Now, more than ever, I'm sure you're worried about your health and the health of your loved ones. It may not be enough to isolate yourself, since complete isolation for a lifetime isn't an option. And currently, you may be hurting your natural defences in ways that you didn't realise. Here, as a pharmacist and fellow social-distancer, I'll give you five easy tips to boost your immune system.
While reading instagram posts and talking to loved ones, many people are feeling anxiety, fear, and hopelessness during these uncertain times. These are all natural responses to difficulties in life. But living in these emotions chronically can cause more harm to you than you realise.
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I'm sure you've experienced situations where you're stressed and suddenly your stomach cramps or you're anxious and your hands start to get clammy, you begin to sweat in unwanted places, and some even have to run to the toilet. Or in the more extreme case that I've seen with friends is that anxiety can drive you into a panic attack. These examples and more prove that your body and mind are connected.
This can be a blessing or a curse. It's a blessing in the short run because your body's defence system is in fight or flight mode when sudden danger approaches. But when your body is chronically in this state of fight or flight, your stress hormones are being released constantly, wreaking havoc and harm. You can learn more here, where the Mayo Clinic explains it in more detail. This leads to my first tip to boost your immune system.
1. Positive Thinking
In my previous blog post, I provide 11 free and practical tips on how to keep peace and sane during social distancing. But it also applies to your daily life even outside of a pandemic. They're easy to use and can help you gain a positive mindset and peaceful home. Positive thinking can stabilise the level of stress hormones released from your body into your bloodstream.
Why is stabilising the level of stress hormones important? Well, chronic stress such as that caused by a stressful job or obsessing over the media coverage about the current pandemic, can lead to an overproduction of stress hormones such as cortisol, which can lead to anxiety, depression, digestive issues, headaches, weight gain, sleep issues, heart disease, and cognitive impairments. These can also lead to a cascade of even more health issues as a result. It's basically a growing snowball of negative effects to your body. Use my 11 tips to stay sane to break this cycle.
Besides the psychological factors that can create physical harm, there are other hurdles to jump over during your time in social distancing. That includes inactivity, increased alcohol consumption, continued smoking if you're a smoker, and the lack of sun. How can we overcome these challenges to boost our immune system?
2. Intake Nutrients.
I'm listing this next because it's the most obvious. But if you've stocked up your house with nonperishables, often times, those aren't going to the the most nutrient-rich foods in comparison to fresh produce. So, what vitamins are you looking for specifically? According to Cleveland Clinic's article on 3 Vitamins Best For Your Immune System, you're looking for Vitamins C, B6 (pyridoxine), and E. Read more about the explanation. Basically, anything that strengthens your immune system is what we're looking for so that your body is ready to fight off anything that tries to take you on.
If your grocery store near you is still stocked, I encourage you to find these items. Here are the types of food you're looking for. Take this free grocery list with you the next time you're in the grocery store:
Google has a useful feature using USDA where you can do a keyword search of a specific food followed by the words "and [the Vitamin you're looking for]" and it'll tell you the content of the vitamin in that particular food. Type in the food you already have stocked or what you plan on buying and see if it has the nutrients you need if it's not already listed in the nutrition facts.
Keep in mind that grapefruits interact with a lot of medications. So, if you're taking certain cholesterol medications (statins), blood pressure meds (calcium channel blockers), certain psychiatric meds, immunosuppressants, antivirals, antifungals, antiarrhythmics, erectile dysfunction meds, and allergy meds, you want to steer clear of grapefruits.
An alternative to these foods are a capsule/tablet form such as in your multivitamin. Be aware that certain vitamins such as Vitamin C can only be absorbed by your gut at a dose of 250mg or less at one single time and requires an acidic stomach. So, if you're taking acid suppressants, you may just be losing the vitamin without absorption.
With all of this information, when's the best time to take your Vitamin C and how much? ADVICE: Take 250mg or less first thing in the morning, 30 minutes before eating or taking medications (safe to take with your thyroid medicine - it may even improve absorption). Vitamin C is water soluble, meaning it'll be absorbed in water. Also, your stomach will be at an acidic pH when it's empty versus after you eat.
3. Focus on Gut Health.
If your gut is in poor shape, so is your immune system. Your gut is lined with trillions of microorganisms and make up a large part of your immune system. The microorganisms in your body need to maintain a healthy balance so that they can fight off anything foreign and also maintain healthy tissue in your body.
Personally, I suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), often brought on my stress and anxiety. See, I am a total textbook example of what I'm talking about here and in my previous post. This makes it difficult for me to maintain that healthy balance in my gut without help. Unfortunately, I'm also severely lactose intolerant so yogurt is not a good option for me. I also have family members who are allergic to dairy, and that may be the case for you.
Many different physicians, including my gastroenterologist recommended regular intakes of probiotics. I would try it inconsistently for a few days then stop because I didn't believe it would help. I'd try it again, then stop. Finally, nearly a year ago when I was experiencing more IBS exacerbations, I decided to try it again but this time very consistently for over a month. What was the result?
After that, even if I had eaten something slightly off or something I usually cannot tolerate, instead of my usual debilitating toilet experiences for days, I bounced back in about a day. I am a firm believer and user of probiotics now.
But not every probiotic is made equal. A good probiotic versus just any no-name probiotic sold will have different effects. It's basically similar to whether you take an antibiotic that expired 10 years ago versus a new one. The latter is going to work and the other probably won't harm you but it also will have no desirable effect on you. Often times, probiotics don't make it past your stomach because of all of the acid. A good probiotic is formulated to make sure at least a fraction of it makes its way into the gut and brings you wanted benefits.
This is hands-down my favourite probiotic because it's the only one that's helped me completely from food poisoning to traveling to foreign countries. I have no affiliation with Dr. Formulated, but I have found their brand to work for me the best. If I find anything better, I'll switch over to that. But I want to share with you the product that has truly changed my life. If you need more information on probiotics, feel free to contact me.
4. Cut Out the Bad.
Quit the bad habits while you're indoors. Doing anything to compromise your immune system is putting your health at risk. That includes bad habits of smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. I'll tell you why.