I’m pretty sure I used to be a hypochondriac when I was younger. I used to freak out at the slightest sign of something that was out of place, and would scour the internet for clues as to my symptoms. When it came to lady-related symptoms especially, I would get in a panic at the slightest sign that something was out of place. That all changed when I learned fertility awareness. Fertility awareness, or charting, is unlike the old “counting days” system that many seem to be aware of. Instead, women who chart keep track of three basic clues as to what’s happening in their bodies: their temperature, their fluids, and the shape and feel of their cervix (and there’s another one- how will I chart when my thermometer stops working?).
The more I’ve learned about my body, the more I’ve ceased to be alarmed by the things it does. This didn’t occur to me until the other day when it crossed my mind that I might be sick, and I simply shrugged it off because it didn’t make that much difference, except that I determined I had to get a lot more rest. Some of the peace of mind also, I think, comes from knowing there’s not much of anything I can do about minor illnesses, anyway. In the old days I might have run to the doctor at the earliest sign of a sinus infection (I have a chronic condition where I get sinus infections at least four times per year), asking for antibiotics, but these days there’s very little that will induce me to take antibiotics. Maybe if I had pneumonia or something. But even then I’d think twice about it.
I was medicated for one thing or another (mostly allergies and asthma) my entire life. And now I find out that the cause behind allergies and asthma, and the alarming rates at which they are increasing, especially among children, is poor immune system health. And most of that is related to diet. I’m never going to believe that growing up next to a power plant and generally living in an area with poor air quality didn’t have something to do with the asthma especially, but it makes sense with the allergies. In order to defeat allergies, you need to have an effective immune system that can fight off invasions. And in order to have an effective immune system, you need to be exposed to lots of things that make your body build antibodies and that sort of thing.
This is going to be the least scientific explanation of immune system function in the world, but bear with me. When you are growing in your mother, you are in a fairly sterile environment. There’s not a lot of back and forth with the outside world. You apparently pick up some of your mother’s antibodies, but the majority of your immunity comes from, believe it or not, the vaginal wall on your way out. That’s when babies pick up all kinds of fun germs and bacterias and things, and are forced to develop an immune response. They’re aided and abetted in that task by breast milk- which is full of all kinds of enzymes and more bacteria and antibodies and all kinds of things that babies need for functional immune systems.
Nowadays babies don’t get all these immune boosters. Instead, more and more babies are born through c-sections, and more and more babies are fed formula instead of breast milk. Formula does not contain antibodies, nor does it contain even a fraction of the nutrition found in breast milk. But we’re obsessed with sterility these days, and breast milk is just plain dirty. Add to all that an overabundance of antibacterial hand soap, sterilized foods, and an aversion to playing in the dirt. This leaves you with people who get sick really often. And are allergic to everything.
I was struck the other day, when listening to an old interview with Mark McAfee (on Underground Wellness, my current favorite podcast, but it’s not on this page, you have to get it on iTunes I think), raw milk guru, by just how insane this is. I’ve always said it was insane, but he put it in a whole new context. Our bodies are mostly made of bacteria. Like half our body mass is bacteria (or something). Bacteria help us with everything- from digestion to fighting off infections to simply existing. And yet we use antibacterial everything. We’re obsessed with pasteurizing milk and irradiating food to “kill the germs.” But our body is made out of “germs.” And by trying to sterilize our environments, and our food, we’re literally killing ourselves. If we removed all the bacteria from our bodies, we would die in a minute. And by not regularly inculcating our guts in particular with a host of good bacteria (from wonderful raw foods), we leave the path wide open for the bad guys- the E. Coli 157s or whatever the new one is.
It seems so illogical, when you stop and think about it. But we’ve all been raised to think germs are bad. We’ve all been raised to think that the cleaner something is, the better. But I’ve stopped washing all the dirt off my vegetables (gasp!). When I get sick, I drink more raw milk, because all that beneficial bacteria has to be good for something (and all the nutrients are pretty good too). A farmer friend was once making me dinner, and he stopped to apologize because he had dirt under all his fingernails. Actually, his fingers are kind of permanently black on the tips. This happened to be during the whole swine flu freak out, when everyone around us was paranoidly spraying down every surface with Lysol, trying to avoid getting sick. We both laughed that we would never get swine flu, because we were simply too dirty.
It’s really true. Children that play in the dirt are healthier. I mean no, not dirt that has been contaminated with industrial waste, and I’d never let kids go near a pile of manure from feedlot cattle. There are obvious limits. But some good healthy dirt? Children have to be exposed to the bad things if their bodies are going to learn to fight them off. Because, let’s face, there’s no way to avoid the bacteria. Not without avoiding ourselves.