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Coronavirus and Covid 19 in Eugene Springfield - ways to build your immune system

Simple lifestyle advice to maximize your immune system during the pandemic

Hopefully everyone has read about hand washing and social distancing and all the other public health advice.  Locally the best advice is from 2 sites focusin on Covid-19, Lane County Public Health site run by Dr. Pat Luedtke's excellent team and the Oregon Health Authority's site. Please bookmark and check these sites regularly. 

In this post I would like to review good advice that is good for almost everyone, after you have taken care of the main public health issues. 

I know many of you will be surprised that I am not going to discuss herbs and supplements here, but I want to write about what things you can do today without needing a medical appointment or checking any herb-drug interactions or spending extra money.  While there are some clear advantages to herbs and supplements to boost your immune system, there are some real problems with relying only on external solutions during an emergency that I will address in my next post.

First I would like you to understand that the phrase "immune system" is actually a little out of date.  What humans actually have is a lot of different systems that act as one in order to prevent disease or recover from disease.  Each piece influences and relies on the others.  In the 21st century, science understands that our nervous system, our endocrine system (hormones) and our immune system are actually one thing called, you guessed it, our neuro-endocrine-immune system.
The neuroendocrine part of that is heavily connected to your emotions.

If you want one aspect of the system to work really well in an emergency, take the strain out of the other parts of the system.

The ability to fight disease often rests on the resources that your body has available to address the problem.    So to build your defenses, you have to prepare your resources.

  1. Sleep: the Great Healer
    Without the right amount of sleep for yourself, nothing is at it's best in your body.  People talk about how time is money, well in humans - sleep is health. The research on "which cell does what" and "what molecule goes where" in relation to sleep is pretty iron-clad at the moment.  I know this advice sounds like a "grandmotherly" type of nagging but the level of true physiological research on sleep is profound and impressive. 

    Just consider sleep's important role in mammalian evolution - it's a dangerous world out there with needing to look for food and deal with predators but most mammals become completely immobile and defenseless for large parts of the day.  There must be a huge survival benefit to getting enough sleep to balance out the risks involved.

    If you are sleeping right then your body can use that time to get ready for trouble.  Even naps or lying with your eyes closed is better than staying up late.  Would you want to face a difficult challenge well rested or strung out and tired?  If you feel tired, then so are are your immune cells.  Make the wisest investment in yourself that you can at this time and do whatever you can to sleep well.

  2. Exercise: not too much and not too little
    Exercise is a crucial way to deal with stress, activate repair mechanisms in your body and prepare you for the difficult days ahead.  But we want the exercise now to be nourishing and not aimed diverting resources into building athletic performance or weight loss.  It should be relaxing and fun. 

    What is too much exercise?
    When you are really tired and sore after a workout.  Your neuro-endocrine-immune system is now too busy with repairs and not able to deal optimally with new challenges.

    What is too little exercise?
    You are not doing at least 5-30 min of some combination of walking, stretching and light strength training a day.  Too little exercise for too long means your neuro-endocrine-immune system is practically asleep and may not ramp up in time if you get infected.  If you are starting from nothing remember to go slow and avoid injury.

  3. Emotional health
    What could emotions have to do with fighting a virus?  Long term emotional stress will weaken you.  For example, with chronic stress you will literally have less lymphocytes and those that remain will not work as well to fight disease.

    Fear is only worthwhile for you to change your behavior:  you wash your hands, you don't touch your face, you get some emergency supplies together and otherwise follow public health advice as best you are able.

    After that, fear will harm you.  Panic will harm you.  This is not the Great Plague, this is not Ebola. Every year about 1.3 million people die on Earth from car accidents.  Do you panic getting into your car? Probably not. You check you mirror, buckle your seatbelt and drive sober and carry on.  Covid-19 will not be as dangerous as driving is.

    Get your emotions moving
    Do what you can to express your emotions.  Write about them.  Draw them, dance them - anything so long as you are not suppressing them.  Then after you have opened up to it all, change the channel.  Try to avoid getting panicky and worried, do your best to ask friends and family not to panic as well.  It will only harm your community.  Trust in society's resilience - humans have survived incredible disasters in the last 250,000 years.  We will get through this one too.  We may bend but we will not break.

    Get your difficult emotions diluted
    Make time to spend time with the parts of your life that you enjoy.  At the end of your day, even during the troubles,  you should have memories of doing really fun, nourishing, loving and creative stuff.  Facetime video or audio conference call with your friends - social distancing never means social isolation in the age of the internet. 
    Get into your garden.  Spend time with your family or other household members and pets. 
    Create art or literature at home, read favorite books.  What ever works for you.  Again, this is a serious investment in your health based on sound scientifically validated principals. 

  4. Food and Drink
    The best general advice on this is to eat lots of veggies and eat good quality protein and grains.  Hydrate to keep your protective mucus membranes in top form.

    The absolute best advice to support your immune system is to stop all alcohol and recreational drugs.  If you are a heavy user of these, consult your physician before making big changes or the stress from moving too fast in this department can occasionally be counter productive.

    I would eliminate deep fried foods, processed foods like bacon or ready cook food.  This specific advise comes from news from the Traditional Chinese Medicine community in China about the nature of Covid-19 that I will discuss in my next post.  Fresh food is best.  Lots of natural color on your plate.  My favorite way to check your plate is to look at the Canadian governments guide that you can see here.

    If we get to the point of emergency rations then just make sure you are eating enough calories per day so you have good energy to get through the bad times. 

    And realize that the bad times will pass.  Best of luck and stay in touch!

Got any questions about all of this?
Feel free to contact me via this site's Contact page.