These are uncertain times. But, aren’t they all? I don’t know about you, but every morning that I wake up, there is no way I can be certain about anything that will happen in the 24 hours that are ahead of me. That has definitely been the case for all of us these past few weeks.
As numbers rise and viral headlines dominate the news, the prescription we’ve been given from the media and global health organizations is the outside-in approach of washing your hands, sanitizing every surface in sight, and avoiding public gatherings. Major sports teams have suspended their seasons, college and universities are ending all on-campus activities for the rest of their semesters, and three Disney parks are closing down. When Disney shuts down, you know things are serious! On the positive side, the toilet paper industry has probably never seen a boom like this since they said “Please, don’t squeeze the Charmin!”
That’s the prescription so far—stay clean and at home “in quarantine” to protect yourself from the outside-in. As if we aren’t socially isolated enough, now is the time to take social distancing as your prescriptive, preventative measure.
I get it. I understand why they’re telling people to stay home, reduce exposure, and limit person-to-person contact. COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic since it is affecting a large number on people in several countries over six continents. Stay healthy Antarctica! We need to reduce the spread of the virus to keep our medical facilities at or below a manageable capacity. Exceeding the fixed capacity of any healthcare system will demand more beds, instruments, and machines than are available, and doctors and nurses will have to make choices on who they serve. No one wants that. We need to stay home so those of us who might be carrying the virus without any symptoms don’t pass it to high-risk individuals who are out and about. #Socialdistancing so we can #Flattenthecurve…the new 2020 hashtags. Yeah, I understand.
Here’s what I don’t understand. Why are there no news stories on how to strengthen your immunity from the INSIDE? Why aren’t the media outlets broadcasting more about how you can reinforce your immune system from the inside-out so you can actually defend yourself against COVID-19 and any other virus that comes your way?
Because that’s not scary.
Because that doesn’t invoke fear.
Because prevention isn’t sexy, but the fear of contracting something deadly is.
Because it seems we now live in a world where overreaction is the new normal.
A castle doesn’t stay strong using the outside-in approach of keeping the enemies away. A castle is protected and fortified by the soldiers and defenses that are inside so when it is attacked, it will stand. We have to look at our bodies that way too. Keeping everyone at a distance without strengthening the immune army inside you will never be enough to protect you, especially long-term. At some point, you’re going to have to go out, and when you do, your defense system needs to be as strong as it can be.
This is exactly why the elderly and immunocompromised are more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 and other viruses. Their immune systems are compromised and aren’t empowered enough to defend against these potent pathogens. Children and “healthy adults”on the other hand have gotten the disease, but they’ve been able to heal more quickly and may only experience symptoms more in line with the common cold. Apparently, this confuses some physicians. In this New York Times article, Dr. Malik Peiris, chief of virology at the University of Hong Kong said, “My strong, educated guess is that younger people are getting infected, but they get the relatively milder disease.”
An educated guess from the chief of virology? I am no physician, but a virus is a virus. You don’t contract the relatively milder disease from the same virus. Children and healthy adults are experiencing a relatively milder case of the same disease because their immune systems are stronger and able to fight it off better!
A similar article is entitled The New Coronavirus is Hard on Older People—and Scientists Aren’t Sure Why. It remarks that “while the immune systems of older people are typically not as robust as those of younger people, leaving them more vulnerable to a wide variety of illnesses, scientists say they can't definitively say why the coronavirus has been harder on people of advanced ages.”
It is just me, or did the scientists definitively answer their own wonderment? Let’s say it louder for the people in the back: “…the immune systems of older people are typically not as robust as those of younger people, leaving them more vulnerable to a wide variety of illnesses…”
It goes without saying that the elderly are at higher risk for illnesses like the flu, pneumonia, and bronchitis. Why? Please see above.
Yeah, I know it all sounds simple, but WHY does that happen? Why does your immune system loose its integrity as you age, and what causes it to stop working altogether?
We all have genetic variations—genes with impaired function. You are either born with mutations on the genes or their function gets altered by food and lifestyle choices, unmanaged stress, and environmental contaminants. In short, these genes don’t work well. When it comes to immunity, this can cause problems like:
There’s no way to unpack all that genetic variants are responsible for here, and while they can be a root cause of your decreased immune function, genetic impairments don’t mean you’re doomed! Your genes come hardwired, but through supportive food and lifestyle practices you can allow all your genes to work in your favor. The field of genetics is casting a new guiding light for those of us providing functional health care.
Everyone is indoors more, especially adults. Our modern lifestyle traps us inside as we travel from home to office to indoor everything. When we do go outside, we cover up with protective clothing or chemical sunscreens that prevent us from naturally producing vitamin D from the sun, the most potent form of the nutrient. This majorly protective hormone (not really a vitamin) is responsible for immunity at many levels, and vitamin D deficiency is linked with increased autoimmunity and risk for infection. Vitamin D works with your immune system to set off a strong anti-microbial response, helping you quickly and effectively fight off invaders before they cause a full-blown infection. As you age this process slows down, and a vitamin D deficiency on top of that lowers immunity even more.
Regardless of age, almost everyone benefits from vitamin D supplementation at some level, especially in the winter months. You can assess your need for this by having your levels checked twice a year.
If laughter is the best form of medicine, laughter with others is a magical elixir! Laughter has been shown to decrease stress and improve natural killer cell activity, and we all know it makes us feel good. When the doors are closed on social interaction, we lose this therapeutic form of connection and immune boost. During these days of cancelled meetings and limited gatherings, log onto the positive side of technology to FaceTime friends for a joke of the day, to watch a comedy together, or to belly laugh over fun times from your past. A good dose of laughter might lift more than your spirits!
Not only does low stomach acid prevent proper digestion, it reduces your ability to absorb immune-boosting proteins and vitamins. In addition, if your stomach isn’t acidic enough, pathogens that would normally be killed in this harsh environment can survive and cause digestive problems further down the line. Many people use acid blockers because they think they have too much stomach acid. In reality, they don’t have enough. Low acid production slows digestion and can cause reflux, bloating, digestive distress, and gut imbalances that damage intestinal tissue. All of these together result in improper absorption of nutrients and decreased immunity over time.
In your kingdom of antioxidants, glutathione is king! When this master antioxidant is low, it can cause illness, infection, and disease. Recent studies show a connection between low levels of glutathione and chronic conditions such as diabetes, pulmonary fibrosis, chronic liver injury, AIDS, and neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. The glutathione system is responsible for pro-inflammatory processes in the lungs (hello COVID-19), and low levels are said to cause multi-morbidities, two or more long-term health conditions, in more than 80% of people over the age of 65.
Glutathione production declines as you age, but can also be impaired if you have a genetic variants that decrease its conversion.
Nutrients like vitamins A, C, D, and E are essential for immune health, and deficiencies are clearly seen in those with disease states. Impaired digestion, decreased food intake, and medication interactions can all reduce the absorption of these powerful nutrients, decreasing immune integrity.
Researchers state that “vitamin A deficiency is a nutritionally acquired immunodeficiency disorder that is characterized by widespread immune alterations and increased infectious disease morbidity and mortality.” They also concluded that “no nutritional deficiency is more consistently synergistic with infectious disease than that of vitamin A.”
The research on vitamin D and immunity probably trumps them all. In addition to the information previously stated above about vitamin D: every single cell in your body needs vitamin D to function; it influences nearly 3,000 of your genes to maintain health; and targeted supplementation has been shown to increase immunity three to five fold.
Other antioxidants like vitamins C and E are also essential for a strong immune system. Decreased intake, medication interactions, and changes in digestion can decrease the absorption of these important nutrients.
Food as medicine. Vitamins as medicine. The evidence is pretty clear. Let’s talk how you can defend yourself from the inside-out! Here are a some ways you can boost to your immune function from the end of your fork and beyond:
Now more than ever you need to tap into the power of food as medicine. Some of the best to boost and maintain your immunity are:
When your body is operating under stressed conditions, your daily intake won’t be enough to provide the extra nutrients that your immune system needs. Some of the best to support your immune function are:
Do you need all of these? Maybe not, but we all need some degree of added protection. Our food supply can no longer provide what we need on a daily basis, especially when our immune systems are in high demand. I’ve included all of these listed above in an easy-to-access 2020 Immunity folder in my Fullscript dispensary. I only select physician-quality brands that are third-party tested for potency, purity, and efficacy, qualities that are very hard to find in your local natural foods store.
Protective mucus membranes line your mouth, throat, nose, lungs, eyes, intestinal, and genitourinary (bladder, vagina) tissues. These are entrance points for viruses and bacteria, and they need to stay hydrated so mucus production stays at its peak. When the membranes dry out, pathogens attach more easily and cause infection. Don't give viruses anything to hold on to! Hydrate with plenty of water so your protective mucus barriers stay hydrated (and hopefully virus-free) too.
When it’s sunny, when it’s cloudy, and every time in between. Open-air sun exposure has been used for decades as a remedy for everything from tuberculosis to the flu of 1918. Especially at a time when indoor air can be more toxic than outdoor, you need to get out for a breather. At the least, open some windows to allow for some outside air to come in every once in a while.
Sleep is one of the biggest and best nutrients you consume every day. To maximize your melatonin and deepen your sleep, power your screens down 2 hours before bed, and by all means keep them out of the bedroom! Try to have lights off by 10:00 and no later than 11:00 to ensure that you get 7-8 hours of quality rest each night.
Now is not the time for high-intensity exercise. This puts an extra stress on your body and ultimately on your immune system. Keep workouts to modest activities like regular walking, strength training, yoga, and light cycling to maintain muscle tone and integrity.
I think you’ve heard enough about this one lately. Twenty seconds friends, 30 for the overachievers. Don’t forget to moisturize! Dry, cracked skin is an open invitation for bacteria and viruses galore. Wash frequently, but protect even more with lotions and creams to keep your skin intact.
I know, easier said than done. But you CAN do it! Prolonged stress suppresses your immune function, so decide right now what elements in your life you need to remove to decrease heightened anxiety and worry. You don’t need moment-to-moment news updates to keep you informed of the crisis that’s at hand. Reconnect with things that bring you true joy and peace. This might be calling a friend, going for a walk, playing a game with your family, relaxing in an Epsom salt bath, reading a book you’ve been saving for a rainy day, or spending time with friends. Be honest with your fears and emotions, but try not to let them take control. Talk with a trusted friend and seek out a professional counselor if needed. In a time where bad news is the norm, try to take a few minutes each day to journal what you’re thankful for. You might be surprised at how much good can truly be found in the midst of a global pandemic.
Keep protecting yourself from the outside-in! That will go a long way in reducing germs, limiting exposure, and preventing the unnecessary spread of illness for COVID-19 or for any other condition. But, please don’t forget that you must strengthen your immune system from the inside-out! Empower it daily with the right nutrients, lifestyle habits, and food-as-medicine nourishment during this time of heightened illness and every day after that.