Currently viewing the tag: "disease"

A funny thing happened on the way to the 2020s. Our TV-filled minds and soda-soaked bodies got spun in a real life episode of Black Mirror. I have been writing this blog since 2007, and the primary theme for most of those years has been “mind your health.” I approached this mission from a number of angles. I stressed:

  • Be mindful of your self-care: watch what you eat, move regularly, balance your activities with rest, balance your perceptions to minimize volatilities, address your pain, and minimize toxins
  • Be hygienic and do not be petrified of pathogens. Focus more on your immune function than on any germ
  • See symptoms as your body doing its job, and think of “illness” as an opportunity
  • Keep challenging yourself physically and mentally for continuous conditioning and adaptation

My way, especially in the early years, was to pound that message into my audience, over and over again, perhaps changing the scenario or details of the story, but keeping the main points the same, always. I am big on universals.

It’s also important to be rational – that is, not have expectations that fall outside of reality. Unfortunately, it seems to be the folly of the human mind to place hope in the irrational. While the trait is widespread among us all, it generally operates beneath our awareness. A common expression of this trait is we want to save or eradicate one thing or another – many of which are simply a reality of this world and are neither savable nor eradicatable.

Take death for example. Everyone will tell you that they accept death, and they do, in the long run, without exception. However, when one takes the time to actually think about and assess our underlying views: collectively, people believe we should save life and prevent death at all costs. Our medical system runs with this as its fundamental purpose, and public opinion is often aligned with this sentiment: Nobody should die.

HealthyPreventCovidDeath3I do not believe this is a bad view. We should want to prevent death in others, particularly our loved ones, because it is a distinctively human trait. We do not need to change the things that make us beautiful as humans. But it does help in keeping bigger events in perspective when we are frank with ourselves. For instance, in accepting that all dynamical events (events moving through time) involving a life form come with an inherent probability of death. In other words, death is a part of life. There is death everywhere, and in everything there is a way to die. We might die from something we enjoy and we might die from something we don’t. There is no predicting it at all, not if you allow nature to be the director.

And, of course, that means the world will have death. We tend to perceive large scale, high probability death events as horrific: War, natural disaster, disease – all tragic, all unnecessary, all regretful. Naturally, as humans we wish to eradicate them all. It would seem absurd, of course, to most of us for the hope of the abolition of natural disasters. There isn’t a soul who fails to get that we have no control over the elements of nature. Yet, surely, the other two are controllable. War and illness are large-scale dynamic events very similar to what we might consider “natural” phenomena. But human developments are no less natural in how they flow through time, with human decision-making and action leading to an unfolding of events not under individual control. While collaborative efforts can, and certainly do, affect outcomes, they mostly contribute to the flow and unfolding of events more than they “alter” history, as we often perceive, and report on, our heroic efforts.

Understanding these “realities,” as I have already said, gives clarity to our ability to assess larger-scale phenomena. Take Covid-19, for instance: We have had nine-months, maybe longer, to observe and analyze the virus responsible, SARS-CoV-2. We have solid numbers now. Why are we acting irrationally in the face of the facts?

For nine months, I have read, listened, watched Congressional hearings on, discussed and cross-referenced this pandemic. I have heard many arguments on a few different sides, and the conclusions always depend on who is doing the talking. Some people believe we are under-reacting; others believe we are going too far. Animosity is simmering and beginning to roll to a boil. Some have been willing to unleash their aggressions on those they think are either selfish or sheep, depending on their overall perspective. But is it warranted?

I think I have laid the groundwork for an argument which I believe stems from the human propensity to not want others to die. Most of us feel that way on one level or another; it’s understandable, and in my perspective, desirable and beautiful to want others to live. But on the other hand, it seems irrational to continue strict quarantine measures, when the numbers do not justify the reaction.

The two most fundamental characteristics of a pathogen are its contagiousness and its pathogenicity. A pathogen’s contagiousness is how quickly and readily it will spread among people. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is a rapid spreader. This to me is the most relevant attribute of this virus. The pathogenicity of a microorganism is its ability to cause disease. A highly pathogenic organism can cause serious damage – to individuals, yes, but also to populations as a whole. If a pathogen is both highly contagious and highly virulent, there will be enormous death. Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of the bubonic plague, the Black Death, is contagious and highly virulent. If left untreated, the death rate for this pathogen is 70-100%. As a result, it led to the death of over a third of the population of Europe.

How virulent is SARS-CoV-2? As a novel virus – meaning, it is relatively new to us – we could only estimate early on the virus’ pathogenicity, to which we then attributed a death rate. Now, understandably, in the first few months of the pandemic, we estimated high. The numbers were not large enough to approach the mean, and without a doubt, it was wise to be safe over sorry. Death rate [or infection fatality rate more accurately (IFR)] is simply calculated:

# of deaths/# of cases

As we are now nine or more months into things, the numbers are large enough that we can assume we are approximating the mean (or average). The U.S. death rate, then, using the most current numbers (as of December 17, 2020):

311,000/17,300,000 = 0.018 or 1.8% (approximately 1 in 50)

Studies like this one estimate that the actual SARS-CoV-2 infections is anywhere from 3-20 times higher than current confirmed cases. At the low end that would make the death rate

311,000/51,900,000 = .0059 or .59% (approximately 1 in 200)

At the high end

311,000/346,000,000 = .00089 or .09% (less than 1 in 1000)

Deaths-by-Age-Group-ChartFurther, approximately 40% of all U.S. deaths have been in nursing homes. If we were to remove the 100,000 nursing home deaths from the numbers above, the death rate would look like this:

211,000/17,200,000 = 0.012 or 1.2% (approximately 1 in 100)
211,000/51,800,000 = .0040 or .40% (approximately 1 in 250)

211,000/345,900,000 = .00061 or .06% (approximately 1 in 2000)

Seen from another angle, the number of people who have been infected and who have survived is as high as 1,999 of every 2,000.

This study from September 2020, estimates the infection fatality rate as .28-.31%, or roughly 3 deaths in every 1,000 infections, and according to some experts the actual death rate [case fatality ratio (CFR)] is closer to 0.02% (that’s 1 in every 5,000).

More importantly, and the real point I wish to make, is that 94% of deaths reported have had associated comorbidities, in other words, underlying health issues. Does this mean that only 6% actually died of Covid-19? No but what it does mean, though, is that people who have underlying illnesses are at a greater risk of dying from Covid-19. Well I’ve got news for you: People who have underlying illnesses are at a greater risk of dying, period. I have been trying to get this point across for going on two decades now. When will people get it? And the vast majority of underlying illnesses today are lifestyle related – that means they are PREVENTABLE! Some of the most common comorbidities associated with Covid-19 deaths are influenza and pneumonia, respiratory failure, hypertensive disease, diabetes, cardiac arrest, heart or renal failure, and obesity.

HealthyPreventCovidDeathBelieve it or not, every one of these Covid-19 death associated illnesses can be minimized by adopting healthy lifestyle habits. It’s amazing how many people get angry at me for stating this fact, that they could actually improve their health, improve their lives, and minimize illness and suffering by practicing simple healthy habits. Eating well, exercising, stretching, sleeping well, addressing emotional stresses, addressing physical pains and injuries wisely, and keeping the drugs, alcohol, and other medications to moderate levels will significantly impact your life for the better. These are simple actions that everyone can adopt, but the reality is that only a small percentage of the population actually does so. People, in general, want easy fixes, which just do not exist in the realm of health and wellness. Fixes which appear to be quick and easy (and that includes many surgeries) almost always come with unwanted consequences (aka side effects). Dying of Covid-19 is one of them.

Listen, the numbers do not lie. What makes things uncertain for the masses is the volume of different interpretations. Granted most people wish to be safe over sorry – I both get that and agree with it. However, you cannot leave your health to chance and then expect a different outcome. It is not too late for the vast majority of people. I have come to understand that only a small portion of the population will heed my words. This article is for YOU – the person who recognizes the wisdom in what I say. Do highly virulent pathogens exist? Yes. Is SARS-CoV-2 that pathogen? Not by the numbers, it isn’t. Despite hearing for months that the death rate would climb to its more accurate number, it hasn’t gone up at all – it has gone down, and in my opinion it will prove to be even lower. Does this mean we should take it lightly? NO! Do the right things for yourself and your family (what you teach them today becomes habit tomorrow). That has always been my message and it will continue to be so – it is universal.

When giving health talks I usually ask, “What is health?”  I am amazed at some of the answers that seem to come up again and again.  The most common is disease or symptom free.  This answer comes up so frequently that, obviously, it’s what most people think, if they think about it at all.  Unfortunately, this definition or belief is probably what guides these people in their health decisions, whether consciously or not; and approaching health from this angle won’t always lead to wise choices.

The truth is that symptoms actually are health.  Think of your common cold symptoms–runny nose, sneezing, coughing, congested sinuses, fever, and night sweats.  Each one of these has a role to play in fighting the infecting organism:

  • Runny nosemucous membranes in the nasal passages and nasopharynx (orifice connecting nasal passages to the throat) release a thick, sticky substance that carries away microorganisms which have tried to infiltrate this primary entrance to our internal environment.  Think of mucus as quicksand or mud in a mudslide–nothing will escape.
  • Sneeze–a powerful blast of air, saliva, lacrimal secretions (tears) and mucus taking out anything and everything in its path.  Microorganisms entering the mouth, nose or pharynx are sneeze-blasted the heck out of there.  Consider a sneeze your body’s internal tornado, just worse.
  • Cough–similar to a sneeze, just clearing out the lungs, bronchi and oropharynx, as well as the nose and mouth.  We’ll call the cough the body’s internal hurricane–not a dang thing left unshaken; and during a coughing fit–fuggedaboutitcategory 5 cyclone!
  • Congested sinuses–infections or any other irritants, including allergens, can lead to swelling of the mucous membranes; as membranes swell, they close off the nasal passages.  Essentially, sinus congestion is the Royal Guard–try getting in, go ahead…try.
  • Fever–heats the body to incinerator temperatures, much higher than in what microorganisms can survive.  Fever is Death Valley for germs.
  • Night sweats–heat and sweat flush the external barriers out, so the skin, scalp and orifices are like a hot, wet boiler room.  Consider night sweats a monsoon for microbes.

You can see that each one of these symptoms is the body’s way of protecting itself.  And every illness/disease has associated symptoms to return the body to homeostasis.*  So why associate symptoms with sickness?

It’s because historically–at least over the last 80 years or so–medical care has focused on relieving symptoms.  OK, that’s nothing new–we all know that.  However, it is the reason why so many people still see the presence or absence of symptoms as the definitions of illness and health.  But I assure you what most consider illness actually is health.  Any questions?

*Or in the case of the body being overloaded by disease (AIDS, let’s say), it’s the body’s attempt to return to homeostasis.  Whether or not the body can return to homeostasis is the true difference between illness and health.


So we have discussed the history of ADD, but how does a disease or disorder become established as an entity?  This is an important question because it determines the course of a disorder historically, sociopolitically and economically.  But most important, it determines how diseases/disorders become etched into the human psyche.  Think this doesn’t play a massive role in human health?  Think again.

The current health paradigm that predominates today is the medical model.  It would take more than just a few paragraphs to do the subject justice (if you are interested, I highly recommend my book, The Six Keys to Optimal Health), but I can give a brief synopsis here:

Modern medicine views the human body mechanistically–like an intricate machine.  Just as a machine can be broken down into ever smaller parts, so, too, can the human body.  By studying and mastering the workings (physiology) of the parts (systemic anatomy), we can understand the operation of the whole.  Simple.  When the parts start to malfunction (pathology), we can address them…cure them…through medicines (pharmacology) and/or removal (surgery).  Fair enough.  I find it flawed, but…as far as strategies go, it’s not bad.

But wait, it gets better.  Because we are physical beings in a material existence, then all problems related to our physical bodies have to have a physical basis.  Yes, even mental ones.  Because at our core we are simply neurophysiological life forms.  And when we break down human beings to their most fundamental parts, we are just electrochemical processes doing their thing.  It’s all rather Maxwellian.  Simple physics.

Physical problems, then, should have physical solutions, and throughout much of medicine’s very short history (I know you thought it was long and illustrious) the victories have been quite awe-inspiring.  Mass infectious epidemics have been nearly conquered; emergency medicine now saves lives that would have be long lost even fifty years ago; human prosthetics are damn-near perfect; even our increased life span is often credited to the wonders of modern medicine.

So what?  What does this have to with ADD?  Well, medicine did something peculiar…it started targeting what it considered “normal” physiological processes gone awry–things like cholesterol levels, and impotence, and symptoms of the common cold; it even started in on normal mental states like depression and well, fidgeting.  Yes, anything that could be considered a deviation from the norm was fair game.  The inability to focus in a schoolroom setting, then, was ripe for medical intervention.

It is interesting how unwanted (and unappreciated) physical and mental states become established as disorders.  First, they are recognized and their symptoms recorded, and then a profile of the most commonly afflicted is noted.  The disorders are then given a name, but over time, more symptoms are added, some possibly subtracted, but then re-added again, and the parameters stretch outward inch by inch.  As the definition of the disorder expands, more and more people are labeled with it, and the growing numbers are then called an epidemic.  Epidemics demand solutions, and in our mechanistic medical model this usually means drugs or surgery (think swine flu and carpel tunnel syndrome respectively).

Once somebody is labeled with a disease or disorder, the inclination of the human mind is to identify with it.  The person becomes the disease:

Hi… I’m Nick and I’m an alcoholic (now a disease, too).  Hola, me llamo Jesus: yo tengo blue balls (it’s coming [figuratively speaking]…swear).  Greetings, my name is Fenster P. Finkleschitkid, and I’ve got AD…hey, that’s my toy!!!

And they are never short of support.  Medical science supports them, doctors and therapists support them, society and it’s numerous special interest organizations support them, and of course, their loving families support them, because well…it’s a disorder you see, and we…just…want them…to have…normal….lives (whatever the hell that is).

ADD is no different.  It’s just one of many, many diseases and disorders that gets big money to study (remember, it’s the “best studied disorder in medicine”) and support all the intricacies (the changing ones) tied up in the horrible scourge.  And, of course, when they get their own drug treatment, they hit the big time–it all becomes official.  The AMA then takes a position on it and it becomes etched into the consciousness for all time.  Hallelujah!  Praise Hippocrates, we did it again.  Thank you, thank you, thank you (pat on the back)…and on to the next one.

Next post I’ll offer a better solution.

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