Immune System Support for Covid and Flu Season 2020
As an already very health-conscious individual, I was shocked to get sick multiple times already this year. I knew that high stress, poor sleep, lack of proper nutrition, and exercise could dampen the immune response, but I was already on top of these. What was I missing? Where could I possibly up my immunity game for the rest of this unpredictable year?
Your immune system is an innately intelligent defense coordination that keeps your body in homeostasis despite numerous encounters with microbes and pathogens. While this system already knows what to do, we can support (or hinder) its efforts through lifestyle choices. Let’s dive deeper into each lifestyle factor to see the latest research on how it either uplifts or depresses your immunity:
A plethora of repair goes on during your recommended 7-8 hours of “good sleep”. Dr. Eric J. Olson explains: “During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you’re under stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines. In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep.”
So what exactly is “good sleep” and how do we track it? Doctors say good sleep, the kind that lets our bodies repair, builds up our immune system and restocks our reserves for another day, happens in phase 3 out of 4. Your brain waves slow, you are harder to awaken, the magic takes place.
Dr. Amy Sedgwick, my nervous system teacher through Yoga Medicine, suggests tracking your sleep patters through the Oura Ring, a wearable tech tracker (which I am not paid to advertise). Pondering its feedback can illuminate what bamboozles your sleep routine. On nights where deep and REM sleep lack, did you have screen time with blue light that hinders melatonin production? Did you skip exercise or consume alcohol? How was your overall sleep hygiene? Listening and responding to this feedback will not only keep you healthy now, but decrease your risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease according to the Mayo Clinic.
Sugar is everywhere. Processed food is everywhere. It takes effort to make good choices these days. But Harvard University says it’s worth it. Well-rounded meals based on fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods provide not only all of the critical building blocks for immune cells, but reduces inflammation, a main contributor to disease. Whole foods that provide “vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, iron, and protein (including the amino acid glutamine)” are best for immunity.
“It is also believed that a Western diet high in refined sugar and red meat and low in fruits and vegetables can promote disturbances in healthy intestinal microorganisms, resulting in chronic inflammation of the gut, and associated suppressed immunity,” quotes Harvard. Read the rest of their very informative article here.
I am a very predictable and healthy eater. So as someone who eats almost exactly to these guidelines and was still getting sick, I had to dig deeper. What else was I consuming that might throw off my armor? The answer: alcohol. Even though I’m solely a wine drinker, the most current research shows more than one glass for the average woman is too much. This was one place I could make inroads.
Chronic stress is not the short-lived feeling we have when we realize we left the oven on. This is the kind of stress that often stems from a taxing job, unhealthy relationship or some other lifestyle stressor that is not easy to change. While I’m sure this is not the underlying cause of my immune system issues, it is for many:
“In short spurts, cortisol can boost your immunity by limiting inflammation. But over time, your body can get used to having too much cortisol in your blood. And this opens the door for more inflammation,” states Dr. Calabrese of the Cleveland Clinic. “In addition, stress decreases the body’s lymphocytes — the white blood cells that help fight off infection. The lower your lymphocyte level, the more at risk you are for viruses, including the common cold and cold sores. High stress levels also can cause depression and anxiety, again leading to higher levels of inflammation. In the long-term, sustained, high levels of inflammation point to an overworked, over-tired immune system that can’t properly protect you.”
Changing a lifestyle that causes chronic stress you is no small task. It will take willpower and a conscious life shift, a choice of your health and happiness over this stress and current situation to remedy. If it is not a choice, like taking care of a sick loved one, dealing with a disability or a socio-economic hardship, see where you can find a support system- friends, family, groups, even online resources to help ease the burden.
- Exercise/Self Care
While there is some back and forth on whether exercise impacts your immediate immune health, we do know it is key in long term health. Still, for the short term, we do know that the compression and release of tissues during yoga promotes lymph drainage. Furthermore, yoga, running, swimming and other cardiovascular activities also promote better circulation. “Just like a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. It may contribute even more directly by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently,” quotes Harvard University.
Like many of my students, my self care and exercise routine is completely different in 2020. Even though I had continued a strong meditation practice, my more physical yoga practice sloughed off. I could also recommit to my morning routine of Ayurvedic hot water and lemon (a nice source of vitamin C), paired with cleansing pranayama kriyas that previously helped my digestive, nervous and cardiovascular systems for the day.
With most everything else in line, I land here, digging through environmental factors that might be pulling down my immune system. Environment is a larger influence than we realize. In fact, the National Institute of Health found that environment was a bigger factor in immunity than genetics during a twin study. Read the Stanford study findings here.
It doesn’t take long to do an honest evaluation of your environmental “diet”. Here is where Dr. Aviva Romm, author of The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution tells us to look for toxins:
- Body and cosmetic products (phthalates, parabens)
- Non-organic foods (pesticides, herbicides, parabens, dioxins)
- Furniture and other household items with flame retardants, rugs, computers, mattresses and more (PBDEs)
- Plastics (BPA)
- Mold exposures or other hidden home hazards like asbestos
- Your immediate land, water and soil (PCBs banned years ago, but still show up in tests)
The Environmental Working Group is a fantastic resource. I’ve gone back to look at their ratings for all of my products. They also have a list of trusted products and verifications, which means I don’t have to play scientist to clean out my cabinets.
If, like me, everything else looks good, but there is still an issue, a trusted physician, whether M.D., functional medicine or otherwise, is key. A client of mine finally found an underlying mold issue through a Chinese medicine doctor, whose recommendations gave her back her vitality. Good practitioners come in lots of different modalities, but need to come highly recommended.
A full blood panel and other physician recommended tests can help get to the bottom of you underlying cause, as mine did. If you have trouble finding someone who will dig deeper, continue to look and to advocate for yourself. You know your body best, and if you know there is something off, push forward until you find someone who will work with you to solve it instead of throwing a temporary bandaid over the problem.
Let me know what you do to boost your immunity! Be safe and healthy everyone.
adrenal thyroid revolution aviva romm ayurveda immune system diet immune system dr. aviva romm environment immune system exercise immune system immune health immune support immune system 2020 immune system boost immune system covid immune system flu immune system support kriyas Linsey birusingh linsey grams oura ring pranayama immune system sleep immune system stress immune system yoga immune system yogini linsey