There’s no doubt we’re all facing uniquely challenging times
What’s happening in the outer world certainly influences our inner workings & bodily health. Who would have thought on New Year’s eve only months ago we’d now be facing:
global immunity/virus threat – extended social isolation – uncertainty of how our future looks – financial strain within households & our greater economy – the sudden adaptation to on-line/home education of our children – working from home or being out of work among endless other Australians
Of course there are many benefits of this COVID-19 pandemic- including the chance to “re-set” our priorities, valuable time spent with those in our home & reviewing what we want to bring in afterward.
Also there’s never been a better time to consider our health status, & whether our lifestyles are nourishing or detracting from our optimal wellbeing.
With alcohol intake reported to have increased by 70% in the past weeks, it is clear we are seeking ways to “self soothe” & relax our wired nervous systems. So what can we do at home to try ‘steady our ships’ as we sail along this journey into winter? I’ve compiled a list here of what I have learnt can help support us best during COVID-19 -as a means of self preservation, immunity boosting & improved ability to remain in the driver’s seat of these seemingly long days ahead:
Vitamin D for Immune Modulation
Known for its effects on calcium & bone homeostasis deficiency signs include IMPAIRED IMMUNITY – increased fracture risk, heart disease, Multiple Sclerosis, depression, muscle wasting & rickets.
Studies show vitamin D is a potent immune modulator & people with higher levels experience fewer acute respiratory tract infections. Low levels of vitamin D demonstrate an increased incidence & severity of viral infection & lessened lung function.
A study of 1400 people aged 53-73 found an association with higher Vitamin D levels & a reduced risk of contracting pneumonia.
87% Australians are vitamin D deficient. The form we get from the sun is D2. This then needs to be converted to D3 its active form for the body to utilise it. Optimal liver & kidney health & function is required for the conversion from the suns rays to its active form in the body. Vitamin D is absorbed in the small intestine. If you have leaky gut or an inflamed digestive tract your absorption is likely reduced. High cortisol levels due to chronic stress & adrenal fatigue are also associated with lower levels.
Vitamin D is fat soluble which means it needs fat to be absorbed. People on low fat diets, & impaired fat absorption- Irritable Bowel Disease, Inflammatory Bowel Disorder, gall bladder or liver disease are more likely to have low levels of vitamin D. Prescription medications such as antacids, replacement hormones, corticosteroids, anticoagulants and blood thinners compete with vitamin D uptake.
Supplementation can take up to 3 months to correct deficiencies. General maintenance is suggested at 1000iU daily. Treatment of deficiency states can increase from 2000-7000iU daily. However childhood, pregnancy & other factors change this. A pathology test via your GP can ascertain your current levels to assess your exact needs.
Weight & your Body’s Defences
Obesity & fat mass impact immune function negatively
Being overweight is characterised by chronic low-grade inflammation with a dysfunctional fat mass. This is problematic because adipose tissue is now considered an extremely active endocrine organ that secretes cytokine-like hormones which impact immunometabolism. How?
Leptin is a hormone produced by your body’s fat cells. It is often referred to as the “satiety” or “starvation hormone.” Leptin’s primary target is in the brain – an area called the hypothalamus. Obese people have unusually high levels of leptin. In some obese people, the brain does not respond to leptin, so they keep eating despite adequate (or excessive) fat stores, a concept known as ‘leptin resistance’. This causes the fat cells to produce even more leptin.
Leptin signalling seems to be necessary for normal “natural killer” (NK) cell immune function. These are our fighter cells, responsible for keeping our body safe from viral attack. Long-term exposure to hyperleptinemia, observed in obesity, has been associated with decreased NK immune activity possibly due to leptin resistance. Reducing fat cell mass would be a key attempt at also thereby improving your body’s natural immune response. We could argue that if this is not possible, obese people ought to supplement more to try reduce this problematic tendency.
Influenza & Obesity – the findings:
A clinical trail sought to compare how participants respond to the influenza vaccine if healthy weight, overweight or obese, from 2009-2010. They found that increased Body Mass Index (BMI) was associated with a greater decline in influenza antibody titerrs – that is the obese participants had an impaired ability to mount a protective immune response to influenza virus. This supports the above suggestion that the more fat you carry, the greater the possible burden on bodily defences given disruptive hormonal outcomes.
Stress Response – Emotional State & Immune function
Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) or behavioural immunology is a term used to describe the interactions between your emotional state, nervous system & immunity. There is a growing body of knowledge documenting the mind’s profound influence on health & disease.
Major stressful episodes can lead to immune suppression by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system (ie. fight or flight default). When this assault on the body does not ‘let up’ the parasympathetic nervous system (which assumes control over bodily functions during periods of rest) becomes our friend.
Natural Killer cells
NK cells are so named due to their ability to destroy cells that have become cancerous or infected with viruses. They are the body’s first line of defence and their level of activity become frighteningly low in conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), explaining the body’s lack of resilience in such states.
Simple lifestyle habits associated with higher NK cell activity include:
- Not smoking
- Increased intake of green vegetables
- Healthy body weight
- Regular exercise
- Avoiding nutritional deficiencies
- Minimum of 7 hours sleep per night
SLEEP is essential to renewing our cells, increasing our oxygen levels, healing our lungs and boosting immunity.
Melatonin is a hormone secreted from our pineal gland that controls our circadian rhythm & timing. When we are deficient in melatonin we often wake throughout the night, experience urinary frequency, suffer fatigue, anxiety & restless legs. Melatonin is also a fantastic anti-viral that can boost immunity, white blood cells & reduce inflammation. It is being studied for its benefit with coronaviruses. You can source homeopathic versions of this remedy, without a script. Ask me or your local Pharmacist for more details.
Ashwaganda/Withania & Healthy Mood Response
This is one of my favourite adaptogen herbs in clinic & available via retail health outlets. The active constituents of Ashwaganda protect against oxidative damage & disease – exerting strong anti-stress & adaptogenic activity. Findings:
- after 60 days of treatment serum cortisol levels decreased by 17.9%
- better scores on Depression/Anxiety/Stress Scale DASS
- Noted improvements on control group in study for insomnia & social dysfunction
- Improved resistance towards stress, thereby improving quality of life
- Response to exercise enhanced
- MILD TO NO ADVERSE REACTIONS FOUND =- HIGH SAFETY PROFILE
Magnesium & Anxiety
When we are stressed our magnesium excretion increases. A lack of this vital mineral creates a hyper excitable state in the brain, aggravating the situation. Magnesium can be taken with Ashwaganda, especially for coffee drinkers, or those consuming other caffeinated drinks. Activated B vitamins would be an ideal dual remedy here & like Magnesium, are safe with anti-depressant medication.
Sugar Intake & its Impact on Immune Cells
When we cut away refined carbohydrates & focus on healthy fats & protein (with starchy fibrous vegetables) white blood cell (WBC) function -which is a major portion of our defence mechanism is positively supported. Ingesting glucose progressively lowers WBC function – the more sugar you consume the greater the negative impact on immunity. Even in the form of fruit juice, impairs immune function. To aid your immune system during an infection, it is important to stay away from sugar. That is, LIMIT SUGAR TO LESS THAN 50gms DAILY if possible.
For support to discuss these topics, any purchase of my book Your Body is Your Teacher includes a FREE 20 minute on-line chat with me on your best immunity & mental health over the pandemic period. Purchase your copy here: http://www.yourbodyisyourteacher.com/
* references available on request