By Julie Tebben, Certified Nurse Practitioner, Certified Functional Medicine Provider & Certified Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner
In a world that has fast started to feel like a scary place; too often, we forget how much control we have when it comes to boosting our immune resilience. We have amazing immune systems to protect us from things like bacteria, parasites, toxins, and viruses. What’s scary is all the news about how our immune system can fail us when we are exposed to this new and highly virulent coronavirus, COVID-19. After being told to stay home for many weeks, we are now being told it is time to go back to work. This can be confusing and stressful, especially when it seems the information surrounding this virus changes and evolves daily.
How can we protect ourselves and our families? One thing is for sure…. we have more control over our resilience than we realize. While preventing contact with germs is huge, the truth is, coming into contact with some germs is unavoidable. Keeping your immune system functioning at full capacity is a powerful weapon in fighting off COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.
Stress and Sleep
I’m often asked what immune supporting supplement is the most important right now. Truthfully, it’s sleep! Sleep is your body’s first line of defense against infectious disease. During sleep, your body produces proteins called cytokines that fight inflammation and infection. Your immune system requires lots of energy especially when fighting off illness. I recommend 7-8 hours of restful sleep every night.
Stress management is also very important. I often tell my patients, you cannot always control what happens, but you have 100% control over your response to stress. Both acute and chronic stress can result in dysregulated, suppressed immune function. Under these conditions, susceptibility to illness is more likely. Don’t underestimate the impact of things like quiet time, exercise, restorative breathing, laughing, and spending time with those that make us happy. Try to limit the amount of daily news you read/view to 30 minutes or less. By taking a deep breath and acknowledging that no one has all the answers, you can avoid unwanted stress and anxiety.
Food and Nutrition
The concept of looking at food as medicine is truly a whole blog in itself. Research indicates that plant-based foods such as those high in phytonutrients (rainbow of color), water- and fat-soluble vitamins, and other antioxidants, as well as dietary fiber, can help down-regulate an overactive immune response.
- Eat plenty of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Aim for 9-13 servings per day of a variety of types and color for a wide array of phytonutrients.
- Consume dietary fiber, a minimum of 28-35 grams daily, preferably from whole foods. Other than fiber from fruits and veggies, we also get fiber from legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains (not white bread and pasta).
- Increase intake of omega 3 rich fats through fish and plant sources (avocado, olives, coconut and other oils)
- Eat fermented (pickled) vegetables or other probiotic-containing foods such as yogurt, kefir, or kombucha. Avoid sugary yogurts and consider adding fresh fruit to plain yogurt.
- Reduce or avoid immune offenders such as added sugars and salt, high-glycemic foods (including processed carbohydrates), and excessive saturated fat.
Outside of lifestyle recommendations, there are a few things that can help to enhance the immune response I would recommend to anyone. More comprehensive recommendations would require an individualized approach from a certified functional medicine practitioner.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C may help to prevent infections, including those caused by bacteria and viruses. Regularly administered vitamin C has been shown to shorten the duration of colds, and higher doses of vitamin C during an illness can also act as a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory.
- Vitamin D: I recommend Vitamin D levels on all my patients as Vitamin D deficiency (and even insufficiency) highly affects immune resilience. Vitamin D enhances immune system function, reduces viral growth, and can reduce upper respiratory infections.
- Zinc: Zinc plays a significant role in boosting immunity. Often available as lozenges, zinc can help to reduce the frequency of infections as well as the duration and severity of the common cold when taken within 24 hours of onset.
- Probiotics: Taking a daily probiotic is highly recommended, especially for those who have used daily or frequent antibiotics as well as all individuals over 60 years old.
As a Certified Functional Medicine Provider while helping patients with this current pandemic, I encourage an approach to what they can control rather than focus on what they cannot. I do this by creating individualized nutritional and lifestyle plans for enhancing immune resiliency as well as to minimize symptoms and viral growth in those that are infected and told to recover at home.