We are through with 2020 and it has been quite a ride! If there was ever a year for a wakeup call on how important our immune systems are to our overall health and susceptibility to disease, this was it. For months we’ve been blasted with numbers: how many have been infected, how many have been hospitalised, and gravely, how many have died from the illness. The people responded in many ways: some strictly abided by the SOPs and others… have actually thrown parties. Yet, amidst these festive gatherings, amidst full-blown vacation season, and even as we begin to resume life as normal, the threat still looms over.
According to the recent reports, there is a mutated version of the Covid-19 virus that has emerged. I’m not sure if the world will go under lockdown again and we’ll be gearing up for more daily briefings, the fact of the matter is that this pandemic is part of a life now. However, to make things better, there is something that you can do about it.
While governments across the globe have made recommendations in regards to what they deem best for your health, the truth is that you and you alone are responsible for your health. And, this leads us straight to one place: your immune system.
Our immune system works continuously, fighting off what would pathogens that would attempt to harm our body. Just like military defence, no defence is complete without knowledge of the enemy and being prepared. So, how can you be sure that your immune system is healthy and functioning properly?
Nourish your body with healthy foods: Foods rich in protein, zinc, vitamins A, C, D, and B6 are recommended. These would include items like: lean meats, eggs, fish, poultry, and a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Avoid simple sugars, refined carbohydrates, processed foods, partially hydrogenated oils, and deep fried fast foods. These would include things like: soft drinks, candies, pastries, white flour, many breakfast cereals, common junk foods, frozen pizzas and ice cream.
Pass on smoking: Smoking is known to disrupt the immune system. It can also lead to chronic inflammation which is the root of many immune type disorders.
Move your body: Exercise is a must for your health. Leading a sedentary lifestyle is actually tied to chronic inflammation which can inhibit the body’s immune function. There are a few theories regarding how exercise can facilitate a healthy immune system. Some studies say that exerting oneself physically can help to rid the lungs and airways of bacteria. Others say that elevated temperatures during and after exercise can create an environment that is not conducive to bacteria growth in the body.
Stress Management: Stress hinders the immune system’s ability to fight off invading germs. Additionally, the hormones that are released when the body is experiencing stress keep the immune system from working properly. Seek ways to reduce stress like practicing daily gratitude, writing in a journal, going for a walk, incorporating prayer or meditation and yoga, or including other self-care activities in your daily life.
Catch up on sleep: During sleep, your body both produces and releases a protein that actually works to fight against illness and infection. Lack of adequate sleep means less immune response fighting-power against germs. An average of 7-9 hours of sleep per night is recommended for adults and 10-11 hours per night is recommended for children.
Hydration: Drinking plenty of fluids is often suggested when one is ill. Our immune system needs nutrients to function. And, since our bloodstream, made mostly of water, carries these nutrients throughout our body, proper hydration is key to our immune system receiving these needed nutrients.
Maintain a healthy body weight: We cannot stress how important this is during this whole pandemic persists. As our world still battles Covid-19, we are learning more about who is most susceptible to this illness. We’ve often heard words like ‘co morbidity’ in this regard. It simply refers to a person having multiple conditions or diseases that their body was battling at the time of contracting Covid-19. Experts say that obesity is a primary risk in both contracting and experiencing complications from this illness.
Like other body systems, the immune system is dependent upon nutrients for optimal function. Obesity actually causes a disturbance in the way these essential nutrients are carried throughout the body. It can also cause chronic inflammation in the body, and this is where things really go downhill. Obese individuals have more visceral fat cells, which accumulates in your midsection, and around your organs. The body sees these visceral fat cells as dangerous and sends white blood cells to those areas. The longer someone remains obese, the longer these visceral fat cells remain in the body. And, the longer this inflammation response persists, the more damage is caused to the body as a whole. Chronic inflammation is at the heart of multiple diseases such as: asthma; Rheumatoid arthritis; heart disease; Type 2 diabetes; Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Stroke; Lupus. While obesity directly affects the immune system, the chronic inflammation that it causes contributes to a chain reaction of chronic illness (everything from skin conditions to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer). Each of these illnesses also work against a healthy immune response to the pathogens our bodies encounter.
On a positive note, studies show that even a moderate amount of weight loss can begin to show signs of immune system repair and improvement. Following a healthy, balanced diet, incorporating the nutritious food options like those listed above and decreasing calories or portion sizes, along with regular exercise can aid in weight loss. When you take responsibility for your own health, it’s a win-win!
Azmat Abbas Alibhai is an American Board-Certified Naturopath and Clinical Nutritionist. She is an RYT Certified Medical Yoga Therapist (American Trained) and founder of Innergise Pvt. Ltd. a professional nutraceutical company which specialises in pharmaceutical grade nutraceuticals specially formulated for the Pakistani DNA. She is currently working on her PhD in Orthomolecular Medicine & Nutrition. She is a researcher and writer for the Holistic Health Association of the Princeton Area (HHAPA).