We are at that time of year again when children go back to school and within weeks whole families start going down with ‘winter bugs’ that are spread in the playgrounds and are brought home by snotty-nosed children. Bacteria forms, mutates and evolves so very much faster than they can be identified in the lab that by the time any hope of an antidote has been developed, the thing it is trying to overcome has changed, so the scientists are forever playing catch-up.
Clearly the Western Medicine approach is not and cannot work when we are faced with such a huge epidemic of winter bugs every year and such a massive strain is put on our healthcare system every Winter.
The answer, I believe, lies in strengthening our own immune systems because it is only our own body that can evolve quickly enough to combat mutations. Given the right environment – microbiome – our gut bacteria can evolve faster than airborne bacteria that we can catch for one simple reason: our body’s early warning systems. An airborne pathogen will enter our body via our nose or mouth as we inhale. The mucous membranes identify it as a pathogen and trigger an immune response. In the case of pollen, for example, the immune response is simply to sneeze to blow it out, but stronger pathogens will require our immune system to respond at a deeper level with changes in our physiology that enable us to ‘attack’ the invading germs.
Given that our immune system is predominantly based around our gut bacteria, a healthy diet with a wide range of bacteria will be able to adapt and respond very quickly, which means that the more we protect our microbiome IN ADVANCE of the winter season, the less likely we are to fall ill, or if we do succumb, we will have a faster recovery time.
Hippocrates was, as we know, the father of medicine and he is renowned for saying that we should all use our food as our medicine. However, there are times when a regular diet is not enough because although that will maintain homeostasis, it will not be adequate to mount an attack against an abnormal surge of pathogens. This is when we need to supplement our regular diet with extra nutrients and it is at this point that herbal medicine comes into its own.
Garlic is well-reputed for its antibacterial properties, but many other herbs are far more effective for specific ailments. In general nutrition, garlic is going to strengthen our gut, our immune system and make the microbiome inhospitable for various pathogens including the common cold, however its main use is in lowering blood pressure and lowering cholesterol levels and other herbs would be more appropriate but may not have the widespread reputation and easy availability of garlic.
Think of your digestive system like an internal eco-system: a healthy and well-balanced eco-system will thrive even when here are plagues and it will self-regulate if one species starts to take over. Our gut is exactly the same and has a tremendous ability to adapt very quickly and there are certain herbs known as ‘adaptogens’ that facilitate this function. That means that rather than having anti (against) biotics (the biota or live bacteria in our gut) that we can help our body to adapt to an ever-changing environment instead of just killing EVERYTHING that is alive in it, whether good or bad.
One side-effect of killing everything with antibiotics is that after a course of them, most people experience diarrhoea or constipation. You can often tell what is going on inside the gut by examining what comes out of it! Clearly, it is not normal or healthy to have diarrhoea so something must be out of balance and need to be regulated. This means that if you have a course of ANTI-biotics, then you must always follow it with a course of PRO-biotics or foods that are rich in good bacteria such as fermented foods.
So rather than reaching for the medicine cabinet when you feel ill, why not look at your body’s own internal pharmacy and give it the best nutrition you possibly can so that your gut bacteria can take care of infections itself. It is a cheaper, faster and more effective and efficient way to stay healthy, but the pharmaceutical companies will never tell you about it because keeping your healthy is not what keeps them in business.
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