The news has definitely been a little scary lately. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has left people across the globe feeling vulnerable and sometimes even panicked. Large events are being cancelled, and businesses are enforcing mandatory work-from-home periods for employees who have traveled abroad. There are quarantine sites and stores across the country have sold out of face masks and hand sanitizers.
The WHO reported that as of February 28, 2020 there were 84,000 confirmed cases of this new coronavirus strain around the world and approximately 3,000 deaths. But that isn’t as frightening as the CDC’s estimated 32 MILLION cases and 18,000 deaths from the flu in the US this year! We have become so accustomed to ‘flu season’ that we tend to overlook the severity of it. We all know of a few people that have come down with the influenza virus this year, despite vaccination. Yet, because most of us have experienced those terrible aches and pains and feverish nights before, we almost accept it as a possibility and make little if no changes to our daily routine.
Prevention is key, as they say. We are constantly reminded to wash our hands with a good amount of soap and warm water while belting out ‘Happy Birthday’ a couple of times.
ARE YOU WASHING EVERY TIME YOU TOUCH A SURFACE SOMEONE ELSE TOUCHED? (Viruses can last up to 24 hours on surfaces)
ARE YOU SNUGGLING UP TO YOUR PETRI DISH OF A CHILD WHO MOST DEFINITELY HAS NOT BEEN WASHING THEIR HANDS LIKE THAT?
HAVE YOU BEEN WITHIN 6-8 FEET OF SOMEONE WHO HAS SNEEZED?
HAVE YOU TOUCHED YOUR FACE AND THEN THOUGHT – ‘SHOOT I HAVE TO STOP DOING THAT?’
If you answered ‘no’ to the first and ‘yes’ to the others, hand washing isn’t going to stop you from getting sick.
You need a better line of defense. You need a stronger immune system.
Follow these 6 Steps to a Strong Immune System all year long and feel confident that your body is ready to fight the invasion even when you are unaware it’s being attacked!
Eat regularly and adequately
Your body needs energy and nutrients to stay in tip-top fighting shape. A viral bug will replicate using your energy stores, not its own. If you are already depleted, you will be further weakened when you actually need to be stronger! Eating too little or too much will stress your body, making it harder for it to successfully fight off an illness when needed. Today’s diets often involve avoiding food groups or significantly restricting calories below your recommended daily requirements. Calories are energy. Energy powers your immune system. All food groups have a purpose. Instead of avoiding or severely restricting:
🧍♀️ Trust Your Body’s Signals – If you know how to listen, your body will tell you when you are hungry and when you are physically satisfied. Your body’s needs may change each day depending on the demands placed on it. Following your hunger & fullness signals allows your body to work optimally.
🍽️ Balance Your Plate – make ½ of your meal vegetables, ¼ of your meal protein & ¼ of your meal carbohydrates.
Stay well hydrated
The majority of my clients struggle in this area. They are so busy and always on-the-go that they just don’t think about it. When they are drinking, they often feel the need for an extra boost so consume caffeinated beverages instead of water. (I have been guilty of this too!)
Water plays a key role in health since our bodies are 60% water! It helps deliver oxygen, assists in toxin removal & regulates body temperature. When sick, it is necessary for mucus production that helps remove germs.
💦 Aim for ½ of your body weight in ounces of water each day. If you are active or sick you may need more. Look for a very pale-yellow color when you pee. If it’s darker, you need to drink more!
🚰 Struggling to remember? Carry a large reusable bottle with you at all times. Set reminders on your phone or place sticky notes on your screen. I handout a fun tracking chart that brings out the compliant inner schoolgirl in us all!
Use supplements and supplemental foods as reinforcement, not as the primary tactic
There are definitely some key nutrients that can have a positive impact on our immune system. It is important to remember however that these nutrients always work best in their natural state alongside the other nutrients in food. Incorporating these foods and nutrients as part of a balanced eating plan will produce the best results. Should you choose to supplement, always consult with your doctor first. Supplements are not regulated and may interfere with medications.
🍊 Vitamin C & Zinc. Both the antioxidant Vitamin C and the mineral Zinc are essential to the immune response. Studies, however, show conflicting results on the affects supplementation of these 2 nutrients has on our immune system’s ability to fight off viruses. Focus first on consuming your Vitamin C through citrus fruits & cruciferous vegetables like broccoli & cauliflower. Zinc can be found in meats, seafood, beans and fortified cereals. If you choose to supplement, 1000mg of Vit C + 10mg of Zinc may help to reduce the duration of your illness.
🍣 Omega-3s. Inflammation in the body causes our immune systems to be chronically stressed, reducing its ability to efficiently tackle other invaders. Omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation. In addition, fish oil may help to enhance B cells, a type of white blood cell that make antibodies. These antibodies remember their corresponding invader and will attack next time it arrives, which is a good thing! Find EPA & DHA Omega-3s in fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel. ALA can be found in seeds and soybeans. Supplementation can interfere with medications and medical procedures so always inform your doctor. 1-3 grams/day is the suggested amount.
🥛 Vitamin D. Low vitamin D has been associated with increased risk of infection and poor immune system response. Many people are low or borderline low in this vitamin and don’t know it as it is not routinely checked in bloodwork. Food sources are limited and include fortified milk, milk alternatives and orange juice, egg yolks, and fish. Supplementation amount will depend on your current level so go have it checked. Low dose supplementation starts around 400IUs.
Cortisol is secreted when the body becomes stressed. This should be a good thing as it initially boosts the immune response. However, excessive, chronic stress over time promotes inflammatory responses in the body while at the same suppressing immune response by decreasing the number of white blood cells that can fight infection. Developing tools to manage your stress will rejuvenate your immune system. Meditate, exercise, take a walk outside or squeeze a stress ball. Some find reading, knitting or doing a puzzle helpful. Experiment to find a technique that works best for you.
Get some quality Zzzz’s
When you don’t get enough sleep, your body cannot create or release adequate amounts of cytokines. These proteins are responsible for targeting infections and attacking them. The SleepFoundation.org recommends 7 – 8 hours of sleep nightly for an optimal immune system response. If you are getting less, gradually start to go to bed 15 mins earlier each night. Set the tone by dimming lights and staying off of blue-light devices 1 hour before bedtime. And avoid eating 1-2 hours before lying down. If your body is digesting food, it cannot completely shut down. You are also more likely to be affected by acid reflux or disruptive middle of the night bathroom needs.
Regular physical activity is important for a strong immune system for a number of reasons. It can help antibodies and white blood cells circulate more quickly in the body, briefly raise your body temperature to assist in fighting off invaders, slow down the release of stress hormones and can help to flush out bacteria from the lungs and airways. You don’t need an hour of high intensity running to reap the benefits either. Gradually increase over time and aim to safely increase your heart rate for at least 10 minutes each time. As your fitness level increases, you will feel energized to do more.
No one enjoys being sick but unfortunately it appears that there will continue to be nasty little bugs that are intent on making us that way. Stay vigilant and stay healthy. Continue to reduce your exposure and keep your innate defense mechanisms strong. Stay Well!