Suddenly the air isn’t safe (as if it ever was). Oxygen is not safe. The one thing in life that was guaranteed is dangerous. Beware of how you breathe and where you breathe. Wear a mask. Stay away from people. We are not safe to one another. Finally we’ve done it: The biological microcosm of the macrocosm that is capitalism: From incidentally isolated as a result of our busy schedules to forcibly isolated due to an uncontrolled crisis. This is our result. They keep telling us we’ll get through it because we’re strong. I disagree. I think we are weak — and said weakness is one of the factors that arrived us here in the first place, in first place!
Once again America has outdone everyone. No Olympics necessary: We win. Why were we so ill-prepared? Why did all the front line doctors and nurses’ uniforms in China look like Christopher Lloyd’s in Back to the Future and ours look just like Joe and Maria from Queens? According to much of (white) America it’s all China’s fault. Somebody ate a bat. According to the Democrats it’s Trump’s fault. According to Trump it’s the W.H.O. — and how can we overlook the CDC, who for weeks told us the masks served no purpose? One must wonder how many infections and deaths were caused by this misinformation. As we all point fingers like children it’s no wonder we’re in the state we are.
I’m an acupuncturist, a practitioner of Chinese Medicine. My wife is an MD who practices integrative medicine and we often find ourselves citing the diagnostic premise that whenever any situation is so critical its etiology must be multi-factorial. Everyone screwed up. Let’s be honest, China could probably stand to improve its general hygiene. Does this mean all Chinese people are to blame for CoVid? No more than all Muslims were to blame for 9/11. Trump has done an awful job but in fairness to him (I can’t believe I just wrote those words) and contrary to his proclamation of absolute power, he is not the sole person in charge. He’s got advisers, thank God. We’re one of the richest countries in the world. Our four year olds can surf the Internet and upload videos onto Instagram from the same device, yet our doctors and nurses didn’t have PPE’s. The World Health Organization did blow it. Finally are the citizens who don’t stay inside, don’t social distance and think the mask is an accessory to be pulled down around their necks whenever they’re not indoors. Hints:
1. Germs can spread outdoors. Six feet is a subjective amount of space that doesn’t guarantee some magically impenetrable vortex that the most powerful pandemic of our lifetimes cannot penetrate. Keep your mask on.
2. When you constantly pull it off and on you’re using your hands, which have been subjected to outside surfaces, thereby transferring whatever they touched onto the mask an inch from your respiratory orifices. Keep your mask on.
“But it’s uncomfortable,” people complain.
What are you, seven? Keep your mask on.
This is the final problem. We are seven: Our lifestyle, diets, food quality, priorities, discipline and awareness as a society on a whole is that of a whining child, mindlessly following his psychological id around animalistic urges. So it is no coincidence that the same first world country that leads all others in cancer rates, heart disease and autoimmune now also leads in CoVid-19. Too many of our bodies are garbage depositories of sugar and processed food, alcohol, antibiotics, pesticides and pollution. How can an immune system (or any system) properly function in such an environment?
Traditional Chinese Medicine always connected the stomach, lungs and immune system to one set of “qi,” and now through recent studies of our microbiome and the vagus nerve, western medicine is coming to the same conclusion. If the stomach is not working properly it leads to “dampness,” or fluid retention, which then gets either sent up to the lungs in the form of phlegm or finds places around the body to reside in the form of inflammation, such as arthritic joints, muscle pain or other organ conditions. How many orthopedic doctors recommend weight loss to alleviate musculoskeletal pain? When excessive pathogenic fluid is retained it adds strain on the body. More strain on the body exhausts it, which taxes the immune system. A taxed immune system might show up as any upper respiratory condition: seasonal allergies, chronic sinus infections, sleep apnea, even snoring. Why? The fluid retention from the stomach has found a home in the sinuses, thereby making breathing more difficult.
Chinese Medicine diagnoses often sound like a weather report: Every patient is either too dry, “damp,” too hot or “cold,” and most often a combination of multiple pathogens. While this may not sound as scientific as conventional medicine it is every bit as much in critical thought and methodology. A person too hot most often has a hyperactive sympathetic nervous system. They tend to hyperthyroid and an aversion to elevated temperatures. People who are cold tend more to hypothyroidism, an underactive sympathetic and aversion to cold. And everyone is familiar with an overweight family member with arthritis who can tell you when it’s going to rain. It’s because they are “damp.”
The (initial) nature of CoVid as a pathogen logically aligns with the climate from where it comes: Damp and cold. Wuhan boasts an environment not dissimilar to Seattle, which happens to be where we discovered some of our first domestic cases and also supports many scientists’ findings that the virus dislikes warm weather. Damp and cold pathogens, from a Chinese Medical perspective, exploit already existing fluid retention in the same way rain does arthritis, which is why the mortality rate is higher among people with diabetes and/or weight problems. This is why most of the herbal formulas we are using to treat (most stages of) the illness include warm, drying ingredients, such as ginger, pinellia and magnolia bark. We must tactfully dry the pathogenic fluids lodged in the body’s tissues without dehydrating the pathways where white blood cells must travel to the “cytokine storm” (of inflammation). What qualities CoVid brings into the body we counter with its opposite, through a collaborative effort of medicine and a strong immune system. This is war. Our opponent is powerful and requires a team effort.
In war you have the general, who I imagine would be the scientists; the lieutenants are the front line doctors and captains are the government, shutting down non-essential businesses and redefining laws to attack in the form of avoidance: “a good defense is the best offense” sort of thing. But we are the soldiers. We may have the least information but we exist in the greatest numbers. There is not only one front line in this war. The second front line is within us, our lungs and white blood cells, our strength that ultimately determine our fate. This idea that quantity of viral load exposure is the sole determining factor in how sick someone gets is preposterous in its implication of coincidence that apparently elderly people and those with diabetes must have been the most exposed. It is time human beings claim responsibility.
How to combat a damp, cold pathogen from an Eastern Medical perspective?
1. Stay warm. Blood vessels constrict in cold temperatures, which means less white blood cells can arrive as/where needed, which compromises the immune system. From a Chinese Medical perspective we should never feel a draft, especially while exercising and sweat pores are (damp and) open. In addition to the mask keep your scarf on or hood up until summer arrives, also socks pulled up to allow proper blood flow through the stomach meridian (on the front of our legs). Young ladies should avoid belly t-shirts. If a draft blows against the stomach it reduces blood flow in the microbiome, encourages fluid retention, which gets sent up to the lungs, creates phlegm, obstructs breathing and kills people. Older ladies should not respond to hot flashes by having their coats open. From a Chinese Medical perspective this is a “false heat” created by hormones and can be mitigated by acupuncture or herbs. Better to be warm and live than cool and die.
2. Consume warm, cooked foods and drink tea. Chinese Medicine advises against consuming uncooked foods, as they require more work from the digestive system, which ultimately exhausts it, creates fluid retention, which harms the immune system and kills. Cooking foods does not remove their nutrients, but instead makes them easier to absorb and assimilate for the body. While many nutritionists cite foods’ literal nutritional components as determined in a scientific lab, they cannot account for how those foods translate within the context of the human body. Eat real meals, cooked green vegetables 2–3 times a day and your immune system will thank you. If you don’t have time to cook make time to cook. Stop being so American. This virus wants to educate us about our priorities and how to live.
3. Avoid cold and damp substances as much as possible. All sugar is damp, (almost) all dairy is damp, fruits and smoothies are cold and damp, yogurt is cold and damp, salad is cold and damp, most medications are cold and damp, as are all cold drinks, alcohol, especially beer, and nothing — I mean nothing is colder and damper than the sugar-filled, frozen dairy that makes up ice cream. This summer avoid it like the plague, which for the first time I do not mean metaphorically. Have dark chocolate or fruits in yogurt if you must, but please don’t wait for mainstream media to inform you of the dangers of ice cream. Sugar kills. The fact that every bottle of soda, candy wrapper, pastry box and fast food window don’t have warning labels like tobacco packs is just another example of how behind the curve we are. Scientific studies prove the benefits of yoga, yet classes are not covered by health insurance? Why? We need to think outside the box because the box is dying.
4. Exercise. I tell my patients all the time: If you don’t exercise you are headed for disease, no matter what else you do. When we don’t sweat we retain pathogenic fluids in the muscles and tissue, which leads to inflammation, which leads to weakness and disease. When we don’t partake in the kind of deep breathing that comes with yoga, martial arts or cardio workouts our lungs get weaker. Inflammation builds, our immune system has to work harder and we’re more likely to die. If possible find someone good to train under. A poor trainer or mediocre yoga studio with insufficient instruction can be the equivalent of the right supplement from a poor quality company.
5. Avoid animal protein that is not hormone and antibiotic free, especially the latter. Scientists are now informing us that antibiotics can compromise the body’s ability to fight CoVid. Why? From a Chinese Medical perspective it’s because antibiotics have a cold quality that damages the stomach the same as ice cream (sans the yummy enjoyment), which weakens the immune system. This doesn’t mean to not take antibiotics when recommended by your doctor — just be aware that they rob Peter to pay Paul and should be treated accordingly. Nor does this mean to go vegan. Chinese Medicine views animal protein as invaluable to our health, especially during the cold weather months when the immune system requires more calories. The western dietary mistake is eating animal protein way too frequently, in too big portions and low quality. Food is medicine and medicine is about proper dosing. It is past time we put the unethical farmers, cheap supermarkets and chain restaurants that are largely responsible for creating our autoimmune diseases in the first place out of business.
Does this sound harsh? I sure as hell hope so, because it is. It was harsh long before CoVid got here; CoVid is just exposing a weakness the same way a powerful boxer would in the ring. We can choose to confront it as an invitation to evolve or continue to assume the typical role of victims waiting to be saved by science, thereby overburdening the medical world the same we do our bodies. In spite of what our esteemed king might imply in his midnight tweets (in ALL CAPS) this has nothing to do with China vs. U.S. It has nothing to do with their medicine vs. ours or Democrats vs. Republicans. This is a matter of life vs. death, saving the economy, if not our lives, by employing every resource possible, the greatest of which being our own transformation. How many diseases do we have to lead the world in before we concede that our way may not be the way? It’s great to have strong branches, to social distance, wash hands, wear masks and get more ventilators — but if we continue to neglect the root — the front line within us– then we are doomed to death.