While it’s always a great idea to take exquisite care of ourselves, the worldwide coronavirus pandemic is offering us a stark, in-your-face reminder how important it is not to leave our health to accident. Rather than feeling nervous or overwhelmed as we navigate these uncharted waters, however, my wish for everyone is that we empower ourselves with useful information and resolve to take even better care of our precious selves and loved ones in the days to come.
There’s a lot that feels outside of our control right now, but there are actually many small actions that are totally within our control (in addition to good hygiene), which can help keep our immune systems strong and ready to fight off viruses. To be human is to get sick sometimes, and when that happens the best we can hope for is to bounce back quickly.
The information below about boosting immunity has been a resource for my clients for years. I’ve reworked it over the last couple of days and included a few more ideas specific to this pandemic. Consider it a care package from me to you during this unprecedented time. I hope each of you finds at least one suggestion helpful (in conjunction with hand-washing, wiping down surfaces, covering your cough, etc):
1. Eat more garlic. Garlic is related to the onion (another valuable immune booster) and contains the active ingredient allicin, which fights infections and bacteria. According to one study, British researchers gave 146 people either a placebo or a garlic extract for 12 weeks; the garlic takers were two-thirds less likely to get sick. Garlic is an easy immune booster to embrace. If you like to cook, simply incorporate garlic into your dishes at the end of cooking for the most immune-boosting impact. Better yet, set aside a couple fresh cloves, crush them slightly, then cut into pieces small enough to swallow. (Swallowing garlic bits, rather than chewing them, minimizes garlic breath.) If you don’t like to cook, simply buy a garlic extract from the health foods store.
2. Boost your inner sunshine with vitamin D: There’s no denying the piles and piles of research on vitamin D; having adequate vitamin D levels is unquestionably one of the most important things you can do to keep illness at bay and experience optimal health. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, a well-respected, integrative MD, studies show how supplementing with vitamin D can reduce colds and flu by 42%. That’s significant! We all rely on a solid bank of vitamin D, preferably in the 55-80 ng/ml range, which is considered optimal. Vitamin D levels can be ascertained via a simple blood test, but often we need to specifically request a vitamin D test from our physicians. If you’re able to find out your vitamin D levels, talk to your doctor about just how much vitamin D to supplement with to get you into an optimal range. If you don’t know your levels and want to start supplementing immediately, it is generally considered safe to take 1000-2000 IU’s daily (especially for Minnesotans). It’s not uncommon to need 5,000-10,000 IU’s daily in the winter, but everybody is unique.
3. Embrace elderberry. Consuming elderberries to boost immunity is hardly a new concept. Elderberries are loaded with antioxidants and vitamin C, making them an extremely effective immune-boosting tool. The following information, which is quite persuasive, comes from The Healthy Home Economist:
“In one study, elderberry extract inhibited several strains of influenza and reduced symptoms. In another, elderberry syrup flavonoids were found effective against the H1N1 (Swine Flu) virus. In the most compelling study, a randomized trial of 60 patients aged 18-54 suffering from flu symptoms for 48 hours or less received 15 ml (3 teaspoons) of elderberry syrup or a placebo 4x per day for five days. Researchers observed that “Symptoms were relieved on average 4 days earlier and use of rescue medication was significantly less in those receiving elderberry extract compared with a placebo.”
If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on fresh elderberries, try steeping them in boiling water and then drinking as a tea. Elderberry juice is another option, and elderberry syrup is available at most health food stores (I like the Gaia brand), or you can follow this link to find a recipe for homemade elderberry syrup: http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/simple-elderberry-syrup-to-boost-immunity/#sthash.yFrI613F.dpuf
4. Breathe through your nose whenever possible to better filter impurities and pathogens. Breathing through your nose – especially while exercising increases the micro-amounts of nitric oxide in your bloodstream – which elevates the white blood cell count, thus boosting immunity. Breathing through your nose while sleeping leads to deeper, more restful sleep, which is always helpful for our immune system. It sounds weird (and even a little scary), but if you tend to sleep with your mouth open, consider “mouth-taping,” which is exactly what it sounds like: grab some medical tape and simply apply a piece vertically from the top of your upper lip to your upper chin. Many clients have looked at me suspiciously when I suggested they try this but then reported back how they did indeed feel more rested in the morning.
5. Take zinc. This trace mineral is well known for its immune boosting properties, and elderly people and vegans/vegetarians are at greater risk of being deficient. Zinc deficiency produces a direct and rapid decline in T cell function. T cells elevate the body’s immune response to viruses, bacteria, and other challenges to one’s health. Pick up a zinc supplement, keep zinc lozenges on hand, or eat zinc-rich foods like oysters, beef, crab, lobster, pork, chickpeas, or cashews to increase your levels. If taking a supplement, simply follow the recommended dosage on the bottle. I like the Mega Foods brand of zinc as well as Country Life.
6. Skip mainstream lines and try a natural, essential oil based hand sanitizer. Rather than arm wrestle somebody over who gets the last mainstream hand sanitizer on the store shelf (especially when we’re not supposed to be touching each other), find a doTerra rep and order some On Guard by doTerra, a more natural antiseptic spray that utilizes essential oils along with ethyl alcohol to kill 99.9% of germs. Sometimes taking the off-the-beaten path is so much less stressful.
7. Outwit bad bugs with an army of good bugs. If you know my work at all, you know I’m a big fan of probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich foods, like kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut. Even a tablespoon or two of these foods every day can do wonders for our health.
Most of our good bacteria live in our large intestine, and most of our immune system (70-80%, astonishingly) is found in our digestive tract; therefore, when we build a healthy population of bacteria in our digestive tract, we’re building robust immunity. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, in an 80-day Swedish study of 181 factory employees, those who drank a daily supplement of Lactobacillus reuteri—a specific probiotic that appears to stimulate white blood cells—took 33% fewer sick days than those given a placebo. Any yogurt with a “Live and Active Cultures” seal contains some beneficial bugs, but Stonyfield Farm is the only mainstream US brand I know of that contains this specific strain. Do yourself a favor and don’t get too hung up on whether your probiotic supplement has this specific bacteria though – just make an effort to increase your good bacteria.
8. Drink warm water throughout the day (but especially in the morning) and stay hydrated. Be mindful of this especially in the winter, when the air is dry; our bodies need to be well hydrated to function properly and to keep protective (mucosal) barriers intact. According to Dr. Sorana Segal-Maurer, chief of the Dr. James J. Rahal Jr. Division of Infectious Disease at New York Hospital Queens, ”Dry and cold conditions (i.e. winter) are probably more high-risk situations (versus summer) for viruses because of dry mucosa.” The mucosa, she explains, is what lines your trachea, the back of your throat, and your sinuses. Viruses invade the mucosa and start growing, causing your cold. Keeping the mucosa hydrated is a key piece to warding off unwelcome viruses. Remember coffee and other caffeinated beverages don’t count!
9. Don’t even think about eating sugar if you are feeling rundown or after coming into contact with others who are sick. A sugary treat is fine every once in a while, but eating it regularly really taxes the immune system. If your health is compromised in any way, do not eat sugar. Instead try eating gentle sweets like sweet vegetables (sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, red bell peppers), fruit, dates with almond butter, or try drinking kombucha (sparkling, fermented tea) or sweet herbal teas like Good Earth Sweet & Spicey tea or Tazo’s Wild Sweet Orange.
10. Don’t cheat on your food sensitivities. If you know you’re sensitive to a certain food or group of foods, don’t cheat right now. Many people have food sensitivities, whether it be gluten, dairy, eggs, nuts, corn, etc. On a day-to-day basis, most of us can consume things our body doesn’t love and get away with it, but every time we do that it forces our immune system to work harder. My body doesn’t love dairy. As soon as I eat it, I get congested and a little asthma-like cough settles in, so for the foreseeable future, I won’t be cheating on my food sensitivity. I will respect my body’s boundaries.
11. Eat all the colors of the rainbow. Food is our primary medicine. Period. Eat all the colors of the rainbow, which means an array of fruits and veggies. Richly colored fruits and vegetables are chock-full of protective, immune-boosting phytonutrients. Food is our first line of defense – let’s not forget it.
12. Drink dandelion root tea. This tea aids bile production, which helps create really robust digestion. Additionally, dandelion root tea has been shown to have anti-viral properties and assist the liver in cleaning out toxins, all of which helps boost immunity.
13. Avoid spending all day indoors. Even if it’s cold and yucky out, do your best to get some fresh air for a few minutes. Indoor environments are stagnant and force us to breath in chemicals from furniture, carpet, and cleaners that burden our body. Fresh air is better for our immune system.
14. Chew your food thoroughly. Chewing our food well helps our digestive system do its job more easily and absorb optimal nutrition from the food we’re taking in. When the body has to work hard to digest the food you eat, it taxes your entire system. 70-80% of your immune system is located in and around the digestive system – treat it well.
15. Take time to relax and do absolutely nothing. When we pack our schedules so full that there is no time left for rest, our health suffers. There’s a reason most religious traditions advocate for a Sabbath. Make sure you take breaks from all electronics too, including computers, TVs, and phones to allow your body and mind to relax fully. Perhaps this time of self-isolation and social distancing is an opportunity for some deep restoration of our health (ironically) from generally too-busy lifestyles.
16. Prevent the intrusion of pathogens through visualization. It may sound bizarre, but science has proven the powerful health benefits associated with visualization. And really, what harm could come from trying it? Simply imagine your body full of bright light. Start at your head and move slowly down to your toes, filling your body, section by section, with awareness and love. Then flood your entire body with this bright light of awareness for a full two minutes. This will charge the body with a heightened awareness, which will support the body’s immune system.
17. Smile and laugh as much as possible!
18. Get enough sleep. Ample sleep is a miracle worker for our immune systems. Seriously consider shutting down the TV and computer 2-3 hours before you plan to turn in, giving your brain and your nervous system a chance to calm down. You might also try moving electrical alarm clocks, phones, or other equipment away from where you sleep (at least 3 feet away).
19. Go easy on pesticides. Choose your foods carefully and learn which ones are important to buy organic. Pesticides weigh down our immune system and make our bodies work much harder to keep us healthy. Human beings were never meant to ingest the volume of chemicals we take in as a result of living in the 21st Century.
20. Load up on vitamin C. The jury is still out on whether or not vitamin C helps prevent the common cold, but study after study has proven that vitamin C helps reduce both the severity and duration of a cold or virus if you happen to catch one. Vitamin C rich foods include oranges, peppers, strawberries, pineapple, and cauliflower.
Please feel free to share this information with your loved ones. For my fellow health practitioners, also feel free to share, though I would simply request that you give me credit for compiling. Thank you!