Immune Health 1

These days as the coronavirus pandemic continues, maintaining your optimum immune health is crucial. It may even be the difference between life and death!

There are things you can do to help avoid illness after infection.

Here are nine habits to be mindful of as you work improving and maintaining your body’s defences against viruses and consequent disease during this present Covid-19 outbreak.

Sleep for virus protection

Sleep is likely one of, if not the most powerful restorative powers, yet it appears to be the most easily forgotten too. Regularity and routine are the buzz words during the present pandemic which has kept most of us locked away at home. This isn’t the ideal scenario but we have to work with what we have. Now you have the chance try and get your 7-8 hours of quality sleep. Studies have shown sleep of an adequate quality and quantity will build your resistance through a strengthened immune system.

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Antioxidants for virus protection

Again, without wishing to sound like a broken record, the more antioxidant that’s on board the better you’ll fight infection. If you look at how antioxidants work, there can be little doubt of their protective properties and yet physician’s spend more time arguing than advocating. There is a place for drugs from large pharmaceutical companies but there is also an argument for protective supplements.

While I’m an advocate, distributer and user of these, it does not change the facts. Consider buying into this concept if only during this Corovd-19 outbreak.

Consuming less sugar for virus protection

Reducing sugar is a smart idea for a number of reasons, including good mental health. It’s also beneficial for immune support.

A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that after an overnight fast, humans fed 100 grams of sugar experienced a reduction in the ability of immune cells to engulf bacteria. The greatest effects were found between one and two hours later but the effect did linger for up to five hours afterwards!

This doesn’t mean you have to avoid sugar completely but avoiding an ongoing surplus or short-term overindulgence is a worthwhile goal. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar—the kind added to foods by you or a manufacturer—to no more than six teaspoons worth per day for women, and nine for men. One teaspoon equals four grams of added sugar, so that’s 24 and 36 grams of added sugar respectively for women and men daily.

If you’re prone to stress-eating sugary goodies, test out some alternative coping mechanisms. Reaching out and sharing with loved ones, meditation, an indoor workout, or even playing a video game or watching a movie may reduce the need to eat your feelings.Look for alternative foods that you enjoy.

Reducing caffeine consumption for virus protection

Coffee and tea are health-protective, due to their high levels of antioxidants linked to anti-inflammation. However, too much caffeine can interfere with sleep, and that too can result in increased inflammation and a compromised immune system and can increase inflammation and compromise immunity.

To best support immune function, avoid caffeinated drinks with no nutrients made with sugar or artificial sweeteners, like soda and especially energy drinks. When you do enjoy coffee and tea, be sure to cut off your caffeine intake at least six hours before bedtime to prevent interference in sleep patterns.

Healthy foodstuffs – for virus protection

Being stuck indoors is not conducive to eating vegetables, but try to maintain your daily  dietary fiber.

Fiber supports good digestive health and helps to shift the makeup of gut bacteria in ways that enhance both immunity and mood. Research shows that a higher intake of dietary fiber supports healthier immune function, including protection against viruses

Adequate fiber also promotes daytime energy and at night, more and better sleep. Yet just 5% of Americans consume the recommended daily goal of at least 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams for men.

The best way to upgrade your fiber intake is to eat more whole foods, that look like food – including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, pulses (beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas) nuts, and seeds. Trade lower-fiber processed foods for fiber-rich unprocessed fare. Swap sugary cereal for oatmeal topped with fruit and nuts, exchange white rice for brown or wild. You can also replace meat (which has no fibre) with beans or lentils, traditional pasta for pulse pasta, and exchange packaged snacks, like cookies and chips, with combos of fruit and nuts or veggies with hummus or guacamole.

Eating enough green vegetables for virus protection

Aiming for seven cups of a wide array of produce daily provides numerous health benefits, but green veggies may be particularly helpful for immunity. These plants provide key nutrients known to help immune function, including vitamins A and C, plus folate. Greens also offer bioactive compounds that release a chemical signal that optimizes immunity in the gut, the location of 70-80% of immune cells. They are rich in antioxidants but supplementation is recommended, especially now.

For the most benefit, zero in specifically on green veggies in the cruciferous family, which include kale, collards, broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.  Incorporate at least three cups per week if you can—either raw, like kale salad, vinegary cole slaw, and fresh broccoli florets with dip, or steamed, sautéed, oven roasted, and stir-fried versions.Try them as a snack instead of chips or candy.

Reducing alcohol consumption for virus protection

A glass of wine can be a way to get through this crisis, you can even enjoy a virtual cheese and wine party. Excessive alcohol consumption, even short-term, can damage your immune system in ways that are significant right now.

In a paper published in the journal Alcohol Research, researchers note that there’s been a long-observed relationship between excessive alcohol intake and a weakened immune response. The effect includes an increased susceptibility to pneumonia, and a greater likelihood of developing acute respiratory stress syndromes (ARDS)—factors that could potentially impact COVID-19 outcomes.

Other outcomes noted involved an increased risk of sepsis, a higher incidence of postoperative complications, poor wound healing, and a slower and less complete recovery from infections.

Excessive alcohol intake includes both binge and heavy drinking. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines binge drinking as four or more drinks during a single occasion for women, and five or more for men. Heavy drinking means consuming eight or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more for men.

If you find yourself drinking too much, cut back to a moderate amount of no more than one drink per day for women or two for men and if you think you may need help regarding alcohol, there are several ways to seek professional services from home, including opinion from your physician and AA which has virtual meetings and phone contact around the clock.

Reducing salt consumption for virus protection

While most of us recognise a link between sodium and problems like fluid retention and high blood pressure, a new study from the University Hospital of Bonn conducted in both humans and mice concludes that too much salt may lead to immune deficiencies. Researchers found that when the kidneys excrete excess sodium, a domino effect occurs that reduces the body’s ability to fight bacterial infections.

While COVID-19 is a viral illness, it can lead to secondary bacterial infections. And this emerging research may result in a better understanding of the relationship between excess sodium and overall immune function. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the advised daily cap for sodium is under 2,300 mg per day for healthy adults, less than the actual average intake of 3,440 mg per day. Remember that most snack foods are rich in salt.

According to the CDC, more than 70% of Americans’ sodium consumption comes from processed foods. That’s why the best way to curb your intake is to limit highly processed products, like canned soup and frozen pizza. Check the mg of sodium per serving on Nutrition Facts labels.

As for salting your food, which is rarely necessary and more often a habit, one teaspoon of table salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium. If you use salt sparingly to season fresh food, you can still remain under the recommended cap. If you use salt, don’t shake it, use a pinch between finger and thumb. Combining salt with other seasonings, like herbs and spices, can also help reduce the need to over sprinkle.

Managing stress well for virus protection

The body’s stress mechanism is primitive and limited. A ‘stressor’ is a ‘stressor’ whether it’s worry, illness, a broken leg or being cooped up indoors. Look for stress release. Be kind and don’t overdo things. Try to take breaks at what you’re doing and try to stay to a routine, when you can. The main thing to be routine with is sleep – good sleep helps manage stress. Incidentally stress in itself is not bad. Good stress (challenge) is referred to as Eustress, bad stress (being cooped up all day) is distress. It’s the strain from distress we need to avoid.

Quit smoking for virus protection

Smoking harms damages the  immune system and reduces the body’s ability to fight disease, increasing the risk for subsequent disease and symptoms. In an outbreak of viruses that attack the respiratory system, now might be a good time to quit – you will need to take it easy if you’re stuck indoors. Ask you physician’s office for some resources.

Stephen Bray April 2020

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