Teton Snow Geek

Snowpack Observations from the Resident Geek, JACOB URBAN, and the JHOLI Staff

Teton Snow Geek

Snowpack Observations from the Resident Geek, JACOB URBAN, and the JHOLI Staff

Teton Snow Geek

Snowpack Observations from the Resident Geek, JACOB URBAN, and the JHOLI Staff

The Pathogen Puzzle: A Well Supported Immune System is the Missing Piece to Attaining Health

Apr 1, 2020

I have been a professional educator for 30 years. Over the last 25, I have studied the body through the personal practice of Pre-Hospital Emergency Medicine. During that time I practiced both urban and wilderness protocols in several different mediums ranging from education, emergency & ambulatory services to ski patrol to search and rescue. During this time, I was under the guidance of many different doctors, physicians and surgeons providing me mentorship and medical direction under a wide range of experiences and specialties. Under their mentorship, guidance, clinical observations and teachings I have had the privileged to gaining deeper levels of understandings through further research and then applying it holistically to my personal practice.

As an educator, it was my scope of practice to understand all of the bodily systems. Over time, I began to see the crosstalk that was not happening in the western approach to medicine. The interplay between the system became obvious. I could see how the systems were working together instead of as separate systems that work independent of one another. What began as clinical observations and research for lectures turned into a lifestyle as I applied the inter-workings of these systems to my life. This only deepened my understandings of the working whole.

This article discusses tenants of virology and immunity that I was taught through medical academia, from my mentors and applied to my own life. These tenants of immune response are the foundation of health outside of western medicine. There are also a host of western practitioner that see these benefits too. Unfortunately, it is not in the mainstream. Treatment through medication is still the most common route prescribed for Heart Disease, Type 2 Diabetes and a host of other autoimmune disorders within the western medicine continuum.

These simple fundamentals of health hold true today. We are still human beings and pathogens are still pathogens. If one were to act radically different, outside of these tenants, humanity would get wiped out quickly. Widespread death has happened before, as in the case of the Amazonian culture, who after being visited by a Spaniard expedition led by Francisco de Orellana in 1541-52, left the entire civilization to be wiped out due to smallpox. This was due to their continental isolation that left them with no immunity to a truly foreign pathogen that once exposed, disease and death followed.

From Wikipedia: Inoculation for smallpox appears to have started in China around the 1500s.[19][20] Europe adopted this practice from Asia in the first half of the 18th century.[21] In 1796 Edward Jenner introduced the modern smallpox vaccine.[22][23] In 1967, the WHO intensified efforts to eliminate the disease.

From the passage above one can see how humanity was developing defenses to these stable pathogens very early on. Moving from the East (Asia) into the Western world (Europe). Although, not being used until much later, in the yet to be discovered “New World”.

The connection to make is where vaccines are most effective is in the fight against stable pathogens. These are pathogens that do not benefit from changes or mutations. These pathogens need specific proteins in order to survive. If they were to change or mutate they would be incapable of sourcing those proteins and would die off. For example, Smallpox, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Polio, and Tetanus are stable pathogens. In some cases, after being exposed initially through vaccines, years later our bodies “forget”  how to create the antibodies to fight the disease through the vaccine. Therefore making a booster necessary, such as with tetanus.

When the pathogen is capable of mutating as it does in respiratory diseases like the Flu and Coronavirus, vaccines reduce some vulnerability although do not make you immune. In some cases it reduces the signs and symptoms when you do contract the pathogen. In other cases it is not effective at all. Reduced or compromised immune response in individuals due to a variety of lifestyle behaviors is why we see vaccinated individuals getting the flu and why we are seeing “breakthrough cases” of Covid. Additionally, as the virus changes or mutates it is capable of “dodging” the vaccine and infecting individuals regardless of vaccination status.

The primary issue is the compromised immune response; be it a small or great. The notable observation that supports this is some individuals exposed to viruses do not contract the illness. And on the other side, some people who are vaccinated still contract the pathogen and become ill. This has been observed in large groups, households and hospitals. Exposure clearly doesn’t mean you contract it. And a vaccine is not making you immune to the current or newer strains. Quite possibly the best example of this is Israel and Australia. Both countries have the highest levels of vaccinations with over 80% of the population vaccinated. They currently have more cases than they have ever had. Evidence of a mutation virus. Also suggesting your immune system needs to be compromised for a virus to take affect and cause one to show signs and symptoms of the disease.Locking oneself inside without exercise and nature is just one of the ways we suppress our immune system.  More on the weakened or compromised immune system later in this article.

This data from the CDC and John Hopkins University supports this reality in the U.S. Below, represents the statistics as of September 19, 2021:

The other important thing to note about stable pathogens is that they do not have animal hosts that act as reservoirs. All of the stable virus’ we have successfully managed in the past have only been able to host in humans. In laboratories we have infected other mammals and vertebrates with some of these pathogens although they were not capable of being passed on to their counter parts.Therefore, no reservoir. Coronavirus specifically can host itself in animals. This further complicates the mutations as it is jumping from one species to another giving it greater capacity to diversify and thrive. Here is documented and published research from the U.S. National Library of Medicine & NCBI National Center for Biotechnology Information on the confirmed outbreaks in mink and their passing the virus onto humans in contact with them.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8002747/

When discussing pathogens I like to think of them as a puzzle. If the pathogen doesn’t have all the pieces it is incapable of having an effect. The “puzzle” in this case has 4 pieces:

  1. Presence
  2. Quantity
  3. Route
  4. Weakened Immunity

We have little if any control over three of the four puzzle pieces. Therefore it is important to know how to stop all the pieces from coming together. Here is how.

Presence is one of the elements we have little control over. Pathogens are either present or not. So unless you live in a hermetically sealed container, pathogens are in fact, ever present. For instance, the flu virus is present in the summer. Although, our immune system is less compromised or stressed at that time of the year and has a better chance of beating it. Warmer temps, more time outside, more sunlight all contribute to less stress on the immune system. Presence of smaller amounts is actually helpful as it exposes us to the pathogen without making us sick. Although, if the amount is great enough…

Quantity is the other element we have little control over. When pathogens exist in enough quantity they are capable of overwhelming a weakened immune system. For instance, when we eat food and it arrives in our stomach, the acids there neutralize pathogens rendering them harmless. Although, if you have ever had food poisoning, the quantity of the pathogen is great enough in the food you ate to overwhelm your defenses. Yup, you read that right. The food you ate had live cultures of replicating pathogens in it. Your immune system responds with vomiting and diarrhea. If it did’t, you would likely be killed by the presence and quantity of the pathogen that would get delivered to your blood stream. When someone shows signs and symptoms we know they have contracted the pathogen. We also know it is present and has penetrated through a weakened immune systems with a great enough quantity to show signs and symptoms of illness. People who present with signs and symptoms and normally 24 hours prior and contagious. Thus, understanding route transmission can help you protect yourself.

Route is where we begin to gain some control. Routes includes: Ears, eyes, nose, mouth, genitals, anus (mucus membranes) and broken skin. With a pathogen like the Coronavirus, transmission is through the air and direct contact with infected individuals. Glove use and hand washing reduces the transmission through direct contact. We touch our faces on average of 20 times per hour. Therefore the difficulty is not touching our nose, eyes or mouth as these are the best routes for transmission.

In regards to blood borne pathogens vectors or shared needles are the most likely form of transmission. Vectors are anything that permeates your skin. Malaria and HIV are commonly transmitted by mosquitoes and needle vectors respectably. Unprotected sexual intercourse is also a possible mode of transmission for HIV. Although, hepatitis and syphilis are far more commonly spread this way than HIV or AIDS. Shared needles has been proven to be the most likely mode of transmission for HIV and AIDS. Funny no one came back after the AIDS Epidemic and rectified the situation. The research is out there although the conversation ended with “The only safe sex is abstinence”, but I digress.

Weakened or Compromised Immunity is also necessary for a pathogen to take affect. This can simply be categorized as stress. Our immune system is the last line of defense when a pathogen enters our bodies and what we have the most control over in regards to the puzzle. The coronavirus is no different. Although, the virus is showing it is capable of affecting slight compromises in immunity. In regards to the flu we have been more resistant and needed a greater compromise before becoming ill. This is why we have had higher prevalence of the Flu during the winter. People are in colder environments with less light and outdoor time and thus under more stress. The Coronavirus appears to not be as affected by such seasonal trends.

The individuals who are suffering the most have pre-existing conditions from lifestyle choice. The people that are contracting it have weakening their immune response through a variety of forms of stress that are all associated with a western approach to lifestyle. We see more impact on those with longer term lifestyle conditions conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. While there are early signs of these conditions, we generally see individuals ignoring them before they show signs and symptoms that require medical attention. For instance, weight gain is commonly ignored as a lifestyle condition and simply accepted as a part of life. Acknowledging these early signs and symptoms and reversing them would be extremely helpful as we age. Weight gain, obesity, heart disease (excluding congenital disorders), type 2 diabetes, hardening of the arteries, and vascular resistance is not a function of age or life. Rather, how you live your life.

Based on the information from the World Health Organization the causes of death have not changed since the onset of Covid. Rather Covid, much like every other respiratory disease, is accelerating the process of death through conditions that are already in place that has previously weakened the immune system. Heart Disease a function of lifestyle will eventually kill you. Covid accelerates this. So the question is, are you dying of Covid or the lifestyle you are leading?

We weaken our immune system through stressors like inadequate sleep, reduced hydration, high intakes of sugar, processed food based diets, anxiety, depression and overall stressful environments. If you are following a western lifestyle you will likely be engaging in all of these things on some level. The normalization of adding alcohol to the mix to reduce stress only weakens the immune system further. Thus making people more susceptible to declining health and disease.

These are all forms of stress. Stress causes our heart rates and respiratory rates to increase. Higher heart and respiratory rates cause us to excrete adrenaline and cortisol into our blood stream. These hormones cause an even greater increase of the heart and respiratory rate. This begins at low levels and when normalized begins the process of a detrimental lifestyle. We are capable of tolerating the higher heart and respirator rates earlier in life. The more we normalize these responses and resist the changes necessary to reduce these stress triggers the more we consider it to be “how we are”. Thus reinforcing a belief structure that causes us harm. This is best understood through the science of Epi-Genetics. Epi-Genetics is the science of genetics that proves our thoughts, feelings and actions directly affects our DNA. In simple terms this is the placebo effect. Making what you believe become your genetic response. This topic is way too big for this article. I recommend watching the movie, The Living Matrix and following the research of Dr. Bruce Lipton. Dr. Lipton is one of the foremost researchers in the field of stem cells, genetics and now Epi-genetics. His common statement, “the biggest bias I had to confront over the years was that what I had been teaching in the 80’s and into the 90’s was wrong” recognizes how science develops. The standard model is based in the idea that our genetics are dealt to us and we have no control over them. The western medical community holds on to this tenant fiercely. There is little monetary gain in empowering people with their health outside of the current health care system. Science and research are telling us something different.

Younger healthier immune systems when compromised and then exposed to pathogens are often less symptomatic if showing any at all. On the other hand, it can be potentially fatal to older, weakened and compromised immune systems. A weakened immune system is not a tenet of age. The lifestyle choices we make directly affects our health. The lifestyle conditions of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity are the most common pre-existing conditions that complicate patients with Covid. These are the result of lifestyle choices. When people have a congenital disorder they are born with it. When people with congenital issues manage their conditions through a healthy lifestyle they are capable of maintaining a healthy immune responses.  For example when someone born with Type 1 Diabetes reduces their sugar intake they need less insulin have fewer emergencies and live a much healthier life and can maintain a stronger immune response. On the other hand, individuals with lifestyle driven conditions have compromised their immune system, through their chosen lifestyle, in order to develop those conditions. This illustrates the health crisis we are having as opposed to a pandemic. Those with the most compromised immune responses are the sickest. How one maintains their own health, through lifestyle choices, dictates vulnerability to disease.

A Healthy Immune System has a much higher capacity to fight off pathogens. We support our immune system in a number of ways. For starters through exposure. As young children we are commonly exposed to pollens, and pathogens that we develop antibodies for. This mode of immunization is replicated through the vaccinations developed against viruses like measles, mumps, rubella, dypyheria, small pox and polio. While there are plenty of opinions on the topic of vaccinations it is difficult to disagree that we have limited the spread of these viral pathogens with their use. Although, as discussed earlier, these pathogens do not benefit from change through mutations. These pathogens depend on specific proteins to be able to exist. If they mutate, they are unable to find the proteins necessary to live. The Coronavirus on the other hand is a mutating virus. While vaccines can help reduce signs and symptoms, the virus will continue to mutate. This is similar to the Flu Virus as the vaccine needs to be updated every year and we are using a strain from a previous virus as we cannot forecast how it will change. People who have received the flu virus still have the capacity to get infected with the flu. This is being mimicked by the Corona Virus. Thus the support of a health immune response is imperative to reducing the spread of the Corona Virus.  

Here are the basics to immune system support:

A. Sleep: 7 to 9 hours of sleep nightly is the minimum mandatory range for adults. We all fall into different places in the range on different days and at different times of our adult life. This changes due to stress, physical exertion, diet and lifestyle habits. Research has also shown that prepubescent children and younger teens often need as much as 9 to 12 hours of sleep per night. That’s right your kid isn’t lazy; they are developing. You are never surprised at how much a puppy sleeps the first few years of their life. Take the 7 dog years to 1 human year age ratio and equate that to your children and you will realize our societal norms are not intended for benefits of health during our development. The bigger issue is the programming that normalize lack of sleep into our adulthood which is a significant contributor to stress which then makes it even more difficult to sleep. Starting a vicious cycle.  

A good nights sleep constitutes two (2) Circadian Rhythms. These cycles last 2.5 -3 hours, with lead in and out times added on. These occur once we achieve the REM State. Therefore deep, uninterrupted, unassisted sleep is necessary to attain this. Drugs and alcohol disrupt the deep levels of sleep necessary to gain REM State. The other benefit to REM State is that we dream.This contributes to a healthy brain and a higher functioning immune system.

Additionally, this is normalized throughout western lifestyle. Working long hours and staying up late with caffeine induced mornings are not only the norm but accepted as “the way it has to be to get things done”. Followed by “a drink or two” at night to help us sleep. A never ending cycle that causes neurological harm, increased anxiety and depression which intern weakens our immune response.

B. Diet: 1. Fresh  2.Local  3. Organic.

I often tell my students, “if it doesn’t rot, it isn’t food, that’s a product. Therefore, you shouldn’t eat it”. Additionally, I mention a specific order:

1. “fresh” Fresh food is real food. This is most important. Fresh greens, vegetables and fruits provide us with vitamins, minerals, nutrients and fiber. The baseline of a healthy diet. While I don’t suggest that everyone should be a vegan, everyone benefits from more plant based protein in their diets. PERIOD!

2.  “Local” has far less of an environmental impact as it travels less to get to you. Additionally, when it is local it often surpasses the USDA organic regulations of no pesticides. When it is truly “local”, the grower often carries a higher responsibility for their practices as they know they are “feeding” their community.

3. Organic. Choosing “organic” does become important when you cannot locally source your food as it eliminates pesticides which has an impact on you, your health and our environment directly.

Whether you eat meat or plant based proteins, how it is raised and grown affects the quality and nutrition the food provides. When we source ethically raised meats and organic produce it serves us with a safer more nutritious food source and the environment with a more sustainable crop. Additionally, ethically raised animals produce less cortisol and adrenaline. Large scale meat and dairy operations, through intentional stressing of the animals, produce more quantity and less quality. The adrenaline and cortisol we produce under stress is not beneficial for our own health. Why would you want to eat an animal under these conditions?

Sugar is a pleasurable, slow killer that often takes decades for its impact to be felt. Heart Disease, Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity are the effect of too much sugar in our diets. This results in high insulin production which becomes reduced or resistant over time. When we ingest more sugar than we need, with reduced or resistant insulin we store it as fat. Yes, you read that right. Too much sugar in the bloodstream gets stored as fat. This is not a statement of opinion it is a simple fact. Research has shown this for decades despite the dietary recommendations of the USDA. Processed foods or all sorts promote inflammation and the storing of fate in the body. This is exacerbated by stress.

C. Hydration: 2.5 quarts of water per day as a minimum mandatory for a sedentary lifestyle. More if you are active, live at elevation or in a dry climate. Coffee, tea, sports drinks or any other products do not count! 2.5 quarts of water…Period. If you are not counting how much water you are drinking you will not drink enough. You have to pay close attention to this. Try to start your day with 16 to 32 ounces of water before you eat or drink anything else. When we are slightly dehydrated we often get triggered for hunger. Meaning you are not really hungry, your mind is playing a trick on you. What you really need is water. Keep in mind that people survive with no food for 28 days only drinking water…just sayin…

D. Lifestyle: This includes a wide array of activities that promote health. These include but are not limited to things such as diet, exercise, yoga, meditation and meaningful relationships. My generic prescription is, “sometime, everyday, outside preferably with somebody”. The most important factor in this equation is arguably relationships. Deep and meaningful relationships provide us a higher standard of health. Nearly all cases of lifestyle driven Heart Disease and Type 2 Diabetes are coupled with some form of depression. Research has shown for decades that maintaining deeper and more meaningful relationships, has a direct impact on longevity, happiness and reduces the likelihood of depression.In short, there is no health with out mental health.

Spending time outside is also extremely important. Keep in mind that one of the treatments for depression is light therapy. Studies have shown that spending time in forests, hiking in mountains, and just being outside can lead to significant health benefits. Studies have shown that walking in the woods can decrease blood pressure, boost mental health, reduces inflammation  causes a de-stressing affect  can improve your eye sight, decrease the risk of cancer and overall improve your immunity. So go spend some time “forest-bathing” to improve your health.

Daily exercise and low impact activities are also a necessity. The key is moderation. I like to simplify this to “sustainable activity”. Meaning pick activities you can do your entire life and perform them at a rate that you can hold for a long period of time. These are basically low impact activities like walking and endurance based activities like jogging or running at an aerobic pace. These are referred to as” lifetime leisure activities”. If you can only do an activity at a certain point in your life then I have a hard time encouraging people to engage in the activity daily. Activities that exceed the aerobic output and maintain a level of aerobic generally cause reoccurring injuriy. The intensity of activity and the level of aerobic output varies for everyone. Not everyone is an “olympic athlete” nor should one expect to get to the level of one. All of our capabilities and capacities are different. Own your capabilities and capacities. This is part of the happiness equation. Training harder often results in injury. The age old adage of “slow and steady wins the race” holds up well here.

E. Stress:  Lack of sleep, poor nutrition, inadequate hydration, inactivity and poor mental health are all part of a wester lifestyle. These things are simply stress, although they are often considered normal qualities of the western lifestyle. Stress is the real killer. Stress causes us to be in the thinking mind, constantly problem solving and reliving stressful moments. When the brain is in this state it is releasing the stress hormones of adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline is toxic to the heart and other vital organs while the release of cortisol causes us to store more sugars as fat. This state causes anxiety, a host of autoimmune disorders, disrupts sleep, reduces our ability to eat right, exercise properly and disrupts our social interactions. Over time we get so use to it we don’t recognize the effects until our health begins to decline.  Later in life we are resistant to changing these habits as they are ingrained as normal and necessary. Despite the normalization, they are killing you. Sometimes slowly and at other times abruptly.

F. Alcohol Consumption: The most important connection to make with alcohol is that it is a neurotoxin. It directly affects the nervous system’s ability to function properly. Alcohol disrupts sleep cycles, inhibits exercise, and causes us to consume more when we are stresses; a vicious cycle of slow decline. Additionally, long term regular consumption is associated with higher incidents of cancer. Even the old adage of a small amount is good for your heart doesn’t hold up due to the increased potential of cancer. All of these are factors that inhibit the immune response. The normalization of alcohol in society has made this even more impactful as we often drink because others are despite the negative health factors.

The common lifestyle in the western approach is the main contributing factor to Heart Disease, Diabetes, Obesity, Stroke, Anxiety, Depression and Autoimmune disorders. While this lifestyle is normalized it simply doesn’t promote health or a well functioning immune system.

I have a lot of specifics and plans for folks who are looking to change their approach to lifestyle and health. If you are looking for more details regarding sleep, diet, hydration and lifestyle choices please reach out to me at jhoutdoorleadership@me.com to set up a one-on-one consultation. If you have questions please feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Thanks for reading.