Like many people, I’ve been paying close attention to the news about Ebola over the last few weeks. I've been debating how to best address it and have gone back and forth as the situation has developed. Now, with the cases outside of Africa seemingly contained, and with most of those patients recovering successfully, we have a moment of respite in which to carefully evaluate how we are preparing ourselves for future viral pandemics (Ebola or otherwise). Without any further ado, I’d like to dive in and see if I can offer you some helpful insights on this timely health topic.
Why Talk About This Now?
We've been lucky so far, but we can't afford complacency. Compared to our usual cold and flu season, the stakes are dramatically higher if Ebola (or the next super virus, whatever it might be) were to spread uncontrolled. We need to take the situation seriously even if it currently seems far away. We also need to seize the opportunity while things are still fully under control: if we start now, we can take steps that are calmly and responsibly proactive to improve our chances of surviving against a microbial adversary, thus greatly reducing our likelihood of panic in a worst case scenario.
What’s Paleo Got To Do With It?
- It could be the biggest test of “survival of the fittest” that the human species, individually and collectively, has faced in a very long time;
- Many of our vulnerabilities to viral outbreaks stem from the very ways in which we have modernized our environments and social organization compared to our hunter-gatherer past;
- A threat of this level provides us with an intense motivation to address it (if we only knew what steps to take); and
- Many of the things we can, in fact, do to prepare ourselves coincide with "paleo" or ancestral health practices that will greatly benefit us even if we never face it.
Realistic Risk Assessment
The risks of it spreading are quite a lot higher than the CDC has dared emphasize in its attempts to “prevent panic.” Did you know that as many as 4-5% of people infected with Ebola take longer than 21 days to show symptoms? Furthermore, did you know that up to 13% (!!!) of them don't develop a fever (the symptom everyone seems to be relying on as proof)? And, while it's not considered an "airborne" virus, If someone coughs within a few feet of you, droplets of moisture can carry it along. If they leave bodily fluids on a surface (especially in cooler temperatures), Ebola can potentially survive there for hours, days, or weeks, and you might never realize when or how you were exposed.
It may be considered "unlikely" to spread in these ways, and we're lucky to have not seen any additional outbreaks so far, but our sample size outside of Africa has also been extremely low. Between the rate of expansion and evolution the virus is still undergoing, the rapidity of global transit (Africa is mere “hours” away from the US, irrespective of the geographical distance), and the flaws in our ability to detect and track it, we have set ourselves up for the possibility of a very unpleasant surprise.
Considering Our Options
The bad news is, with a lack of treatments, at least half the people infected with Ebola so far have been dying. The good news, on the other hand, is that almost half of them are surviving. Why is this so important? Because it means that almost all of those who have become infected and survived have done so through their own immune systems. Thus, our only viable strategy at this time, aside from avoiding exposure, is to become as healthy and resilient as possible.
Getting Your Brain on Board
Starting right now, I want you to consider whether the choices you’re making moment-to-moment would increase or decrease the likelihood of your body being able to fight off Ebola if a massive outbreak showed up in your city next week (because, as we've seen, it's not that unrealistic). If you suddenly found yourself in mandatory quarantine for 3 weeks, with no warning and with the possibility of having been exposed, would you have enough resources, and would the things you’re doing today improve your chances of defeating the virus?
What Can We Do?
Some of these strategies are ones I have slowly implemented over the last several years. If you aren't taking any of them already, then (unless you really do feel it's worth entirely repurposing the next week or two of your life for a complete overhaul) I recommend the strategic approach of picking one thing per week to look at enhancing for your own health. At that rate, within 3 months you’ll have covered a huge range of health-optimizing improvements. (Of course, if we do actually see evidence of a major US outbreak sooner than that, we can ramp up our implementation efforts.)
Paleo Steps to Take
Today, we’ll take a look at the following list as an overview, and in the coming days I’ll start rolling out a series of more in-depth discussions of how these strategies can help (both in general and against Ebola) and how I’ve personally implemented them. Here’s a brief summary of what I’ve been doing:
Food / Intake
- Maximizing nutrition and increasing quality of inputs
I cook almost all my food at home from organic produce and ethically raised animal products, following resources such as The Perfect Health Diet and The Bulletproof Diet. I choose my supplements carefully and make my own vitamin blend at home.
- Reducing negative input that strains bodily systems
I minimize sugars, vegetable oils, and foods like grains and legumes that don't play well with human digestive systems. I keep my alcohol intake to 1-2 drinks per occasion. I also home filter my water to remove fluoride and other contaminants.
- Activating built-in mechanisms for cellular cleanup/recycling (cellular autophagy)
I practice intermittent fasting, which can be as simple as not eating (with certain exceptions) outside an 8 hour window, such as between noon and 8pm.
- Adding immune-boosting foods and supplements
In addition to cooking with many beneficial herbs and spices, I've added certain herbal teas and essential oils which (at a minimum) don't hurt and (at best) might give me a slight boost (even if it's a placebo effect) in addition to my other efforts.
- Getting stronger
I use a couple of gym machines for specific high-intensity weight training, but I now also own a pull-up bar and a few weights which I use along with a home exercise program (which has several key advantages over going to the gym).
- Improving endurance
When I started running (fully barefoot) in 2013, I would have to stop several times to catch my breath in the mere half mile to the train station. I've now completed two 10Ks (6.2mi) this season and am looking at increasing my speed up to that distance.
- Interrupting and correcting for modern sedentary routines
While my massage therapy practice keeps me active on certain days of the week, on others when I'm working at the computer, I alternate between sitting and standing workstations and do specific exercises to promote better posture and alignment.
- Prioritizing sleep and circadian rhythm
I'm working hard to get to bed between 9pm and 11pm and to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. I get up early to do my workouts in the morning. I avoid late night food, lights, and faces/voices on TV that all mistakenly signal daytime to the body.
- Getting sunlight/outdoor exposure
Both because winter is coming and because a real quarantine situation might prohibit it, I am trying to continue to get outside daily when possible, which includes walking to my destinations and doing my running outdoors.
- Rebuilding my microbiome
In addition to getting my feet dirty by going barefoot outside, I have switched to water-only hygiene (except for hand washing and hair), a clay-based hair wash, and tested out a new bacterial skin spray. I also eat a wide variety of fermented foods.
- Reducing my reliance on societal infrastructure
I'm gathering supplies to successfully survive a short-term quarantine situation (say, 3 weeks) as well as a ready pack for the need to evacuate on short notice. I'm looking into survival skills I'd like to develop and ways to be more self-sufficient.
- Educating and motivating myself with additional "prepper" resources
Though I take such resources with an appropriate grain of salt, I have found BioDefense.com and Yankee Prepper to have lots of useful information and perspectives on becoming self-sufficient and preparing for worst case scenarios.
- Weaning off dependencies
I don't smoke or do any illicit drugs, I don't take medications for non-acute conditions, and I am looking into reducing my reliance on glasses and contacts (through natural vision correction) -- and, of course, shoes!