I had the opportunity to participate recently in a powerful discussion with inVIVO, a global organization dedicated to fostering connections between personal and planetary health. That discussion prompted these thoughts, which I feel compelled to share more broadly.
We are all focused on COVID-19 right now. Yet there’s another pandemic underway, one that was already occurring and may be even worse — chronic, preventable diseases. These are among the top killers and contributors to disability worldwide, and unfortunately, they are also associated with much worse outcomes from COVID-19.
The link here may be immunity. In both severe COVID-19 and these chronic diseases, the immune system is out of balance, often inflamed, and unable to function properly.
So the point I’d like to make is that our pandemic with COVID-19 is also the manifestation of a preexisting pandemic of chronic metabolic diseases, like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. And again, the connection may be immune function. We have to look at the big picture, at health trends over decades, to see why we’re really in this pickle.
We’ve Lost Resilience
Over the course of the 20th century, humans aggressively pursued ways to make life more comfortable. Food, entertainment, and even medical care were expertly crafted to remove friction. You now have fast food on every corner, a thousand movies on your phone, and access to prescriptions that help beat back the symptoms of a hundred different diseases. But as we optimized for comfort, our bodies — and especially our immune systems — lost resilience.
In an attempt to delay discomfort, we waited until we had full-blown diseases to do anything about our poor health. Humans have been blessed with ingenuity, but in healthcare, this resource is primarily spent on mitigating symptoms of diseases, instead of focusing on ways to promote resilient health. Now we face the COVID-19 pandemic, and many of our most brilliant minds are working night and day to find ways of fighting the deadly virus. This is necessary. But it’s not sufficient.
The truth is, most of the solutions geared towards COVID-19 won’t generalize. They may help save lives from COVID-19, but they don’t address the bigger issue. This is the bigger issue, and I’ll state it plainly — our global immune health has been compromised. So while there’s definitely a need for work on vaccinations and for taking precautions like wearing masks, we have to look at the deeper problems or we risk remaining incredibly vulnerable to non-infectious and infectious diseases alike.
The Bigger Picture
This is why I’ve set my sights on a different way of looking at health. I’m looking at wellness through the lens of an interconnected immunity. A planetary coIMMUNITY that spans the different kingdoms of life. For example, did you know that plants have an immune system? Like humans, they also have to respond to a range of threats to their health, and they’ve created a massive array of immune molecules to defend themselves.
Or how about other animals? We always talk about the health benefits of omega-3 fats for humans, but why do certain fish have so much omega-3 fat in them? One reason is their immune health. From mushrooms to microbes, everything has an immune system, and it’s at our peril that we ignore this valuable information.
The point here is that humans, for all their brilliance, tend to overfocus on whatever’s right in front of them. This is called the availability heuristic. Right now, everything is about finding a quick fix to COVID-19, and again, this makes sense. But I want to encourage us all to also consider the bigger picture and what we can do to improve our global health at a deeper level, one that provides us with resilience against a variety of diseases. One that looks to improve health, not just avoid disease.
The way to do this is to look through the lens of a planetary coIMMUNITY. How can we benefit from the immune knowledge offered by other species? How can we support the survival and biodiversity of other species so that we don’t lose this precious knowledge? How can we encourage resilient, robust health, so we don’t find ourselves at the mercy of every new challenge?
Follow our work, here at Big Bold Health, and find out.