Have you heard about the contaminated cantaloupes?
Health officials report that this recent bacterial outbreak has caused seventy two reported cases of illness, and sixteen deaths in eighteen states. They also warn that the numbers will likely rise in the coming weeks. With this public health issue taking a prominent place in our media, I thought I would use the opportunity to explain that, while often very serious and sometimes deadly, bacteria, in fact, are often not the problem. Usually, we are.
That sounds strange, right? Let me explain. The more I study the physiology of the human body, the more amazed I am at its complexity. For example, your body is composed of between seventy to 100 trillion cells. That's a lot of cells, right? What you probably don't realize is this - there are more bacteria living in our body and on our body than cells of our body. That's right. You have more bacteria than your own cells.
Now take this information about bacteria and expand it out into the world. Can you even imagine how many bacteria are all around us? Think about the soil, the animals, the plants, all other humans, and the rest of our environment. Basically, bacteria are EVERYWHERE!
What's your reaction to this? Does it scare you? Is it upsetting? Are you reaching for your can of Lysol as we speak? I'm not trying to scare or upset you - I simply want you to realize that we are not going to escape bacteria. We never have and we never will. This is because life as we know it requires bacteria.
That's right. Life requires bacteria. As humans, we are a part of a very complex and beautiful interaction taking place between an infinite number of life forms. We need to live in balance with all the forms of life around us. This includes bacteria.
Of course, things can be out of balance. Soil can be infected with certain bacterial forms and lead to food contamination, as with the cantaloupes. We can become horribly sick and even die from bacteria. But are bacteria the problem - or is it the imbalance?
From a Naturopathic medical perspective, bacterial infections are a sign of imbalance. If we were to simply kill off the bacteria, we'd only be addressing a symptom, rather than the root cause. Naturopathic doctors work with the body to restore balance. This involves supporting the cells of the immune system in recognizing the imbalance, clearing the infection, and restoring balance. Remember that the body is amazing and is constantly doing this to some degree. Sometimes it just needs a bit more help.
Of course we should avoid exposure to excessive amounts of bacteria if possible, including heeding all public health warnings, but we also need to work to keep ourselves as healthy and strong as possible. This includes using supplements, herbs, diet, etc. to ensure that the digestive system, the liver, and the hormones are working optimally. If we have a strong body, any imbalance will be corrected easily and smoothly.
If you don't believe me, perhaps you'll believe a more famous practitioner - Dr. Louis Pasteur. Remember him? He created the process of heating milk - “pasteurization” - in order to kill off potentially contaminating bacteria. Apparently, on his death bed, Louis Pasteur realized that his focus on killing bacteria was in fact not the best way to solve the problem. “It's not the bacteria; it's the terrain,” were his words, indicating that an individual's overall health determined whether or not bacteria would overrun the system.
Learn to live with nature and not fight against it. Take care of your "terrain" and your body will take care of you. And remember, cantaloupes are not your enemy.