Self-care is an important aspect of daily life. Self-care allows us to manage our stress, pursue our interests, and improve our overall health. When it comes to infectious disease, self-care is a foundational aspect of disease prevention as well as a necessary adjunct in the treatment of illness.
Self-care is a broad term, with myriad aspects, from physical care to mental health maintenance. From a naturopathic point of view, self-care begins with the six principles of Naturopathic Medicine. These principles are, in no particular order: First Do No Harm, Treat the Whole Person, Identify and Treat the Cause, The Healing Power of Nature, Doctor as Teacher, and Prevention. This article elaborates on how these principles relate to the topic of infectious disease, whether it is a virus like the novel coronavirus, bacteria like Borrelia burgdorferi, or fungi like candida.
Primum Non-Nocere, or “First Do No Harm”, is part of the physician’s oath. It is a promise to keep patients out of harm’s way. It means using less invasive and forceful methods first. First do no harm means utilizing medical interventions that minimize the risk of adverse side effects. This concept also speaks to “Prevention”, another naturopathic principle, which is especially important during this pandemic-ruled period. Every member of society can be practicing the principle of first do no harm as they prevent the spread of infection by staying at home, wearing masks when in public, and practicing good hygiene by washing their hands and covering a sneeze or cough with the inside of their elbow.
Tolle Totum means to “Treat the Whole Person”. This concept means to take into account all aspects of a patient in addressing their health needs. Human beings are multifaceted organisms with physical, mental, emotional, environmental, spiritual, and societal factors that affect them. This principle serves as a reminder that all of those factors need to be addressed in order for a patient to heal. Foundations of health include, but are not limited to, a nutrient-dense diet, good quality sleep, regular exercise, and healthy stress management practices.
Tolle Causam translates to “Identify and Treat the Cause of Disease”. A doctor is like an investigator by thoroughly inquiring about a patient’s history and searching for the root cause of disease. One cause of the disease is vitamin and mineral imbalance. A healthy body needs macronutrients as well as micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals for physiology to function properly. For example, zinc is a mineral that is utilized in immune cell signaling pathways and red blood cell production (1,2). A healthy immune system and red blood cell production are both necessary in the treatment of infections such as COVID-19. In addition to obtaining adequate nutrition, a healthy body also needs physical activity. Exercise improves circulation, elevates mood, and decreases the risk of developing conditions such as heart disease and type-II diabetes (3). Healthy diet and lifestyle habits are necessary cornerstones for health.
Vis Medicatrix Naturae translates to “The Healing Power of Nature”. Naturopathic doctors believe that the body has an innate capability to heal itself. A simple example of the Vis Medicatrix Naturae is when you get a cut and the body undergoes an unconscious healing process that causes a clot and scab to form. As long as you keep the area clean and dry, you are providing the body with an environment where it can heal itself. In infectious disease, the body has an easier time healing itself when the individual feels spiritually fulfilled, has healthy circulation, balanced blood sugar levels, and sufficient nutrition.
Docere refers to “Doctor as Teacher”. It is a physician’s responsibility to educate their patients and empower them with information. It is then up to the individual to be an active participant in his or her health process. The patient should understand why they are pursuing a treatment plan as well as their goals of care.
Healthcare practitioners are only facilitators of healing; it is up to the individual to take responsibility for his or her health.
Praevenic, or “Prevention”, is one of the most pertinent principles during this pandemic. Every individual can participate in preventing the spread and worsening of this pandemic. How? Stay home and make decisions every day to improve your health, especially if you have preexisting conditions such as diabetes mellitus, heart disease, and autoimmune disease. If you use tobacco, take steps to quit smoking, vaping, or chewing. Improve your health by increasing your daily serving of fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, whole grains, and lean meats. Take 5 minutes to deep breathe or start a daily gratitude practice. Turn off the news and use the time to exercise; that could mean a short walk, a 30-minute virtual yoga class, 3 sets of 15 push-ups, or 3 sets of 30 jumping jacks. All of these choices have an effect on physical and mental health. Change often doesn’t happen right away, but it can make a significant difference long term, like keeping you out of the hospital. Hospitals are overwhelmed right now and we can all be doing our part to prevent excessive emergency hospitalizations. Don’t know where to get started? Ask for help. In addition to naturopathic doctors, there are nutritionists, counselors, and specialists who can guide you in the right direction.
There are a lot of things we do not have control over at the moment. However, we do have control over the intention(s) behind our behavior, dietary, and lifestyle choices. We can make a decision to add inexpensive and seasonal fruits and vegetables to our next shopping list or home delivery box. We can decide to take a walk in between episodes of our favorite show. We can choose our bedtime so that we get quality sleep every night. We make decisions every day that control our life. Those choices may not seem significant at the time they are made, but they have a cascading effect throughout our lifetime.
Laurel Erath is a naturopathic doctor at Rutland Integrative Health.
1. Wessels, Inga, et al. “Zinc as a Gatekeeper of Immune Function.” Nutrients, MDPI, 25 Nov. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5748737/.
2. Houghton LA, et al. “Zinc is a major predictor of Anemia and Mediates the Effects of Selenium on Hemoglobin in School Aged Children in a Nationally Representative Survey in New Zealand.” J Nutr. 2016 Sept; 146(9):1670-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27466609
3. Breathe (Sheff). Your lungs and exercise. 2016 Mar; 12(1):97-100. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4818249/