Before I started writing this article I was speaking with a friend and I asked him the same question that I titled the article with: “what does a plane crash and an autoimmunity have in common?” He bluntly answered: you can die from both. Which is 100% accurate. You can die from both. So even if that’s not the point of this article it’s still relevant.
When a plane crashes it doesn’t happen because of one large system failure. This is called the Swiss Cheese Model. This model states that there are many layers of defense between dangerous hazards and catastrophe. However, these layers of defense have flaws, or holes (picture slices of swiss cheese), that if aligned properly, an accident will occur.
Aviation has regular check ups and policies to make sure there are no major malfunctions (large equipment failure, dangerous weather, pilot sleep schedules, etc.). However, sometimes error still happens, and when these mistakes lineup, a plane crashes. This one article explains a recent crash very well using this model.
An autoimmunity is the same way. You don’t just contract an infection and then magically have multiple sclerosis. You don’t just have a genetic mutation found with ALS and then turn 40 and begin to lose muscle strength. There is a progression, a list of systems that intertwine, and when enough little things line up your body’s system of checks and balances fail and your body begins to attack itself.
Plane crashes are rare because the chances of all of the little things happening at once are rare, but humans have lots of errors regularly. We may not sleep enough, we might be too stressed at work, we might have sleep apnea, we might have been infected with Epstein-Barr virus back when we were 12, we might have a genetic marker for a certain disease — all of these things by themselves can be controlled with our bodies line of defenses. But, when you add up multiple different stressors or “errors” it might just be enough to break the system.
So how do we know when the plane is going to crash? We don’t. That’s why we do regular maintenance. What happens when we don’t do regular maintenance though? We don’t check to make sure the system and parts are functioning properly. It’s the same with our bodies. How do we make sure that we don’t crash? We do regular check ups with our doctors, we try to sleep 8 hours, we eat the right foods, there are many steps we can take to make sure that we don’t crash.
But, what if we crash anyways? Human bodies are much more sensitive and unpredictable than regular machinery. Airplanes use 20 million lines of code to function plus equipment and humans that needs to work correctly in order to be successful…humans have 420 billion possible sequences of DNA plus proper system function, developmental function, and we’re surrounded by billions of other microorganisms that also play a role in how we function. That’s a lot of room for error. So the chance of something going wrong is much greater for us. And it’s becoming more and more prevalent. We live in a world where people stay up past midnight, look at their phones and screens irradiating blue light, eat the easy food like chips or pizza, drink soda, sit in our houses on our couches or sit in our chairs inside buildings at work. People ignore regular check ups with physicians, refuse to take medications or change their lifestyles to stay healthy, but when we finally do crash that’s when they want to make a change. By then we’ve already crashed and we’re just left to pick up the pieces.
Now, I’m not saying that autoimmunities are preventable if you just take care of your system. We are still unpredictable. Planes still malfunction after check ups and sometimes our bodies do as well. But, by maintaining our systems we do reduce the chances that a failure will occur.
This is why it’s important to take care of yourself. This is why it’s important to get 8 hours of sleep, eat foods that are good for us, drink water, go for regular check ups, stay active, get exercise, do things to eliminate as many errors as possible. We can’t always prevent disease, we can’t always prevent stress, we can’t always choose how we develop, etc. but we can choose other things. So think to yourself before you order that pizza, how will this make me feel? Is this going to be good for me tomorrow? What choices am I making today in order to make myself better when I’m older?
You need to make healthy choices and change your lifestyle if you want to get better. Your system of checks and balances are not going to prevent you from getting sick, they’re there to warn you. So if you’re chronically tired, get stomach aches, in pain, etc. your body is alerting you of some dysfunction. We don’t have the ability to change and fix everything ourselves, we need medicine sometimes, but sometimes you can control certain factors as well. So I’ll ask you this, which is the tagline of this website, how much are you willing to change in order to get better?
Furthermore, if you’re reading this and you have already crashed, think about what you’re doing to try and maintain your system. It doesn’t make much sense to do maintenance on a plane after it crashes, but we aren’t actually planes. Even after you crash making sure to take precautions to check in with your physician, make good choices for diet and hydration, get enough sleep, take away the extra stressors in your life and try and manage you crash. If you need help building yourself up after your crash let’s talk.