Why People Get Sick

by Deepak Chopra


Most people assume that germs and genes cause disease. The germ
theory has brought us a long way, and genetic theory promises to
take us even further. But there is still a mystery surrounding
why certain people get sick while others don’t.

For example, studies show that if cold virus is placed directly
into a person’s nose, the chance of getting a cold is about 1 in
8; being exposed to chill, damp, or a draft doesn’t increase
these odds. Also, when the Black Death wiped out a third of
Europe’s population in the 14th century, no one knows why the
other two-thirds, who were certainly exposed, didn’t die.

Every day each of us inhales or ingests enough germs to cause a
variety of diseases we never contract. Some sort of “control by
the host” seems to be at work. This refers to the body’s ability
to live with disease-causing agents without getting sick. Germs
aren’t the only factor. Statistics show that severely ill people
often wait until a significant date has passed, such as
Christmas or their birthday, before suddenly dying. Studies
going back to the Korean War showed that young soldiers in their
early twenties had serious blockage of their coronary arteries,
yet the disease doesn’t show up until middle age. Not everyone
exposed to HIV contracts the virus, and in a few rare instances,
those with AIDS have reversed their viral status form positive
to negative.

Why, then, would you or I get sick when someone else equally at
risk doesn’t?

The best way to get sick is to suffer from as many of the
following conditions as possible:

–Unsanitary conditions: massive exposure to germs remains a
major factor
–Being poor: poverty degrades life on all fronts, including
–High stress: physical and psychological stress damage the
immune system.
–Depression and anxiety: untreated psychological disorders
weaken resistance to a wide range of diseases, perhaps even
–Lack of coping mechanisms: stress by itself is a negative
factor, but the inability to bounce back form it is more
–Lack of control, victimization: all stresses become much worse
if you feel that you have no control over your own life.
–Inertia, sedentary lifestyle: if you are inactive and have no
outside interests, you chance of getting sick rises sharply
–Feeling alone and unloved: emotional deprivation is as
unhealthy as deprivation of good food.
–Sudden loss: the sudden loss of a job or spouse, a reversal in
finances, or finding yourself in the midst of a war or natural
disaster all constitute a state of loss and lead to higher risk
of getting sick.
–Growing old: once considered a major cause of illness, aging
is now known not to be a direct cause. Being healthy into your
eighties should be your expectation, but if you neglect yourself
in old age, the body becomes vastly more susceptible to disease.

None of these factors comes as a huge surprise, since public
health officials have drummed into us that most illness in
modern society is a “lifestyle disease” born of stress, lack of
exercise, and other factors external to germs. But I think most
people still assume that being fat, for example, is worse for
you than stress, which certainly isn’t the case. Outside of
diabetes and joint problems, it’s hard to find a serious link
between moderate overweight and any disorder, while stress and
its offshoots are major risks. they exaggerate the effect of
aging. Yet in the absence of high blood pressure and artery
disease, most people will live a very long time, probably in
good health until they contract their final illness.

But the mystery of who specifically gets sick remains unsolved,
in part because there are subtle factors that few experts have
adequately examined.

–Some people get sick because they expect to.
–Some people get sick, or sicker, after they are diagnosed with
a disease.
–Disease brings certain benefits, known as “secondary gain,”
that make it positive. The classic example is a child who
pretends to be sick in order to get more love and attention, but
adults find secondary gains of their own, such as not having to
take responsibility for their lives or finding an escape from a
situation they can’t cope with.
–Some people get sick because they want to give up, or even
–Some people have nothing better to do than to get sick.

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