How Healthy is Your Immune System? Take the quiz here and then read on for 7 Habits to Super-Charge your immune system!
At the pinnacle of extreme risk lies extreme opportunity. The novel Coronavirus presents an opportunity for all of us to prepare, and the bedrock of that preparation is self-care. All the hand-sanitizer, supplements, nutritional IVs, and medical care in the world will not help you if years of abuse and neglect decimated your immune system. Fortunately, a few simple habits, practiced DAILY, can rapidly shore-up your gut microbiome, renovating a depleted immune system.
1. EAT YOUR VEGGIES
Your mom was right! Phytonutrients from fruits and veggies are critical for supporting a healthy gut microbiome, the heart of your immune system. Aim for 3 cups of greens & cruciferous veggies and 3 cups colorful veggies daily – organic ideally for the dirty dozen (pesticides on fruits /veggies can be harmful to your gut microbiome). Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussel’s sprouts) and organic spirulina may be particularly supportive in defense against viral assaults.
Easy ways to boost veggie intake include the 5 S’s: smoothies, soups, stews/chilies, stir fries/bowls, and salads. Start every day with a green smoothie (attach recipe) and eat the rainbow every day. Fermented foods like kombucha, gut shot, beet kavass, organic kefir or yogurt, or fermented organic veggies are excellent ways to rebuild a healthy microbiome immune defense. Particularly boost foods rich in:
- Flavinoids: green tea, apples, citrus, grapes, berries, broccoli, celery, thyme, capers, onions, chamomile tea
- Zinc: oysters, grass-fed meats, sesame seeds/hummus, pumpkin seeds, adzuki beans, wild rice, pine nuts, cashews, Navy/white/black beans, sunflower seeds, teff, split peas, lentils, garbanzo beans, turkey, quinoa, shrimp
- Potassium: beans/lentils, sweet/white potato, avocado, spinach, chard, watermelon, coconut water, tomato sauce, dried apricots, banana, salt substitute
- Vitamin C: papaya, red bell pepper, broccoli, Brussel’s sprouts, strawberries, pineapple, citrus, kiwi, cantaloupe, cauliflower
- Vitamin A: sweet potato, carrots, dark leafy greens, beet greens, orange squash
- Immune supporting foods such as ginger, turmeric, garlic, and all mushrooms, particularly reishi, cordyceps
- Selenium: Brazil nuts; grass-fed beef, organic poultry/eggs, brown rice, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, gluten-free oatmeal, spinach
- Glutathione: cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, watercress and mustard greens, allium vegetables, including garlic, shallots and onions
2. MINIMIZE REFINED/PROCESSED FOODS & ALCOHOL
Gluten grains in wheat, barley and rye can injure the critical gut-lining barrier for your immune system, allowing infectious agents to freely enter your blood stream and immune cells to react against foods, derailing your immune system. Refined (whites –refined grains & sugars) and processed foods (those full of artificial ingredients) starve your immune system from the critical fiber and plant-based nutrients it needs to thrive. Alcohol, besides being a carcinogen and brain toxin, impairs the function of several immune cells and directly damages the gut lining. Not a health food. Follow Michael Pollan’s sage advice: “Eat food, not so much, mostly plants;” “Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food;” and “If it’s delivered through the window of your car, it’s not food.”
3. GET MOVING
Not only is exercise equivalent to antidepressants in boosting a depressed or anxious mood, it also supports every tissue in the body, helps clear infectious agents from the respiratory tract, boosts blood and lymphatic flow and GI motility to clear toxins, and boosts immune defense cells. Caution though, in excess, exercise can create inflammation and could make you more susceptible to infection. All things in moderation.
4. INDULGE IN SLEEP
Sufficient sleep, 7-8 hours nightly, is critical to a functional immune system and for storing memories, producing hormones, and clearing toxins from the brain. Insufficient sleep has immediate effects of white blood cells, immune proteins and inflammatory response signals called cytokines, critical responders to infection. Caffeine and alcohol impair sleep quality so keep them minimal and avoid alcohol for 3 hours prior to bedtime. Drugged sleep is not healthy sleep – chronic use of sleep medications, including those over-the-counter, is associated with increased all-cause mortality and cancer mortality equivalent to smoking. If plagued with insomnia or dependent on sleep medication, get help.
Stress is a critically important challenge to our physiology. Exercise, intermittent fasting, cold exposure, and vaccination are examples of stressors that can enhance our physiology. However, chronic stress is inflammatory, meaning it can impair immune response and derail hormone production (chronic production of the stress hormone cortisol steals the substrates needed to product estrogens and testosterone). Adopting a daily habit of gratitude, the antidote to despair, and taking 4 deep breaths every time you stop at a stop light, wait for a download, or shift to a new activity can help. Or try one of many Apps such as Calm, Ten Percent or Insight Timer to practice daily mindfulness or meditation. Not only is this immune-boosting, meditation is one of the few things noted to be anti-aging at the cellular genetic level. It’s only side effect is an elevated sense of calm, peace, gratitude and joy.
6. REEVALUATE YOUR MEDS
Medications most toxic to the gut microbiome, the heart of your immune system include:
- Antibiotics – the majority of colds, sinus infections and bronchitis are viral. Taking a antibacterial medication to fight bacteria when you have a viral infection can decimate your gut microbiome for a year or more, cause diarrhea, and increase your risk of developing higher risk, resistant bacterial infections.
- Acid blockers or PPIs such as Omeperazole, Lansoprazole, Pantoprazole, Rabeprazole, Esomeprazole, Dexlansoprazole – these are associated with an increased risk of pneumonia, c. difficile colitis, fractures, critical nutrient deficiencies including vitamin D and B-complex, acute kidney injury, Lupus, and dementia. Seek help from a functional medicine provider or nutritionist to reduce your dependence on these medicines. Most acid reflux is an overload symptom and resolves with the E.L.F diet (Eat Less Food) and fast 3 hours before bedtime. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol also helps.
- NSAID anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, celecoxib, diclofenac, etodolac, and many others – these cause direct injury to the gut lining and should be limited to occasional use. A plant-based anti-inflammatory diet, rich in omega 3 fats, is remarkably curative for many aches and pains.
Supplementation is no substitute to healthy lifestyle practices outlined here. However, nutritional supplements may be helpful for those who are frail, require chronic medications or have chronic conditions that deplete nutritional status. Supplements are essentially unregulated drugs, with the same potential for adverse effects, allergic sensitivity, or interaction with other medications. Supplementation should ALWAYS be undertaken carefully with a medical provider capable of monitoring your nutritional status, trained in pharmacology and biochemistry with the ability to monitor for potential interaction risks of adverse effects. The supplements we suggest for immune support are those that have evidence for specific immune actions that could prove helpful. NOTE there are NO supplements, pharmaceutical agents, or vaccines proven effective for preventing or treating novel coronavirus.
7. LIVE GRATEFULLY
Mindfully attending to life’s blessings is a critical determinant of health and recovery from illness. Stop and give thanks for all we take for granted. When mired in negativity, actively shift to something positive about that person or situation. Look daily for something that inspired you, something that made you laugh, or something that touched your heart. Read, listen to, and watch inspiring, empowering uplifting things and tune out the negative. Emulate the life-infusion people in your life by being a positive light to others.
The answers to a robust immune system do not come in a bottle or an IV bag but if you are frail or worried about your immune system, consider a Functional Medicine Consult or work with a Functional Medicine trained nutritionist. Nutritional supplements are not a panacea. They are drugs that have potential benefits and risks and must be deployed with great care and caution.