Best practices against virus and infection
With the whole world clamouring for information during the rapid spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, the global public health community has been echoing a message familiar to all proponents of natural health: live a healthy lifestyle to arm yourself against illness.
In this second of a three-part series on immune health, we’re offering a refresher course to you, our knowledgeable readers, on the best practices for protecting yourself—and supporting your immune system—against viruses and infection.
We already know that being overly busy and under stress can drain our immune systems, leaving us susceptible to infections. Cold, flu, and other viruses can take up residence after we’ve simply been pushing ourselves too hard. With worldwide pandemic concerns, our routinely busy lives have another worry to manage. But stress-busting strategies like yoga, qi gong, or tai chi; breathing; meditation; or exercise can go a long way toward easing the stress load and help drop your risk of getting sick. Also potentially helpful are botanical medicines, categorized as adaptogens, which have been shown to improve the body’s response to and recovery from stress.
Evidence points to Siberian ginseng’s ability to help the body accommodate adverse physical conditions and improve mental performance.
Ashwagandha may help correct imbalances in the neuroendocrine and immune systems, significantly reduce anxiety and stress, and regulate chemical signalling in the nervous system by blocking the stress pathway in the brain.
Rhodiola has shown an ability to protect the heart from arrhythmias and other damage caused by elevated stress hormones and has also shown improvements in sleep disturbances, fatigue, and general well-being.
This adaptogen helps support cognitive function and/or reduce mental fatigue in cases of mental stress, boosts mental alertness and low energy while improving mental fatigue, alleviates anxiety and depression caused by stress, and ameliorates inflammatory diseases caused by stress.
Exercise is a powerful immune supporter, especially in people who are dealing with stress. As well, plenty of studies have pointed to the positive effects of physical fitness when it comes to frequency and severity of illnesses like colds and the flu. In one study, those who were aerobically active and physically fit experienced a 41 percent reduction in upper respiratory tract infection severity and symptoms versus those who were sedentary.
A number of studies into the effects of exercise on immune function demonstrate immune system benefits from cardiovascular activity.
To get the best immune benefit out of your workouts, exercise frequently, but don’t burn yourself out.
Caffeine is well known to help improve exercise performance, so a caffeine hit before your next workout may give you the boost you’re looking for.
Help your muscles recover following sweat sessions by engaging in low-intensity stretching.
Researchers have long confirmed the importance of sleep for a healthy immune system. Many studies have demonstrated this. In an experiment where people were intentionally exposed to a cold-causing virus, those who slept fewer than seven hours a night, or had poor quality sleep, were three to five times more likely to develop an infection. Get some help if you’re not getting your ZZZs.
While eating right is important all the time, a healthy diet full of nutrient-rich whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables is especially important when fending off viruses and infection. Eat for immunity by stocking up on these foods.
An amino acid found in tea and some mushrooms, theanine promotes relaxation without sedation and helps to fall asleep more quickly/easily and sleep more soundly.
Roots of the valerian plant have been used since ancient times as a remedy for insomnia. Valerian is thought to mildly increase the amount of calming chemicals in the brain, help reduce the time to fall asleep, and improve total sleep time.
The body’s natural sleep regulator, melatonin helps the body wind down for sleep and can be especially useful for frequent travellers and shift workers.
Protein has a vital role in immune function. High protein-diets can protect against infection when we’re running ourselves ragged. Make sure you’re getting protein with every meal and snack during cold and flu season.
Bioflavonoids are mighty plant chemicals found in colourful foods like blueberries, tomatoes, cabbage, and even tea. These antioxidant compounds can cut infections by as much as 33 percent, providing yet another reason to eat your fruits and veggies. And, remember that your local health food store stocks greens supplements in powder form that are quick and easy to incorporate into your morning smoothie routine—or anytime.
It’s a food, it’s a wound healer … it’s a cough suppressant? Honey, particularly manuka honey, may be more effective than prescription medication for reducing cough and improving sleep in children with colds. A grown-up version with instant coffee trumped a steroid-based medication in another study, and it was certainly tastier (check out the recipe and see for yourself)!
250 g (about 3/4 cup) Manuka honey 35 g instant coffee (about 6 1/2 Tbsp) Combine honey and coffee well and add 1 Tbsp (15 mL) of mixture to a cup of warm water, 3 times per day.
The best way to protect yourself—and others—from getting sick, handwashing is pretty basic advice. But, just as a reminder, we’re sharing some useful information about when and how.
Using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol (check the label to be sure) is a second option.
This article was originally published in the June 2020 issue of alive Canada magazine, under the title "Protect Your Health and Resist Illness."