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Covid Antifragility: Trusting Our Strength in Uncertain Times

Are we as vulnerable to Covid as public health authorities want us to believe? Instead of focusing on our weakness, we should be focusing on becoming more resilient and antifragile.

The message of our fragility is everywhere. We are told, “you’re fragile – don’t go out, stay inside, and follow the rules. Presume you’re already sick and that you caught the virus.” There it is again. You’re weak and fragile.

The message is reinforced on nearly every news network. Thus, Covid has made the holidays challenging. What was normally a chance to celebrate and enjoy with friends and family can turn divisive as strong feelings arise among the various parties just how serious Covid-19 is. Such discussions can get heated and it can undermine the spirit of the very holidays that bring us together.

In various states in America, governors have placed stringent restrictions upon the celebration of holidays, going so far as to dictate how long our celebrations can be and how many people can participate.. Any rebuttal, however grounded in rigorous science, that does not conform to their narrative is suppressed. Just do what we say because you’re fragile – be obedient, and everything will be fine. 

Their “we’re here to protect you” messaging is perhaps the most disturbing as it reinforces our alleged weakness. Through repetition, they slowly erode confidence in our strength and increase our dependence upon them. Thinker Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, observed, “This is the tragedy of modernity: as with neurotically overprotective parents, those trying to help are often hurting us the most.”

The worst danger of the Covid pandemic is that we lose faith and forget our strength and power. We were always a resilient people, both individually and as a community. Covid has shown us the need to utilize our strengths to become more resilient, more antifragile in the face of stress and trying circumstances.

We do not have to listen to the fear messages of the authorities and take them as fact. We can choose to take an antifragile mindset with regards to Covid. Nassim Taleb explains, “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.”

How much should we fear Covid-19?

Something that has become clear with the Covid-19 data is that the overall health status of the individual is an important marker for how serious a Covid-19 infection can become. 

An examination of the CDC data indicates that age matters a lot regarding the infection fatality rate and the odds of dying from Covid-19:

  • For ages 0-19 years, the odds of dying from a Covid-19 infection are 3 per one million.
  • For ages 20-49, the odds of dying from a Covid-19 infection are 1 in 50,000.
  • For ages 50-69, the odds of dying from a Covid-19 infection are 1 in 500.
  • For ages 70+, the odds of dying from a Covid-19 infection are 1 in 20.

 

It might be helpful too to view the above data in terms of survivability rates to allow people to put their fears into context.

  • For ages 0-19 years, the survivability rate is 99.997%.
  • For ages 20-49, the survivability rate is 99.98%.
  • For ages 50-69, the survivability rate is 99.5%.
  • For ages 70+, the survivability rate is 94.6%.

 

When viewed this way, it becomes easier to see that in the vast majority of Covid cases, we will recover from the infection and gain immunity to Covid-19.

To be clear, and as stated earlier, our health status influences our health outcomes. The CDC has found that the presence of pre-existing conditions that can markedly affect the severity of the Covid-19 infection. Some of these pre-existing conditions include type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and smoking. The CDC data indicates that only 6% of people that died from Covid-19 were without pre-existing conditions – the average person dying had 2.6 pre-existing conditions.

This data makes it clear that our health choices matter a lot. Rather than focusing on our weaknesses, we should be focusing on our strengths and what we can control.

Facing the Reality of Covid-19 Head-on

The most important lesson from Covid-19 is that the vast majority of us are surviving Covid-19 without the medical intervention of the authorities. According to CDC estimates, the number of cumulative Covid-19 cases in America may be approaching 100 million. Rather than suggesting that Covid is running rampant, it is a testimony to the strength and wisdom of our bodies’ immune systems.

Developed over millions of years of evolution, our immune systems are truly marvelous, protecting us from a wide variety of pathogens and emerging more resilient with each encounter. According to Dr. Andrew Weil: “Whenever the immune system deals successfully with an infection, it emerges from the experience stronger and better able to confront similar threats in the future. Our immune system develops in combat. If at the first sign of infection, you always jump in with antibiotics, you do not give the immune system a chance to grow stronger.” The authorities have tried to convince us that we are fragile glass creatures when the data indicates otherwise.

Dr. Michael Greger, the author of How Not to Die and the website nutritionfacts.org, states: “I continue to be amazed by our bodies’ ability for self-repair. Our bodies want to be healthy if we would just let them. That’s what these new research articles are showing: Even after years of beating yourself up with a horrible diet, your body can reverse the damage, open back up the arteries-even reverse the progression of some cancers. Amazing! So it’s never too late to start exercising, never too late to stop smoking, and never too late to start eating healthier.” Dr. Greger’s research shows how premature deaths can be avoided by simple changes in diet and lifestyle.

But you might object to the above by pointing out that there are millions of vulnerable people in the populace who have those pre-existing conditions or are immune-compromised. You or a direct loved one might be in one of these vulnerable categories. The message I have for you is this: do not forget your strength. There may be people right now who are suffering from Covid, but do not forget the power of your actions to strengthen yourself, no matter how small. It does not help anyone in the world to diminish your strength.

Covid-19 is not going away. Despite prolonged lockdowns and widespread mask mandates, Covid-19 is still present in our society and cases continue throughout the country. Even the much-discussed Covid-19 vaccine is not a panacea; authorities say it will not prevent transmission and there are outstanding safety concernsamongst the leading Covid-19 vaccine candidates. The key lies in making ourselves stronger. 

Focusing on Strengths and the Antifragile Mindset

Truth be told, we can make our bodies stronger, our immune systems more powerful, and can even reverse chronic pre-existing conditions. It’s never too late to take the steps to improve your health and make yourself more resilient to infectious diseases like Covid-19.

There are numerous things we can do to support our immune systems. The importance of diet and proper nutrition comes up time and time again in the literature on immune system functioning.

 

There are supplements too that can help increase the resilience of our immune systems against Covid.

 

Related to diet, there have been recent advances in the knowledge of the gut microbiome and its effect on the immune system, including modulating autoimmune conditions such as allergy, asthma, and primary or acquired immune deficiencies. Research indicates that probiotic foods like kefir have effects that can boost the immune system.

Exercise is of crucial importance to immune system health. According to research, moderate exercise can boost and mobilize our white blood cells of the immune system. Studies have shown that adults that exercise have significantly fewer upper respiratory infections than those that don’t. Additionally, exercise when combined with dietary changes, is a powerful tool to fight obesity. This can reduce the number of pre-existing conditions associated with Covid-19, including hypertension, diabetes mellitusosteoarthritis, and coronary artery disease.

Even the simple act of proper breathing can have powerful effects on the immune system. A study done in which participants were trained in yogic breathing showed that the participants had elevated levels of natural killer cells after 12 weeks of practice. There are also numerous testimonials for the power of the Wim Hof Breathing Method to positively influence the immune system, which has been validated in ground-breaking empirical research.

Perhaps one of the most powerful ways to affect the immune system is to have a positive mental attitude. Spiritual teacher Frederick Lenz said: “The most powerful force to maintaining a good immune system is the power of positive thinking and not allowing yourself to be unnecessarily drained emotionally by worries and fears.”

John Hopkins Medicine reports that a positive attitude is associated with improved outcomes across a myriad of health conditions, including traumatic brain injury, stroke, and brain tumors. A studyhas shown that being optimistic can have a strong effect on the immune system – increased optimism has been shown to lead to a stronger cell-mediated immunity response.

The most important thing to remember is that the power to deal with Covid-19 was always in your hands. You have always had the means and ability to make yourself stronger and more resilient. It is your choice and yours alone to improve your diet, to consume more fruits and vegetables, to exercise, to get more sunshine, to reach out and connect with your community, and to learn more about the functioning of your own body.

Towards a New Paradigm for Health

When presented with Covid fear-based messaging from the media warning us of “rampant cases” and “possible deaths,” we can choose to tune in elsewhere. When faced with the fears of our friends and family, we can acknowledge their fears and show them how they are much stronger than they believe.

Covid-19 has shown us that it is high time for a new paradigm in public health, one that acknowledges and empowers the participants in the community, one that recognizes their inherent strength. For far too long has public health and medicine made infectious disease the foremost study of its focus, while forgetting the power of the individual and the importance of his or her health choices.

A new integrative mindset is needed for public health in the 21st century, one that incorporates greater systems and complexity thinking. Our bodies are not a discrete set of parts that function on their own. We are an integrated system that thrives within our environment and within this complex system of systems we thrive. With this mindset, the little choices we make in our lives matter a lot when compounded over time. In this mindset, we are first-hand participants in health as opposed to being seen as mere fragile potential carriers of the disease. We are far more than just our genetics and our environment – our intentions, thoughts, and actions matter a lot.

I’ll finish with a final thought by Nassim Taleb regarding the antifragile mindset: “Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire. Likewise, with randomness, uncertainty, chaos: you want to use them, not hide from them. You want to be the fire and wish for the wind.” Let us make ourselves and our people strong

Reposted with permission from Evolution of Medicine.