Reflections on the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Promotion of Personal Health
As the saying goes, “A single spark can start a prairie fire.”
There are two necessary and sufficient conditions for starting a fire: A spark, and “dry wood”. Therefore, a single spark in a forest plagued by drought can quickly start a “forest fire”.
Applying this metaphor to the pandemic, the novel coronavirus is the “spark”. When this spark crosses paths with a person of “dry wood-like body constitution” (i.e. impaired immunity induced by poor nutrition, stress/anxiety, lack of sleep, and lack of exercise) a fire can start; in this case, causing such a person to become infected, develop symptoms, and potentially be hospitalized or even die.
If there is only a spark, but no dry wood nearby, it would be impossible to start a fire – individually and globally! Most people without “dry wood-like body constitutions” are not “easily flammable”, hence, they are unaffected by exposure to this pandemic, thanks to their good health.
At the beginning of this outbreak, people believed that older populations were weaker, making them more vulnerable to infection and more prone to develop severe symptoms. Now, it turns out that young folks – from famous athletes with optimal physical strength, to opera singers with ample lung capacity, to many other active younger individuals – can also become gravely ill or even die from the infection… Why? Because there are many factors that can cause a person to have a “dry wood-like body constitution.”
B.Methods of Prevention & Treatment in Mainstream Medicine
In the face of this newly evolved virus, major medical organizations from all over the world are trying, with varying degrees of success, to “extinguish” this fire: deploying fast and accurate testing methods, studying the efficacy of various antiviral medications, and developing safe and effective vaccines as quickly as possible. Nevertheless, at present, there remains a lack of comprehensive, safe, effective, let alone affordable methods of active prevention and treatment.
Currently, the whole world is dealing with the virus “spark” passively: people are advised to wear a mask, wash hands frequently, socially distance, and shelter-in-place. As the situation worsened, we have had to cancel classes, suspend schools, isolate ourselves, lockdown cities, and even entire countries. In terms of survival, we are expected to follow professional advice from the heads of health departments and medical experts, but in the face of a depressed economy – with no income and thousands of businesses shutting down, we have all only become more distressed, anxious, and fearful.
As it stands, the most “proactive” empirically supported scientific method to combat COVID-19 is for everyone around the world to shelter-in-place while we wait for the vaccine to be developed, which may not materialize for half a year, a year, or even more. Generally it can take multiple years to develop, apply, observe, track, and evaluate a vaccine, and then manufacture it at sufficient scale to distribute it to the general population. As the virus continues to alter, adapt, and mutate, it remains to be seen how effective the vaccine will be. By way of comparison, the flu vaccine has to be altered every year to accommodate for mutations, and the resulting efficacy among people who receive a flu shot is only a 40-60% reduction in risk of contracting influenza in a given season. Unfortunately, the old and the weak do not have the luxury of time and could die while we wait for a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, the economic downturn resulting from shutting down businesses that rely on people being physically present can result in widespread death and despair in its own right.
Suppose there are 100 people of the “dry wood” constitution encountering the novel coronavirus “fire”; 40 of them are infected and the remaining 60 are uninfected. Even in isolation and lockdown, sooner or later, these 60 individuals will all get sick. While quarantined at home, if these 60 people continue their bad habits (e.g., not eating or exercising properly, becoming even more anxious and distressed), their bodies can worsen and become even “dryer wood”. When the outbreak will finally seem to be under control, work and school will resume, with life gradually returning to normal. Assuming an effective vaccine has not yet been developed and manufactured en masse, once these individuals encounter the lingering – possibly even mutated – virus, another wave of the pandemic will take place again. Then we all have to repeat the same process of entering isolation, locking down cities and borders; the whole world will once again experience another lasting economic depression and instability. This scenario is highly possible and we must stay diligent to prevent history from repeating itself!
There are no words to adequately express our collective gratitude to all the frontline workers, experts, scholars, and medical personnel of mainstream western medicine for their efforts and contributions – and for sacrificing their own health, even their lives in many cases – to battling the coronavirus “fire”. Politics aside, the governments of every country have generally done their best to fight the pandemic in a world of imperfect information, competing interests, and no silver bullet; most everything that realistically could have been done, has in fact been done. Despite this, it has become clear that the current prevention and treatments have reached the limits of their efficacy. For now, the whole world is eagerly waiting for an effective vaccine to be developed as soon as possible in order to totally eradicate the COVID-19 pandemic, so that everything can return to normal.
In the absence of further proactive approaches to extinguish the fire, now is the time to focus on another critically essential aspect of public health by improving the “dry wood body constitution” of the public. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango; without dry wood, even the hottest spark cannot start a fire. And when a small fire does ignite in a healthy, abundantly irrigated forest, it does not spread. To continue the analogy, if people take steps to strengthen their immune systems, it will minimize hospitalizations and death due to COVID-19, and prevent the rapid spread of serious cases of the disease that has critically strained national and local healthcare systems.
C.Integrative Concepts and Approaches on the COVID-19 Pandemic
The sticky secretions from coronavirus-caused pneumonia will cover bronchial trees as well as the alveoli, blocking oxygen from diffusing into blood circulation. As a result, many critically-ill patients will die from hypoxia (lack of oxygen), Even using ventilators to physically pump oxygen into COVID-19 patients’ lungs has in many cases proven ineffective at oxygenating their blood, and counterintuitively may even result in worse health outcomes.
Various medical disciplines and health specialties have a myriad of promising alternative treatment and recuperation methods. For example:
- Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM): From the early stage of a serious COVID-19 infection (lungs are cold and wet), to the middle stage (the virus and toxins block the lungs), to the critical stage (internally, the lungs shut down and, externally, respiratory and circulatory failure), to the recovery stage (weak chi on the lungs and spleen), and according to different clinical symptoms and signs, various herbal medications can be separately applied during different stages with varying degrees of efficacy. Some traditional herbal remedies that show promise at treating COVID-19 include yinqiao powder, puji disinfecting beverage, maxingshigan soup, jiuliuping, taste qiang soup, six taste dihuang pills, and pingwei powder. Clinical experiments show that achyranthes bidentata and prunella prunus have the ability to inhibit viral DNA and RNA life cycles, and that schisandra chinensis and polygonum multiflorum can promote the phagocytosis of white blood cells, enhancing lymphocyte transformation, and giving patients’ immune systems a boost in the fight against the novel coronavirus. With thousands of years of accumulated expertise and clinical experiences, TCM and the physicians who practice it should play a significant role in the prevention and treatment of pandemics, regardless of the availability of effective antibiotics or antiviral drugs from mainstream medicine.
- Gut Regulation: Our lungs and guts are closely related. Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that the lungs and large intestines function together in partnership. Natural medicine has long advocated digestive enzymes and probiotics, fasting, and even colon hydrotherapy and detoxification. More recently, western medicine has been conducting ample evidence-based research and in the past decade has begun to accumulate tremendous actionable knowledge of the human gut microbiome, gut-lung axis, gut-brain axis, leaky gut syndrome, and other aspects of the gastrointestinal (GI) system, with the result that western doctors are is acknowledging the link between the GI system and cardiovascular health. Regardless of the school of thought, it is becoming increasingly clear that every person should take steps to actively improve his or her personal gut health, which can both directly and indirectly enhance our immunity and minimize gut abnormality-induced pulmonary dysfunction.
- Hyperthermia: By elevating body temperature, our blood and lymphatic circulations increase and immunity strengthens. Statistically speaking, some thermotherapy devices (with infrared light emitting specific wavelengths) can significantly increase mitochondrial functions (i.e. Spare Respiratory Capacity, Coupling Efficiency, Bioenergetic Health Index) within 15 minutes, which presumably can be beneficial for health maintenance, body strengthening, disease prevention, and even illness recovery.
- Others: In addition, there are countless ways to improve our health and prevent “dry wood” physique, such as:
a) Healthy Eating: Diet pyramid, nutrition, eating slower, chewing food well before swallowing, fewer meals and/or smaller portions, more vegetable-based diets, intermittent fasting, enzymes, probiotics, fibers;
b) Exhilarating Detox: Bowel movements, urination, breathing, sweating, hepatobiliary system, menstruation;
c) Upright Spinal Posture: Chiropractic adjustments enable a good spinal alignment, just like a straight & wide freeway, which facilitates optimal transportation and communication effects (across sensory, motor, and autonomic nerves functions as well as meridian systems…etc);
d) Active Exercise: Physical exercise (isometric, with equal muscle length, and isotonic, with equal muscle tension), mental exercise (calming, stabilizing, meditation to induce “emptiness” of the mind, reaching a state of selflessness and “oneness” with the universe);
e) Sound Sleep;
f) Safe Housing: Sound, light, electricity, heat, minimal irradiation and exposure to toxic chemicals;
g) Joyfully Being in the Present: Positive thinking, caring more about others, enjoying music, flower essence, essential oils, sunlight and other forms of light.
D.Discussion & Conclusions
Whether Ancient or modern, East or West, currently there are various medical and wellness theories and methods that many people around the world have been regularly applying to their lives. Some of them, including Traditional Chinese Medicine and gut microbiome, have been scientifically verified by western medicine, and are very beneficial to health as well as the prevention and treatment of diseases; some may be a waste of money and ineffective; others may be unsupported by evidence, deceptive, and even deadly!
Though the public cannot always easily determine which disciplines are truly effective or ineffective, it is clear that the worldwide attitudes and trends on health and medicine are changing. The public is not satisfied with mainstream medicine for mainly focusing on the diagnosis of disease, treatment of disease, and rehabilitation of disease, or even the prevention of disease by active means. Mainstream medicine has acted similar to a student attending school simply to prevent a failing grade, instead of curiously seeking knowledge, with the result that it has failed in many cases to actively pursue true health. Nobody seeks to end up bed-ridden, filled with tubes, unconscious for family visits, leaving a legacy of misery and an inheritance of financially crippling medical bills. The public wants to live healthily and age gracefully.
As the global economy, standards of living, and access to education improve, more and more people around the world are expecting integrative medicine to actively “evaluate health, improve health and maintain health”, so that when they are 80, 90 or even 100 years old, they will still be able to hike, stay active, and enjoy time with their grandchildren and loved ones. It would be inadequate and too late to put out “the fire” once we have “caught flame”; what the public needs most is to learn the ways to effectively optimize their health, both physically and mentally, thereby not becoming “dry wood” to burn!
This is the most important mission for all who have made medicine and health services their occupation, career and life aspirations. Whether it is western medicine, Chinese medicine, natural medicine, functional medicine, bio-energy and bio-information medicine, or other disciplines, professionals across all fields should bear a more humble and open-minded attitude, in order to enhance their knowledge and specialities, with a more evidence-based, collaborative approach providing the best and most sustainable health services and medical care for mankind!
There is an ancient saying, “Total wellness comes from a strong body and a beautiful mind.” Regardless of repeated waves of COVID-19 outbreaks or other microorganism-induced pandemics in the upcoming years, humanity will be able to face the challenge with strength and poise as long as our bodies and minds are healthy, without “dry wood constitution”. While people around the world cooperate with their governments’ current epidemic prevention (“fire-fighting”) policies and wait for effective antibiotics and vaccines, let’s start learning and diligently improving our own “dry wood” body constitutions now!
Special thanks to Yi Ho and my children, Katerina, Andrew and Krysta, for their assistance on translation.