Open-air treatment of 1918 influenza patients at Brookline, MA (Source: National Archives and Records Administration)
There comes a point in chaos where finding the silver lining becomes key to coping with it all. This positive focus helps us move forward while continuously facing a multitude of uncertainties. As a doctor specializing in naturopathic medicine with a research background, there have been many silver linings for me. One silver lining is that health and health care have become front and center topics for discussion – from the direct threat of COVID-19 to exploring the limitations of our health care system, from the pursuit of possible treatments to the scrutiny of how they become available, from the ins and outs of managing our personal health care to taking care of loved ones.
To provide some reference, fresh air, clean water, whole food, sunlight, community, spirituality (self-defined), sleep, and movement are the foundations of health in naturopathic medicine. (I would also add safety to the list). We address these foundations when considering illness. These essential aspects only make sense; humans evolved with these elements integrated into their existence. Only recently have we adopted a lifestyle and created an environment that makes them less accessible. How can an organism (such as humans) expect to flourish in an environment that does not provide what it needs or has evolved to utilize? These changes have caused an exponential growth in the chronic illnesses of our day and have now been compounded by the additional changes resulting from this current virus.
Naturopathic medicine is not new; its official formation dates back to the 1800s. These principles have been passed down from predecessors of previous centuries who found benefits of therapies including, but not limited to, air, sun, water, diet, exercise (i.e., foundations of health). What is new is that conventional medicine is now more readily endorsing its principles. This was not always the case.
In 1848, the Swiss naturopathic doctor Arnold Rikli (1823-1906) established the first institution dedicated to the healing power of atmospheric exposure in treating tuberculosis. Later, during the Spanish Flu of 1918, the patients who were given “open-air” treatments observed a better recovery.1 Nearly 73 years after Rikli’s institution was formed, physicians at Beth Israel Hospital were credited for discovering the healing power of the sun in treating conditions such as tuberculosis.2 More recently, there has been abundant research supporting the importance of vitamin D, a vitamin activated by sun exposure, on many functions, including the immune system and mood.
While research and medical advancements are necessary, I do not think such validation precludes the importance of the foundations of health. With COVID-19, many of these foundations have regained the appreciation they deserve. The official recognition of the mechanisms underlying the foundations of health increases the health awareness of our country. The fact that these important topics are getting the attention owed brings joy to my soul and has been a silver lining for me. When I hear people and the media talking about mental health, ways to address anxiety and depression, creative approaches to incorporating movement into home life, or the importance of eating healthy and getting adequate sleep, I say to myself, “It’s about time!” These are all activities that support not only a healthy immune system but also overall health.
COVID-19 has also forced our health care system to adjust. For example, telemedicine was not commonplace a year ago, but now it is preferred by many clinics, patients, and practitioners. This aids in reducing the potential spread of the virus and helps bridge an accessibility gap, one that burdened specific populations long before the pandemic. With telemedicine, more routine visits and check-ups can be done without leaving home. Telemedicine is being combined with advances in technology that allow people to check their vital signs at home and provide that information to their doctors. Self-administered health check and telemedicine are more examples of how COVID-19 has brought positive change despite its devastation.
The uncomfortable amount of time we have been struggling with this pandemic has brought to the forefront many health disparities and inequalities in our health care system while also highlighting the foundations of health and creating innovative solutions. The lists are long and beyond the reaches of this brief article.
Amidst all this devastation, I hope that the silver linings of increased awareness and daily conversations will lead us toward real change and betterment of the health of our citizens and the larger health care system.
Dr. Jainuddin is a naturopathic medicine doctor with One Life Naturopathic and can be reached at (442) 256.5963 or www.OneLifeNaturopathic.org.
References: 1) Hobday, R. and Cason, J., 2009. The Open-Air Treatment of Pandemic Influenza. American Journal of Public Health, 99(S2), pp.S236-S242; 2) Kirchfeld, F. and Boyle, W., 2005. Nature Doctors: Pioneers In Naturopathic Medicine. 2nd ed. Portland, OR: NCNM Press, p.72.