The theme of 2020 in the health world is shaping up to be immune support and being healthy. While we don’t have enough research to identify anything that can prevent or treat COVID-19 yet, ensuring our health is in balance can aid to support your immune system. This involves a lot more than just finding an “immune-boosting” supplement or two. The basic fundamental pillars to achieving balanced health that you want to address and optimize so they can support a healthy immune system are:
Getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night is paramount to having good energy throughout the day, improving mood, and keeping our cortisol levels in check (poor sleep can increase cortisol which can reduce immune function and make it harder to fight infections). Ideally you want to aim for getting 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night and be able to wake up feeling rested and rejuvenated – not tired.
- Setting a regular bedtime schedule of going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time every day can help
- Avoiding caffeine in the afternoon if you find it makes you jittery and may be keeping you up later than you want
- Not exercising vigorously or eating 2 hours before bed
- Reducing blue light in the evening and turning on the blue light filter on your electronic devices
- Have non-caffeinated herbal tea before bed rather than black tea or green tea
- Light exercise like yoga or even meditation before bed to calm the mind can help
What you put into your mouth determines the health of your body. Ensuring that you are eating whole, nutrient-dense foods the majority of the time will ensure you are getting your vitamins, minerals, protein and other nutrients that support important body physiological processes. This usually looks like shopping for most of your groceries on the periphery of the grocery store where all the whole foods are located.
- Eating fruits and vegetables to load up on your vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants
- Getting enough protein in your diet
- Minimizing all the fried and greasy foods
- Reducing alcohol consumption as it impairs your detoxification system and uses up glutathione plus alcohol can turn into sugar and stored as fat in the body
- Picking complex carbohydrates like starchy vegetables, ancient grains, whole-grains over the white refined flours and grains because they have more nutrients and fibre to help you stay regular
- Trying to keep sugar on the low. Sugar can be inflammatory and trigger inflammation which will throw off your hormones like insulin and cortisol and reduce immune function. Sugar is also a food source for many microorganisms.
Nutritional supplements can be recommended by a healthcare professional where necessary to fill in the gaps that your dietary regime isn’t covering.
This is huge! I am sure most of us are all feeling some kind of stress right now with the lock-down putting business on hold and business being slow to start up again as the economy re-opens. Physical distancing and not being able to see people can create feelings of anxiety and depression which will further offset our entire hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis that makes cortisol. When our cortisol levels are high, it can shift our immune system and make it harder for us to fight infections. At this current moment, I would say most people are in the resistance stage (alarm, resistance, and exhaustion phase) where cortisol levels are at an all-time high and we need ways to bring this down. Furthermore, if we don’t address our cortisol hormone levels now and keep that in check while we are experiencing “pandemic stress”, we will exhaust our adrenal hormone production and this will push us into the burn-out phase which could make inflammation worse and make us more susceptible during a second wave if that were to occur.
- Engaging in self-care that calms the mind and helps reduce stress
- Light exercise like yoga, resistance exercises, dance, and light cardio
- Use a bright light to wake up or open your curtains to sunshine as soon as you wake up to help those cortisol levels peak when they are supposed to at within the first hour of waking to help achieve a normal cortisol rhythm
- Use blue light filters in the evening when using electronics
- Connect socially via phones, facetime or other physically distancing means to maintain social connection
- Seek a naturopathic doctor who can help you navigate the best adaptogen (adrenal/cortisol modulating) herbal supplements for you
Keeping up with some form of exercise even if the gyms are closed is vital. This will help you reduce excess weight gain that can otherwise occur with the lockdown. Abdominal fat is considered inflammatory and will increase inflammation in the body plus it will promote insulin resistance increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Going for walks as per your public health physical distancing recommendations and wearing masks if necessary are great.
- Engaging in some live yoga or fitness classes on Facebook or Instagram if you have those apps can help too.
- Doing some freestyle dancing with the kids or by yourself or your own cardio/weight workout is important.
Other than ensuring good nutritional and dietary eating habits, it is important to optimize your digestion. This means you should really have minimal to no bloating, gas, heartburn, diarrhea, loose stools, and constipation after you eat. If you frequently experience any of these digestive symptoms there could be something going on in your gut from small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, other form of dysbiosis (bacterial or microbial imbalance in the gut), and/or food sensitivities. All of these can create gut inflammation which can then affect the rest of your body. ~70% of your immune system lies in your gut so anything creating gut inflammation will throw off your immune system.
Addressing any inflammation in your body is also important – this can be something acute like an injury or acute infection or something more chronic like an autoimmune condition, chronic infection, diabetes or increased weight gain/obesity. Inflammation induces a stress chemistry response that will not only throw off your hormone balance but it generates free radicals in our body which increases our need for antioxidants. It also depletes glutathione – a major antioxidant, supports liver detoxification, and supports our immune function to help us increase NK cell activity and fight off infections.
Think of hormonal balance as very intricate spider’s web – every hormone is connected and when one is off, it will throw off the other so you really need to work with a healthcare professional to know where to start and which part of the web to address first. Really, our hormones cannot be balanced if our sleep is off, we are experiencing stress, have digestive issues, and/or inflammation in our body. When our hormones do go off it can worsen or create sleep problems, digestive issues, irregular periods, painful periods, make it hard to conceive and more.
As always, for individualized health recommendations for you please seek a healthcare professional or naturopathic doctor that can perform a thorough health assessment and provide treatment recommendations individualized to you to optimize your health. Hope everyone stays healthy and safe!