Viral Immunity

You may find it strange, but this page has been the hardest for me to get to a point where I could present it to you. My ideas about viral immunity are quite different from those to which you will likely have been exposed, and I'll try to present them to you.Armour

We all want to be able to resist viruses. That's why so many of us go to such lengths to line up for immunizations which we hope will work, and avoid all possible situations in which we might be exposed to viruses. Emotionally, we may want to hide behind a suit of armour - likely not the greatest tactic. So let's start by looking afresh at what viruses are and how they operate.


Little bundles of protein, viruses lack cell walls or the metabolic machinery we have in every one of our human (or animal or plant or bacterial) cells. Their only 'purpose' is to sneak past our defenses, get into our cells, and use them in which to multiply, then find a way to get these new 'offspring' out into general circulation. In this, they are ingenious. They create irritation in the respiratory passages so their 'offspring' can get spread around when we cough and sneeze. Some viruses create diarrhoea and others, watery blisters (i.e. chickenpox). The 'best' viruses guarantee their survival by making it possible for their reach to extend as far as possible, like us being ill while sneezing and coughing, but being able to get out and be in contact with other people. Viruses that kill quickly (i.e. Ebola) tend to be less successful. HIV/AIDS is somewhere in between.

Viruses can also mutate so just when scientists create an immunization for one strain, a new variant appears. It's for this reason that it's best if we can develop our own immunity (innate immunity and acquired immunity).


Getting a Virus

They're really little. The respiratory ones do best if they're breathed in all the way into the lungs so they avoid the immune system in the throat and upper airway. The intestinal varieties are less picky and will be happy to gain entry on anything close to your mouth or on anything that goes in your mouth. BUT the most important thing about getting a viruses is about you, and your state of balance, and health.

I'd like to illustrate with an example. I work in an urgent care clinic where I see lots of sick people - up close. I do throat swabs. People of all ages cough right at me and occasionally throw up on me. Yet I'm usually OK. Last winter I worked a lot of shifts in the Holiday period - mid December. I sometimes put on a mask if I think a child will have trouble with a throat swab, but often I don't use a mask, and sometimes I get a 'surprise'.

On one particular evening, a child I was caring for suddenly opened his mouth wide and spray-coughed right on my face. I had the instant thought "I'm going to get this"!!!! I went to the washroom, gargled and washed my face, but on my drive home that night I began to get the telltale sore throat. Several days later, I had the full-blown flu. I know I had been tired. I know I had been exposed. And I know I was afraid.

I was not until I had a wonderful conversation with my son, Antony Christopher that I made any progress on the notion of how to stay well that I "got it".

Several weeks before this conversation, I had been in the clinic. It was in the middle of the 'second wave' of the H1N1 flu. Most of the patients had all the typical flu-like symptoms; fever, cough, stomach cramps, nausea, and dizziness. One particularly ill woman sat waiting for me. After getting her history, I asked her to remove her mask so I could examine her throat, which she had complained was sore. As I approached, she tilted her head back, opened her mouth wide, and did a huge exhalation - one in which I could see all the way down her throat and feel her hot breath on my face. I know at that instant that I had been exposed to H1N1.

Previously, I had decided not to get the immunization, figuring that I had been frequently exposed in the 'first wave' and hadn't gotten ill. In any case, at the time of this event the immunizations had not been available for health care providers. So now I was being cautious, but generally not wearing a mask. Some of my colleagues were critical of my behaviour fearing that I would get ill for sure. I was hoping they weren't right and was taking the supplements which I felt would help to protect me.

Here I was - exposed for sure. But I had a choice. I could go the fear route and try to wash the virus out of my system, and double up on my immune boosters. Or I could do something different. I decided, in that instant, to do something else. I don't want this to sound mystical because I think it's something we can all do. I let this hot breath flow around me but not stick to me. It was as if I had surrounded myself in a protective 'cloak' and I let go of the fear which I experienced the instant I felt her breath on me. I couldn't know that it would work, but it did. I didn't get ill.

It's not like I felt I was invincible. That would have been foolhardy. It was more like I had nothing to 'catch' the virus. Nothing sticky. Science teaches that pathogens must first adhere before they can penetrate. I felt free of Velcro™.

It was only later, in the conversation with Antony, when we were discussing why it was that doctors had generally been able to be healthy at times of general illness (pandemics?), that the penny dropped. Doctors have, in the past, been focused on caring for the patient, not worrying much about themselves, and with some feeling that they would come through safely. And, in general, they have been fine. I felt like there was a huge message in it for me - "let fear go."

Does Sugar Play a Role?

In general, most people do better when they ear fewer sweet foods. But is there something about eating sweets which leaves one more vulnerable to infections? For bacterial infections, this is common sense; bacteria thrive on sugar. For viruses however, it is a little more obscure how resistance is lowered. Could it be that sugar depresses immunity in some complex way, not yet fully understood? I think so. Oriental medical physicians teach us that sweets weaken 'kidney energy' making us more fearful. Could this help us understand the link to viral vulnerability?

During the flu season, I try to avoid all sweets including fruit juice.

Staying Healthy (i.e. Not not getting a virus)

Staying well is an art, possibly learned after time, and certainly after trial and error. The error usually results in an opportunity for us to learn, or possibly, by a cleansing reaction (often called an illness by those who look at life from a conventional or scientific perspective, but which is often referred to by those who practice complementary healing as a cleansing or discharge). Being healthy consists of being in positive balance.Balance

Positive balance in itself means being able to achieve things in the world while being balanced. If we were just balanced we'd be static and not be able to do anything. It also means being emotionally positive.

The polarities of balance are many: rushing too fast v.s. moving too slowly, being too hot or too cold. You can think of many examples of these polarities. Biologically, these are in the realm of sweet/salty, damp/dry, expanded/contracted, meat/vegetables etc. Oriental medicine and Macrobiotic nutritional teaching explores and uses these concepts to promote healing.balance

Viral immunity depends on balance in all these things. It also depends on sleep. Everyone has their own requirements. You need to find what you need. Usually its about 7 - 8 hours, preferably at the same time every day (rotating shifts are very hard on the body and spirit), and in near total darkness (our endocrine system needs dark for renewal and to reset itself).

It's not that antibodies and other immune functions don't play an important part in this process. They do. But in my experience, viral immunity is dependent on much larger factors in our selves. For me, this experience in letting go of fear was a huge learning experience. I try to do it all the time, yet it is difficult to do. It's easier when I have eaten well, and that means for me, not too much sweet and virtually no alcohol.

My hope is that you will also try to let go of fear. You will find it so much more peaceful, and powerful. This peace radiates out into the world, helping to make our human community a better place for all.

Please read further in the section on strengthen your immunity for specific suggestions.