Updated: Apr 1, 2020
With the current pandemic of COVID - 19 spreading faster than Australia’s recent bush fires, it’s important to ensure we are doing what we can to keep our immune system working effectively.
Of course, there are many people who are immunocompromised who’s - immune system is suppressed from current or previous illness, or overactive from autoimmune conditions. Reducing the risk of spreading the infection further and protecting those who are immunocompromised is crucial.
It’s been made clear from Government officials to #STAYHOME
As well as increase personal hygiene, avoid touching the face, and keeping distance… but what about things we can do internally that can boost our immune system and reduce the severity and duration of infection?
Getting 7-8 hours of quality sleep every night allows our body to rest, restore and regenerate to keep cells healthy and functioning optimally. What also happens during sleep is the production of infection-fighting proteins called cytokines. Studies have shown that people who have trouble sleeping are more likely to present with an infection that is more severe and longer in duration than those who are getting adequate sleep.
Easier said than done! I, myself have some nights of difficult sleep… perhaps this could be from the toddler rolling me off the side of the bed, the foetus jumping on my bladder, or the straight-forward anxiety that life brings at times. We all have our reasons for lack of sleep. I get it. Just remember that every night is a different night, and it’s another chance to give sleep another go.
TIPS FOR QUALITY SLEEP
Depending on the reason for lack of sleep, the treatment protocol would be different. There is no one-size-fits-all. However, here are some tips that you may find work for you:
Meditation - Personally I try and keep up with a Vipassana practice, however I admit sometimes that’s a struggle… tip: aim for short durations to start of with until you get the hang of it. There are also plenty of meditation videos, apps and podcasts to help you out including HeadSpace, Boho Beautiful and InsightTimer.
Gentle exercise - Incorporating some sort of exercise into your daily routine has not only been shown to improve sleep, but can also improve your immune function. While staying at home, it’s a good opportunity to make the most of online workouts. A favourite in our household is Boho Beautiful or Ashley Turner Yoga
Avoid stimulants - These include sugary snacks, MSG laden foods, caffeine, energy drinks, processed and refined carbohydrates. Not just prior to retiring, but try to avoid throughout the entire day. It will be difficult if these are common residents in your culinary life, but cutting as much as possible out can make a huge difference at the end of the day.
Put down the device! - Research shows that too much screen time at night can inhibit production of melatonin, your sleep hormone. Optimal melatonin has also been shown to be important for immune health and the prevention of infection. Melatonin can be purchased in supplementation or naturally occurring with the onset of natural darkness (sunset, dimmed lights, no screens). Alternatively there is also cherry juice that is a natural dietary source of melatonin - good luck trying to find any during lockdown!
Nutrients - Some specific nutrients required for the production of sleep hormones (melatonin, & gamma aminobutyric acid - GABA) include MAGNESIUM, ZINC, VITAMIN B6, VITAMIN C & IRON. A deficiency in any of these can reduce your quality of sleep.
Herbs - Again, there is no one-size-fits-all. Especially when it comes to herbal medicine, finding the root cause of insomnia or lack of sleep is important to finding the right herb for you. However, here are some herbs that can help with relaxation and promote sleep: Chamomile, passionflower, valerian, hops, damiana, ziziphus, skullcap, lemon balm, lavender, kava… If you don’t have these growing in your garden you can easily purchase chamomile and/or passionflower in tea form from your local supermarket. Some of the other herbs may be found in health shops in tea or supplementation form. Individually blended herbs specifically for you and your sleep needs can be arranged after a naturopathic consultation.
If reading this hasn’t put you to sleep, we’ll continue with tips for boosting the immune system!
Not only for improved sleep. Sugar and refined starch foods have been shown to reduce the function of GALT - Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue. This is tissue within the gut that is made up of 80% infection-fighting cells - mostly immunoglobulin-A (IgA). The total GALT represents 70% of the entire immune system.
Something to think about when you’re trying not to pick up any infections while out in public… a can of coke or Starbucks frappe is enough to reduce the function of your immune system by 50% within 2hrs of consumption!
Along with GALT, the entire digestive tract is made up of protective mucous lining. This is part of your innate immune system - your first line of defence! By ensuring your digestive tract is healthy and functioning well, you’ll be supporting your immune system to fight infections.
Foods that support gut health:
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) - Taken prior to meals, ACV helps to simulate hydrochloric acid in the stomach to help breakdown proteins from food. Breaking down food is an important step in digestion to metabolise food and absorb nutrients. Food that is not being broken down adequately can result in reflux, indigestion, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, leaky gut, food intolerances and/or sluggishness. Take a splash of ACV diluted in water upon waking or incorporate it into a dressing for your salads - alternatively, substitute ACV with fresh lemon juice (not the bottled stuff!)
Fermented foods - these are your probiotics and help to keep your intestinal track functioning properly. Some specific bacterial strains beneficial for immune health Bifidobacterium longum, lactobacillus rhamnosus, and saccharomyces boulardii. Fermented foods include sauerkraut, kefir, unsweetened yoghurt, miso, kombucha, tofu… Wild Delicious make some incredible ferments if you're not up for brewing yourself, otherwise check them out for recipes to make at home!
Bone Broth - high in glutamine and nourishing for the soul, bone broths help to repair intestinal lining and ideal for anyone with ‘leaky gut’ or food intolerances. Meadow & Marrow in Australia make a fantastic concentrate worth checking out if you can get your hands on it.
Psyllium husk - Used as a ‘bulking agent’ to add fibre and get things moving within the bowel. Think of your bowel as a waste disposer… The only way to maintain a clean, healthy bowel is to ensure wastes are taken care of daily - i.e, remove the trash! Do note however that as psyllium husks are considered a bulking agent, it’s crucial to drink plenty of water to prevent bulking that turns into blockage.
Slippery Elm - Both psyllium husks and slippery elm are considered a PREBIOTIC - These are wholesome foods for your friendly residential gut bacteria… it keeps them happy and healthy. Slippery elm however is a soother for your intestinal lining, as it produces a mucous-like film. Ideal for those who have inflammation associated with their digestive tract (IBD, IBS, Leaky Gut, Food intolerances, food allergies etc)
Nutrients - Specific nutrients for the repair of intestinal lining include zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E, and Vitamin A. Including a variety of fresh colourful fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds daily will help to add these nutrients to your diet.
Beyond Vitamin C there are many other nutrients required for optimal immune function. Again, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to nutritional supplementation. Every BODY is completely different and should be considered an individual with individual needs. There are also many supplements on the market that are made very cheaply and may just be money wasted down the drain (or toilet!). Getting advice from a Naturopath or Nutritionist about what to look for and what to avoid when selecting nutritional medicine is highly recommended.
However, here are some nutrients other than vitamin C that help to boost the immune system…
Vitamin B’s (best taken in a complex)
Vitamin K1 & K2
I feel like I’m on repeat here, but again - please consider not-one-size-fits-all. Some herbal medicines will work on some, but not on others. The way herbal medicine is harvested, manufactured and extracted also plays a huge role on the therapeutic effect it has. Prescribed herbal medicine from a Naturopath or Herbalist will be your best bet at having an effect as your blend would be tailored for you at a high strength.. compared to what you can buy off the shelf.
However, for your interest and potential reading material during lockdown, here are some of my favourite herbs that can work wonders on the immune system:
I absolutely LOVE using Food as Medicine! The healing power of food is completely underestimated. Here are some of my favourite immune-boosting foods that you can throw into any meal combination and brew as a tea at home.. think turmeric latte or chai tea ;)
So now you should be set with a range of ammo to boost your immune system to combat any infection that happens to knock on your door… Because you’ll be at home. Where you should be ;)
Keep Safe. Keep Healthy. Stay Home.