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Wellness

The lifestyle of a healthier immune system

As the global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue, many are searching for ways to support one’s immune system. Amidst the panic, it is important to be reminded that on his deathbed, the pioneer of germ theory, Louis Pasteur, admitted, “The microbe is nothing. The terrain is everything.” 

What this translates to is your foundational actions for a healthy lifestyle simultaneously support a healthy immune response. These actions include prioritizing hygiene; getting adequate sleep; eating a diet low in sugar, additives and processed foods; exercising regularly; and managing stress appropriately. 

Although these suggestions may not appear ground-breaking, they are the most challenging to maintain amidst a fast-paced lifestyle. If we look at our body’s capacity to handle stressors like a bucket with a spicket at the bottom, the overall goal is to reduce stressors going into the bucket and ensure the spicket is fully open. Healthy lifestyle choices both keep the spicket open and reduce how much the bucket fills up to avoid overflow.

With mandatory isolation, many are feeling thrown off of their normal routines, but new routines can be strategized. And, on the flip side, this period of time may also afford us the time to reevaluate our priorities for overall well-being.

REPAIR AND RESTORE WHILE YOU SLEEP

One third of your time on this planet is spent sleeping. It may seem like downtime, but your body is hard at work repairing and restoring its systems. Sufficient quality sleep is an important regulator of your immune system, so ensure you are getting adequate sleep.

To improve sleep quality, consider shutting down electronics at least two hours prior to bedtime to reduce blue light stimulation. Blue light stimulation from devices inappropriately signals the brain that it is daytime and affects neurotransmitters and hormones that support healthy sleep. Upon awaking in the morning, exposure to sunlight as soon as possible will signal cortisol to kick in to support healthy energy levels.

KEEP DIET NATURALLY COLORFUL

There are a multitude of reasons to maintain a healthy, natural-based diet including preventing both acute and chronic conditions. Focus on vegetables at the core with sources of protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and fruit as elements to add flavor and additional nutritional value. Foods rich in natural color provide an array of phytonutrients and antioxidants, which support our body’s in warding off unwanted offenders.

Often with serious infections, it is the inflammation involved that causes a major portion of the damage on our bodies. A large body of evidence shows that diets consisting of processed foods, high carbohydrates, and poor-quality fats result in higher inflammatory markers, thus weakening your immune system. Minimizing and eliminating these choices also reduces what is going into your toxic bucket.

MAINTAIN A REGULAR EXERCISE ROUTINE

Exercise has numerous physiologic effects that promote a healthy immune system. With muscle contraction, our blood flow and lymphatic system are stimulated, and markers associated with chronic inflammation are lowered. A study published in March 2018 on 60 sedentary people between the ages of 61 and 66 found that both aerobic and resistance exercise reduced inflammation and modulated the immune system. The group that did consistent aerobic exercise seemed to benefit the most, which means that simply taking a brisk walk outdoors is supportive.

FIND MOMENTS OF ZEN

The panic and uncertainty around this pandemic have caused stress to soar among the general public. Stress is of the utmost concern as it often fuels a perpetual state of fight or flight leading to an impaired immune response, poor sleep, stress eating, reduced physical activity, or increased risk of injury.

It is crucial for both mental and physical health that stress management is supported. Ideas include: 

  • Gathering your community virtually via video conferencing or video messaging;
  • Self-care home routines like gardening, Epsom salt baths, regular walks, time with pets, reading paper books;
  • Cooking and experimenting with new recipes; 
  • Learning a new language;
  • Getting out in nature (keeping social distance for now);
  • Engaging in prayer, meditation, breathing exercises, 
  • restorative yoga (many local studios are now online); and
  • If working with a professional, considering continuing work virtually.

NUTRITIONAL AND HERBAL SUPPLEMENTATION

There are a multitude of nutrients and herbs that can support immune balance and inflammation reduction, but these are best individualized to each person’s needs. Like medications, mismanagement of nutritional supplements and herbs may have undesired side effects and a doctor should be consulted on appropriate usage. 

If you are experiencing symptoms that are outside of your comfort zone or concerning, consult your doctor for next steps.

References

Rico-Rosillo MG, Vega-Robledo GB. Sueño y sistema immune [Sleep and immune system]. Rev Alerg Mex. 2018;65(2):160–170. doi:10.29262/ram.v65i2.359

Totsch SK, Quinn TL, Strath LJ, et al. The impact of the Standard American Diet in rats: Effects on behavior, physiology and recovery from inflammatory injury. Scand J Pain. 2017;17:316–324. doi:10.1016/j.sjpain. 2017.08.009

Abd El-Kader SM, Al-Shreef FM. Inflammatory cytokines and immune system modulation by aerobic versus resisted exercise training for elderly. Afr Health Sci. 2018;18(1):120–131. doi:10.4314/ahs.v18i1.16

Salim S. Oxidative stress: a potential link between emotional wellbeing and immune response. Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2016;29:70–76. doi:10.1016/j.coph.2016.06.006

Weber MD, Godbout JP, Sheridan JF. Repeated Social Defeat, Neuroinflammation, and Behavior: Monocytes Carry the Signal. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017;42(1):46–61. doi:10.1038/npp.2016.102

Thalia Farshchian is a naturopathic doctor specializing in chronic complex diseases including Lyme disease and mold illness. For more information, visit medicaloptionsforwellness.net.

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