As promised, here is the continuation of our discussion about canning safety. See below for previous posts and comments.
Experts and government officials on all levels make recommendations about how to protect yourself from infectious diseases. The fear of disease has made many people downright paranoid about keeping the home and even the outside environment clean to the point of sterility. It has also put lots of money into the pockets of those who make antibiotics, vaccines, antimicrobial sanitizing wipes, cleaners and such. I firmly believe that we’re looking in the wrong direction — we should be looking inward. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the immune system.
Back in the days when the Uggs and all their friends, neighbors and relatives lived in caves, soap and hot water were hard to come by. Food might or might not have been washed and in many cases was eaten raw (that included raw meat). Food was also eaten partly spoiled — the worst parts might have been cut away — and was certainly eaten fermented. People had regular contact with animals, both inside and outside of the cave. While the Uggs didn’t have soap and water, vaccines or antibiotics, they also didn’t have a lot of environmental toxins, soil/air/water pollution, highly processed and refined foods — especially table sugar and high fructose corn syrup — superbugs and industrialized meat and eggs. They also didn’t have a very long life expectancy because they faced so many environmental risks, but they probably didn’t have diabetes or heart disease, either.
What they did have was strong immune systems. I say that because anybody without a strong immune system just plain didn’t survive. Infant mortality in particular tends to be high in primitive societies, probably because it takes a few years for infants to develop their immune systems. Here are the important components of the immune system:
Skin and Mucous Membranes
The outer wall that protects us from bacteria, viruses and fungi (pathogens/things that cause infections). The skin and mucous membranes also secrete substances called defensins that protect against pathogens. The stomach interior is highly acid, killing off most pathogens we swallow.
A secondary wall to protect the brain and nervous system from infection.
A process (redness, heat, swelling) that increases circulation in the infected area and changes the conditions in the body, so the pathogens don’t have the right living conditions.
White Blood Cells
Several different types that that “eat” or neutralize bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Substances the immune system makes when an “invader” gets through the outer defenses and causes a reaction or infection. Many antibodies confer life-long protection, and they also recognize and try to neutralize organisms that are similar to previous infections. The immune system is like a muscle in that it needs “exercise.” It gets that exercise by regularly coming in contact with all kinds of bacteria, viruses and fungi, and building the internal defense mechanisms.
Body cavities like the bladder and vagina, and — most especially — the gastrointestinal tract, are absolutely teeming with billions of bacteria that compete with pathogens, preventing them from growing enough to cause problems. Disrupt the beneficial flora with a course of antibiotics, and the patient is likely to develop a yeast infection, inflammatory bowel disease and/or serious digestive problems.
I’m not suggesting that we should ignore the basics of regular hand washing, clean drinking water and other sanitary basics. I find it very interesting that prior to the introduction of widespread vaccination in the early 20th century, infectious disease rates had already started to drop. The drop parallels modern sanitation practices. However, I do think many people have gone way too far and focused on the wrong things. We should focus on making our immune systems as strong as possible, because there will always be bugs out there trying to get us. So how do we do that? A lot of it has to do with the basics:
High-nutrient, organically-grown vegetables, fruits, grass-fed meat, fish, poultry, eggs and grass-fed dairy (the dairy products should be raw or fermented). Eat fermented veggies and fruits regularly, too, as they help nourish the beneficial bacteria in the body, especially in the all-important gut. Don’t cook any more than you have to, because heat destroys a lot of important nutrients like vitamin C (although it may concentrate others, like the lycopene in tomatoes).
Avoid Refined Foods and Sugar
Sugar (in any form) will clobber your immune system faster than anything else you can think of. T cells fight infections, but in one study, after a dose of 100 grams of carbohydrates from sugar the ability of the T cells to fight bacteria was suppressed for up to five hours. Now, that’s about 25 teaspoons of sugar, which seems like a lot. On the other hand, a sugared soft drink and a large glazed doughnut have about 75 grams of carbohydrate. There’s some evidence that cancer cells prefer sugar and grow better in high-sugar environments. Chronically high blood sugar definitely has an immune system effect, which is one reason why diabetics are so susceptible to infections and have trouble healing. An occasional slice of birthday cake or piece of candy is OK, eating the suggested six (for women) or nine (for men) teaspoons every day is not.
Get Enough Sleep
The immune system really suffers (as does the brain) from inadequate sleep. Adults need at least seven hours. The way to find out if you’re getting enough sleep is to turn off the alarm clock and let yourself wake up naturally. If you have to get up at seven to go to work, keep going to bed earlier until you naturally wake up at seven; that’s how much sleep you need. And if you’re sick, by the way, you’ll need more sleep, so listen to your body. And, yes, I know that means you may need to turn off the TV or computer to go to bed earlier. Which is more important, keeping up with Kim K and real housewives, or having a good strong immune system?
The Uggs got lots of exercise, whether the daily walk to gather food or the occasional sprint to outrun something with big teeth. Regular exercise decreases stress and promotes healthy sleep — both of which promote immune system function — and also directly strengthens the immune system.
One of the most important things you can do for your immune system is to feed your gut right. But this post is so long, I can see we need a third section, so Canning and Gut instincts Part 3 will follow soon (and you’ll see why I called this “gut instincts” when I started out talking about canning safety).