Right now, there’s very little advice and discussion coming from the government and NHS about how we as humans can promote our own health and wellbeing, and so develop our natural defence mechanisms in the current time of this coronavirus pandemic.
We believe the real challenge we face as humans fighting this pandemic, is how physically and emotionally resilient we are in the 21st-century.
My passion is helping people understand how their body works and how the interaction between the things that we do, the things that we think, the habits that we create and what we feed our body (whether that be nutritionally, physically or emotionally) all have an impact on how our body reacts and responds to stressors, to distress and to challenges that are placed upon it.
As a holistic health nutrition and lifestyle coach with over 30 years background in health and well-being, including a nursing background, I hope to share some simple, sensible and common sense information and advice to help you and your family build immune resilience.
Building resilience, will help reduce risk. At best, all we can ever aim to do is ‘reduce’ risk. It is very rare to ever be able to eliminate risk!! Humans will never own the planet to that extent.
Public-health England and the NHS continue to provide clear simple advice about hand washing, using tissues and of course social distancing. The world we live in today, is so significantly different to even a couple of weeks ago, and these measures are having a positive effect in ‘flattening the curve’ ie. controlling the speed of spread so the NHS can cope and save as many lives as they can.
But there are a lot of unanswered questions still about whether flattening the curve will stop the spread, or just slow it down. Whilst we may be managing the situation with social distancing now, what happens when we go back to normal? With this in mind, I believe, NOW is the the time for individuals to start to understand how our immune system works, and how you can begin to build more physical resilience, thus reducing the impact of the virus, should you get it.
Whether this pandemic came along or not, I believe as humans, the biggest developing risk to our health is the fact that our immune systems are becoming weaker and weaker. The pace of life, the food we eat, the level or ‘stressors’ people live with, the lack of fresh air, poor sleep patterns and our environment all contribute to affecting the health of our immune systems.
But before we look at what we can do, let’s go back and look at how viruses spread.
As humans, we simply are an organism living in an ecosystem: In the world of micro-organisms, a virus (a pathogen) survives, spreads and multiplies by looking for host (a suitable environment) to be a carrier. Right now, Covid-19 is enjoying humans as great hosts! We are a fantastic playground for them!
As this is the case, does it not makes some sense that WE can be responsible for doing our bit to influence the impact of how we are affected?
How a virus attaches to a host, and how strongly it takes hold, will depend on the environment the host provides for that virus to breed.
A human that has a strong immune system will be less likely to pick up the virus, or if it does, will likely only have mild symptoms. It’s not an “attractive” host for the virus …… it’d rather go the ‘path of least resistance’
This is why viruses tend to attack those that are vulnerable with health issues, are older and more frail because they likely have a compromised immune system! But even those with compromised immune systems, can take steps to strengthen them.
For now, we know the virus is spread by droplet contact from human to human and through hard surfaces like plastics and metals But if you come into contact with the virus and you have pro-actively taken steps to strengthen your immune system, you stand a better chance of fairing well and fighting it off.
But what is the immune system and how do I strengthen it I hear you say?
The immune system isn’t just one single thing in one place. There are many facets to this complex system, and many elements in place that can protect our body from opportunistic pathogens and damaging infectious agents. Each aspect of immunity offers different types and different levels of protection.
We have 3 levels of immunity:
Physical & Mucosal Barriers: Skin and Respiratory tract. These are our first line defence …… we can help them do their job with good hygiene, keeping our hands away from our nose and mouth and also by staying well hydrated.
The Innate Immune System: This is the first aspect of immunity that kicks in should a pathogen of some sort penetrate the physical barriers. It is called our innate immunity because we are born with it fully functioning. It includes our white blood cells, which is the bit most people have heard of. it’s an incredibly strong and effective part of our immune system – but it does need looking after. It is this part that is compromised (negatively affected) by stress, poor digestive health and having multiple health conditions.
Adaptive/Learned Immunity: This is the third stage of immunity and is the part that we are not born with. The clue is in the name – the immune system adapts itself to the threats that it encounters. Human beings are one a few species that have developed this third powerful arm of the immune system. The immune system, once challenged by a specific pathogen, eg virus learns the correct way in which to respond to it in the future. So if we did contact coronavirus in it’s mild form, we have the ability to develop immunity against it in the future…..which is a GOOD thing. Currently, this is what is happening to those who contract Coronavirus in the mild form – yipeeeee! They are developing their adaptive immunity.
So I’d suggest there are the 3 HABITS we need to focus on to reduce our attractiveness to being a ‘host’? I’d suggest these are:
HYGIENE is of utmost importance and should be everyones Number One Priority.
- Wash your hands WITH soap and water for 30 seconds and dry thoroughly. Hand washing IS more effective than using hand sanitiser, so remains the preferred option when available.
- Cover your mouth if you cough with a tissue and then dispose of that tissue.
- Cover your mouth if you sneeze then dispose of that tissue.
- Carry a hand sanitiser (minimum 60% ethanol) with you and use it before and after touching public surfaces, and as a back up (not replacement) to hand washing.
- Train yourself to keep your hands OFF your face.
- Minimise our friendly hugs and kisses – it doesn’t stop us caring about each other but right now just minimising the extra face-to-face contact and to hand contact will help.
- And finally – how clean is your mobile phone? The one thing we hold and touch 100’s of times per day! Give it a wipe with an ant-bacterial wipe morning and night (at least)
HEALTH: “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” Hippocrates
Nutrition and digestive health play a huge part in our overall health, so here are some top tips to help – whether you’re already ‘healthy’ or have health challenges – these tips are worth implementing to strengthen your immune system – you’ve certainly got nothing to lose!
The health of your digestive system plays a major role in the health of your immune system. 70% of our immune cells are found within our gut. Please don’t assume because you have no issues that it’s as healthy as it could be! Most people have digestive challenges in one form or another. Bloating, constipation, indigestion, reflux, to name but a few. Antibiotics, drugs, processed food, sugar and our environment have an impact on our digestive health. So it’s never going to do any harm, to clean up our act a little.
The simplest thing we can all do, is to eat more real food. High sugar high carb, high fat food plays havoc with our gut and immune system. It adds physiological stress (which overloads our immune system) and doesn’t provide the nutrients we need for all of our cells to perform at optimum level.
Real food is simply anything that grows (vegetables and fruit) and non-processed meat, poultry, fish and dairy. So minced beef for example is a real food, but a beef burger in a packet with 10 other preserving ingredients is not.
Unfortunately, neither is a vegan burger ….. not eating meat isn’t always the healthiest option either as many vegan foods are highly processed.
So meals that are plant based (nutritious, colourful plants form the base of your meal), balanced with a portion of meat, fish or dairy protein, including natural and real food fats (olive oil, butter, coconut oil, seeds, nuts, olives, avocados), should give you all the nutrients you need and support your digestive health. The body recognises the food, doesn’t have to ‘process out’ the chemical additives, and therefore no additional stress has been created. By avoiding nutritional stress, you reduce physiological load, therefore ‘helping’ your immune system stay strong.
Many nutrients play a role in supporting the immune system in many different ways. The key ones people are most familiar with are Vitamin C, D, Zinc and Selenium. These are also the vitamins and minerals in abundance in meat, fish and dairy.
When it comes to Vitamin C, D, Zinc and Selenium however, I’d also recommend right now supplementing your food intake, especially if you are stressed, or have a compromised immune system in any way.
Beware though, not all supplements are equal and cheaply made ones are not always worth the bother. Just like food – beware of additives and binders that the body dissent recognise and therefore can actually be what we call an ‘anti-nutrient’……they are so badly made that it takes more energy from the body, to break down the supplement, than the nutrition it was supposed to be providing! Please take advice from a nutritionist or health coach to find the better quality supplements and how best to take them. If you are taking prescribed medication, you will also need to check with your medical practitioner.
LIFESTYLE and managing our stressors
I’ve already mentioned how stress negatively impacts our health and our immune system. Again this is a huge topic in itself. But one of the worst things that’s happening with the coronavirus outbreak, is that we are becoming more fearful and stressed due to the media hype and uncertainty. This in itself, is making us so much more ideal hosts for the virus – it’s making us an attractive environment because its compromising our immune systems!
So, please try to let go of the fear. Fear stands for False Expectations Appearing Real! ie: we create our own fear by our thoughts – and right now, we are being influenced hugely ‘what to think’. This is creating a ‘fear epidemic’ which will have far worse consequences than any virus could have.
Switch off the false news, start focussing on what ‘you CAN’ do, take control of your own thoughts, decide how YOU want to live, protect yourself with the standard sensible simple measures that Public Health England and the NHS are advocating, and please stay as POSITIVE and rational as you can be. Stay away from the negativity of others, and please please don’t stress about what other people are or are not doing. You’re risking your own health, for something you cannot influence or control.
Focus on what you CAN do, what you CAN influence. Don’t be attractive to the virus. Ensure you’ve created your own barriers – physically and emotionally.
Stress really does compromise the immune system. If you’re stressed by what you’re reading on social media or seeing on TV – STOP reading and limit how much news you watch. A daily update will keep you in touch, without overloading the mind with worrying or fearful thoughts.
Do something else instead. Find a new hobby you can do, that helps calm the mind. Practical and creative activities help – jigsaws, colouring, knitting, reading, playing a musical instrument, family games – the possibilities are endless.
If you’re worried, you’re also stressed. Try to ask yourself what you are worried about? Is it actually true? Listen to what your instincts are telling you. For every negative post or article you read, can you find a positive one, or one with a different perspective. Stay educated with advice from the experts rather than the rumours. The best advice and up to date information is on the Public Health or NHS websites.
Get outdoors, in the fresh air, with sun when it shines. Absolutely use your daily exercise allowance. Let the wind blow the cobwebs away. Walking is absolutely adequate, and in many situations far better than strenuous activity. But whatever you do, being outdoors, will helps strengthen your immune system, your mind and will instantly help you feel stronger. I salute the Public Health advisors for recognising the importance of this to us all. Just follow the rules, exercising from your home is best.
We are each in charge of our own destiny. Event those who have a compromised immune system, can take steps to protect themselves, that are far more helpful in the long run, than simply locking themselves away in fear.
So in summary…..
…… if we all looked at our own health habits, hygiene habits, and lifestyle habits – we could be more in control of what happens with this virus, and certainly live with less panic and fear.
The virus can only spread if we give it the right environment to spread, so let’s each do as much as we can do and play our part in fighting against it, rather than simply becoming victims to it.