The term Prophylaxis relates to “any means taken to prevent disease” – whilst a Prophylactic is “an agent that prevents the development of a condition or a disease”. (1)

As an entry level example; the addition of fluoride into our water networks and toothpaste, is the introduction of a prophylactic agent with the objective (prophylactically if you will) of strengthening our teeth before they have been damaged i.e. to reduce the risk of developing cavities (holes) later in life.

What we are referring to then is Preventative Healthcare. As it is a principal of Natural Health that “prevention is better than cure”, it would appear that we see a common theme between the clinical and complementary worlds of healing.

In practice however, there remains disparity around the most appropriate manner in which to effect prophylaxis.

Because it is the intention at NaturalHealth21 to “bridge the gap” between clinical and complementary healthcare; and the belief of this natural health practitioner that a multi-disciplinary approach to healing is in the best interests of the patient – what follows is a look at some of the key features, as well as the differing approaches, of various attempts to prevent the onset of ill health.

PEARLY WHITES

Fluoride is a compound of the chemical element fluorine. Fluorine can be found in Group-7 of the Periodic Table, along with its characteristically similar halogen family (comprising Chlorine, Bromine, Iodine and Astatine). In theory, these elements exist as di-atomic molecules, meaning they tend to hold hands and move about in pairs.

(NB: Without delving too deeply into the chemistry of it all, it is worth mentioning that the Periodic Table is in-part theoretical as, for example, fluorine is too highly reactive to actually exist in its true elemental form – it tends to react with other elements and change its chemical composition before it can be naturally observed.)

Science understands that electrically charged fluoride ions are able to permeate immature gums and chemically fuse with the enamel (coating/veneer) of juvenile teeth; thus making them stronger and less likely to form cavities.

From a preventative healthcare perspective this seems logical enough; although it could be suggested that humans have evolved sufficiently to have developed naturally occurring teeth strong enough to cope with the foods they were designed to chew – and that the very recent phenomenon of adding refined sugars to the majority of our mass-produced foods is, in fact, the only reason why our teeth are prone to cavities.

As a prophylaxis intervention then, a person could voluntarily reduce the amount of sugar they consume on a daily basis, and perhaps more significantly, the amount that is fed to infants whose teeth are deemed to be understrength.

Further, with a broader vision of health, prophylaxis is, by definition, the attempt to prevent future disease. In the case of fluoride this is related to the teeth alone, with little or no regard to any other parts of the body – each of which would have their own versions of prophylactic agents.

As well as being used in toothpaste, fluoride is a common addition to many rat poisons and insecticides, and human consumption has been linked to the development of osteoporosis (loss of bone density). This is particularly ironic given that our teeth and bones are made of essentially the same thing.

BLESS YOU

Influenza is the viral infection that affects the upper respiratory tract – including the sinus cavities located around the ears, nose and throat. The common flu is a highly unpredictable affliction that is seemingly able to upset any age group, in any climate, at any time of the year; albeit there are recorded peaks-and-troughs of its basic annual cycle.

It is estimated that more than 200 different strains of the flu virus exist, and to make matters worse they are prone to a little genetic recombination; meaning that they regularly mutate in form. At the time of writing the UK is predominantly dealing with flu type A (H3N2).

The flu virus has a powerful effect on the body. Transmitted between people via coughing and sneezing, the virus quietly incubates for up to four days before making its presence known as acute headaches, fever, muscular pain and weakness.

Relatively mild cases can still affect people for more than a week at a time, whilst severe development (particularly amongst the elderly) can lead to pneumonia, a potentially fatal inflammation of the lungs.

Additionally, due to flu’s debilitating effect on the immune system, it often leads to second degree bacterial infection; those that can strike whilst the patient is convalescing. In response to rising levels of reported cases, as well as the severity of their symptoms; prophylactic medical intervention gave rise to the seasonal flu jab.

Immunization is complex, but generally occurs in two ways; Primary and Secondary immunity, which is sub-divided into:

  • Active and Passive acquired immunity, then further into;
  • Natural and Artificial acquired immunity.

Primary immunity is the first incidence of an antigen being identified by the body; the immune system then generates a brand-new, case-specific antibody to destroy the offending agent. This is a comparatively slow undertaking because there is no previous experience of the problem for immune cells to refer to for guidance.

Secondary immunity relates to any future reappearance of a now-known antigen. Here, the body is able to recognize the danger more expediently, and respond with antibodies that have been previously developed and are more readily accessible.

Active immunity is the body’s innate capacity to generate its own immune cells; like the primary response this is slower, yet results in more powerful and long-term protection.

Passive immunity occurs when an external agent, comprising pre-made antibodies, is administered to the body. This occurs as naturally when a mother passes antibodies to a baby during breast feeding, and artificially with injections such as the flu-jab.

As mentioned, the flu virus is a challenging adversary due to its tendency to mutate.

Consequently, each differing strain is met with a primary immune response i.e. it is not recognised by the immune system and the body must go about creating (slowly) an appropriate solution; one which could potentially never be required again – explaining why we rarely become fully immune to influenza.

Similarly, the companies that develop the flu jab are consistently required to recalibrate their formulae according to the predicted occurrence of over 200 shape-shifting strains. Now-a-days they are quite good doing just that, as Dr Richard Pebody, head of flu surveillance at Public Health England explains;

“Throughout the last decade, there has generally been a good match between the strains of flu in the (seasonally modified) vaccine and those that subsequently circulate.” (2a)

Yet here-in lies the problem.

Matching one vaccination with one strain of a virus would be considered successful but for the fact that it does not match the rest of its extended family.

According to a the same BBC report (2b), the UK’s latest model is stopping a paltry 3 out of every 100 people from developing flu-like symptoms – meaning that 97% of those who did get vaccinated caught the flu all the same.

Unperturbed, Dr Pebody implores that the vaccine is still considered successful due to its ability to nullify not just 3% of this year’s type A (H3N2), but also swine flu and influenza B – albeit these strains have not actually appeared but “may yet circulate this season”.

Detrimental side effects of flu vaccination have not been officially substantiated, although it is known that vaccinations generally deplete immune strength. Reports have suggested links to cases of dizziness and impaired speech, yet the consensus remains that the process is safe.

All the same, efficacy can be questioned, especially when percentages are as damning as those recorded from this year’s design.

SO WHAT TO DO?

On one hand we can simply accept that at some stage we will get the flu.

A combined study from Imperial College London and institutes in both China and the USA determined that, regardless of our intervention, the average human can expect to be affected by the virus roughly every 5 years (3). In these times some pharma-grade concoctions may alleviate (mask/suppress) the symptoms; but little other than bed rest and hydration will help the condition to pass any quicker than it would if left alone.

As far as natural prophylaxis measures, it would seem logical to support the body’s immune system throughout the year, whether or not there is a particular flu “going-around”. This can be achieved daily by following a regular moderate exercise regime, supported by a nutrient dense diet comprising whole foods from all of the known groups.

In addition one could add a little secondary, artificial immune support in the form of a quality pro-biotic. It would also make sense to boost the system with a selection of cell-supporting vitamins and minerals ahead of flu season – of particular specialized efficacy here are the vitamins C and D, the mineral zinc, as well as the herbs mint, thyme and eucalyptus.

Whilst these protocols cannot guarantee to prevent all occurrences of influenza, neither can the jab; and compared to a 3% success rate, naturally occurring whole foods remain effective in getting the body into its best internal cellular shape, allowing it to better deal with the detrimental effects of infection should it occur.

Further, they come with none of the “potential and unsubstantiated” side effects associated with the stabilizing ingredients incorporated into the formulae of pharmaceutical medications.

THAT BRIDGE…

Prophylaxis as a concept works.

Sensible intervention seeks to both lower the risk of potential difficulties, as well as increasing the body’s capacity to cope with any issues that do arise. In the natural sense, this endeavour is best initiated early in life, as, the more robust the system, the less likely it is to be adversely effected by daily challenges to homeostasis and health.

Yet for many people this is news received too late to be of assistance with the upset they are facing at present.

Thus we are faced with the reality that immune systems are compromised, sickness occurs and in many instances surgical intervention is required in order to keep the body functioning as best as it can. Surgery is taxing on the body, and sensible prophylactic agency includes giving a patient anti-biotics in advance of going into theatre, just in case infection should arise post-op. This is a good thing for those whom have developed health conditions that require critical care.

Outside of crisis management however, the daily aches and pains of life are not effectively dealt with when we turn to applications such as fluorides for simple sugar related conditions that we can easily control; or flu jabs for viruses that, on occasion, will infiltrate the body no matter what we do.

Perhaps a new phrase should be coined, post-phylaxis – related the most appropriate way to alleviate the discomfort of acute symptoms when they do occur; and the changes in our dietary and exercise and activity protocols that are known to support health and wellbeing.

It is a vast, often controversial and paradigm shifting issue that is now being discussed; that as a society we could have become too dependent of pharmaceutical and technological interventions to maintain our health. However you view such a suggestion two things are certain – they divide opinion, and they are here to stay.

And so it boils down to each individual to look at how these things work, what they are made of, and how they effect to body; then take a discerning look at their own dietary and lifestyle norms, and question whether these are truly inline with developing a strong immune system and healthy state of being. The challenge is not in the theory, but in the doing.

Life may not be prolonged through proper nutrition and lifestyle modifications; but the quality of life, as measured by decreased daily symptoms and improved overall health, may well be increased

References:

(1) Oxford University Press, 2010, Concise Medical Dictionary.

(2) (a-b) http://www.bbc.com/news/health-31145604

(3) http://www.bbc.com/news/health-31698038