“Bernard was right; the pathogen is nothing; the terrain is everything.” — Louis Pasteur’s deathbed words
As the leaves change color and the temperature drops, we can expect some challenges to our immune system. We are cooped up indoors more often. The air is cold and dry. There is less daylight. We also tend to eat sugar, unwittingly trying to raise our dopamine levels as our circadian rhythm adjusts to shorter days.
The news outlets are preparing us for a combination of flu season and another wave of a novel virus in combination and we are all wondering how to avoid "catching" anything that might be floating in the air or resting on a surface we may touch.
The good news is that it takes two to tango. Viruses, bacteria, and fungi... require an environment that is hospitable to their survival and proliferation. To get sick, we need an opportunistic microbe AND a weakened terrain.
We really have little say in what microbes we are exposed to and trying too hard to have such a say may predispose us to odd behaviors and idiosyncrasies. Because of this, I would argue that our best strategy is to prepare our bodies for such encounters.
5 Ways to Improve your Terrain:
*The following is solely the educated opinion of the author. Please do not take to be medical advice.
1. Consume Less Sugar
Sugar Suppresses the immune system and increases stress on the body while diverting resources to cope with other stressors. Sugar makes you vulnerable. Some microbes also love to eat it as much as you do. Elimination of sweets is easier said than done. Especially in the colder darker months. The best way I have found to eliminate sugar cravings or compulsive sugar consumption is to eliminate it completely for 2-4 weeks. Doing this will sensitize your palate to sugar while removing the option for a while. Sometimes we do destructive (but stimulating fun for the moment) things because we can. Try removing the option. In the meantime replace this habit with other feel-good activities like going for walks, runs, hikes, or bike rides.
2. Teach your body about organisms in your environment.
Our body actually learns to co-exist with the environment. In order for this to happen, we need to expose it. If we shelter our child their whole life, keeping them in a bubble and then one day set them free into the world, they will not fare very well. If we are always "protecting" our bodies from the world we live in, we will interfere with our own vital adaptation.
3. Be Mindful of Hand Sanitizer Usage
Hand sanitizer dries out the skin which is your first line of defense. Not only does our skin become dry and vulnerable to cracks and increased permeability to intruders, but also many of the sanitizers include ingredients that are harmful. If you must use a hand sanitizer, try to choose one that is natural with moisturizer. These ones smell better too! While the word "microbiome" has become pretty mainstream in relation to the gut, it may not be common knowledge that our skin also has a microbiome. Just like taking antibiotics all the time is counter to good gut health, sanitizing our hands kills all microbes on our skin including beneficial ones. We need a diverse microbial community throughout our bodies.
4.Eat a Variety of Fibrous Plant Foods; Fermented Foods and Butter or Ghee.
The fibrous foods feed the "good guys" in your gut. Fermented foods provide desired inhabitants. Butter or ghee from grass-fed cows (ghee is clarified butter which is usually tolerated by those sensitive to dairy) contains butyric acid. This short-chain fatty acid benefits the cells in the small and large intestines.
5. Get Exercise!
Lymph relies on your body's movement to flow and to eliminate a buildup of toxins. Don't let your body be a stagnant pond! Approximately 80% of your lymph is in your gut! While you are at it, exercise outside when possible. Light stimulates the endocrine system via the pineal gland which affects your metabolism. This, in turn, affects how efficiently your body handles potential insults.