned if they don’t from time to time! I will say this, though. Very young children sometimes take a long time to get their first illness. This is partly because it takes a long time for debris to build up and also because they spend a lot of time at home, where they have natural immunities to their environment. Many kids do not get sick until they are old enough to venture out a little more.
Outbreaks, Tylenol and Decongestants
After this post went live I got this question: “I like this but sometimes it’s also caused by outside germs, right? Like a couple of weeks ago my whole family got a stomach virus . . . just trying to understand the concept.”
Good question! Sometimes we do encounter germs that are not already living in our bodies. That was the case with many people who met Typhoid Mary. However, some got sick and some didn’t – that all comes down to whether the “new bug” found any fuel to thrive on in the new people they encountered.
Why then, in families, does it seems that for the most part EVERYONE gets sick when one person does? There can be a lot of reasons for this. Families have similar immune systems, share the same environment and eat the same things. Because of this, their bodies tend to collect the same kind of debris. When a bug crosses their path that just so happens to prefer that kind of food, their bodies burn it up quick to starve the new bug off (i.e. they get sick).
Should I use decongestants and/or give them to my child? Obviously, I cannot answer that for you, but I will say this: Mucus is like the ectoplasm from Ghostbusters. When bacteria and viruses overpopulate in the body it reacts by suspending/neutralizing them in slimy goo. They are then pushed out of the body via a runny nose or by coughing up phlegm. Using decongestants cripples our first line of defense by allowing bacteria/viruses to penetrate our bloodstream and go to our organs instead of being expelled. For babies I prefer to use the Snot Sucker to assist the housekeeper in pushing the debris out. For those old enough to use one I recommend a neti pot.
What about Tylenol for a fever? Is that okay? I’m so glad you asked! It’s important to remember that the housekeeper raised the thermostat for a reason – inflammation and fever clear debris from the body. Personally, I choose to trust the housekeeper and not interfere with her work.