We are living in an environment now where we're learning as fast as we can through study, through trials, through what is at play and what works to avoid a high viral load that will make us sick. We all want to know what works to shorten or lessen the intensity of the experience with the Sars-CoV 2 virus. From a Functional medicine view point we must always be looking upstream further and further to see what clues may be at play in how disease precipitates. How do we look upstream and understand what dynamics are at play in making it more likely that you don't continue to experience health on the other side of a precipitous plunge down a waterfall? To what extent do you end up slightly bruised, jarred or stressed and gasping for air?
At this point all interventions and support along the way are valuable and honorable and we can guarantee that there will be other viruses and other pandemics. Therefore, we must address root causes that set up disease dynamics in the body and increase the likelihood of having a disease, a highly debilitating experience and or perhaps a brush with death. What we do now proactively will have the greatest impact on how we weather the battle. It begins with the understanding of looking at the true state of our health. How well we arrive at the battlefield to encounter the virus and how well we do, is so dependent on the state of readiness. Take a deep look if you have been taking good care of yourself all along:
Are you eating healthy, sleeping well, exercising and building muscle, staying hydrated, managing stress, activating your parasympathetic nervous system (the network of nerves that relaxes your body after periods of stress or danger and stimulates rest and digest)? Or on the contrary, have you been drinking too much alcohol or caffeine or both, or not staying hydrated, not sleeping well, not eating healthy etc... ? Have you slowly been increasing your pharmaceutical drug use, taking things like TUMS, proton pump inhibitors like Zantac, Prilosec, or benzos, NSAID's antidepressants? Are you binging on Netflix, YouTube, social media and inhaling stale indoor air, staying in and rapaciously watching the news so you become so out of touch with yourself?
What we need is a balanced regulated immune function, that is strong and can tolerate the priming of short episodes of stress, malnutrition, and yet still have immune regulation. One thing this virus has done for most of us, is it has made us aware of why good health matters! We all want to know more about how to support our health so we don't get sick. What is really regulating our immune system are known as T-reg cells. T cells are a type of white blood cell created in the bone marrow to defend the body against germs, bacteria and viruses, and it is very important that we have optimal levels of T-reg cells. How do we do that? By maintaining a well-rounded nutritious diet; increasing fruits, veggies and supplying your body with abundant nutrients is one way to optimize your T-reg cells. Another way, is supporting with supplements such as Vit C, D and Zinc which help boost T-cell production. Learning how to deal with excessive emotional stress effectively such as; meditation, breating, exercise, prayer etc. is all about engaging the parasympathetic nervous system mode which enhances your innate immune system. If you don't let stress go, it's not short. So this helps us to understand why from an evolutionary viewpoint, survival type stress (short-term, potent stress and challenge) is immune boosting. However, chronic unremitting stress is highly immune system decimating!
So let's talk about some general COVID considerations, that I believe everybody should focus on:
Clean Fresh Air
Clean, fresh air is not a throwaway recommendation. Whether it's crazy hot and humid weather where you are, or really cold, indoor air is toxic and there is lots of outgassing from all of the chemical buildup from uphosteries and coatings and textiles and comercial and buidling materials- get outside, open your windows!. When you have pollution, you create more ACE2 receptors..that's more places for viruses to attach simultaneously to increase the viral load, which has a much higher chance of overloading your innate immune function.
Laugh more often, watch funny movies, listen to comedy and play with your friends and family. Get more Vitamin J for Joy as I have said so many times. There's no getting around that, my friends. That is a physiological truth. A chronic elevation in stress hormones weakens our innate immune function and therefore weakening our intracellular defenses -the things that we most need to counter viruses and cancer. The reality is that in order to optimally weather an encounter with SARS-CoV-2, in particular, you want good, strong, innate immune function.
Sleep! You know this! I don't have to teach you about this, but I do have a really cool sleep hygiene handout you could benefit from. You understand fully, that if you aren't getting enough sleep because you are waking up frequently, or can't fall back to sleep, etc..then you are not getting optimal sleep. Ultimately, this will affect your adrenals and immune system. Understanding your cortisol awakening response and levels is key to fixing your sleep issues along with other dynamics. And, if you are drinking alcohol, you will want to pay particular attention to that alcohol causing what's known as 'mediated glutamate rebound' which is what wakes people up typically between about midnight and 2:00am. Some of you may need melatonin for better sleep as well and yet looking at your cortisol levels is necessary before deciding on a melatonin regimen. Melatonin on it's own can also be a potent anti-inflammatory overnight and is crtitical also for regulating immune function, especially for strenghtening innate immune function, research has found.
Activate your parasympathetic nervous system mode. "Oh yeah, yeah,..relax! I wish I could do that!" We've got to start doing this on purpose. The easiest way to monitor your parasympathetic nervous system mode is by monitoring your heart rate variability. You can get a strap monitor for that. Also, an Oura ring is a good one too and some of these other wearable devices can really help you to check it. Yes, do your heart math. Using these resources helps with biofeedback for you to really understand. "Wow, I thought I was regulating mine." Not so much, right? You can go to the Heart Math Institute website and check it out. Mindful breathing is another massive impact on your immune system. People who are really stressed out and cannot access meditation, yet asking someone to notice there breath for a few minutes is a way of calming down. Self care practices like yoga or swimming or anything like this, even when your thoughts are running away from you, doing these exercises can access mindful breathing. Yes, there is tapping too like Emotional Freedom Tapping a therapy that uses acupuncture points and tapping to help access the unconscious mind and parasympathetic nervous system.
Hydration is super critical because your first defense for viral attacks are the mucus membranes and in particular the nasal respiratory membranes. It's the mouth, and gut lining that are the most vulnerable. If you are dehydrated and not getting enough electrolytes you are not maintaining that hydration. And, if you are getting dry nasal respiratory membranes, it is time for hydration. Dry mouth or mouth sores or a wear and tear on those mucous membranes, can be helped using deglycerized licorice lozenge or a slippery elm lozenge.
Let's talk lymph flow; if you are sitting all day long, you've got to get moving. We need to be not only hydrating, but we need to be moving, bouncing, stretching, dancing or jiggling. Dancing is a fantastic thing to do, one of my favorites, and using a rebounder several times a week or a few times in a day if you are sitting at your desk for long periods of time. Also set a cell phone reminder to put the legs up a wall. All these are really critical to stimulatelymph movement and that stimulates the immune system to circulate and get rid of trash and renew itself via lymph. This is a critical part of preparation and recovery. We've got to be moving, again, including inversions, because there's way too much sitting, lying on couches, sleeping, etc.. So in the world of challenge, this is about getting your body temperature up, up, up so it helps with lymph movement and cardiovascular circulation.
An extended overnight fast is a way to activate a stronger anti-inflammatory function, stronger mitochondrial (your energy storehouse) function and a stronger innate immune function. Fourteen hours is doable for many people. Continuing to give ourselves short, small immune boosting challenges primes the immune system. So challenges with fasting, or exercising, or nutrient challenges can all make the difference in shifting disease.
Avoid Ibuprofin, tylenol
NSAID's and acetaminophen will use up glutathione in the body and we need that to help with detoxification as that's the last thing you want to be depleting. We need glutathione to modulate the virus. Taking liposomal glutathione if and when you are sick will help with detoxification of toxins. Ibuprofen also erodes the mucosal lining of the gut besides depleting glutathione, another vulnerability that you really want to avoid.
Avoid Proton Pump Inhibitors, Zantac, Prilosec
It is important to get at the root cause of your chronic acid reflux. Long term use of these drugs can potentially increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by depleting nitric oxide, which is not only helping the endothelial function in our arteries but also has a potent antiviral activity. Again this is not what you want to be doing right now. Covid has an affect on the microcirculatory system and maintaining integrity of the health of your arteries and capillaries is paramount.
Eat a Phytonutrient-rich diet
Eating a diverse, copius intake of vegetables, and fruits; is a phytonutrient rich diet. This kind of diet is where you are getting things like luteolin and quercetin naturally which all increase the better functioning of your immune system. We know that drastically changing your diet starts to have a metabolic effects within days. You can be shifting your digestive secretions, your thyroid function within days. So these are not things that you should think of as, "Yeah, yeah, I'll do those later once the threat is gone and we're back to some kind of normal." Don't think that. The body will respond quickly and especially for people who are looking to have resiliency and to protect themselves-these are essential.
In summary, functional medicine has as one of its core underlying principles to honor that each individual is a unique organism, a unique person and whose life system has different needs for optimization. What better way to learn about your body, and be prepared at the battlefield by addressing root causes and making some changes that are beneficial to your overall health.
Emily Navas LAc, Acupuncture & Functional Medicine