To everyone out there who feels like they catch every bug under the sun: this article is for you. We all get colds and flus from time to time, but some people seem to get sick way more often than others. Someone coughs at the other end of a crowded room, and BAM, you’re sick in bed the next day. Sound familiar?
So, why does this happen to some people more often than others? To find the answer, we have to explore the nature of infection itself… which really is a story about the relationship between an organism and a host.
The organism is a germ, a microscopic critter like a bacteria, virus, or a fungus. And the host? Well, in this case… the host is you. Or at least some part of you, like your throat or your sinuses or wherever else you might experience the symptoms of an infection.
Remember, an infection is an interaction between an organism and a host, and there are characteristics unique to each party that determine how that relationship is going to go. In some cases, the host greets the organism and quickly and efficiently eradicates it. In that case, the host wins and experiences only very mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all. In other cases, the organism gets the upper hand and overwhelms the host, who will then develop an inflammatory reaction like a fever, sore throat, cough, or any other infectious symptoms related to that particular organism.
Who will prevail? Well, the outcome of the relationship depends on the features and characteristics of each party involved. Organisms and hosts can both have their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Some organisms are aggressive and dangerous and can overwhelm even the strongest host. Others are more mild mannered, and they’ll only come out on top when the host is weak and defenses are down.
Let’s look at a couple of examples, starting with an organism that we’ve all heard about… ebola virus. Ebola is highly virulent, very aggressive, very contagious organism. No matter how healthy you are, how much vitamin C you take, or how much sleep you get, if someone with ebola sneezes in your face, you’re likely to get infected. Similar to other nasty infections like tuberculosis or bubonic plague… these are highly virulent organisms and they can overwhelm the immune system of even the healthiest hosts. Thankfully, you are unlikely to ever encounter an organism like any of these.
Now… the vast majority of organisms that cause the sorts of infections that make people miss school and work are actually not very aggressive or dangerous at all. In fact, organisms like the ones that cause the common cold (rhinovirus and coronavirus), the flu (influenza), and Strep throat (Streptococcus) are all critters that a healthy, immunocompetent host should be able to handle easily. These germs are nowhere near as virulent or nasty as ebola or the plague. Yes, they can cause severe infections, but in many cases, a very healthy host with a well-nourished immune system can defend themselves against these without ever even knowing that they’ve been exposed.
This is because a competent, healthy immune system is remarkably good at defending its host against an attack. If your immune system is in good shape and well cared for, you’ll beat back most germs before you ever develop any symptoms. However, if your immune system is compromised, you’ll likely find that you come down with every cough, cold, and flu that goes around.
When treating patients who have chronic, recurrent infections, it is important to treat both the organism and the host.
Modern conventional medicine tends to put the emphasis on eradicating the organism (usually with antibiotics) and not nearly enough on the host. This is a major issue, as this approach ignores half of the equation. This has led to a vast overprescription of antibiotics, which is a problem for several reasons. One is that antibiotics only kill bacteria, and they are often prescribed for infections that are actually caused by viruses. Another major public health issue is that antibiotic overuse has led to the spread of antibiotic resistance among many organisms: so that the drugs that once were able to kill them are now useless.
What we need in the medical world today is a shift in focus. I’m talking about a larger focus on improving the health of a host, because a healthy host can fight back against infection. In fact, a healthy immune system is one of the most powerful antimicrobials known. Taking good care of your immune system means taking good care of yourself in general.
Medicine is more than just pills. When it comes to improving host defense, food is medicine, movement is medicine, sleep is medicine, and stress management is medicine, too.
Your own natural defense system is the most effective way to prevent infections, and to keep them from going badly when or if they happen. The power is in your hands. My goal at UpWellness is to help you learn how to make nutrient rich living part of your life… to make you the healthiest host you can be.
– Dr. Joshua Levitt