A few years ago there was a story reported in the New York Times about a scientist in England who had dedicated his entire research to finding a cure for the common cold. After two years of intensive study, however, he gave up, announcing that, having uncovered at least 400 varieties of rhinovirus, there was just no way a vaccine or pill could be designed to deal with all of them!
I thank goodness this scientist realized the futility of it all after devoting only two years of his life to such an enterprise. A man with this kind of determination could go far, but not in looking for an antidote to the common cold. Why? Because in my experience the common cold is not a disease at all. Rather, I feel it is one of nature’s most profound and basic life-supporting rituals in which we are privileged to participate.
The cold is really a periodic housecleaning – nature’s wonderful design for maintaining balance in an imperfect world. It’s not unlike what happens to our houses in the throes of modern living: the clutter piles up, the dirty laundry, dishes, dust, garbage…. One day we wake up and say, “Whoooa! Time to stop everything and tidy up the place!” So it is with the body as daily life takes its toll: we overwork, overeat, undersleep, get stressed out and constipated. After a while things get pretty sluggish and we’re barely dragging along. Then one day that goopy, achy, queezy, wheezy, runny eyes, runny nose, runny-everything-just-want to-stay-at-home feeling arrives. We can blame it on the guy who sneezed in an elevator or try not to “give in,” or, we can smile and say, “I hear you; time to get down to business.” Congratulations! You’ve been invited to participate in that ancient celebration more commonly known as “the cold.”
And so it becomes no mystery why all the classic symptoms of a cold have to do with gunk trying to get out of the body – e.g., sneezing, coughing, itching, diarrhea, fever sweats, throwing up, skin eruptions, even bloody noses, etc. According to Henry Bieler, M.D., author of Food Is Your Best Medicine, the cold is a “vicarious elimination of toxins” via mucus from the respiratory tract. It is a result of toxic overload, not germs: “Germs gather to digest the products of the inflammation and white blood cells rush in to destroy the germs.” To the question, why are colds more prevalent in the winter months, Dr. Bieler answers, “because there is much less active skin function during this time, with considerably less skin respiration and perspiration. Also, the average diet consists of fewer fruits and vegetables during the winter and a higher concentration of salt (which encourages retention). When people are less active, they tend to be constipated and also to overeat, especially during the holiday season – Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s – with consequent impairment of the liver and kidney function and general metabolism. A cold often follows these celebrations.
Unfortunately, conventional medicine considers the cold a pest – an infectious or inflammatory disease for which it has no use and no cure, only palliatives. Doctors prescribe drugs that alleviate the symptoms – anti-inflammatories, anti-histamines, antibiotics, anti-diarrhea, antiache…in short, anti-elimination medicine. These remedies give temporary relief by blocking the symptoms, i.e., keeping the stuff stuck inside. They do nothing to get rid of the junk – the reason for the symptoms which keeps piling up. Cold medicine enables us to put off the cleaning for a little while, but an active immune system will keep crying out, louder and louder, to get down to work. In time the message rings out again – another cold, maybe flu, bronchitis, ear infections each time, a call to action. If all these efforts are stifled, eventually overload and exhaustion set in, the warnings stop and the storage process becomes more insidious.
Hippocrates, the ancient Greek who is considered the Father of Medicine, taught that inflammation is “the flame that cleanses the body.” He saw that all of the so-called “infectious” diseases – from colds” to mumps to pneumonia – were really inflammations and so advised his patients to help the cleansing process when he said, “If you feed a cold, you’ll have to starve a fever.” But over the centuries the message too often got shortened to exclude the “if” – an omission which, of course, changes the meaning completely and no doubt prolonged the suffering of those who thought gluttony was their best remedy. (The more pointed but less publicized words of Sir William Osler might have saved generations of confusion and suffering. He said, “The cold should not be treated with ‘contempt,’ but be followed by bed rest, a good book to read, no food.”)
In any case, the modern practice of suppressing symptoms and inhibiting elimination with toxic drugs has its darker side. Philip Incao, M.D., who writes and lectures on “Inflammation – the Natural Enemy of Cancer,” cites studies that show cancer patients had less inflammations, i.e., colds, childhood diseases like mumps, chicken pox, etc., in early years than others. He suggests that the lack of periodic eliminations, i.e., inflammations, caused early exhaustion or breakdown of vital organs that can “make one vulnerable to cancer later on.”
How to best partake of this marvelous ritual, i.e., to give the body the utmost assistance in doing its work? According to Bernard Jensen, PhD., D.C., in Nature Has a Remedy, “Let it flow!
Unfortunately, conventional medicine considers the cold a pest – an infectious or inflammatory disease for which it has no use and no cure, only palliatives.
Rejoice.” Here are some of the ways that I celebrate this age-old rite:
- I go to liquids – water, herbal teas, vegetable broth, chicken soup, fruit juice, an occasional piece of fruit – all requiring little energy for digestion so that the energy is diverted to the task of elimination. I don’t force, I drink only when desired. Once I recognize the gear shift, I don’t feel much like eating anyway. (When real hunger sets in, I know I’m getting better. I’m also getting better at being in tune with my body.)
- I rest, keep comfortably warm, relax, listen to music, read. Nothing to feel guilty about not doing. Listening to the body, a most miraculous survival mechanism, is top priority now. If I only do that, I will have done a lot.
- To aid the cleansing I take herbal laxatives or an enema daily. Sometimes I’ve had strange reactions as the body starts to tidy up: the result of stored toxins getting circulated into the blood on the way to elimination. I just continue doing what I know I have to do. This includes staying in contact with an expert in the natural healing process – e.g., FACT.
- As long as a fever stays below 104°F., I just sweat it out. Fever is a natural way the body eliminates toxins. Normally, the body wisdom knows its own limits. I trust in this wisdom.
- Remember the Ruth Sackman, President of FACT, Golden Rule of Health: “As long as it’s coming out, don’t worry about it!”
Once confident that I am in tune with my body’s signals, I try to relax and enjoy the discomfort, confident that things are functioning according to design. I do not to worry that friends may find me boring company. In a few days the cold will be on the way out and I’ll be feeling great – refreshed and ready to jump back into the daily scuffle.
With this kind of housecleaning, an occasional cold is about as exciting as it gets. Flu, pneumonia …cancer – these were not meant to be part of the celebration.