With all the concern around the Coronavirus, we want to optimize our immune system to keep ourselves healthy and less at-risk. There are 3 fundamental ways that will have a big impact:
2. Sleep and,
3. Our relationship to stress
Nutrition is a critical determinant of immune response. Immunity functions better when it has the building blocks it need to do its work. Protein deficiency is associated with significant impairment of immunity, particularly for healing and recovery. Eating a variety of protein foods including seafood and fish, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans and legumes, raw nuts and seeds or other plant-based proteins will keep your body functioning optimally. The corona virus creates an immune inflammatory response in your body that can wreak havoc which is why eating an anti-inflammatory diet can also be supportive by reducing or avoiding foods that induce inflammation in your body. Albeit these foods can vary with each individual the most common inflammatory foods are gluten, dairy, alcohol, processed foods, fats and oils and sugar.
Here are some of the nutrients that support your immune system. Always start with food first. We are only at the preliminary stages of knowing exactly which supplements and herbs are supportive and they may also vary between prevention, acute phase etc.. So unless advised by a health care practitioner, we recommend that you always consult a health care practitioner before starting or stopping supplements.
Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system and protect against infections by keeping skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory system healthy. Get this immune-boosting vitamin as the preformed Vitamin A (absorbable form) from liver, cod liver oil, eggs and fatty fish and in the beta carotene form from sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, spinach, red bell peppers.
Vitamin D is essential to your immune function. Food sources are Fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, eggs and mushrooms (maitake, shiitake, morels, chanterelles).
Vitamin C helps protect you from infection by stimulating the formation of antibodies and boosting immunity. Include more sources of this healthy vitamin by choosing citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit and tangerines, or red bell pepper, papaya, strawberries, leafy greens, Bok choy and broccoli.
Vitamin E works as an antioxidant, neutralizes free radicals and may improve immune function. Include vitamin E in your diet with sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts and peanut butter.
Zinc helps the immune system work properly and may help wounds heal. Zinc can be found in lean meat, poultry, seafood, sea vegetables, whole grain products, beans, seeds and nuts.
Omega 3’s our immune cells are literally lined with omega fatty acids which are called “essential” because we need to take them in since the body can’t make them itself. Found in plants like hemp, flax, chia seeds, walnuts and wild caught salmon and sardines. Other healthy fats are found in deep sea fishes, grass-fed beef, eggs, raw nuts and seeds, avocado, coconut and olive oil.
Other nutrients, including vitamin B6, folate, selenium, iron, as well as prebiotics and probiotics, also influence immune response, even when the deficiency is mild. By now we know how important our gut health is to our immune health thus supporting your gut health by eating prebiotics foods such as garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, chicory root but also resistant starches such as green banana, cold rice or mushrooms such as shiitake and maitake which are also great for their immune modulating properties mainly due to beta-glucans (can also found in oats).
Avoid or limit:
Sugar is a food that works directly against the immune system. It is best to avoid added sugar in general, but especially if you’re trying to fight or avoid infection.
Dairy is a mucous-forming food even for those without sensitivity, so is best to be avoided during illness or for prevention.
Allowing your body to get enough sleep and rest will support repair. If we are not getting adequate sleep, we can impact our defenses.
Avoid caffeine if you can't fall asleep, especially after noon.
Avoid all alcohol if you have any sleep issues, especially from late afternoon on. Alcohol is sedating but has a paradoxical effect of causing awakenings during the night.
One to three hours prior to bedtime turn off electronic devices, which emit blue light, such as the TV, computers, smart phones, and tablets at least 2 hours prior to going to sleep as they inhibit melatonin production. If you must use these devices, consider using a blue light filtering app such as Flux or Twilight. Alternatively, you can use amber colored glasses to block the blue light. Additionally, dim the lights in your home.
One hour prior to bedtime allow your mind to relax and unwind. A hot bath will support sleep onset. Adding 15 drops essential lavender oil and 1 cup Epsom salt enhances the relaxant effect.
Take five minutes for a simple three-step breathing exercise. Breathe in slowly through the nose for four seconds and hold for seven seconds. Exhale through the mouth for eight seconds.
Relax with a calming cup of chamomile, lemon balm, passionflower or valerian tea an hour before bed to support sleep onset.
Aim for some exercise daily to help support sleep, but don’t do it too close to bedtime if you know you’re prone to being over-stimulated by it.
Go outside daily for at least 20 minutes and expose your eyes to sunlight to support your circadian rhythm.
We know that cortisol, the primary stress hormone, has 2 primary jobs, to manage inflammation and to respond to physiological and/or emotional stress. Because the flight or fight response is more related to survival, our bodies will preferentially push cortisol down the stress pathway if given the choice. The inflammation cascade is part of the immune system. So, if stress and worry are a constant part of our day, we simply have less physiological tools for a healthy immune response. Fear is a natural response to something that feels threatening – like the Coronavirus however stress is a huge contributor to immune suppression which is why it’s important to find ways to support our nervous system and not spiral into anxiety. By eating healthy foods, getting good sleep, and managing stress in whatever way works for you, you are supporting your immune health.
Tips on stress management:
Consider mindfulness meditation, sound meditation, guided imagery, progressive relaxation, or biofeedback techniques such as Heart Math. Good apps: IAwake, Calm, Headspace, Ananda and so many more.
Use breathing techniques.
Make sure you have a place where you feel heard and safe talking out your feelings. This could be a friend, family member, counselor or therapist.
Consider coaching to help you by facilitating your analysis of your current situation, limiting beliefs and other potential challenges and obstacles you face and devising a custom plan of action designed to help you achieve specific outcomes in your life.
If you don’t like talk therapies, consider journaling or exercise as an outlet for stress release.
Use calming essential oils such as Lavender, Bergamot, Holy Basil, Geranium, Neroli, Jasmine, Ylang-ylang, and Mandarin. Place 15 drops in bathtub and soak, use in diffuser, place on handkerchief on night table, use on acupuncture points, or add a few drops in shea butter or coconut oil and rub into bottoms of feet.
Consume calming teas such as chamomile.
Get outside into nature daily.
Quick anxiety relief: Block your right nostril and breathe for your left nostril only. Breathe until you feel calm. Repeat as many times as necessary throughout the day.
Abdominal breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, is a powerful way to decrease stress by activating relaxation centers in the brain. The abdominal expansion causes negative pressure to pull blood into the chest, improving the venous flow of blood back to the heart.
Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, with your feet slightly apart, one hand on your abdomen near the navel, and the other hand on your chest.
Gently exhale the air in your lungs through your mouth, then inhale slowly through your nose to the count of 4, pushing out your abdomen slightly and concentrating on your breath. As you breathe in, imagine warm air flowing all over your body. Hold the breath for a count of at least 4 but not more than 7.
Slowly exhale through your mouth while counting to 8. Gently contract your abdominal muscles to completely release the remaining air in the lungs.
Repeat until you feel deeply relaxed for a total of 5 cycles. You may be able to do only 1 or 2 cycles at first.
Once you feel comfortable with your ability to breathe into the abdomen, it is not necessary to use your hands on your abdomen and chest.
Caroline Sabbah is a clinical nutritionist and life and wellness coach with training in holistic and functional nutrition, functional medicine, genomics as well as human potential, positive psychology and cognitive behavioural approach coaching.
Yours in Health,
Caroline, Holistic Nutritionist
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