I am out of my academic conference bubble, with a very unconventional piece for you today. Well, sort of, in content yes, but in the thesis of my message no.
Be your best, now.
This should always be what we are striving for, but COVID-19 has reinforced this message more than ever.
As a public health professional, I feel it's my duty to share some information with you. It seems like a massive public health oversight that known behaviors to promote a healthy immune system aren’t being discussed. We are bombarded with only disempowering news. Day in and day out, we hear COVID is on the rise, no vaccine is ready yet, more deaths due to COVID, and yet no where in the flood of negativity is there a positive takeaway.
And yes, a positive thread of news shouldn't simply be included for mood and morale balancing purposes, but there are actual steps we could all take today to improve our overall health. COVID aside there are behaviors that foster a strong immune system. These practices are even more important right now, considering that we are all living through a pandemic.
What does the data say?
The evidence is more and more tipping towards the second theory of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality, which is the ‘immunologic collapse’ of the host’s protective system, or the failure to control unrestrained viral replication and dissemination with direct host cytotoxicity. Support for this theory emerged based upon observed progressive and profound lymphopenia (I will explain below, keep reading), often to numbers seen in AIDS.
What are these terms? Lymphocytes?
White blood cells are an important part of the body's defense system. They fight infections and play a role in inflammation, as well as in allergic reactions. Lymphocytes exist in both the blood and the lymphatic system.
There are three different types:
- B lymphocytes (B cells) produce antibodies.
- T lymphocytes (T cells) recognize foreign substances and process them for removal.
- Natural killer cells (NK cells) directly attack and kill abnormal cells such as cancer cells or viruses.
What is lymphopenia?
This is a reduced amount of white blood cells in your blood. During an infection, such as COVID-19, white blood cells attack, attach to, and help induce the production and secretion of chemicals that help fight the virus. An important pathogenic mechanism of COVID-19 is impaired immune competence.
Considering the recently published data on COVID-19 and the immune system, shouldn’t we be reading about ways to proactively bolster our immune systems? The reality is we may get COVID. Hopefully not, but if we do, we all want to beat it, right? We want our body to be in peak form, so we have the ability to fight the virus, right?
Immune System Strengthening 101:
1. Get enough sleep.
2. In the words of Michael Pollen, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Personally, I eat a lot. It is all veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes, etc. If you splurge on non-plant foods, follow the ‘not too much’ rule of thumb.
3. Drink water, a lot of it, often, and especially first thing in the morning.
4. Exercise. Light to moderate exercise seems to do the trick.
5. Related to #4, stand up every hour. We are all on Zoom every day, which makes it easy to stay seated and not move. Be sure to get up and walk around every hour, do 30-seconds of squats or push-ups, or if all you can do in the moment is stand, stand! Avoid sedentary behavior, standing up will help move lymph, facilitate blood flow and muscle contraction.
6. Get your vitamin D. There is already evidence associating optimal vitamin D levels to better COVID outcomes. We need vitamin D, always, but especially right now.
7. Calm the nervous system. Practice yoga, meditate, sit quietly, journal, etc.
8. I am not a huge supplement advocate, but it is a good time to take a multivitamin, just in case you are missing something from your diet.
My thesis also happens to be my life mantra: be your best, now. Love yourself like you love your family and friends. I can help with a few items on the list above, if you want to join me “live” tomorrow for my Sunday Yoga Flow, I would LOVE to see you!
P.S. email me for the recent publications on this topic.