As we move into the colder months, taking care of ourselves is top of mind. This is especially important right now due to Covid-19.
Now, nothing has been proven to prevent or treat Covid19. HOWEVER, that does not mean that we cannot take steps to optimize our health and build our resilience. There is no doubt that our lifestyle choices can impact our health.
My philosophy is always to let go of that which I cannot control, but make sure that I take action on things within my control. A LOT is within our control when it comes to our health, and we do not need to live in fear. In fact, fearful living can lead to excessive stress which in and of itself can impair our immune system.
On that note, here are some steps I take when I feel like I might be coming down with something... A note before we start - if you are sick, please speak to your healthcare provider for medical advice - this article provides general education but is not intended to be taken as medical advice or to replace a medical assessment by your doctor. Also, before you undertake any of the following suggestions, please consult with your doctor to ensure it is suitable for you.
I know it's easier said than done; our brain is wired for worst-case scenarios - and it really does not serve us in this situation because we are not running away from a tiger. We don't need to be in flight or fight mode. In fact, this can actually impair our immune system. Our brain cannot tell the difference between a physical threat (e.g. a tiger) and a mental threat (e.g. fear of covid). So, as hard as it might sound, it is up to us to consciously double down on meditation, breathwork, or whatever you can do to manage your stress and anxiety. Make sure you breathe properly and deeply to open up those airways.
Listen to your body, and do not push yourself when you are sick. Sleep if you're tired. If you don’t have any appetite, skip the food and stay hydrated with plenty of liquids. Broths and lemon/ginger teas can be soothing and nourishing. We normally feel lousy when we are sick - this is because our immune system is mounting an inflammatory response to the virus - this is one way our body uses to get rid of the virus, however, the side effect is that we feel lousy. In addition, it turns out the sleep hormone melatonin is not just for sleep - it is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and there is some preliminary evidence that it may help to reduce inflammation. Here's an interesting article you can read on the link between melatonin and Covid19.
Here are some other things I do:
Blend it all up. Strain through a cheesecloth or nut milk bag, and gargle with the remaining liquid - I do not suggest swallowing it as it does not taste good and also may worsen any reflux/gastric issues if you have it. Rinse your mouth out thoroughly after.
(ps. if you have any open wounds/mouth ulcers, this may burn, so be careful)
Some useful tools to have at home include a Pulse oximeter and a thermometer so you can do some self-monitoring. It's worth getting these now in case you need them later.
If you have to reduce your fever with Tylenol, please consider taking Epsom salt baths and discuss taking a glutathione supplement with your doctor because Tylenol can reduce our glutathione stores (and as I alluded to earlier, glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that can help with lung health and inflammation, so we want to keep up with our glutathione levels when we are sick).
Now, if you know me well then you'll know that I also like to optimize our health on a day-to-day basis for resilience. I don't do these every day, cos life happens, but I adopt many of the below into my lifestyle where I can.
Focus on whole foods, as close to the earth as possible (i.e. more plants), which offer fiber to improve our gut health, vitamins and minerals to nourish our bodies, and antioxidants to help us fight environmental stressors. There have been several in vitro and computer studies showing the benefit of flavonoids - a group of nutrients found in plants, for Covid.
There are many different flavonoids but the one of note is quercetin - found in green tea/matcha, apples, onions.
The foods I am digging based on the *preprints listed below: Citrus, tea, apples, capers, the onions family, ginger, leafy greens, rosemary, turmeric, garlic. The list does not end here, and you can check out the original papers for more. *I share the links at the bottom of this article.
And if the science bores you, then here are the practical steps of how I am translating what I'm reading in these pre-prints into everyday life:
Some nutrients I want to highlight for immune health:
What about Elderberry?
This is hotly debated - it has been shown in studies to shorten the duration of Influenza A and B, but nothing has been demonstrated for Covid yet. One of the reasons covid can be deadly is that it triggers the part of the immune system called the ‘Inflammasone’ - a system designed to protect us by taming the virus through inflammation. This process recruits immune cells to the site to kill the virus. However, in some people, this inflammasome is overactive - leading to a phenomenon called the cytokine storm, where the inflammatory process is SO overzealous it ends up damaging our organs - fluid can fill up in the lung, necessitating oxygen and intubation, or the heart and kidneys can be damaged too.
There were some suggestions earlier this year that elderberry may worsen the 'cytokine storm' caused by Covid because it increases TNFa- a messenger in the innate immune system. Research is evolving all the time, but I’ve not found any substantive research to back this up. So, we still take elderberry syrup 2-3 times a week during the fall and winter months because it is full of antioxidants and immune-supporting properties.
However, will I continue to take it during my illness? Probably not. Until there is more evidence, I will probably be stopping this 1-2 days into the illness (because cytokine storms tend to occur in the latter stage of covid illnesses usually around the 7-10 day mark, that's why it is possible to see someone doing fairly well but start to get sicker from day 7-10). Those with autoimmune conditions sometimes do not do well with elderberry, but this is up to individual discussion between you and your doctor.
Most elderberry syrups are made with sugar so check your labels. I like Tasha Rose Remedies, and there are other great ones out there too that do not contain honey if you are vegan. You can also make your own.
Exercise gets our heart pumping, and is not only great for our cardiovascular health, but is also great for our immune health. It can also help support a healthy mood and stress levels. Getting outside and doing moderate exercise for 30 minutes daily - as a recent review has shown that exercise may reduce ARDS’s risk - be sure not to overdo it though as over-exercising may also lower your immune function temporarily.
Prioritize sleep - sleep is crucial for our immune health and studies have shown that sleep deprivation can reduce the activity of our Natural Killer cells. Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant important in maintaining a healthy inflammatory response - and its levels dwindle if you are not prioritizing sleep. You can read my blog article on how to sleep better here for more advice.
Chronic stress has been found to dampen our immune system. Not only that, stress can cause inflammation - which may fan the flames of the cytokine storm.
Acute stress is a normal part of life, but once we have dealt with the acute stress, then ideally we calm our nervous system down and return to a parasympathetic dominant state. However, with modern day living, most people are stuck in a stressed/anxious state.
I know it might seem difficult, but meditation practices, yoga, and journaling can all help. The key here is prioritizing it and carving time out to be accountable to your stress reduction practice, whatever it might look like for you. If you would like to explore more options, read my blog post here on stress reduction techniques here.
I know this sounds like a lot, and if it felt overwhelming to you - please remember you do not need to do ALL of these things every single day. We all have different habits and life demands. If you are a shift worker, you may not be able to get the sleep you need - and that's ok. Work on the other stuff that you CAN do something about. If you have young kids, you may not be able to get much exercise in every day - just do the best you can with what you have.
My job is to provide you with helpful information so you can decide for yourself what resonates and what to prioritize. Just because I listed all the information here does not mean you need to do them all every day (heck, I don't even do that!). Any steps you can take will provide positive benefits.
Papers to look at on flavanoids if you are interested: