The weather is starting to cool down – which means one thing – cold and flu season (and hot chocolates of course). We are also in the midst of the COVID19 pandemic, a concerning and confusing time for everyone. I was going to share a post outlining all that is COVID-19 however there is a lot of that floating around the internet already (I suggest heading here to keep up to date) and I don’t want to add to the overwhelm. Rather, I would like to share with you some simple tips to keep your immune system happy and well during this period.
Please note that at this point in time there is no known cure for COVID-19, and anything I suggest is not intended to infer as such. Rather these are tips to support your immune system in an effort to keep illness at bay or reduce the duration and severity of the cold or flu should you fall ill.
Practice Mindful and Respectful Hygiene
The World Health Organisation suggests that proper handwashing is the most effective way of slowing the spread of communicable disease progression. It sounds kind of obvious but many of us probably aren’t washing our hands properly. And by properly we mean using soap and water, for at least 20 seconds (this is the amount of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday…twice!).
If you have been out and about I recommend washing your hands as soon as you get home, as well as before and after eating. Wipe down surfaces and frequently used items regularly (think mobile phones, computers/keyboards, remotes, eftpos machines in the workplace).
And of course, always cover your mouth if you need to cough or sneeze and dispose of tissues immediately.
We know that sleep deprivation makes us more susceptible to infection (1); and during sleep the body is able to redistribute energy that is generally used for brain and muscle function to the immune system (2). We also know that during sleep the brain “cleans out” waste from the previous day, strengthening synaptic health, allowing you to feel fresh and able to cope with activities and any stress you may face the next day.
Aim for 7-9 hours a night.
Move Your Body
If you are well and able, move your body. Physical activity has been shown to stimulate the immune system; increasing infection fighting cells and producing an anti-inflammatory cellular response. If going to the gym or taking an exercise class doesn’t feel right for you at this point in time (or you are practicing social distancing or need to self isolate), consider going for a walk outside or taking an online yoga class.
Eat the rainbow! Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals which support a healthy immune system and modify cell-mediated immune responses.
Consuming a whole foods diet rich in plants will ensure we are getting in a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and nutrients to keep our body (and immune system) ticking along nicely. Protein is also essential for healthy immune function, so ensuring that each meal and snack contains a healthy portion of either plant or animal protein is imperative.
If you are eating a wide variety of whole foods you are very likely covering most of your bases, but if you really want to supercharge your diet consider including some immune enhancing foods:
- Vitamin C rich foods – berries, citrus, rosehips, black currants, rockmelon, papaya, capsicum, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, tomatoes and leafy greens.
- Vitamin A rich foods – sweet potato, carrots, spinach, broccoli, eggs, papaya.
- Vitamin E rich foods – almonds, sunflower seeds, eggs, hazelnuts, whole grains.
- Zinc rich foods – oysters, shellfish, pumpkin seeds, eggs.
- Iron rich foods – oysters, shellfish, meat, lentils, parsley.
- Essential fatty acids – wild caught oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel), chia and flax seeds, walnuts.
- Probiotic rich foods – yogurt, fermented vegetables.
- Foods with antibiotic, antiviral and/or antibacterial properties – garlic, onion, ginger, mushrooms, thyme, oregano.
Water helps to deliver oxygen throughout the body, keeps things moving and flushes unwanted toxins, and supports the transportation of water-soluble vitamins throughout our system. Your body sweats and loses fluid in response to a fever, increasing dehydration – so it is especially important to keep your fluids up if you have a fever.
Aim for 1.5-2 litres daily, and an additional glass of water every hour if you have a fever.
Get some sunshine! Vitamin D is a powerful immune modulator. If you are able to get out and about, sit in the sunshine uncovered (i.e. without sunscreen or sunglasses, with as much skin exposed as possible) for 8-10 minutes. The safest time to do this is in the early morning or late afternoon.
If you can get to your GP, request to have your levels checked via a simple blood test and ensure your levels are optimal or towards the higher end of the reference range.
Depending on your health and current diet there are some supplements worth considering. Vitamins C, D, E and A, zinc and specific strains of probiotics are great for the immune system. Please reach out to your naturopath or nutritionist to determine which supplements are right for you, and for personalised dosage guidelines. I am available for appointments here.
Plant medicine is wonderful for supporting the immune system, and there are some wonderful herbs available to us that both enhance immunity and have antiviral actions. Echinacea, andrographis, astragalus, thyme, oregano, garlic, and olive leaf are just some of the plant medicines that we have available to us in our herbal dispensary. But please, do keep in mind that herbal medicine is powerful and I do not recommend self-prescription. Please reach out to your naturopath or herbalist to determine which herbs are right for you, and for personalised dosage guidelines. I am available for appointments here.
Be mindful of your mental health
Both acute and chronic stress deplete immune function (3), and during such confronting and confusing times as these emotions are running high. Be mindful of how much information you are consuming. I recommend choosing one unbiased news outlet and consuming for no more that 30 minutes a day. Stay informed and empowered, without becoming overwhelmed and increasingly anxious. Same goes for social media. Continue self-care rituals – take a bath, curl up with a good book, talk to family and friends, cook nourishing food, binge watch Netflix – whatever makes you feel good. Sticking to as normal a routine as social distancing will allow is important in maintaining some semblance of mental health. And remember, this too shall pass.
During such trying times as this it is easy to feel overwhelmed, out of control and as though there is nothing you can do. Taking care of your physical and mental health and wellbeing as best you can is something you can control. Eat well, drink water, move your body, and sleep. Consider the analogy of placing your oxygen mask on first – if you are able to remain healthy and well you are then able to support those who might not be.
Please take care. And reach out if you would like an appointment. I am available for online consultations should you be unwell or are feeling uncomfortable getting out and about.
(1) Asif, N., Iqbal, R. & Chaudhry, C. F. (2017). Human immune system during sleep. American Journal of Clinical and Experimental Immunology, 6(6), 92-96.
(2) Besedovsky, L., Lange, T. & Born, J. (2012). Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Archive, 463(1), 121-137.
(3) Segerstrom, S. C., & Miller, G. E. (2004). Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of enquiry. Psychological Bulletin, 130(4), 601-630.