How To Support Your Immune System And Navigate COVID-19
With many of our clients glued to the news of the spread of the novel coronavirus, we want to address the questions we’re receiving daily. Preventing illness altogether may be out of our control, however preparing our bodies, minds and homes can help us to navigate this era with more confidence. Our goal is to give you some clear and actionable tips to support your immune system and reduce the impact this virus has on your health.
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less. – Marie Curie”
What Are The Symptoms Of COVID-19?
COVID-19 is the name given to a contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus of unknown origin which is currently spreading quickly throughout the world. Symptoms can be similar to a mild cold, or may exacerbate to pneumonia. A lot is still to be learned about the defining symptoms of this particular virus.
- Difficulty breathing
- Pneumonia, mild to severe
Who is at risk of catching COVID-19?
Like other coronaviruses, such as those which cause the common cold, this year’s novel coronavirus spreads easily. Unlike the common cold however, because this virus is new, no-one is immune to catching it. In fact, the virus causing COVID-19 seems to have a slightly longer incubation period than most, which means that individuals may unknowingly carry and spread the virus for a few days before symptoms appear. Herein lies the reason for the vast reach this virus is having.
Who is at risk of more serious complications?
As with all illnesses, certain individuals are at a higher risk of serious complications related to COVID-19. This includes anyone over the age of 65 and/or those with compromised immune systems or with underlying medical conditions.
These are reasons to take extra precautions to avoid catching the virus and to support your immune system to fight it off more effectively should you catch it.
Many individuals who contract COVID-19 will have minimal symptoms and some may not even realize they have it.
Keeping A Safe Physical Distance
“Social Distancing” means staying physically far enough away from people you don’t live with to avoid catching, and subsequently passing on, a virus. This is a tried and true technique for quelling epidemics, and it is of the utmost importance for all of us to follow the instruction to self-isolate in order for the technique to work.
Make sure that you stay up to date with the recommendations of your local public health department with regards to what types of movement outside of your home are and are not acceptable.
8 Simple Habits To Support Your Immune System
As with anything, there are things that you can do to minimize your risk and help protect or reduce the severity of symptoms from catching a cold, the flu, or the current Coronavirus.
1. Hand Hygiene
This one may seem obvious, but wash your hands well and frequently using warm water and soap. Here is a link to the World Health Organization’s recommended hand washing technique. A good strategy is to implement a policy of everyone washing their hands as soon as they enter your home. It is also a good idea to regularly sanitize high traffic areas around your home such as door knobs, light switches, TV remotes etc.
2. Rest & Sleep Properly
Even though we are all extremely busy, make sure you are getting enough sleep. When you sleep your body goes through natural healing and detox processes that are important for maintaining a strong immune system. It is important not to deprive yourself of that healing time.
Good sleep habits include:
- Reading a good novel at bedtime instead of catching up on the day’s news on your phone
- Turning off your phone’s notifications in the evening
- Turning down the lights to create a more soothing bedtime environment
- Sleeping in complete darkness
3. Eat Nutrient-Dense Whole Foods
“You are what you eat” is a phrase that almost feels outdated. But guess what? It is true. Make sure that you are eating a healthy diet full of whole foods and avoiding too much packaged food.
Good options include lean protein, high fiber vegetables and fruits (complex carbohydrates), as well as nuts and seeds. Cook with plenty of garlic for added protection from colds.
Here are also some foods that are considered supportive of a healthy immune system. If you are unable to find them fresh, frozen is the next best thing.
- Leafy green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli are high in vitamin C and E and flavonoids, all helpful for the immune system to work optimally.
- Orange foods such as oranges, red bell peppers and sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene, a protective antioxidant.
- Salmon and other oily fish provide healthy fats for strong cells, and may be helpful in reducing immune-related conditions.
- Turmeric both fresh and powdered is helpful in reducing inflammation in the body. Garlic and ginger may also provide some immune-boosting effects.
- Berries, especially blueberries which contain flavonoids, compounds helpful in fighting off upper respiratory tract infections.
- Probiotic foods such as kefir, kimchi and natural yoghurt contain a variety of good bacteria which are helpful to the immune system.
- Unpasteurised honey such as Manuka honey can help reduce cough symptoms. Take 1 teaspoon in the evening before bed, or sip in the form of a hot, comforting honey and lemon tea.
4. Take Your Supplements
Almost all nutrients in the diet play a crucial role in maintaining an “optimal” immune response, however some have been specifically researched for their role in supporting the immune system.
Now is a good time to use some of those supplements that are cluttering up your cupboard before they go out of date!
Simple vitamin C is a powerful protective antioxidant which helps to strengthen the body’s defense against pathogens. Studies show that supplementation with vitamin C helps in the prevention and treatment of respiratory infections.
Vitamin C is abundant in foods such as tomatoes and red peppers, leafy green vegetables and citrus fruit.
Adding a daily vitamin C supplement is a good start when you are looking to support your immune system.
Vitamin D has historically been used, sometimes unknowingly, to treat infections due to the role sunlight plays in increasing the body’s vitamin D levels. In sanitoriums, Tuberculosis treatment included exposing patients to sunlight which was thought to directly kill the tuberculosis.
A 1994 study of 190,000 subjects showed that individuals with lower vitamin D levels were more likely to self-report a recent upper respiratory tract infection than those with sufficient vitamin D in their system.
10 – 15 minutes of time spent outdoors with the sun on your skin (taking all usual precautions to avoid sunburn) can help increase your body’s natural vitamin D levels, and supplements are readily available as well.
If you’re not already taking a probiotic, look for a high quality version containing multiple strains. L. rhamnosus is a strain of probiotic which is often studied for its protective effect in respiratory infections.
Zinc is the second most abundant trace mineral in the body (after iron), and it is present in every cell. It’s fundamental to wound healing, skin health, brain health, DNA synthesis and protein production, and it supports over 300 enzymes that aid in metabolism, digestion, nerve function and many other processes.
Zinc’s roles in immune cell function and cell signalling make it an indispensable mineral when we aim to reduce the risk of infections and promote immune response.
As well as being readily available as a supplement in the form of tablets, sprays and lozenges, zinc is plentiful in the following foods:
● Fish & shellfish
● Meat & poultry
● Beans & legumes
● Nuts & seeds
● Dairy & eggs
● Whole grains
● Certain vegetables such as mushrooms & asparagus
5. Stay Hydrated
One of the things people find the hardest to do when stressed is remembering to drink enough water. The rule of thumb is that if you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated.
What you should aim for is at least 8 – 10 glasses of water per day. This is so beneficial to every aspect of your well-being. Water helps those vitamins & micronutrients to move around between cells, helps your cells clean themselves out at night, and your lymphatic and urinary systems to flush the bad stuff out so that you feel refreshed and healthy. Being properly hydrated helps your immune system, skin, nails, hair, muscles… the list goes on!
If you are someone who just doesn’t like water; try adding in a squirt of lemon. Not only does it add a more palatable taste but it contains vitamin c and has liver cleansing properties as well.
6. Reduce Stress
Stress reduction is top of the list of healthy lifestyle habits, and is particularly important at times like these. Find small ways to calm things (and yourself / kids) down throughout the day, and definitely try to avoid blasting CNN 24/7.
When we are feeling stressed out our body feels it too. This is not just a psychological issue, it’s physiological as the stress hormone cortisol changes the body’s reactions to food, sleep and immunity.
Use hydrotherapy (bath, swimming, showers) break up the day with some outdoor time, try an infrared sauna, take up meditation, read a good book, move your body (exercise is key to reducing stress), or sing a little karaoke… the list is endless – whatever feels calming, make a little time for it daily.
7. Reduce Your Sugar Intake
Consuming too much sugar – sugary drinks being a common culprit – can have a negative effect on the cells in your immune system that target pathogenic bacteria. The effects of sugar on immunity are immediate and can last for a few hours after consumption.
Pay attention to your sugar intake, and if cravings start to hit do your best to curb them with strategies such as eating a handful of berries or fruit, or drinking a big glass of water.
8. Keep Alcohol To A Minimum
Research indicates that excessive drinking may impair the function of the immune cells in your lungs. This means that a binge drinking session could lower your defences for a few hours, leaving your respiratory system less efficient at identifying and destroying invading pathogens.
Drinking also affects your gut health. The balance of your microbiome is affected with an overgrowth of potentially harmful bacteria and a reduction in beneficial bacteria.
Drinking and depression have a long history together too. If you are one of the 264 million people who suffer from depression, alcohol consumption only makes things worse.
So have the occasional glass of wine, but be careful to avoid starting new bad habits that can affect your body’s innate ability to heal and be strong.
What To Do If You Think You Have COVID-19
Despite your best efforts, the novel coronavirus might still infiltrate your home or community. For most of us, this will mean a mild to moderate bout of illness, whereas for others it may be more severe and require hospitalization. If you feel your symptoms may be consistent with COVID-19 there is no need to panic, it is always best to deal with the facts of the situation calmly.
First Contact Your Family Doctor Or Local Public Health Service
First and foremost, telephone your family doctor or your local public health department / telehealth service to find out what your next steps are. This may include specific instructions to go to a local testing center, rather than going to a clinic or emergency department.
If You Are Advised To Stay Home
Should you be advised to stay home, make sure to keep tabs on your symptoms and re-connect with public health if things change. Here are some things you can do which may help keep your illness as short and painless as possible:
1 – Stay Well Hydrated
You likely will not be overly hungry during this time so sticking to soups and/or bone broth is a good plan. Drink plenty of water, and add some apple, blueberry or pomegranate juice to help with your electrolytes.
Herbal teas such as Ginger, Peppermint, Rooibos and Chamomile can be soothing as well as hydrating to help you feel better.
2 – Humidify To Relieve Congestion
Using a neti-pot or humidifier can help to relieve chest congestion. If you don’t own either, try closing the bathroom door and running the shower as hot as possible to create a makeshift steam room. A few drops of Eucalyptus oil in the bathtub can help bring some relief to the lungs as well.
3 – Get lots of Sleep
Sleep allows your immune system to do its job. Any respiratory illness can bring with it a deep exhaustion, and Covid-19 is no exception. Listen to your body and allow it to have the rest it needs to heal.
4 – When It’s Over, Sanitize Everything… Again
Once your symptoms ease up and you are feeling more like yourself, it is generally a good practice to sanitize everything that you can. Make sure you change your bedsheets and your toothbrush.
When To Seek Urgent Medical Help For Your Symptoms
Pneumonia is a real risk with COVID-19, so it is important to keep tabs on your symptoms.
If your fever climbs to 102° F or higher, you have trouble breathing with only slight exertion, feel chest pain or pressure, sudden dizziness, confusion, or severe vomiting – these are all symptoms which warrant a call to 911 or your local public health department’s telehealth number.
We hope this information helps you to feel calm and confident in your ability to navigate your health at this complex time. Remember, supporting your immune system is always your best first line of defense against all illnesses. If you would like to discuss a long term plan to keep your health and immune system in the best shape possible, please give our clinic a call, we’re here for you!