Why Your Body Acts Up When You Get Sick

fluAll organisms that are present on this planet are a part of an evolutionary arms race. Throughout evolutionary time, organisms have evolved various apparatus and tools that help them cope with dangers and effectively compete with competitors for limited resources. Humans are no different from other life forms in this respect. Natural selection has equipped us with a variety of different survival tools. Those of our ancestors who possessed tools that worked really well in the environment in which they found themselves were more likely to pass on their genes than those who weren’t as adept at surviving. In other words, the defense systems of the human body have changed in appearance and function over evolutionary time in response to the selective pressures that acted upon our ancestors’ genomes.

Unfortunately, this fact, that all organisms, including ourselves, have various defense mechanisms built into them, is something mainstream medicine largely overlooks. It frequently suppresses, blocks, or tears down people’s defenses, thereby impairing their bodies’ natural ability to ward off dangers. In some instances, drugs are indeed useful; however, more often than not, the drug route is not the optimal route.

I would argue that we should seek to strengthen our bodies’ natural defenses, as opposed to solely focusing our efforts on blocking or suppressing the problems that arise when weak defense systems that haven’t been properly cared for are faced with dangers they find it difficult to cope with.

Bodily defense: One of mainstream medicine’s blind spots

To an evolutionist such as myself, the problems that arise as a result of mainstream medicine’s failure to acknowledge the importance of evolutionary processes in health and disease are clearly visible. You don’t have to look far and wide to find them. They are everywhere. When viewed under an evolutionary microscope, they present themselves as big, inflamed lesions.

I don’t claim to know everything, but if there’s one thing I know, it’s that a clinician who doesn’t possess knowledge about evolutionary theory is grasping in the dark. He will find it very difficult to properly assess what’s wrong with his patients and prescribe the correct treatment. Unfortunately though, most clinicians don’t know much about evolution, in large part because evolution is not something that medical schools pay much attention to.

In the past, I’ve talked a lot about mismatch resolution, microbiome restoration, and several other similar concepts that I believe should be integrated into clinical medicine. What I haven’t talked much about though is the human body’s defensive mechanisms and the role these mechanisms play in health and disease.

A lot of people don’t know that diarrhea, nausea/emesis, fever, and many, many other similar conditions and expulsive events are defenses, not illnesses per se. This isn’t surprising, seeing as these types of discomforts have historically been perceived as diseases or symptoms of diseases, as opposed to bodily defenses. This misunderstanding has come with great costs, in the sense that many clinicians approach the treatment of the above conditions as they would a disease. They prescribe drugs that block the problems, thereby potentially harming their patients’ health. In some instances, it may indeed be necessary to use drugs; however, most of the time, the pros of blocking the defense(s) with a drug are probably far outweighed by the cons.

We humans sometimes overlook the most obvious of things. When we think about it, it’s pretty logical that the above disturbances of bodily homeostasis are defenses, seeing as they all tie in with the immune system in some way or another. Diarrhea typically occurs following exposure to pathogens (e.g., via contaminated food) and is the body’s way of ridding itself of the harmful bugs it has come into contact with. Nausea and emesis often accompany the consumption of food that doesn’t agree with one’s body and act to expulse the food in question and hinder additional consumption of that food. Lastly, fever, which occurs following infection and involves a raise in body temperature, is believed to hinder pathogen growth and speed up infection resolution.

Given that these types of defenses are so integral to our bodies’ immune systems, we should obviously think twice before we hinder their expression. It’s certainly uncomfortable to have diarrhea, be nauseous, or lie in bed with a fever; however, the downsides to taking a drug that eliminates these discomforts prior to their natural disappearance typically far outnumber the upsides.

First of all, if we block these defensive mechanisms with a drug, we may prolong the time it takes for the patient to recover his health. Second, drugs have side effects. In particular drugs with strong antimicrobial properties are problematic, seeing as they are capable of disturbing our microbiotas. If you take an antibiotic when you get an infection, you may clear the infection; however, you may also set yourself up for a whole host of future problems.

Third, our adaptive immune systems are very good at dealing with pathogens and “remembering” what types of weapons that are the most useful for combatting unfriendly microbes that it has previously encountered. If we block the expression of bodily defenses that occur as a result of an infection with a drug, we may in the process interfere with the workings of the adaptive immune system. As a result, we may be unable to mount an optimal defense against a similar infection in the future.

We should listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us

Our primal ancestors faced many dangers. They lived in the wild and didn’t have the option of taking an antibiotic when they got sick; hence, it’s not surprising that we have evolved various defense systems that help us survive in the big, competitive world we live in. A Paleolithic human who possessed a solid defense system and was adept at quickly clearing any potential infections would obviously have been more likely to survive and reproduce than a fragile and immunocompromised Paleolithic human.

As I’ve pointed out many times here on the site in the past, the reason why some people frequently fall sick to the flu, influenza, and other similar conditions is that their bodily defense systems are compromised. They harbor a species-inappropriate microbiota. Instead of trying to develop new drugs that target these conditions and instruct sick individuals to eat x food, take x medicine, or drink x drink when they get sick, I would argue that we should focus our efforts on defense restoration. It’s much better to prevent disease from happening in the first place, as opposed to “letting” them happen before we deal with them.

Not everyone is willing to put in the effort it takes to solidify their bodily defenses though. Moreover, the process of building a strong and healthy body is rarely straight-forward. Some people are not able to attain excellent health due to genetic factors. Finally, there’s only so much one can prevent. Even a healthy person does get sick from time to time. Pretty much regardless of what we do, we can’t completely eliminate the possibility that we come in contact with food-borne pathogens or encounter other dangers that throw us off balance.

When a disturbance does happen, we should think twice before we block the actions of the defense systems that evolution has equipped us with. These systems are there for a reason. They are much better designed than the drugs we humans create. We shouldn’t necessarily completely exclude the possibility of taking a drug; however, we should explore other avenues before we consider going the pharmaceutical route.

This brings us over to the key point I want to make with today’s article: things happen for a reason. Instead of running down to the drug store and buying a jar of pills every time we get sick, we should probably stop for a second and think about what it is our bodies are trying to tell us.

Comments

  1. Hi Eirik. Thanks for writing about this. A knowledgeable homeopath told me pretty much the same thing years ago when I complained about the frequent bad colds I was getting. He said, “When you catch a cold or get the flu, let your body do its job instead of interfering with it by medicating yourself. You won’t get as sick next time and you won’t get sick as often.”

    I was pretty miserable the first time or two of not taking-over-the counter preparations to make myself feel better, but he was right. Letting yourself be sick strengthens the immune system. My colds got milder and farther apart. Eventually I stopped getting them altogether. I’ve had one cold in the last 25 years and haven’t gotten the flu at all. People have told me I’m just lucky, but I’m sure there’s quite a bit more to it than that.

    The human immune system is a powerful mechanism. It’s unfortunate that the tools of traditional medicine more often suppress it instead of putting it to work to make people healthier.

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