Feeling sick is an emotion meant to help you get better faster



The emotion of lassitude might help your body fight off infection by making certain adjustments.
Kalinka Georgieva/Shutterstock.com

Joshua Schrock, University of Oregon

You know what it’s like to be sick. You feel fatigued, maybe a little depressed, less hungry than usual, more easily nauseated and perhaps more sensitive to pain and cold.

The fact that illness comes with a distinct set of psychological and behavioral features is not a new discovery. In medical terminology, the symptom of malaise encompasses some of the feelings that come with being ill. Animal behaviorists and neuroimmunologists use the term sickness behavior to describe the observable behavior changes that occur during illness.

Health care providers often treat these symptoms as little more than annoying side effects of having an infectious disease. But as it turns out, these changes may actually be part of how you fight off infection.

I’m an anthropologist interested in how illness and infection have shaped human evolution. My colleagues and I propose that all these aspects of being sick are features of an emotion that we call “lassitude.” And it’s an important part of how human beings work to recover from illness.

Your body sets priorities when fighting germs

The human immune system is a complex set of mechanisms that help you suppress and eliminate organisms – such as bacteria, viruses and parasitic worms – that cause infection.

Activating the immune system, however, costs your body a lot of energy. This presents a series of problems that your brain and body must solve to fight against infection most effectively. Where will this extra energy come from? What should you do to avoid additional infections or injuries that would increase the immune system’s energy requirements even more?

Fever is a critical part of the immune response to some infections, but the energy cost of raising your temperature is particularly high. Is there anything you can do to reduce this cost?

To eat or not to eat is a choice that affects your body’s fight against infection. On one hand, food ultimately provides energy to your body, and some foods even contain compounds that may help eliminate pathogens. But it also takes energy to digest food, which diverts resources from your all-out immune effort. Consuming food also increases your risk of acquiring additional pathogens. So what should you eat when you’re sick, and how much?

We humans are highly dependent on others to care for and support us when we’re sick. What should you do to make sure your friends and family care for you when you’re ill?

My colleagues and I propose that the distinctive changes that occur when you get sick help you solve these problems automatically.

  • Fatigue reduces your level of physical activity, which leaves more energy available for the immune system.
  • Increased susceptibility to nausea and pain makes you less likely to acquire an infection or injury that would further increase the immune system’s workload.
  • Increased sensitivity to cold motivates you to seek out things like warm clothing and heat sources that reduce the costs of keeping body temperature up.
  • Changes in appetite and food preferences push you to eat (or not eat) in a way that supports the fight against infection.
  • Feelings of sadness, depression and general wretchedness provide an honest signal to your friends and family that you need help.

Of course these changes depend on the context. Any parents reading this article are likely familiar with the experience of being sick but pushing through it because a child needs care. While it may make sense to reduce food intake to prioritize immunity when the sick individual has plenty of energy reserves, it would be counterproductive to avoid eating if the sick person is on the verge of starvation.

Your body needs you to do (or avoid) a few things so it can concentrate on getting better.
tommaso79/Shutterstock.com

Sickness as an emotion

So how does your body organize these advantageous responses to infection?

The evidence my colleagues and I reviewed suggests that humans possess a regulatory program that lies in wait, scanning for indicators that infectious disease is present. When it detects signs of infection, the program sends a signal to various functional mechanisms in the brain and body. They in turn change their patterns of operation in ways that are useful for fighting infection. These changes, in combination with each other, produce the distinct experience of being sick.

This kind of coordinating program is what some psychologists call an emotion: an evolved computational program that detects indicators of a specific recurrent situation. When the certain situation arises, the emotion orchestrates relevant behavioral and physiological mechanisms that help address the problems at hand.

Imagine you’re walking through the woods, thinking you’re alone, and suddenly you are startled by sounds suggesting a large animal is in the underbrush nearby. Your pupils dilate, your hearing becomes attuned to every little sound, your cardiovascular system starts to work harder in preparation for either running away or defending yourself. These coordinated physiological and behavioral changes are produced by an underlying emotion program that corresponds to what you might think of as a certain kind of fear.

Some of these coordinating programs line up nicely with general intuitions about what makes up an emotion. Others have functions and features that we might not typically think of as “emotional.”

Some psychologists suggest these emotion programs likely evolved to respond to identifiable situations that occurred reliably over evolutionary time, that would affect the survival or reproduction of those involved.

This way of thinking has helped researchers understand why some emotions exist and how they work. For instance, the pathogen disgust program detects indicators that some potentially infectious agent is nearby. Imagine you smell the stench of feces: The emotion of disgust coordinates your behavior and physiology in ways that help you avoid the risky entity.

Another example is the emotion of shame, which scouts for signs that you’ve done something that causes members of your social group to devalue you. When you detect one of these indicators – a loved one rebukes you for doing something that hurt them, say – the experience of shame helps you adjust your mental map of what kinds of things will cause others to devalue you. Presumably you will try to avoid them in the future.

Drawing from the emerging discipline of evolutionary medicine, my colleagues and I now apply the idea of these emotion programs to the experience of being sick. We call this emotion “lassitude” to distinguish the underlying program from the outputs it generates, such as sickness behavior and malaise.

We hope that our approach to lassitude will help solve problems of practical importance. From a medical perspective, it would be useful to know when lassitude is doing its job and when it is malfunctioning. Health care providers would then have a better sense of when they ought intervene to block certain parts of lassitude and when they should let them be.

[ Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter. ]The Conversation

Joshua Schrock, Ph.D. Candidate in Anthropology, University of Oregon

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What are parasites and how do they make us sick?



Giardia is an example of a parasite you don’t want to catch. Symptoms can include diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, fatigue, weakness and weight loss.
From shutterstock.com

Vincent Ho, Western Sydney University

A parasite is an organism that lives in or on an organism of another species.

Three main classes of parasites can cause disease in humans: protozoa, helminths, and ectoparasites. Protozoa and helminths largely affect the gut, while ectoparasites include lice and mites that can attach to or burrow into the skin, staying there for long periods of time.

The majority of protozoa and helminths tend to be non-pathogenic (meaning they don’t cause disease) or result in very mild illness. Some, however, can cause severe disease in humans.




Read more:
Health check: the low-down on ‘worms’ and how to get rid of them


Faecal-oral transmission, where parasites found in the stool of one person end up being swallowed by another person, is the most common mode of transmission of parasitic protozoa and helminths.

The initial symptoms tend to be gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhoea. When parasites invade the red blood cells or organs, the consequences can become more serious.

Protozoa

Protozoa are tiny single-celled organisms that multiply inside the human body.

The protozoa giardia, for example, has a classic two-stage life cycle. In the first stage, called trophozoite, the parasite swims around and consumes nutrients from the small bowel. In the second stage it develops into a non-moving cyst.

Cysts excreted in faeces can contaminate the water supply, and ingesting contaminated food or water results in transmission. Close human to human contact and unsanitary living conditions can promote transmission.

Symptoms of giardia can include severe or chronic diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, fatigue, weakness and weight loss.

Once the parasite has been diagnosed, it can usually be treated effectively.
From shutterstock.com

Other important protozoa are the plasmodium species. Plasmodium develop in mosquitoes, and infected mosquitoes transmit the parasite to humans by biting them. Plasmodium destroys red blood cells which impacts organ function and causes a disease in humans known as malaria.

Malaria causes the most deaths of all parasitic diseases. In 2017 it was estimated malaria resulted in 435,000 deaths globally, most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa.




Read more:
How our red blood cells keep evolving to fight malaria


Helminths

Helminths, often called worms, are large multicellular organisms usually visible to the naked eye in their adult stages. As a general rule, helminths cannot multiply inside the human body.

One major group of helminths are flatworms. Flatworms literally have flattened soft bodies. Their digestive cavity has only one opening for both the ingestion and removal of food. It’s thought 80% of flatworms are parasitic.

Tapeworms are one type of flatworm. The most common human tapeworm in Australia is the dwarf tapeworm. The prevalence of dwarf tapeworm in isolated communities in northwest Australia is estimated to be around 55%.

Infestation in humans comes from ingesting dwarf tapeworm eggs. Transmission from person to person occurs via the faecal-oral route. As with other parasites, the major risk factors are poor sanitation and shared living quarters. Symptoms include diarrhoea, abdominal pain, weight loss and weakness.

Some parasites, like plasmodium, which causes malaria, are transmitted to humans via mosquito bites.
From shutterstock.com

Another major group of helminths are nematodes, commonly known as roundworms. Nematodes are the most numerous multicellular animals on earth and can be found in almost every environment. Unlike flatworms, they do have a digestive system that extends from the mouth to the anus.

More than 50% of the world’s population are thought to be affected at one point during their life by at least one of six main classes of nematodes.

The eggs or larvae of these nematodes usually develop in soil before being transmitted to the human host. For this reason these nematodes are often called soil-transmitted helminths. A good example are hookworms which infest humans by penetrating the skin from contaminated soil. So wearing appropriate footwear is an important way to prevent hookworm transmission.




Read more:
A parasite attack on Darwin’s finches means they’re losing their lovesong


The pinworm Enterobius vermicularis has a different life cycle to the other nematodes. Pinworm larvae develop in eggs on the skin near the anus or under the fingernails.

Pinworm, also known as threadworm, is the most common helminth parasite in Australia. Itching around the anus is a major symptom of pinworm. Pinworms are easily passed from one person to another and it’s common for entire families to be infested.

Ectoparasites

The term ectoparasites generally refers to organisms such as ticks, fleas, lice and mites that can attach or burrow into the skin and remain there for long periods of time.

Scabies, for example, a contagious skin disease marked by itching and small raised red spots, is caused by the human itch mite. Scabies usually is spread by direct, prolonged, skin-to-skin contact.

Head lice are small, wingless insects that live and breed in human hair and feed by sucking blood from the scalp.

Head lice, a type of ectoparasite, are common in children.
From shutterstock.com

Prevention and treatment

Some parasites can lie dormant for extended periods of time. This can make the diagnosis of parasitic infestation challenging as there may be no symptoms, or symptoms can be vague and non-specific.

The good news is we have very good medications to treat many different kinds of parasites once they’ve been diagnosed. These medications do have side effects but on the whole are very effective.




Read more:
Six human parasites you definitely don’t want to host


Treatment of parasites should be accompanied by preventative strategies such as improving sanitation and ensuring the availability of appropriate clothing and footwear in affected areas.

The World Health Organisation has recommended periodic medical treatment (deworming) to all at-risk people living in endemic areas, but widespread implementation remains challenging.The Conversation

Vincent Ho, Senior Lecturer and clinical academic gastroenterologist, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sick Again


Hi all – I have been trying to keep the Blog going in recent days despite being ill again – however, as I continue to get worse it is probably wise to have a complete break for the rest of the week and get as much sleep as I can.

I have had pneumonia 3 times since November last year (twice in November and once last month) and have come down sick again. Thought I was improving over the last couple of days but have once again developed the ‘shiver me timbers (chills and fever)’ tonight. So I plan to be away from the keyboard for the rest of the week in a bid to finally get over all of this illness. I apologise for the interruption to Blog posts in the mean time.

Back Very Soon


Hi all – my previous post suggested I would be away for about a week or so because of pneumonia. It turns out my absence was for a whole lot longer than that. I ended up with Double Pneumonia twice in 6 weeks and it has been a struggle to recover. I am feeling much better now and hope to return to Blogging over the next week, posting to each again over that time. Thanks for your patience.

Religious Conversion Worst Form of ‘Intolerance,’ Bhutan PM Says


Propagation of religion is allowable – but not seeking conversions, top politician says.

THIMPHU, Bhutan, April 13 (CDN) — In the Kingdom of Bhutan, where Christianity is still awaiting legal recognition, Christians have the right to proclaim their faith but must not use coercion or claim religious superiority to seek conversions, the country’s prime minister told Compass in an exclusive interview.

“I view conversions very negatively, because conversion is the worst form of intolerance,” Jigmi Yoser Thinley said in his office in the capital of the predominantly Buddhist nation.

Christian leaders in Bhutan have told Compass that they enjoy certain freedoms to practice their faith in private homes, but, because of a prohibition against church buildings and other restrictions, they were not sure if proclamation of their faith – included in international human rights codes – was allowed in Bhutan.

Prime Minister Thinley, who as head of the ruling party is the most influential political chief in the country, said propagation of one’s faith is allowed, but he made it clear that he views attempts to convert others with extreme suspicion.

“The first premise [of seeking conversion] is that you believe that your religion is the right religion, and the religion of the convertee is wrong – what he believes in is wrong, what he practices is wrong, that your religion is superior and that you have this responsibility to promote your way of life, your way of thinking, your way of worship,” Thinley said. “It’s the worst form of intolerance. And it divides families and societies.”

Bhutan’s constitution does not restrict the right to convert or proselytize, but some Non-Governmental Organizations have said the government effectively limits this right by restricting construction of non-Buddhist worship buildings and celebration of some non-Buddhist festivals, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report.

It adds that Bhutan’s National Security Act (NSA) further limits proclamation of one’s faith by prohibiting “words either spoken or written, or by other means whatsoever, that promote or attempt to promote, on grounds of religion, race, language, caste, or community, or on any other ground whatsoever, feelings of enmity or hatred between different religious, racial, or language groups or castes and communities.” Violation of the NSA is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment, though whether
any cases have been prosecuted is unknown, according to the State Department report.

Bhutan’s first democratic prime minister after about a century of absolute monarchy, Thinley completed three years in office last Thursday (April 7). While he affirmed that it is allowable for Christians to proclaim their faith – a practice commanded by Christ, with followers agreeing that it is the Holy Spirit, not man, that “converts” people – Thinley made his suspicions about Christians’ motives manifest.

“Any kind of proselytization that involves economic and material incentives [is wrong],” he said. “Many people are being converted on hospital beds in their weakest and most vulnerable moments. And these people are whispering in their ears that ‘there is no hope for you. The only way that you can survive is if you accept this particular religion.’ That is wrong.”

Thinley’s suspicions include the belief that Christians offer material incentives to convert.

“Going to the poor and saying, ‘Look, your religion doesn’t provide for this life, our religion provides for this life as well as the future,’ is wrong. And that is the basis for proselytization.”

Christian pastors in Thimphu told Compass that the perception that Bhutan’s Christians use money to convert the poor was flawed.

The pastors, requesting anonymity, said they prayed for healing of the sick because they felt they were not allowed to preach tenets of Christianity directly. Many of those who experience healing – almost all who are prayed for, they claimed – do read the Bible and then believe in Jesus’ teachings.

Asked if a person can convert if she or he believed in Christianity, the prime minister replied, “[There is] freedom of choice, yes.”

In his interview with Compass, Thinley felt compelled to defend Buddhism against assertions that citizens worship idols.

“To say that, ‘Your religion is wrong, worshiping idols is wrong,’ who worships idols?” he said. “We don’t worship idols. Those are just representations and manifestations that help you to focus.”

Leader of the royalist Druk Phuensum Tshogpa party, Thinley is regarded as a sincere politician who is trusted by Bhutan’s small Christian minority. He became the prime minister in April 2008 following the first democratic election after Bhutan’s fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, abdicated power in 2006 to pave the way toward democracy.

Until Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy in 2008, the practice of Christianity was believed to be banned in the country. The constitution now grants the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion to all citizens. It also states that the king is the protector of all religions.

Thus far, the Religious Organisations Act of 2007 has recognized only Buddhist and Hindu organizations. As a result, no church building or Christian bookstore has been allowed in the country, nor can Christians engage in social work. Christianity in Bhutan remains confined to the homes of local believers, where they meet for collective worship on Sundays.

Asked if a Christian federation should be registered by the government to allow Christians to function with legal recognition, Thinley said, “Yes, definitely.”

The country’s agency regulating religious organizations under the 2007 act, locally known as the Chhoedey Lhentshog, is expected to make a decision on whether it could register a Christian federation representing all Christians. The authority is looking into provisions in the law to see if there is a scope for a non-Buddhist and non-Hindu organization to be registered. (See http://www.compassdirect.com, “Official Recognition Eludes Christian Groups in Bhutan,” Feb. 1.)

On whether the Religious Organisations Act could be amended if it is determined that it does not allow legal recognition of a Christian federation, the prime minister said, “If the majority view and support prevails in the country, the law will change.”

Thinley added that he was partially raised as a Christian.

“I am part Christian, too,” he said. “I read the Bible, occasionally of course. I come from a traditional [Christian] school and attended church every day except for Saturdays for nine years.”

A tiny nation in the Himalayas between India and China, Bhutan has a population of 708,484 people, of which roughly 75 percent are Buddhist, according to Operation World. Christians are estimated to be between 6,000 to nearly 15,000 (the latter figure would put Christians at more than 2 percent of the population), mostly from the south. Hindus, mainly ethnic Nepalese, constitute around 22 percent of the population and have a majority in the south.

 

Religious ‘Competition’

Bhutan’s opposition leader, Lyonpo Tshering Togbay, was equally disapproving of religious conversion.

“I am for propagation of spiritual values or anything that allows people to be good human beings,” he told Compass. “[But] we cannot have competition among religions in Bhutan.”

He said, however, that Christians must be given rights equal to those of Hindus and Buddhists.

“Our constitution guarantees the right to freedom of practice – full stop, no conditions,” he said. “But now, as a small nation state, there are some realities. Christianity is a lot more evangelistic than Hinduism or Buddhism.”

Togbay said there are Christians who are tolerant and compassionate of other peoples, cultures and religions, but “there are Christians also who go through life on war footing to save every soul. That’s their calling, and it’s good for them, except that in Bhutan we do not have the numbers to accommodate such zeal.”

Being a small nation between India and China, Bhutan’s perceived geopolitical vulnerability leads authorities to seek to pre-empt any religious, social or political unrest. With no economic or military might, Bhutan seeks to assert and celebrate its sovereignty through its distinctive culture, which is based on Buddhism, authorities say.

Togbay voiced his concern on perceived threats to Bhutan’s Buddhist culture.

“I studied in a Christian school, and I have lived in the West, and I have been approached by the Jehovah’s Witness – in a subway, in an elevator, in a restaurant in the U.S. and Switzerland. I am not saying they are bad. But I would be a fool if I was not concerned about that in Bhutan,” he said. “There are other things I am personally concerned about. Religions in Bhutan must live in harmony. Too often I have come across people who seek a convert, pointing to statues of our deities and saying
that idol worship is evil worship. That is not good for the security of our country, the harmony of our country and the pursuit of happiness.”

The premise of the Chhoedey Lhentshog, the agency regulating religious organizations, he said, “is that all the different schools of Buddhism and all the different religions see eye to eye with mutual respect and mutual understanding. If that objective is not met, it does not make sense to be part of that.”

It remains unclear what the legal rights of Christians are, as there is no interaction between the Christians and the government. Christian sources in Bhutan said they were open to dialogue with the government in order to remove “misunderstandings” and “distrust.”

“Thankfully, our political leadership is sincere and trustworthy,” said one Christian leader.

Asserting that Christians enjoy the right to worship in Bhutan, Prime Minister Thinley said authorities have not interfered with any worship services.

“There are more Christian activities taking place on a daily basis than Hindu and Buddhist activities,” he added.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org