(Photo/Adam Śmigielski on Unsplash)

A Wellness Wake Up Call

in town square

We are in the midst of what seems like a “new normal” with COVID-19 changing pretty much the way we do everything. As a “glass half full” kind of gal I see a tremendous opportunity for us to take stock: am I doing all I can to support my health and that of my family? Here I’ll offer some easy tips and science-based information on how to shore up our immune defenses, and offer the skinny on a few supplements that may be useful to have on hand. As always, do your own research and make your own health decisions accordingly.

First, we have to kick anxiety and fear straight to the curb. May be easier said than done, but worth the effort. Chronic stress has a measurably negative physiological effect on our body’s ability to fend off viral and bacterial infection. In other words, if you’re stressing out you’re shooting your immune system in the foot. Stress tends to make us sleep poorly and over-indulge in alcohol, caffeine, sugary snacks, and comfort foods, all of which make a bad situation worse by creating nutritional deficiencies that can leave us vulnerable. These poor choices have a particularly bad effect on gut flora. Why is that a big deal? Because the gut houses the vast majority of our body’s immune cells. The “good bacteria” that are supposed to reside in our gut interact with those immune cells to ward off and respond to invaders. This is why fermented foods (like homemade sauerkraut from the Sausage House!) and a high quality, multiple strain daily probiotic is essential.  Good bacteria are the guardians at the gate of our immune systems!  And no, we don’t get adequate amounts from a serving of yogurt.

There is an enormous amount of research supporting the use of certain nutritional supplements to help build our natural defenses.  Before I get to that, I must tell you that no vitamin or supplement has been clinically shown to prevent or treat the coronavirus.  Period.  The goal here is to share information on how we can support a healthy immune response to any kind of viral or microbial invader, year in and year out. What I’ve listed below are considered the basics.

Good old vitamin C tops the list. A powerful antioxidant, it helps our bodies create more natural killer cells, reducing the severity and duration of infectious diseases. Experts suggest at least 1,000 mgs of supplemental vitamin C daily. 

Zinc is an essential trace mineral, important to several aspects of a healthy immune response. It’s not hard to get the zinc you need from foods: beans, nuts, seeds, shellfish, red meat, and dark chocolate are good sources. If you want to supplement, don’t overdo it. Some folks are sensitive to zinc–like me. If I were to take more than 20 mgs I’m upchucking in a matter of minutes. So I rely on the 15 mgs I get in my daily multiple, and the foods listed above.

In addition to forming strong bones, research shows vitamin D plays a critical role in activating immune function, and can help protect the respiratory tract. In fact, a deficiency of vitamin D is associated with decreased lung function, and can increase vulnerability to infection, disease, and autoimmune disorders.  Since D is a fat-soluble nutrient, it’s best to avoid excessively high doses; you can have your levels checked to find the right dose for you. The most bioavailable form is D-3, called cholecalciferol which is sourced from lanolin.

One of my all-time favorite supplements is NAC (N-acetylcysteine). It’s a real all-star – for immune function, anti-aging, even mood support. N-acetyl cysteine is an amino acid that helps the body create glutathione, our “master antioxidant.” NAC has an affinity for the lungs; it busts mucous and significantly improves lung function, even in COPD sufferers. NAC also supports the liver and kidneys, and is used in hospitals as an antidote for acetaminophen toxicity and overdose. It’s been steadily gaining attention for use as a natural treatment for psychological disorders such as bi-polar and OCD, and for helping to break addictions.  

There are also some intriguing medicinal plants worth taking a look at.  “Many natural products and herbal ingredients are observed to possess robust antiviral activity and their discoveries can further help develop derivatives and therapeutic leads.” That’s from a study published by the National Institutes of Health. Just a few of the plants shown to be antiviral include olive leaf, lemon balm, elderberry, rosemary, astragalus, garlic, sage, cat’s claw, echinacea, and goldenseal. These can be taken singly or in combination, in teas, capsules, or tinctures. Again, do your research before using a medicinal plant, particularly if you have a serious health condition or take prescription drugs. Interactions are rare, but they can happen. Personally, I love the fact that science is largely validating what herbalists have known for centuries, but we need to be sensible in using nature’s pharmacy. 

As you’ve heard from the experts, it’s essential to stay hydrated right now. If you’ve been to my shop you know I preach that 365 days a year. A good rule of thumb: drink half your body weight in ounces of water every day, more if you have caffeine or alcohol, are exercising or out in the heat.  We prefer spring water, which contains a natural balance of minerals (electrolytes) to keep us alkaline. Purified, reverse osmosis, and distilled water are void of minerals, and can actually turn your pH acidic — which opens the door to pathogen.

And finally: plenty of rest, exercise, sunshine, and a fresh whole foods diet are absolutely foundational to good health. This is an extremely difficult time for many of us. I feel that by using common sense, showing compassion to ourselves — and others, and pulling together as we Americans have a wonderful habit of doing, we’re going to weather this storm. Taking time to do things you enjoy, or doing something nice for a neighbor can actually make you healthier according to a study published last year in Clinical Psychological Science, which linked compassionate acts and a positive outlook to a healthier immune system. There you have it.  Be nice and be calm, and more than likely — you’ll be healthy!

This information is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any illness or disease, nor is it to be considered a substitute for the care of a qualified health practitioner.

Julie opened Bailey's Naturals Herbal Apothecary in beautiful downtown Safety Harbor in 2005, and since then has assisted countless clients reach their health goals with her passion for natural medicine. She is a writer and in-demand lecturer, dedicated to empowering others toward lifestyle choices that result in glowing good health. Julie is also committed to preserving and promoting ethnobotanical medicine and she "can't think of anything more exciting or wonderful than sharing the remarkable healing power of plants with the world"..... or anyone who will listen.