Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that there is tremendous attention being given to the virus that has come out of China, the coronavirus. I don’t want to downplay the severity of this issue, but want to share a perspective that might help.
We are surrounded by viruses and bacteria ever day. We are equipped with a system that defends us against these pathogens, it’s called our immune system. As a physician, I am in the presence of hundreds of people each week, in close quarters. I am exposed to colds and flus on and off all day, every day. The truth of the matter is that exposure to these pathogens does not mean you will get sick. And the severity of sickness will differ from person to person.
We have very little control over what we are exposed to. Unless you quarantine yourself in a bubble, you are exposed to lots of stuff. And if we are going to live life, we will be exposed to pathogens. So instead of merely trying to avoid exposure, I suggest working on the things you can control. There are the most obvious, the ones every healthcare provider and public health official will agree on, such as avoiding close contact with sick people, keeping our hands clean, and using common sense with what we touch. The other things that you can control, the things most healthcare providers, public health professionals, and the media seldom, if ever, talk about are the foods you eat, how much you exercise, the amount of stress you are exposed to, and other health building factors that directly impact your ability to fend off pathogens.
That’s right, instead of cowering in fear, hoping you don’t get sick, why not build up and strengthen your internal defense system? This is actionable. This is something that will reduce your chances of becoming infected. This is something that can make the difference, if you were to become infected by any pathogen, between being sick for several days or dying.
We know that the most vulnerable people, the ones most likely to die from things like pneumonia, influenza, the coronavirus, and any other pathogen, are those with weakened immune systems. So why aren’t your doctors, public health officials, and the headlines encouraging you to do the one thing that will have the biggest impact? Why is there so little talk about lifestyle choices and building your immune system?
With the rise of antibiotic-resistant strains of bugs, more powerful viruses, and emerging threats that we appear to have little or no ammunition to fight, wouldn’t it make sense to build up a wall as tall, thick, and tough as possible to protect us as best as possible? That wall is your immune system. That immune system is what will protect you most. That immune system is what will often be the difference between life and death. That immune system is something you have direct influence over. The strength of that immune system is directly influenced by what you eat, how much you move, the stress you are under, and your overall lifestyle choices.
Other healthcare professionals will be upset by what I am saying. They may say I am careless, reckless, or even dangerous for sharing such ideas. First, I am not saying that outbreaks such as this current one are not a threat, or something to be taken lightly. Second, I am not telling you what to do. I am not giving you medical advice. I am just reminding you that the strength of your immune system is critical, and you can affect that.
Not everyone will get coronavirus. Not everyone who is exposed to the virus will get sick. Not everyone who becomes sick will die. The difference may depend on your immune system. No matter how you are reacting to this outbreak, boosting your immune system should be a priority.