One of the reasons I was not that keen on going to India was that almost everyone I know who went there got sick at some stage. India's hygiene is infamous and several people I know even ended up in hospital due to some kind of unpleasant bacteria. Lonely planet says that 50-70% of travellers to India get stomach problems within 2 weeks. That is something that I was not planning to do.
Last year in May I got sick from a bacteria in Laos. Probably because of the street buffet where I ate most nights in Luang Prabang. Because the symptoms (quite high fever and the like) looked a little bit like dengue (and even a tiny bit like malaria), I had a doctor come to my guest house. He said it was some kind of bacterial infection, possibly the ecoli-bacteria. That is bacteria that actually kills people and it did keep my in bed most of the time for a week. It took another months of sleeping and drinking a lot and feeling quite weak before I finally was healthy again.
I refused to take the chemicals (western medicines) that the doctor prescribed both because I had no clue what it was and also because a healthy body should be able to deal with these bacteria. The general prescription in these cases is antibiotics. I had had that years ago in Dublin in a similar case when I continued to feel weak and with pain in my belly after 3 weeks. But antibiotics is not strengthening the body all it does is killing all the bacteria and all the other life in your intestines. In other words it kills much more than needs to be called and thus 'removes' the illness at hand while at the same time making you as a whole less healthy.
On the other hand, if the body deals with the bacteria itself, it will become more resistant and know how to fight it better next time. But of course, if you, like me in Dublin, have to go to work, taking the short route to getting rid of the problem makes some sense. I was on holidays and opted to choose for my health, rather than for my comfort.
Boosting the immune system
Sow what can you do not to get sick? Avoiding contact with these annoying bacteria is one, but you can never no for sure. Drinking bottled water, washing your hands before dinner, these kind of things are the basis. But you never know if the cook washed his hands or picks the tomato off the floor after he dropped it. Often a street stall can be more hygienic than a fancy restaurant.
So the best way not to get sick I figured was to get a very strong immune system. Indians don't get sick from their food, so why should we Westerners? Because we are not used to the bacteria. I think that if you are really healthy with a very strong immune system the chance to get sick is much smaller.
So what to do to strengthen the immune system:
1. Healthy food
Healthy food is of course very important. My meatless diet with a lot of fruit and vegetables thus is the basis. And in Thailand with the lovely tropical fruits I ate tons of fruit, so that was a good start.
2. Rest and sleep
A good sleep and enough rest is also important. Lack of sleep and stress affect the immune system in a negative way. I, for instance, never get a cold when I sleep good and plenty, but only when I am feeling tired. Sleeping was a bit of a problem for me during some time in Thailand, but my meditation retreat just before going to India was of course great to get rid of all stress. A calm, clear mind is the second basis for a healthy immune system. Ever since my retreat I feel pretty balanced. I keep reminding myself to take it easy and not to forget my meditation practice when I am busy with work.
And then there are the so-called superfoods that strengthen the immune system. In Tao Garden I got to know more about some of them. They include passion fruit, spirulina (a seaweed that is organically grown in Thailand) and goji berries. All available for low prices in Thailand and I continue to take the last two daily (in powder and dried form they are easy to take with you).
4. Collodial silver: Better than antibiotics
Finally, that is the nice things if you are in circles of health-minded people, I heard about a goody that has a similar effect as antibiotics, but without killing all the good bacteria as well and without the problems of increased resistance that antibiotics are facing today. This stuff is called collodial silver. It is effective against more bacteria than antibiotics and without the negative side effects and ....it is much cheaper. It is just silver. "So how come I never heard about this?" you might wonder. The answer is simple. Collodial silver has been used for over a hundred years but it is just silver. It cannot be patented. So when the pharmaceutical industry developed antibiotics it was not in their interest to have people taking this cheap and effective natural medicine. Anyway, there are hundreds of these examples. Do you really think that the pharmaceutical industry cares more about your health than their profits? Of course not.
So I am carrying a bottle (12 euros for half a litre) of collodial silver, bought in an ayurvedic centre in Chiang Mai with me). A spoon can be taken everyday to get rid of most of the bad bacteria on a daily basis. Do you get a bad infection as I got las year in Laos than you can take up to 8 spoons a day. So great stuff to have.
5. Taoist exercises and laughing
When my teachers tell about the long list of positive health effects that come with the many different Taoist exercises, I sometimes have to laugh. No wonder they called the old Taoist "immortals", with all these positive effects is there anything left to die of?
One thing is for sure, exercises like the inner smile and outer smile (real laughing) are good for the immune system. That laughing is good for your immune system is also widely known outside of Taoist circles. Actually, feeling happy is good for the immune system. The same holds true for the many exercises that work with sexual energy. Ever heard that sex is good for the immune system? It is as long as you don't get any nasty illness (nothing is worse for your immune sytem than HIV/AIDS).
Finally yoga can help to prevent getting sick from eating food with naughty bacteria. At least that is what my Iyengar Yoga bible says. With one of the positions it promises that if you do it regularly that "you can even eat poison" without getting sick. I won't try that, but it is an asana I like, so why not do it on a regular basis.
7. Colonics and/or fasting
Finally. Before coming to India I did a colonic to get rid of fungus and clean out my internal organs. This is helps your body to better absorb vitamins and other healthy stuff in your food. So you can eat as healthy as you want, but if your digestion is negatively affected by a clogged colon (a problem with most people with those who eat red meat most at risk) most of the good stuff literally goes down the drain without your body having a chance to benefit of it.
So did I get stomach problems?
So while "doing" or having done all the above, you might wonder, did I manage to belong with the 30-50% of Lonely Planet travellers that does not get sick within two weeks. The answer is almost a "yes". The last two days, today it is gone, I had some mild stomach pain and I felt I had a little bit less energy. I have taken a bit more sleep, demanded some breaks in my long working days and took some extra collodial silver and I feel fine again. Who knows, maybe it was a very nasty bacteria and my immune system has dealt with it well.
Anyway, of course I understand that there is no guarantee. But I have no doubt that by taking care of the above the chance to get really very very ill is slim. And that is the main thing.
So if you are tired, stressed, depressed, do not eat a lot of fruits, vegetables and other important immune system supportive foodstuffs, do no (spiritual and physical) exercise and don't laugh a lot, chances are your immune system is not that good. We all know elderly people can die from a simple flu, so there is a lot you can do to stay healthy. As they say in Tao Garden: you can master your health, wealth and longevity....
Peace and health to you,