Preventing Pandemics: Why are they on the rise and what can you do?
In 2018, the World Health Organization released a report entitled “Managing Epidemics: Key Facts About Major Deadly Diseases.”1 The director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated in this report “global health security is only as strong as its weakest link. No-one is safe until everyone is safe.” He went on to state: “But it’s not enough just to respond to outbreaks. We must do our best to prevent them by addressing the root cause of health insecurity: the lack of access of the most vulnerable people to essential health services. Ultimately, it’s the absence of universal health coverage that is the greatest threat to health security. Universal health coverage and health security are two sides of the same coin.”
While I agree with Dr Ghebreyesus that the absence of universal health coverage is a great threat, it’s not ultimately the greatest threat. How do I know this? We have seen coronavirus ravage countries with the best health coverage and care available today.
So, what is the greatest threat to health security? THE CONFUSION ABOUT THE DEFINITION OF “PREVENTION.” Vaccines don’t prevent epidemics. Antibiotics don’t prevent epidemics. While they appear to work on the surface, they simply set us up for more later. The type of healthcare practiced in most of the world today is akin to a game of whack-a- mole. We wait like sitting ducks for all hell to break loose, then scramble to make the pharmaceutical industry its next billion with a blockbuster drug to address that one pathogen. This is not prevention, it’s reaction. The 1970s saw an explosion of vaccines, antibiotics and technologies designed to rid us of this “microbe” problem…and we had the arrogance to think we had succeeded.
In 1969, the surgeon general of the United States, Jesse Steinfeld, MD, erroneously declared that it was “the time to close the book on the problem of infectious diseases.” I wonder what Dr. Steinfeld would say if he were alive today?
The end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century has seen an epidemic of epidemics including HIV, Ebola, H1N1, SARS, ZIKA and now COVID-19 (a type of coronavirus). Not only are we seeing new epidemics, but old ones are recurring such as Cholera, Plague, and Yellow Fever. Epidemics are becoming more frequent and spreading faster according to the World Health Organization. The statistics of our health system’s complete failure to keep us safe and healthy has still not stirred us to wake up.
Why are epidemics/pandemics on the rise despite vaccines, antibiotics and other technologies? While we can’t know for sure, what we do know is that the approach of vaccines and antibiotics isn’t working. The idea of waiting for an epidemic to make a vaccine is not a sustainable strategy for obvious reasons. This reactive, antiquated approach to health is one of the main reasons our health has been eroded and our life expectancy has been declining. Vaccines and antibiotics also don’t reduce our susceptibility to new strains of microbes down the road. And despite all this chaos year after year, flu season after flu season, we’ve still not awoken to the fact that our approach is fundamentally failing and flawed.
The answer is not to make this abysmal healthcare system more accessible as many politicians and world leaders are recommending. The answer is to seek a better healthcare system that actually works. This is not to diminish the tremendous work being done by healthcare workers around the world trying to save the lives of tens of thousands of people during this latest crisis; however, as Americans lives are threatened along with the lives of the healthcare workers scrambling to save them, it’s time for us to look elsewhere for answers rather than going down the same dead end road.
In 2014, the American Academy of Physician Specialties which was established in 1960, formally recognized the emerging field of Integrative Medicine as a medical specialty here in the United States.1 While this is a great first step, we haven’t gone far enough fast enough. What is integrative medicine or functional medicine, as it’s more commonly known? Integrative medicine is a field of medicine that diagnoses the root cause of symptoms and conditions to prevent diseases, and treats existing conditions from the root with proven, natural alternatives while avoiding dangerous chemicals, toxins and drugs. This is in stark contrast to our western allopathic American healthcare model that doesn’t seek out root causes at all and instead, waits for diseases to take hold, diagnoses them, and treats them with dangerous chemicals, toxins and drugs. Sometimes this approach is necessary such as during life-threatening illnesses like appendicitis or a heart attack. This approach fails consistently at preventing and treating chronic diseases. The paradigm of the western allopathic American healthcare model is to prevent death from disease. The paradigm of Integrative medicine is to prevent the disease itself!
In the case of coronavirus, for example, our western allopathic model recognizes the virus COVID-19 as the cause, however, in integrative medicine, we would go a step further and say that the cause is actually the failure of the innate immunity of the infected host to recognize and kill COVID-19. We’re often reminded by the medical establishment that we need to “build immunity” through exposure to microbes, but that’s a backup system, not our primary immunity. We all have innate immunity and don’t have to be exposed to be immune. Our immune system has many branches, many different cells, and natural chemicals surveilling the body for invaders. Our body is innately equipped to immediately recognize what belongs and what doesn’t belong.
A splinter, for example, doesn’t belong in the body, and we can immediately see the immune response to a splinter with swelling and redness around the area. That’s our innate immunity responding. The same mechanism is supposed to be at work in case of bacteria, viruses and parasites. Can you image what would happen if we had to create a vaccine against splinters to be immune to the infection one might cause? This line of thinking just doesn’t make sense, but we’re still following this obsolete thinking.
Innate immunity is mediated by certain cells of the immune system such as T-lymphocytes, Natural helper T cells, and antiviral macrophages. They are designed to recognize viruses trying to enter the body as well as infected cells, and dispose of them. Many of these immune cells make and release cytokines in response to infection, which regulate the response to infection. Immune function is well known to scientists and physicians worldwide, yet when our immunity fails, we forget to look back to the basics, and instead, scramble to make vaccines and drugs, which is reactionary and not proactive.
Many of the pathogens wreaking havoc around the globe are not very virulent. It’s simply that their host is that much weaker. All communicable diseases, even cancer, are a matter of the host versus the “pathogen.” The stronger of the two wins. Infections take hold if the host’s immune system is weaker than the microbe’s attack strategy. It’s that simple.
It stands to reason, the question we should be asking is why is our immunity so weak?
If we look deeply into this question, we can reveal obvious answers.
- Antibiotics weaken immunity-numerous studies have shown this.2
- Steroids such as prednisone weaken immunity-numerous studies have shown this.3
- Anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, Cox-2 inhibitors such as Celebrex® weaken immunity-numerous studies have shown this as well.3
- Immune-suppressing prescription drugs, as their names imply, weaken immunity. Examples are Xeljanz, Humira, and Enbrel.3
- Chemotherapy weakens immunity.4
- Nutrient deficits weaken immunity.5,6 It’s well established that deficiencies of the micronutrients A, C, E, B-6, folate, zinc, copper, selenium and iron cause weakened immunity.
- Gastrointestinal problems such as the interruption of the microbiome as induced by antibiotics weaken immunity as does malabsorption of nutrients. The gastrointestinal system houses 80% of our immune system. At least 25% of Americans have a significant gastrointestinal abnormality such as Irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, or colon cancer. 7,8
References to medical studies showing these facts can be found at the end of this letter.
If we look transparently at this issue of pandemics, epidemics and other infectious diseases ravaging our globe, we will see that much of this is man-made. While we didn’t create the viruses, we created the fertile ground for them to thrive. While we didn’t create the bacteria, we created the perfect hiding spots for them to thrive as well.
The field of integrative medicine avoids these dangerous chemicals, toxins and drugs and promotes healthy lifestyle choices allowing the client to build immunity and resiliency to stress. As a board-certified integrative medical doctor, I seek out the root causes of weak immunity and systematically remove all barriers to proper immunity and support my clients with strategies for proper nutrition, stress relief, sleep, restoration, exercise and other critical lifestyle choices. I do this while using cutting-edge testing not employed in our allopathic American healthcare model, but used in integrative medicine to seek out underlying abnormalities that exist before diseases arise. This allows me to truly “prevent” diseases by supporting the body’s innate healing abilities.
The answer is not universal healthcare with this abysmal model we currently have in place, because as we’re learning the hard way, you cannot outspend disease. The field of integrative medicine MUST become our primary point of contact for all patients in order for us to begin to reverse this tsunami of poor health.
In my upcoming book, F.A.I.T.H.: Fearless Affirmation and Intention to Transform Health, I explain why and how we got into this mess of poor health despite spending 54% more on healthcare than any other country in the world, and how we can wake up from this nightmare and begin to turn the tide for the better.
Dr. Ghebreyesus is absolutely right: Global health security is only as strong as its weakest link. Right now, its weakest link is the healthcare system itself, not its unavailability. Even if we could get this obsolete healthcare model to everyone, it wouldn’t stop the spread of disease because its focus is in treating diseases, not preventing them. Only a holistic, integrative model in combination with our allopathic model will bring our system into the 21st century and out of the dark ages.
I thank you for your time and consideration and hope you will join me in spreading this critical information now so that we can turn the tide for those left behind by this current global catastrophe. As a mother of two beautiful children and the daughter of wonderfully supportive parents, I’d like to secure the future for them with a better system and approach than we currently have in our country today. We can and should do better while being a model for the rest of the world. Please share this message with as many people as you can in order to get the word out and increase public awareness of this much needed transformation of our healthcare model. May you and your family be well during this tumultuous time in our history.
Love, light and many blessings,
Mylaine Riobé, MD, FABOIM, FACOG
Director, Riobé Institute of Integrative Medicine
- Antibiotic-Induced Changes to the Host Metabolic Environment Inhibit Drug Efficacy and Alter Immune Function. Yang et al., 2017, Cell Host & Microbe 22, 757–765 December 13, 2017 a 2017 Elsevier Inc. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chom.2017.10.020
- The American Board of Physician Specialties. https://www.abpsus.org/integrative-medicine-meaning
- Managing epidemics: key facts about major deadly diseases. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2018. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO
- Bancos S, Bernard MP, Topham DJ, Phipps RP. Ibuprofen and other widely used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs inhibit antibody production in human cells. Cell Immunol. 2009;258(1):18–28. doi:10.1016/j.cellimm.2009.03.007
- Kang DH, Weaver MT, Park NJ, Smith B, McArdle T, Carpenter J. Significant impairment in immune recovery after cancer treatment. Nurs Res. 2009;58(2):105–114. doi:10.1097/NNR.0b013e31818fcecd
- R K Chandra, Nutrition and the immune system: an introduction, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 66, Issue 2, August 1997, Pages 460S–463S, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/66.2.460S
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Military Nutrition Research. Military Strategies for Sustainment of Nutrition and Immune Function in the Field. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1999. 7, Nutrition and Immune Responses: What Do We Know?Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK230970/
- University of Adelaide. “Exhausted immune cells linked to irritable bowel syndrome.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 June 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170620122901.htm>
- Belkaid Y, Hand TW. Role of the microbiota in immunity and inflammation. Cell. 2014;157(1):121–141. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2014.03.011