As we move into the colder months, taking care of ourselves is top of mind. This is especially important right now since we are seeing viral illnesses spiking.
Instead of living in fear, my philosophy is to do the best I can to prepare my body and build resilience, so that if/when I do get stick, I can bounce back quicker.
Fearful living can lead to excessive stress which in and of itself can impair our immune system, and being prepared and knowing I am nourishing myself and help reduce any anxiety I have.
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.
Get your Vitamin D checked
First up, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, now is a good time to get your Vitamin D checked and take advice from your doctor on if/how much Vitamin D to supplement with. Vitamin D deficiency is widespread and can impact our energy levels, immune system, mood, and much more.
I just started my family and I back on Vitamin D supplements a few weeks ago.
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 are many different flavonoids but one of note is quercetin - found in green tea/matcha, apples, onions. It is a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and can also help zinc get inside of our cells.
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.
There were some suggestions in 2020 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 to date. 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.
Some people with autoimmune diseases don't do well with elderberry, so make sure to always check with your doctor first.
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. My friend Purely Parsons sells a kit. (I have a discount code "platefulhealth" for both of these, not affiliated)
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.
Here's a fun fact you may not know.
Remember back to the last time you felt sick... did you feel tired?
This is our body's innate intelligent system at work to help us recover. When a virus invades, our mitochondria kick into 'defense mode' and downregulate energy production - and we start to feel tired. Chemical messengers called cytokines are produced to activate and recruit our immune system to fight invading pathogens. Our body makes us tired so we rest and allow it to kick out the bad guys.
Listen to your body, and do not push yourself when you are sick. Sleep if you can, and rest. 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.
In addition, it turns out the sleep hormone melatonin is not just for sleep - it is a powerful antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties. Here's an interesting article you can read on the link between melatonin and Covid19.
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 and communicate this to your doctor. It's worth getting these now in case you need them later.