Are you healthy enough that should you contract a cold or flu virus, you are sure to bounce back quickly? According to the World Health Organization, the definition of health is not only being free of disease, but also includes one’s ability to bounce back from illness.
It is flu season again. Given we have added concerns with SarsCoV2, we must wash our hands often, practice physical distancing. Cover your mouth with tissue when sneezing and coughing, or use your elbow to block the spray. Try not to touch your face. Wear a mask in public places where you cannot physically distance from strangers. Masks do not protest you, but it protects others from you in case you are carrying the virus and not showing symptoms. Stay calm and stay safe.
You are doing all that, and you may be asking: “What else can I do to protect myself?”
The immune system is a complex system of cells, antibodies and organs that work together to protect the body. This is a good time to focus on lifestyle choices that create a good foundation for our body, so we have a well functioning immune system and the best fighting chance against diseases.
Sleep is the first thing we give up when we get busy, because well, isn’t sleep just a waste of time?
Science and research have proven sleep to be extremely important for the human brain and body functions, including your immune system. Your immune system is not dormant and sitting there waiting for bacteria or virus to arrive at the door before going into action. It’s an active system that is working all the time. If not treated well, your immune system will either not respond immediately when needed, or it may go into overdrive and start attacking your own cells, creating autoimmune diseases.
Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep daily. Sleep as if your life depended on it. And it does. If you are too busy to sleep, reprioritize your to do list. Place your own health above all else. After all, you are no good to anyone if you are not in a good space.
“I am so stressed I can’t sleep at night!” I get it! Pandemic, outbreak, quarantine, PPE shortage, job loss, business closures, finances, deaths...these are the words we hear continuously amidst the COVID-19 uncertainty. If you are an essential worker, you are likely more stressed having to face a barrage of strangers daily.
Yet stress and anxiety have been proven to make you more likely to catch a cold or become ill. Reducing stress isn’t just good for your mental health, it’s also good for your immune system. Right now, de-stressing is not optional.
To avoid unnecessary stress, avoid watching the news first thing in the morning. Instead, have a morning routine that helps you to get grounded and feel like you’ve taken care of yourself first. I turn to gentle yoga, meditation, and a BEMER session (If you haven’t heard of BEMER, please look it up here).
Some days having a morning ritual means having to wake up earlier than usual to accommodate yourself. But you are so worth it! Especially knowing this will help the rest of the day flow smoothly, less stressful.
What else can you do to destress? Spend time with your pet if you have one, connect with your family and friends in person if you are in the same house, or online. Walk around your neighbourhood minding the 2-meter physical distancing. Sometimes just a bit of fresh air outside releases stress. If you are interested in meditation, check out this app: Insight Timer.
Exercising doesn’t mean running a marathon or gruelling workouts. Walks, hikes, yoga, dance, whatever your favourite form of movement, keep doing it everyday. Get your heart rate up to increase your blood flow, increase your body temperature slightly, get your white blood cells active - all are good for your immune system. If you are sick or just not feeling well, stay home and rest. Your body will appreciate that.
Food is information for your body. If you want your body to increase effectiveness and efficiency in its immune department, you need to provide the right information. What information might that be? Look to eating colorful foods. Red, orange, yellow, green, purple...you can see all these colors in the produce section. The various colors of foods provide your body with much needed phytochemicals to help with your immune system. They are also loaded with vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, to boost your immune system. Eat real food. Processed food won’t have all the constituents of a fresh plant. Remember to eat good quality proteins too. You need all the amino acids to help you build up your body.
To assess your eating habits, click here for a free food rainbow assessment tool. This will give an idea on what might be missing.
Drink plenty of water. It’s super important to stay hydrated to help your body to keep your blood flowing. Water also moves nutrients into the cells and removes waste, allowing each cell to do its job. A rather important function!
Lastly, avoid sugar and alcohol. These substances suppress your immune system which is needed to engage in battle in case you catch a bug. Sugar and alcohol tend to create more inflammation in the body, causing the body to consume much need nutrients to fight off the inflammation rather than fighting off bugs.
Not sure if you are getting all the nutrients you need because a) you are a picky eater, or b) you have food sensitivities. Here are some supplements and herbs that help you to support immune functions. Please consult your health care provider on whether you should take these, and how much you require.
· Vitamin C: Known for its antioxidant effects and associated with prevention of infections caused by bacteria and viruses. Vitamin C has been shown to shorten the duration of colds.
· Vitamin D: One of the most important nutrients for supporting the immune system. Studies have shown that Vitamin D reduces the risk of colds and flu.
Living in Canada means we are only able to make enough Vitamin D in the summertime, and only if you are outside regularly. This means supplements may be required at least over the dark winter months. For more information on this vitamin, read my blog on Vitamin D.
· Vitamin A: Another important vitamin that is associated with your immune health. One would think eating tons of carrots would be enough. But if you have a genetic predisposition, your body may not convert beta-carotene to vitamin A. So you may need vitamin A in your supplement stack. How would you know? If you had 23 and Me or Ancestry test done, you can ask your practitioner to link you to sign up on puregenomics.ca.
· Zinc: This element plays an important role in boosting immunity. Zinc may reduce the frequency of common colds and shorten the duration of colds when taken within 24 hours onset. Zinc is widely available in lozenge form.
· Selenium: Another key element for immune function. This mineral boosts the body’s defense against bacteria, virus, and cancer cells. Selenium is easily obtained from food sources, with the best source coming from Brazil nuts.
· Garlic: This common food item contains many compounds that can benefit the immune system. Studies have shown garlic may reduce viral upper respiratory infection severity and function in prevention of colds. Not only that, garlic is probably good for social distancing too...just saying.
· Probiotics: “All diseases begin in the gut” – Hippocrates.
Probiotics contain good bacteria that supports not only gut health, but our immune system function as well (make sure to read Dr. Holly’s article on probiotics!)
· Mushrooms: Frequently used in traditional Chinese medicine, medicinal mushrooms are a source of many nutrients, including fiber, protein, selenium, and potassium, as well as the vitamins B1, B2, B12, C, D, and E. Additionally, they possess several beneficial biochemicals, such as alkaloids, flavonoids, terpenes, phenolic compounds, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and polysaccharides. One of the polysaccharides, β-glucan, has been studied for its immune-stimulating and prebiotic properties.
Note this article is only intended to share information and identify ways to support your immune system. It is not meant to recommend any treatment, nor have any of the supplements listed been proven effective for treating coronavirus. As mentioned earlier, always consult your health care provider prior to using these supplements.
Going through this unprecedented pandemic can be overwhelming. Take care of yourself. If you see someone who could use some cheering up, reach out by phone or by video call. Staying connected is possible with technology.