Why not invite brains to the coronavirus press briefings?

Cal Samra, Editor, The Joyful Noiseletter

My father was an immigrant who got his U.S. citizenship in 1918 by joining the U.S. Army during World War I. That was the year the Spanish Flu pandemic struck and killed 20 million people worldwide, including 600,000 Americans.

Not much more was known about the deadly Spanish Flu virus than our modern medical profession knows about the COVID-19. Cities like Philadelphia held massive public parades to sell war bonds. A big mistake.

My father survived the Spanish Flu by following the advice of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, a devout Christian who was the founder of the world-famous Battle Creek Sanitarium, which in those days attracted the likes of Thomas Edison and many other celebrities.

In a 1918 article titled “Spanish Influenza Treatment” by Dr. Kellogg, Kellogg reported that the Sanitarium had great success treating Spanish Flu patients by:

  1. giving them water enemas to clean out their bowels.
  2. requiring them to drink three or four glasses of water or fruit juice daily, to promote elimination from their kidneys.
  3. take short fasts occasionally (an old Jewish and Christian custom).
  4. avoid sugar, processed foods, and junk foods.
  5. eat a plant-based diet with a focus on fresh fruits and vegetables.
  6. take regular outdoor exercise.

At the current endless press conferences on the coronavirus, called by government officials and medical authorities to inform the public, everyone, including the national news media, has failed to ask any hard questions or to put things in historical perspective. Thousands of health professionals have shown great courage by exposing themselves to the coronavirus on their jobs. It would have been comforting if government and medical officials and the news media had also given us examples of courage during these press conferences.

During the coronavirus pandemic, much of the news media has tended to pooh-pooh the value of faith in the healing of coronavirus. And many clergy and Christian publications are able to give no better advice than “wear a mask,” “wash your hands frequently,” and “stay six feet from one another.” Good advice, but is that all?

If you were able to pick and choose any of the great religious figures, medical leaders, and secular wellness pioneers from past and modern centuries, who would you choose to attend these coronovirus press conferences? Who would have the courage to ask hard and insightful questions, and give their opinions without fear of antagonizing vested commercial and political interests? My own choices would include many Americans – wise men and women, past and present, of all faith and philosophical traditions and of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, as well as health reformers from other countries, who have made great contributions to the health of humanity, and who have often been ignored.

These are my choices to attend such a coronavirus press conference:

  • The Jewish prophet Daniel (circa 620-538 B.C.), who adhered to his Jewish faith and to Jewish dietary law in spite of his captivity and persecution after the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem. (Dr. Rex Russell, M.D., a Mayo Clinic radiologist, wrote: “Daniel declined to eat the luxurious foods of the King’s palace and ate only kosher foods, vegetables, lentils, and water. Daniel and his friends looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the king’s royal food.”)
  • Hippocrates (377 B.C.), Greek father of medicine, who said, “Before you heal someone, ask him if he’s willing to give up the things that made him sick.” And “movement is medicine.”
  • Jesus, “the Great Physician,” “The Lord’s Prayer,” and “The Sermon on the Mount.”
  • St. Luke, the Greek Hippocratic physician who recorded many of Jesus’ healing miracles.
  • Sts. Cosmas and Damian, (third-century Greek doctors), known as “the unmercenary physicians” because they never charged their patients a fee. The brothers studied medicine in the Hippocratic schools. They were reputed to heal their patients with medicinal herbs, a diet of healthful organic foods, short fasts, exercise, spiritual counseling, and prayer. Martyred, they were recognized as saints by both the Orthodox and Catholic churches.
  • The Greek St. Basil, the Irish St. Patrick, and the Italian St. Francis of Assisi, who established monasteries in the first centuries of Christianity to care for the troubled and sick poor. They were fed healthy foods from the organic gardens that they worked. The very first hospital for the poor was established in Greece by St. Basil in the fourth century A.D.
  • John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of the Methodist Church, who authored a book, Primitive Physick, with practical health tips that pastors and plain people could understand. It was written especially for the poor in England and America who could not afford medical care. Wesley promoted regular outdoor exercise, horseback riding, moderation in eating, temperance, and a fresh, mainly plant-based diet.
  • Dr. George Cheyne, eminent mid-18th century Scot doctor and Anglican mystic, friend of John Wesley and Sir Isaac Newton who, like Wesley, prescribed a fresh, mainly plant-based diet and regular outdoor exercise.
  • Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), a deist who rarely attended church. “Eat to live, and not live to eat,” he wrote. “To lessen thy life, lessen thy meals. I saw few die of hunger; of eating – 100,000.”
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), the grandmother of the environmental movement – famed for her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin – was an abolitionist who campaigned not only to free the slaves, but also to free people from unhealthy habits that were causing their diseases. A Congregationalist, Mrs. Stowe and her brother, Henry Ward Beecher, were among many Christians including Ellen White, Sojourner Truth, and Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who led a health reform movement in the mid-19th century. They campaigned for good ventilation, clean air, clean water, a simple diet of fresh food, and regular exercise.
  • Ellen White (1827-1915), the founder of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, was a powerful force in focusing on bodily health as religious duty, and extolling the health benefits of vegetarianism, natural foods, and regular exercise. The Adventists established many health food stores next to their churches.
  • Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), the Methodist African-American abolitionist and civil rights advocate who joined Ellen White, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Rev. Sylvester Graham (the creator of the Graham Cracker), and Dr. John Harvey Kellogg in their health reform movement.
  • Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943), the eminent physician, nutritionist, and surgeon who began his career as a Seventh-Day Adventist, then broadened his interests to include all faith traditions.
  • Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), Indian Hindu guru who also recommended a plant-based diet and yoga for good health.
  • Dr. Thomas Kirkbride (1809-1883), the Quaker “alienist” who designed and established humane asylums for the mentally ill in Pennsylvania that artfully combined a caring spiritual approach with the best medical care of his times. They were located in restful, idyllic country sites, and encouraged patients to cultivate organic gardens. They fed their patients a healthful diet of natural foods. Each patient had his or her own room. Ironically, the design of the Kirkbride asylums was very similar to the design of many monasteries.
  • President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919). In the early 20th century, the health-minded Roosevelt, inspired by the public uproar over Upton Sinclair’s book, The Jungle, promoted the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act which prohibited the interstate transport of goods that had been “adulterated.” It also led to the creation of the Food and Drug Administration. And Roosevelt, a conservationist, pursued an aggressive campaign against manufacturers of foods with chemical additives.
  • Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), the Christ-like Indian Hindu pacifist who considered himself a disciple of the Russian Orthodox Christian Leo Tolstoy. Gandhi had a keen interest in health, followed a plant-based diet, fasted occasionally, and practiced yoga. “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver,” he wrote.
  • Bernarr Macfadden (1868-1955), considered “the father of physical culture,” who built up a vast publishing empire with magazines on health and body building. Macfadden, who did not identify himself with any religious movement, stressed the importance of positive thinking, regular exercise, a plant-based diet, and short fasts to maintain good health. During the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, Macfadden claimed to have healed many Spanish Flu victims who flocked to his sanitarium with treatment similar to that offered by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg’s Battle Creek Sanitarium.
  • Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), the famed German Lutheran medical missionary, theologian, and environmentalist. “We are not being truly civilized if we concern ourselves only with the relation of man to man. What is important is the relation of man to all of life,” he wrote.
  • Rachel Carson (1907-1964), the Presbyterian author of the award-winning book, Silent Spring, a marine biologist and conservationist often called “the mother of the environmental movement.” Her book bombarded the public with page after page of the names of pesticides like DDT, herbicides and insecticides, and revisited countless times the dangers to public health of indiscriminate spraying of crops. Her book led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Catherine Doherty (1896-1985), the prolific Catholic author also considered a “grandmother of the environmental movement.” Born in Russia, Doherty was a Red Cross nurse at the front in World War I, escaped the Communist revolution in Russia, and emigrated to Canada, where she took the environmental movement a step further – into organic farming and organic gardening. She was the founder of a community of laymen, women, and priests, called Maddona House in the rural village of Combermere, Ontario. She wrote in her book: “Somewhere along the road of history, man began to pollute fields and to rape this planet with his greed and with a technology that is sometimes used to pervert what God intended for us. Earth and water are defiled with all kinds of things that do not belong in them, and people have become unhealthy eating junk food and greed-motivated, polluted food products.”

    (Rachel Carson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sojourner Truth, Ellen White and Catherine Doherty did not live to see all the fruits of their environmentalism, but they surely would have been delighted by the spread of organic foods throughout the land, including in supermarkets. Had they lived to see the coronavirus pandemic, they no doubt would have expressed concern that the ongoing pollution of our air, water, and food supply had so weakened the immune systems of people that many fell victim to the coronavirus.)
  • Pope John Paul II (1920-2005): “Do not behave like dissident predators where nature is concerned, but to assume responsibility for it, taking all care so that everything stays health and integrated so as to offer a welcoming and friendly environment event to those who succeed us,” he wrote
  • Will Rogers (1879-1935), the Cherokee Indian-American cowboy humorist who kept Americans laughing and lifted their spirits during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Rogers was raised a Methodist, but was ecumenical in his respect for all faiths.
  • Jack LaLanne (1914-2011), an American physical fitness and nutritional expert who was called “the godfather of fitness” in the 1950s and onwards. LaLanne developed a huge television audience, stressing physical fitness, regular exercise routines, and avoiding junk foods, processed foods, and food additives. He ate mostly raw vegetables, fruit, nuts, and fish, and became famous for his prodigious feats of strength. (Significant because some modern doctors have noted that obese people are more likely to succumb to the coronavirus.)

Some modern brains

There are many health professionals still very much alive who could contribute greatly to these coronavirus briefings. Here are some of them:

  • Dan Buettner, the author of an extraordinary book titled The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, published by National Geographic. Buettner led an expedition of medical scientists and health professionals from various disciplines to four areas of the world with some of the world’s longest-lived people, which they called “The Blue Zones.” They interviewed many centenarians and studied their lifestyles, diet, and physical activity in Sardinia, Okinawa, the Seventh-Day Adventist community in Loma Linda, CA, and in Costa Rica. A high rate of these centenarians managed to avoid many of the diseases – like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and dementia – that are crippling and killing many Americans.

    The medical researchers discovered that, despite differences in their cultures and faith-traditions, the people in these “Blue Zones” shared certain lifestyles. They all had a cheerful attitude towards life and a sense of humor. They all retained their faith and had close family ties. They all remained physically active and were avid gardeners. Their diet was plant-based with a variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and sweet potatoes.
  • Dr. Mehmet Oz is a Turkish-American Muslim whose parents emigrated to America. A cardiothoracic surgeon, influenced by both Sufi and Christian mysticism, Dr. Oz has a daily television program – The Dr. Oz Show – which focuses on health and medical issues. A proponent of alternative medicine, during the coronavirus epidemic, he offers some “simple tips to strengthen your immune system,” including “good sleep hygiene, exercise, meditation, and loading up on healthy fruits and vegetables.”
  • Dr. Mark Hyman, medical director of the Ultrawellness Center in Lenox, MA, and best-selling author of health books. On his podcast at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Hyman wrote: “A poor diet affects our brains in more ways than one. What we eat influences our tiniest gut friends – microbes – and how well they function and fight off invaders.”

    For good health, Dr. Hyman recommends:
     
    • Make sure 75% of your plate is veggies.
    • Optimize protein – we need about 30 grams of protein per meal.
    • Avoid sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and trans-fats, food additives, and preservatives.
    • Exercise regularly.
    • Learn to actively relax the mind.
    • Consciously build your network of friends, family, and community.
  • Don Colbert, M.D., Christian medical doctor in Lake Mary, FL, who wrote recently: “Americans are exposed to more than 80,000 toxic chemicals every day, indicated by figures issued by the EPA.” Dr. Colbert and other doctors are exploring ways to eliminate toxic chemicals from the body, including an old Jewish and Christian practice recommended by Jesus – occasional short fasts.
  • Katie Couric, who with Stephanie Soechtig co-produced Fed Up, an extraordinary documentary placing the blame for the epidemic of obesity and health problems in America on the increased consumption of sugar put into processed foods and soda pop. The Fed Up documentary views sugar as a food addiction, promoted by big business in America. Another factor in the weakening of immune systems?
  • Michelle Obama. The Center for Disease Control recently reported that almost 4 in 10 American adults, and about 2 in 10 American children are now considered obese. Former First Lady Michelle Obama has fought persistently for good nutrition in schools in her “Let’s Move” campaign to stem the tide of childhood obesity. She also established an organic garden at the White House, planting and harvesting organic vegetables and herbs with the help of local children. Doctors say that obesity leads to a host of health problems, and obese people are more likely to die from the coronavirus.
  • Russell L. Blaylock, M.D., an eminent neurosurgeon who turned his attention to research indicating that the root causes of many diseases can be found in certain foods, chemical, food additives, various toxins, and environmental hazards, including GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) foods. The problem began several decades ago, he said, when food industry biochemists discovered that they could genetically engineer plants and their seeds so that the plant would secrete higher levels of pesticides to resist insects. Dr. Blaylock became an expert in the use of nutrition as therapy for chronic degenerative disorders. He is the medical editor of The Blaylock Wellness Report, a natural health newsletter with over 120,000 readers.
  • Glen Bontrager, an Amish farmer in Centreville, Michigan, who reports that more and more Amish farmers are moving away from using pesticides and sprays and GMO seeds, and going into organic farming.
  • Jean Carper, former medical correspondent for CNN and a nutrition specialist who gathered a variety of medical studies in an intriguing book titled 100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s and Memory Loss. Carper’s experts suggest that, to avoid dementia, people “follow the Mediterranean diet, a rich menu of many complex brain benefactors,” and cut back on the consumption of red meat and sugar.
  • Hunter (“Patch”) Adams, M.D., the Clown-Prince of Physicians, famously portrayed by Robin Williams in the movie “Patch Adams.” Patch believes that humor, laughter, play, celebration, joy, faith, compassion, creativity, and good nutrition are integral parts of the healing process. Patch is still engaged in his endless campaign to humor and humanize the often chilly world of high-tech medicine. A popular speaker before medical organizations, Patch is raising funds for his organization, The Gesundheit Institute, to realize his dream of establishing a free clinic in a poor rural area of West Virginia. The health professionals would live in community with their patients.
  • Morgan Spurlock, author of another extraordinary documentary titled Super Size Me, in which a healthy Spurlock made himself sick by eating only fast foods.
  • Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a Muslim pediatrician and researcher who blew the whistle on the lead poisoning of children who drank water from the polluted Flint (Mich.) River. State officials initially disputed Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s test results, but finally recommended that Flint reconnect to a different water system.
  • Etta Dale Hornsteiner. This ecumenical African-American nutritionist and body-builder in Roswell, GA, is the author of an outstanding new book – The Ten Guiding Lights to Health and Wholeness – a holistic approach addressing both the spiritual and the physical. Hornsteiner daringly maintains that the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus are a prescription for a healthy lifestyle.

Faith is always stronger than fear. And a healthy lifestyle, which all faith-traditions promote, is of critical importance in both prevention and healing, religious and medical authorities have insisted for centuries. All faith traditions have taught the wisdom of honoring the body and striving for a healthy lifestyle.

  • People who lead healthy lifestyles build strong immune systems that reject viruses or lessen their impact on the body.
  • People don’t strengthen – they weaken – their immune systems by smoking cigarettes or marijuana.
  • People don’t strengthen their immune systems by overeating and gluttony.
  • People don’t strengthen their immune systems by eating pesticide-polluted and refined foods.
  • People don’t strengthen their immune systems by following a physically inactive lifestyle.

Perhaps it is time that the medical profession and health professionals would study what effect the ongoing pollution of the world’s air, water, and food supply has on people’s immune systems, and help us look for ways to strengthen our immune systems.

Perhaps it is also past time that the clergy stopped being so parochial, refusing to give credit to health champions outside their own faith tradition, and instead remind people of their health legacy in the Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim faith traditions, as well as the contributions to good health of secular philosophers.

The American people survived the deadly Spanish Flu of 1918. We will survive the coronavirus.

(Octogenarian Cal Samra, the editor of The Joyful Noiseletter, is a former staffer for The New York Herald Tribune, The Newark (NJ) Evening News, and the Associated Press, and a reporter and columnist for The Ann Arbor News and The Battle Creek Enquirer. He is the former lay executive director for the Huxley Institute for Biosocial Research, a medical research foundation. More information on the health and religious personalities in this article may be found in Cal Samra’s fully indexed book, In Pursuit of Health and Longevity – Wellness Pioneers through the Centuries, available from Barnes and Noble bookstores and from www.joyfulnoiseletter.com.)

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