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Boost Your Immune System While You’re Sheltering in Place

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly left its mark on our lives. It has affected everything from our relationships, to our careers, our mental health and so much more. If you’re like me, you may have found yourself thinking more about your personal health and wellbeing than you have in years (or ever before). Perhaps immune-boosting has crossed your mind.  Have you taken any steps to optimize your immune function?  Do you even know where to begin? I’ve compiled a list of easy actions that you can start taking now to optimize your health and wellbeing. 

-Molly Boudreault, ACNP

Supplements and Sunshine – Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a nutrient that is especially important for immune system health, leaving many people to believe that it may help to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. Multiple studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency can harm immune function and increase your risk of developing a respiratory illness. Other studies have indicated that vitamin D supplements can enhance the immune response to protect against respiratory infections overall.

It’s estimated that 40% of Americans have a deficiency in vitamin D, however, there are two simple ways to improve vitamin D levels in your body: supplements and sunshine.  If you can find them online, order some vitamin D supplements. While the recommended dose is somewhere between 600-800mg a day, try taking 2500mg. 

Another easy way to increase your vitamin D intake is to get some sunshine. Vitamin D is made in the skin when its exposed to the sun. Sitting outside or going for a walk three times a week is enough to get the body to healthy levels. Midday is the best time, as the sun is at its highest point and your body may manufacture vitamin D most efficiently at this time. 

Eat Nutrient-Dense Foods

Processed foods may supply a high amount of energy initially, but they provide little to no vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Nutrient density refers to the amount of vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) in food relative to the number of calories in that food. Nutrient-dense foods provide a high amount of micronutrients per calorie. How do you know if a food is nutrient-dense?  Read the nutrition labels and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Can I pronounce all of the ingredients?
  2. Would my grandmother know what these ingredients are?
  3. Are there more than 5 ingredients on this label?

If you answered no to any of these questions, give that food a pass. A few of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet are kale, salmon, avocados, blueberries and egg yolks.  If you need a larger list, it’s easy to find one off the internet. 

Adopt Some Indoor Plants

Since we’re spending so much more time indoors, it’s a great time to adopt indoor plants.  Did you know that air pollution in our homes can increase our stroke risk by 34%, ischemic heart disease by 26%, COPD by 22% respiratory infections in children by 12% and lung cancer by 6%?

Plants are nature’s air purifiers. They help to remove dangerous toxins from fuels, furniture and clothing. 

If You Live in California, Consider Using a Humidifier

Have you wondered why the coronavirus has had less of an impact in tropical climates while temperate climates like China, Korea, Italy and the U.S. seem to have been hit the hardest?  In 2019, a research team at Yale Medical School published a groundbreaking study that showed that low humidity hurts the ability of the immune system to fight respiratory viral infection in animals.  How does this work? Well, our lungs contain small cellular protrusions called cilia that move mucous to promote clearance of pathogens and particles out of the respiratory system. When humidity is low, mucous becomes too thick which inhibits cilia from doing their job. 

Humidifiers can be purchased online for around $30-$40 on Amazon.com. If you’re looking for something right away, simply boil a pot of hot water on your stove and let the steam scatter throughout the room. 

Exercise, But Don’t Go Crazy With It

Exercise is one of the best ways to give your body the love it needs. Not only can it boost your mood and self-esteem, but a regular workout routine can help to keep illness away – just as long as you don’t go overboard.  When it comes to exercise, more isn’t always better.  Overexertion can suppress immune function and increase your likelihood of contracting an upper respiratory illness. Even pushing yourself to extremes in a single session can have negative effects. When your body uses up glycogen during activity, stress hormones are released which sets your immune system into danger mode.

When you’re exercising at this time, its best to use Precision Training Zones to avoid over-exhaustion. Training zones are used to give athletes a set intensity level at which they should be working. It allows you to push hard enough, but not too hard. Experts recommend that during this time you try to keep your workouts in Zones 2 and 3. Zone 2 would be an easy walk that you could maintain all day if you wanted to. Zone 3 is slightly more aggressive, but you’re still able to hold a conversation. 

Skip Breakfast

Research has shown that intermittent fasting may have a positive effect on immunity and inflammation. With this strategy, you only eat during a 6-8 hour period during the day. It’s all about getting your body to switch over from glucose metabolism to ketone metabolism.  Ketones provide fuel for our bodies, but they also do so much more. Many people don’t realize that they regulate the expression and activity of many proteins and molecules that are known to influence health. Intermittent fasting helps speed up the process of clearing out damaged cells in the body. This leaves individuals with healthy, newer cells that are less likely to trigger inflammatory responses. If you’re considering intermittent fasting, the easiest thing to do is skip breakfast, eat lunch at noon and stop eating around 8:00 PM until lunch the next day. For most people, this is manageable. 

By making just a few of these simple modifications to your daily life, you can prime your immune system for whatever insults may come its way.  If you have any questions or comments related to this blog post or COVID-19 my (virtual) door is always open. Feel free to email molly@illuminatesurgery.com or schedule a complimentary virtual consultation.

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