September is a time of renewal for most of us as we resume the schedules that have been set aside in favor of the wonderful spontaneity of summer. Fitness and dance classes, volunteer commitments, school and work routines begin again and we re-establish relationships that have been temporarily set aside.
For some of us, health renewal routines inevitably include a parasite cleanse, undertaken in the absence of signs and symptoms, in the belief that we cannot be healthy if we harbour parasites, fungi, viruses and bacteria. This is an example of how the antipathogenic approach of Western medicine has crept into the practice of holistic nutrition and new-age natural medicine. Traditional medical systems such as TCM & Ayurveda do not endorse the belief that a disease has to be removed in order to achieve and maintain good health.
The Chinese saying, ‘Pure water has no fish’, demonstrates ancient acknowledgment that no living organisms are sterile and that no sterile environment can sustain life.
Even in states of good health, we coexist with vast colonies of microbes. The number of commensal bacteria living on our skin and external mucus surfaces (gut, respiratory tract, vagina) is known to exceed the total number of cells in the human body. In fact, the DNA structure of human mitochondria – the energy producing centers in our cells – is more closely related to bacterial, rather than human DNA. This intriguing finding is more suggestive of our co-evolution with the wee beasties rather than the current assumption that we left them behind in the evolutionary race.
Sometimes these microbial colonies cause great harm to the host. Most of us have heard lurid stories of ‘flesh-eating disease’. The term describes the horrific tissue destruction caused to deep layers of the skin and fascia by toxins released from commensal bacteria that has run amok. In 1994, Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard had to have his leg amputated to stop the spread of this infection.
What causes this disease? While it rarely occurs in healthy people, most cases arise in people suffering from diabetes, alcoholism, drug abuse, cigarette smoking (Bouchard was a heavy smoker), malignancies and other chronic diseases. In other words, their immune systems are struggling.
When the bacterial colonies coexist in mutual health with their human hosts, their potential to cause disease is held in check by protective host responses. In turn, the microbes release compounds that activate innate and adaptive immune responses, increasing host resistance to infections and some types of cancer. It is to our benefit to ensure these microbial colonies are intact and functioning.
In short, we can – and do – coexist with many viruses, fungi, bacteria and sometimes even cancer cells if we have healthy immune systems.
Paramount to having a healthy immune system is the ability to produce adequate amounts of cellular energy to digest and assimilate the nutrients in a healthy diet, to get adequate physical exercise in the fresh air and sunshine, to rest easy at night and to maintain a positive outlook.
Fall cleansing routines will therefore be more effective with the use of herbs to improve cellular energy production and maintain energy reserves during fasting and cleansing protocols rather than focusing on killing agents to “stamp out’ asymptomatic parasitic and microbial colonies. Fabulous herbs routinely used for conserving energy stores include ginseng, ashwaganda, rhodiola, schisandra and licorice. All of them affect neuroendocrine functioning and have potent characteristic actions specific to individual needs.
If you are interested in researching their properties, they are known in Ayurveda as rasayana, in TCM as Qi tonics and in scientific circles as adaptogens. In my opinion, they represent a much better renewal bang for your buck than routine parasite cleansing. A healthy immune system has the technology to deal with parasites and unruly microbes.
Evelyn extends heartfelt thanks to authors David Winston RH(AHG) and Stephen Maimes for their wonderful book entitled “Adaptogens: Herbs for strength, stamina and stress relief”; Healing Arts Press, Rochester, NY, 2007.