Living through a pandemic raises our awareness of the importance of our immune system. In preventing illness, there are generally two main principles:
- Don’t get it in the first place;
- Have a strong defense system in place to fight the intruder and render it inactive.
We have rapidly transitioned to behaviors that address the first approach; social distancing, washing our hands and not touching our face are all tactics that decrease acquisition of viral illness. However, major benefit additionally comes from adopting behaviors that achieve a strong immune system to defend us.
Mindfulness. The first practice that strengthens immunity is increasing mindfulness activities. Taking a pause to listen to music, take a walk, meditate or visualize causes our body to increase production of white blood cells, which are our main disease fighting champions.
Sleep. Getting enough sleep is pivotal in supporting our white blood cells in creating antibodies. In studies of people’s development of immunity after vaccinations, those who had full nights of rest in the days after receiving a vaccine developed twice the number of antibodies compared to those with sleep deprivation.
Minimizing stress. It seems so cliché to say minimizing stress is necessary when we are living in perhaps the most stressful time of our lives. However, the analogy that helps me the most is to compare stress to a bag of bricks at the side of my bed. When I get up each day, I have the option of picking up the bag or letting it rest on the floor a little longer, or perhaps even all day. It’s a choice to carry stress, and it’s a choice to set it down.
Hydration. Staying hydrated is extra beneficial when we are supporting immune function because water is crucial for detoxification. A good rule is to drink half of your body weight in ounces of water each day. If your urine is almost clear, then you know you are consuming enough water.
Socialization. Although we are challenged in finding alternative ways to associate with loving people during this time of social distancing, contact with others boosts our ability to ward off illness and is necessary for survival.
Exercise. Exercising moderately, preferably outside, not only increases blood flow and muscle tone, but allows immune fighting cells to more efficiently carry waste out of our body.
Breathing. Deep breathing exercises are an easy way to decrease our anxiety and also exercise our lungs. Whether you prefer to just take a couple deep breaths every hour, or practice techniques where you inhale, pause, exhale, pause, with an attempt to make the exhale longer than the inhale, breath work is beneficial for both mind and body.
Nutrition. Our immune system thrives when we eat mostly vegetables, fruit and load up on these foods that inhibit viral replication: green tea, flax seeds, citrus, oregano, ginger, garlic and turmeric.
Supplements. Lastly, making sure we are maintaining adequate levels of micronutrients supports our system in breaking down and destroying viruses. Recent evidence shows that zinc: 30 to 50 mg daily, selenium: 200 mcg daily, vitamin D: 5,000 IU daily, and vitamin C: 3,000 mg daily have demonstrable benefit in boosting immune capacity.
My prayers are that all of us share kindness and comfort during this time and that together we build stronger immune systems and stronger communities. Courage and love to each of you.
Jeralyn Brossfield, MD, is the founder and physician of XO Health in Rancho Mirage and medical director of Brain Health Restoration also in Rancho Mirage. She can be reached at (760) 573.2761 or www.brainhealthrestoration.com.