Eight months into 2020, Covid has become a household name. However we cannot forget the other virus that visits us every winter, Influenza A & B.
Public health officials have been warning us since March that this winter will be the year of the double virus whammy, but what does this mean for us and how can we keep ourselves safe and healthy?
Strong theories suggest because of increased compliance with mask wearing, social distancing and aggressive hand washing, this flu season could be one of the lowest infectious years. It makes sense, but we shouldn’t take anything for granted.
As most of you who know me know, I believe in minimizing supplements and medications and would rather allow the body’s natural defenses to protect us.
So, let’s talk about some natural ways we can raise and maintain our immune system this winter season.
- Eliminate processed foods. Excessive intake of sugar and other processed foods triggers inflammatory chemicals, such as cytokines and IL-1, Tumor Necrosis Factor. Overtime, this signals a sense of false-alarm in the body and lowers the body’s response to be able to launch a defense against infections. Processed foods also cause a decrease in the white blood cells needed for optimal immune system. Studies have also shown that a diet high in sugar and salt can cause vaccines to be less effective. This is why maintaining a fresh, clean and whole diet is imperative.
- Hydration. Our immune system is highly dependent on nutrients in our blood stream and water is the most important nutrient. Staying well hydrated is also very important for detoxification pathways, increasing lymphatic drainage and clearing out any foreign invaders. Dehydration can contribute to muscle tension, headaches, low serotonin production and digestive issues. I recommend drinking ½-1 oz/ pound body weight. Increased and more strenuous activities will require a higher intake. For example, someone weighing 150lb requires a minimum of 75 oz/day. If plain water is not your jive, try sprucing it up with fresh fruits, lemon, ginger, mint or your choice of flavorings. If the day gets away from you and you find it difficult to get in your quota, try setting an alarm every 20-30minutes as a reminder. It will make a big difference for your immune system.
- Sleep. Our immune system releases proteins called cytokines. These cytokines are needed to help keep us healthy. Sleep deprivation causes a decrease in the release of cytokines as well as a decrease in infection fighting antibodies. I cannot emphasize how crucial sleep is for our overall well-being. Sleep requires discipline. Make an effort to shut down all electronic devices one hour before bedtime. Wind down with soothing instrumental music and maybe a warm cup of decaf tea or your favorite non-alcoholic beverage. Take five minutes to write in your gratitude journal or just close your eyes and enjoy the flow of your breath. As simple as all of these may seem, they are the most powerful tools we have. And we each have it in abundance.
- Don’t worry. Be happy. Life is a canvas of stress. That won’t change. But how we react to can. Acute or chronic stress raises cortisol levels which decreases our abilities to fight off foreign antigens. Stress also inhibits the body to mount an immune response by decreasing the production of lymphocytes. Of course there are things in life that require our constant attention and can lead us into a path of uncertainty and fear. Remaining on this path will only takes us into a pit of disease and poor quality of life. Best way to neutralize the effects of stress is to identify which coping mechanisms help you BEFORE stressors arise. Do you feel happy after a five mile run? Do you forget your troubles after laughing to your favorite sitcom or movie? Does reaching out to your BFF put a smile on your face at the end of the conversation? Or can sitting in silence bring you the peace and calm that is needed? Go on the offense before needing to get defensive.
- Essential oils. Health care providers are beginning to incorporate more holistic options into the treatment plan. While much research is still needed and ongoing, the NIH in December 2019 stated, “Certain plants possess immunomodulatory properties exerting effects on various parts of the immune system on both cellular and molecular levels: T cells and other immune effector cells, cytokine, and antibody production.” There are of course many variables that need to be factored in when choosing the correct oils. We must understand the quality control and extraction process of the company. The plant from which the oils are extracted must be from a reliable healthy source. Understanding the compression process of the oils must retain its natural concentration and properties. Preliminary studies show certain plants target certain parts of the immune system. Although essential oils shouldn’t be a replacement for medical care, it can be a topic of conversation with your physician. Many of you may know, I am recovering from Covid. Not knowing what to expect, I spent two weeks in isolation waiting to see what the day would bring. In May of this year, my daughter got me to try Essential Oils for various conditions, just to see what the hype was all about. During my two weeks with Covid, I thought this would be a good time to test out how effective these oils can really be. I used them in various ways (diffused, topically applied, drops in my water, etc.) and much to my surprise, it offered symptomatic relief for each of my symptoms. I only needed to take Tylenol one time in the entire 14 days. Essential oils may not be for everyone and they are not to be used as a substitution for your prescription medications unless discussed at length with your physician, but I do believe this is another resource to natural holistic support.
Whether you follow one or all of these tips, remember WE WILL get through this. We must be diligent, alert, patient and considerate. We are not only protecting our own health, but also the health of every single person.
Please stay safe. Please stay healthy – and know all will be ok.