I've had several conversations with clients, family and friends over the past few weeks and one thing everyone is saying is that they felt totally unprepared for this worldwide pandemic we are all facing. I think it's safe to say that that's true for everyone on the planet.
I've heard the words "Fear", "Panic", "Worry" and "Overwhelm" more times than I can count. These comments are mostly coming from people who's health is less than optimal and who, in their words "waited to long" to take their health seriously. Here are some of the conditions they are struggling with:
Autoimmune conditions of all kinds
Metabolic dysfunction (insulin resistance and diabetes)
Mild to severe gastrointestinal dysfunction
Weak immune function - they frequently get colds and flu
As a Functional Medicine Practitioner and Health Coach, these are the things I work with in my practice every day. The media has done a great job of communicating that NOW, more than ever, is a critical time to support your immune system, but few people really know how to do that, other than to swallow a handful of supplements every day. So below I'm going to give you a few steps you can take to support your body, build your immune system and hopefully "cruise" through this pandemic. At the very best, I hope you are all unaffected by this virus, and at worst, that you experience only mild symptoms and a super-speedy recovery.
I start with this topic because it's just THAT important. Don't underestimate the value of 7-9 hours or rock solid, deep sleep. This is a time in which your body is super busy. You're detoxifying. Your body is repairing all sorts of tissue from damage caused by oxidative stress. This damage happens by the very act of living, eating and breathing, but you have built-in mechanisms to heal and repair tissue.
During your waking hours, your immune system is super-busy, surveying everything in your environment and everything that's coming in and "making decisions" about whether what coming in is safe, or if it fits the label of "stranger/danger". During sleep, your immune system catches a break from it's detective role and goes to work on other functions.
Also, if you're sleep deprived, you're putting yourself into the sympathetic-dominant nervous system mode or "fight/flight/hide" mode. Your nervous system and Immune system are an awesome, dynamic duo, constantly engaged in a "dance" with each other. Stressful thoughts, or lack of sleep affects the entire nervous system and therefore directly and immediately communicates to your immune system to become more vigilant. This in turn creates more poor sleep because your body won't let you sleep it if believes you are in danger, so it becomes a forward feeding cycle in which your immune systems just cannot catch a break and become strong enough to protect you against real threats, such as a virus.
TIP: Set an alarm on your phone to indicate that it's time for bed. If you're accustomed to going to bed at midnight, aim to get ready for bed 15 minutes earlier every night so that you can eventually have the lights off by around 10:30. If you need help falling asleep, try taking a slow-release melatonin supplement about an hour before bed. (HINT: Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant). Turn off all devices at the same time you take your melatonin supplement and engage in relaxing activities like reading, gratitude journaling, slow stretching, deep breathing or a warm Epsom Salt bath before bed.
You may need only 7 hours of sleep, but others will need appreciably more. Give yourself the gift of sleeping until your body is ready to get up. For this reason, try to avoid using an alarm to wake you, unless you absolutely have to. I realize that this is also a little more challenging if you have young children who need you in the early hours of the morning.
If ever there was a time to eat a nutritious, whole foods diet, THIS is it. What you eat is not just about calories. It's not even just about macro nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates and fats, or micro nutrients such as the vitamins and minerals you're getting from your food. It's very much about the information being provided to your immune system about the status and safety of your world. The more processed foods you consume, laden with artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, thickening agents and genetically modified ingredients, the more work your immune system has to do. The job of your immune system, 99.9999% of the time, is to be tolerant of FOOD that comes in and respond to real threats more aggressively. But if we take a look at what the SAD diet (standard American diet) consists of, it is barely representative of food at all. Not only is it void of nutrients, which are sorely needed if you want to have a strong immune system, but it comes with a heavy load of toxins that look to the immune system like foreign invaders.
Avoid processed, sugary foods as they will increase inflammation and give your immune system a lot more work to do than it needs to be doing right now. Fruit is encouraged because it's loaded with fibre and antioxidants. Added sugar, however, is bound to cause a spike in your blood sugar and cause a rapid drop in blood sugar later on, creating a need for more sugar to come in and the cycle will play on repeat.
The produce isles in your grocery stores are (mostly) well stocked, but the processed food isles are bare or very sparsely stocked. If you really want to boost your body, consume 2-4 servings of fruit and 4-5 servings of vegetables per day. If you need some inspiration, look at my recipe page or do a simple google or Pinterest search for recipes. I would even be happy to personally coach you on how to prepare tasty, delicious recipes to build your immunity. Simply drop me an email and I'll work with you to come up with a recipe that you and your family can enjoy together.
3. Exercise, Fun and Fresh Air
These 3 points move your body into parasympathetic dominance, the mode in which your body can rest, digest, heal and repair. The more you are in this mode, the stronger your immune system will be. THIS is where you want to be MOST of the time so that your immune system can be less vigilant and more relaxed, again...ready to respond appropriately to a real threat.
A sedentary lifestyle is one of the top drivers of metabolic dysfunction. Gyms are closed, but you can walk, run, cycle or do squats right in your backyard. So many apps, like Peleton, are offering free or discounted memberships to encourage people to keep moving. You can connect it to your TV and workout in the comfort of your living room or bedroom. Many gyms, barre and yoga studios are streaming their classes to give members the benefit of keeping up with their exercise regimen.
Can you be engrossed in the most fun conversation, experience belly laughter and be crazy stressed out at the exact same time? Scientists say no! It's virtually impossible to experience fun and be stressed simultaneously. Do something or find something that lights you up, takes you into the "zone" where you are fully present in the moment and having fun. It could be a workout. It could be a hobby, craft or something else where you get to be creative. It could be playing games with your children or going for romantic sunset strolls with your partner (if you're in an area where this is allowed). It could even be learning a new skill, like a new language or photography. And if you're anything like me, cleaning, organizing and tidying drawers and closets helps me get rid of frustration and have an awesome outcome on the other side of my efforts.
There have been many posts about immune-boosting supplements. The common ones are zinc and vitamins A, C and D.
I've seen people recommending zinc. Zinc is a super critical immune nutrient and vital to the health of your thyroid as well. Try to get the picolinate form and aim for around 30mg per day. A food source of zinc is pumpkin seeds, so snack on them regularly or add them generously to your breakfast oats or to salads.
You can safely take around 5,000IU of vitamin A per day. If you can, try to use the Retinoid form of vitamin A like retinol palmitate vs. just beta-carotene. Be sure they take it on a full stomach after a fat-containing meal. You can also get your vitamin A from animal food sources such as eggs, including the egg yolk.
Vitamin C is another key immune nutrient. Buffered vitamin C is a well absorbed form of supplemental vitamin C. It can easily be obtained from fruits and vegetables. Citrus fruits and red bell peppers are great sources of vitamin C.
Everyone is being told to ramp up their vitamin D and although it's super-critical, nobody is talking about combining vitamin D with MAGNESIUM. The body has to convert vitamin D to it's final usable form and magnesium is required for this conversion. Taking high doses of vitamin D will DEPLETE your magnesium. Magnesium has around 300 functions in the human body and you can end up with magnesium deficiency symptoms if you're popping vitamin D to keep your immune system strong. Some of theses symptoms include headache, muscle cramp/spasm, constipation, acid reflux, anxiety, trouble sleeping. Vitamin D will be a challenge right now for people in the northern hemisphere who have just been through a long, cold winter. It's super helpful knowing your vitamin D status, but in the absence of testing and if you're in the Northern hemisphere, I think it's safe to assume that you haven't had much sun exposure and supplementing becomes essential. Aim for around 5,000IU per day to begin with, taken on a full stomach after a fat-containing meal. There are many different forms of magnesium. Citrate is best if you suffer from constipation. Threonate or Taurate are best for neurological/mood isues. Glycinate is generally a very well-absorbed form. So it's difficult to give a precise recommendation on magnesium because it really will depend on the individual. Please feel free to reach out with ANY and ALL questions you may have on supplementation.
As my Functional Medicine teacher always says, "health repels disease". This is more true now than ever. These are things your doctor will likely not be talking to you about, so if you don't know where to begin, please work with a qualified coach or practitioner who will guide you and make recommendations that are appropriate for your unique body, to fit into your unique life circumstances and will lovingly cheer you on and hold you accountable to achieve your health goals.