CoronaVirus and our Immune System

Remember when Corona was just a beer you squished a lime into?

CoronaVirus, or COVID-19 to give it its official title, seems to be the only thing on everyone's mind right now. If it’s not empty shop shelves it’s chat amongst concerned parents on WhatsApp, hastily making provisional arrangements in case of school closures. Every second email I receive seems to reference the virus - my insurance company issuing travel advice, Holland & Barrett updating me on their in-store cleanliness policy, Michael O’Leary even sounded somber when he sent his latest Ryanair update.

We’re living in strange times. 

There’s also this huge disparity between people fighting to the death for the last pack of Andrex and communities coming together to support one another against an invisible threat to our immune system. In Italy, videos of residents stepping out onto their balconies at 6 o clock each evening to sing in solidarity with their neighbours have been heartwarming to watch. The cobbled streets, bright blue skies and carnival atmosphere almost make me want to book a flight - which of course I can’t.

It’s surreal.

So many things we’ve always taken for granted feel as though they’re being seized from us. The freedom to jump on a plane to almost anywhere, social events such as football matches and concerts, electronics mass produced in China and delivered at the click of a button. It feels as though the speed at which we’ve become so accustomed to living life is stalling. Everything is changing, adapting and taking just that little bit longer. We’re being asked to exercise patience, something we’re not very used to having to do these days. 

These are of course superficial concerns. The real troubles lie in the hospitals of Wuhan and Milan, where doctors share horror stories of painful CoronaVirus respiratory deaths. But I don’t want to go there. Right now some form of ignorance is bliss and I’d prefer to concern myself with how I might get my hands on a twenty four pack of cushioned velvety softness, instead of contemplating the prospect of my immune system failing, resulting in me meeting an untimely death.

Self-imposed quarantine and putting the cottage on lock-down for a month aside, there really isn’t much I can do. Speaking personally (and a little bit selfishly) the virus seems to pose a significant immune system threat to the elderly and people with existing respiratory conditions, so .. I’m alright jack. Like everyone though, I’m more concerned for older friends, neighbours and elderly relatives. With the constant Sky News pings, newspaper headlines and public chitter chatter, it’s difficult to put Corona to the back of our minds for very long.

 

Keep your Immune System Strong

Prevention is always better than cure. So, rather than worry about what we’re going to do if we catch CoronaVirus COVID-19, let’s focus on not getting infected at all by strengthening our immune system.

The government and NHS are reminding us to maintain strong levels of hygiene. To wash hands well with soap and water. There are also other actions we can take, simple things such as making sure we’re getting plenty of rest, exercising for thirty minutes each day and boosting our beneficial bacteria through a varied, plant-based diet. In terms of strengthening immunity, these are strong steps in the right direction.

 

Get a Plant-Based Boost for your Immune System

Sourcing a wide variety of vitamins and nutrients from the foods we eat is a fantastic way to bolster the immune system. In fact studies show that focusing on a plant-based diet can strengthen our immune system and protect us against germs and microorganisms. Whilst the temperature outside feels cold, focus on hearty vegetable stews and soups. As the weather warms up, switch to nutritious salads and smoothies.

The supermarkets are still stocking plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Adding some frozen berries and greens to your trolley will ensure you’re covered if the supply chain wavers as the world battles CoronaVirus. Tinned beans, dried lentils and bags of rice are worth including too. Plus nuts and seeds which are fantastic energy sources, offering protein, healthy fats, fibres, vitamins and minerals, essential for a strong immune system.

 

Eat Gut Bolstering Bacteria

In addition to a healthy mix of plant foods, consider taking an extra step in bolstering your bacteria. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, kimchi and the like, promote the growth of beneficial bacteria known as probiotics. Probiotics have been shown to improve immune system function as well as digestive and heart health.

Whilst health food stores offer the simplest solution in being able to buy these refrigerated, why not take advantage of the CoronaVirus slow-down and learn how to make your own? Janice’s blog is a fantastic recipe resource for fermented foods, you can listen to her talk about their incredible benefits in my podcast here. If you fancy brewing your own kombucha - here’s how.

 

Sleep Soundly

It might sound like common sense to ensure you’re getting plenty of rest, but whilst we’re going through an anxious time, that eery feeling of unrest can stop us from sleeping soundly. There is considerable evidence showing that the gut microbiome not only affects our digestive, metabolic and immune system functions, but it also regulates our sleep and mental wellbeing through the microbiome-gut-brain axis. Think of it as a two-way street. If you aren’t getting enough sleep the beneficial bacteria is depleted. As it lowers you might struggle to get a good nights sleep.

In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don't get enough sleep. So, your body needs all the rest it can get to fight infectious diseases. Researchers have found that sound sleep can boost the effectiveness of certain specialised immune pockets called T-cells. A 2019 study which appears in the Journal of Experimental Medicine shares the scientists thinking in what lies at the core of the relationship between sleep and the body’s defence against infection.

 

Exercise

Regular physical activity can strengthen our immune system and help the body fight off infections such as CoronaVirus. We should all be aiming for at least thirty minutes of physical activity minimum three days a week. This doesn’t have to be anything super energetic, it can include walking, cycling, yoga, swimming or other low impact workouts.

The brief rise in body temperature during and immediately after exercise might prevent bacteria from multiplying. This temperature rise could help the body to better fight infection. Physical activity may also help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. One study in the American Journal of Medicine, showed that women who walked for a half-hour every day for a year had half the number of colds compared to those who didn’t.

In another study, researchers found that 65-year-olds who regularly exercise, presented as high a number of T-cells (a specific type of white blood cell) as those of people in their thirties. 

 

Try not to worry

Easier said than done during a time of immense change. Whether you’re specifically concerned about the threat of a CoronaVirus CORVID-19 epidemic or not, the fact that so many things are changing around us can, in itself, feel a little unnerving. It’s more important than ever to try to stay grounded. Finding balance whilst the world feels as though it’s wobbling can be helpful.

Speaking personally, I find time in nature really works. It might seem completely paranoid and in some ways pointless that I’m building my own self-sustainable garden this Spring, but it’s important to me. Growing organic veg feels as though I’m doing my little bit to take care of myself and my family. It needn’t be complex. I’m a beginner too and I’m sure I’ll end up with plenty of snail snaffled spinach along the way. A big part of the enjoyment for me is about getting into the garden and focusing my mind on the job at hand. Fancy giving it a try?

Walking through a big old ancient forest or across a vast expanse of sandy beach with waves crashing beside you can also feel wonderful. The big things help us to feel small. Studies show that the sense of insignificance we experience can create a feeling of connectivity with others, and improve measures of compassion and ethical decision making. This in turn promotes good gut bacteria and strengthens our immune system.

If the weather's warm enough you might also like to walk bare foot. Grounding, or earthing, is the theory that connecting the soles of our feet with the earth can produce changes in a variety of physiological measure. This isn’t me spouting hippy clap-trap! There’s actual science behind it. Research has shown barefoot contact with the earth can produce nearly instant changes in helping to improve sleep, reduce pain, decrease muscle tension, lower stress and strengthen the immune system. If you’re curious to learn more, the Earthing Institute has plenty of information.

Talk to someone

Remember, if you’re feeling jittery about CoronaVirus, reach out to somebody who can talk through those feelings with you. None of us have a blueprint for this. We’re all trying to navigate new territory in the best way we know how. Let’s look forward to a time when the only Corona we’ll care to mention is the chilled sort with the squishy lime. Until then, we can work on taking good care of ourselves and each other.

 

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