Traveling Bugs

So you might think from the title that I'm going to begin harping on about parasites and picking up critter souvenirs while traveling in some exotic, fascinating country far from the cares and woes of your daily life and even further from a roll of toilet paper.  But no... actually I was driving to work on the Pike and on that slightly manic flashing sign by the State Police barracks, it said something really interesting! Don't move firewood from one place to another because it can transport pests.

OK, so you might have already known about this, but I would never have thought of this.  Which brings up an interesting point.  Ecosystems are perfectly balanced environmental societies.  Bring in something unknown, never seen before, not native to that environment, and the balance is tipped ... "Luke, there is a disturbance in the force!".  The new element can actually create a change that is healthy for the ecosystem, making it more resilient, more flexible, stronger and able to withstand more challenges.  Or the new element can be destructive, dominating other species, wiping out delicate sub-environments, draining resources.

Often the point of balance in an ecosystem has to do with controls.  When you introduce something new, often there are not any built-in controls for the new element, allowing the element to spread unchecked throughout the ecosystem.

Now let's take an example that relates back to the firewood comment... Asian Longhorned Beetles which have been devastating trees throughout central Massachusetts.  There is no native predator for this thick-skinned import who arrived by ship from Asia as a stowaway among wooden crates (much as people have been doing for centuries!).  So now that this pest is here, and has bored its way into thousands of trees, let's just say that you don't notice this little pest in your backyard, and so you have a tree chopped down and then you sell the wood to a local tree company who then cuts it up for firewood and sells it to any number of households within a 30 mile radius.  So now, the pesky beetle has a free ride to new hunting grounds!

Now what has this to do with health, you might ask, since being the devoted blog follower you are, you realize that all my convoluted stories relate to health... Well, our bodies are also part of an ecosystem, and are also housing an ecosystem within.  All of our systems are perfectly balanced to maintain our ecosystem, and there are controls in place to prevent any interloper from disturbing this balance, or from damaging our ecosystem.  So if this is true, then why do we get sick?

There are two reasons for illness.  The first is that illness is a sign that our controls are working.  Our ecosystem has been challenged by something and the balance is disturbed, triggering responses by our control mechanisms to restore balance.  That action is what creates the symptoms you feel.  So this is a very good thing and very important!  This is actually how immunity is established, and is the reason my mother invited everyone she knew to bring her kids over to play with me when I had the mumps.  That way everyone gets the mumps and establishes immunity.  It's what people did long before there were vaccinations.

The second reason illness can happen is because, like the Asian Longhorned Beetle, our body has been invaded by a species (whether it's a bacteria, a virus or a fungus) that our body does not have the ability to control or repel.  There are no natural "predators" against whatever has moved in, and it may be overwhelming the resident cells and tissues, causing toxin build-up, draining our nutrition and evading our inherent detection systems.

The solution here is simple.  We need to be sure that we limit our exposure to things that we may not have the resources to fight.  This means knowing our limitations, knowing what is natural and healthy for us, not exposing ourselves to things that our body was never meant to face.  It also means keeping our control systems at their optimal level so that we are not facing a challenge with a compromised immune system, congested removal system and limited resources (i.e. water, nutrition, clean air).

You may assume that your body is healthy, simply because you don't have symptoms.  You may think that things like toxins, heavy metals or pesticides aren't that big a deal.  You may think that eating fast food for lunch isn't that bad.  You may think taking antibiotics for every little infection is fine.

Think again... no one even knew the Asian Longhorn Beetle had invaded until one Worcester woman saw one boring into a tree in her backyard and sent a photo of it to the USDA.  By that point they were everywhere and deeply imbedded in Maple trees throughout central Massachusetts.