Travel and health: your immune system.
With the current world-wide Covid-19 situation not much is being talked about how you can naturally help protect yourself. This will not stop you getting sick, but will definitely help in a faster recovery and also benefit your ability to fight off colds and other viruses.
When we travel many aspects of our journey can upset our health. Things like stress, change of routine, air-conditioning and interacting closely with more crowds can compromise our immune system. So prepping before you plan to travel, even if it’s just locally can help you have a much more pleasant and healthy holiday!
Charmaine Carter from The Natural Health Clinic shares some great advice and tips on how you can protect your own immune system, not just before you travel but for every day happy and healthy life.
*Don’t forget to seek medical advice from your health care provider if you are feeling unwell.
Hands up whom, pre- Covid 19, and apart from the odd seasonal cold, didn’t give too much thought to their immune system function?
Unless you or those around you are immunocompromised or have autoimmune conditions, you and the majority of the general population are probably in the hands up camp.
That’s because the human immune system is usually pretty good at doing its job, so you’re blissfully unaware of the behind the scenes action that is continuously taking place to keep you well.
Tirelessly patrolling the body, your immune system is on the lookout for anything that it perceives as a threat, it then launches a finely tuned response comprised of an army of various cells and substances to exterminate that threat. Meaning you can go on with life as normal, despite coming in contact with a multitude of potential disease causing pathogens on a near daily basis.
Enter Covid-19 and with it an increased awareness of the spread of infection and the restrictions and regulations that have come with that. These restrictions and regulations have obviously had a huge effect on travel abroad but the flow on from that looks to be that many New Zealanders are out and about exploring and discovering parts of this beautiful country.
So in light of Covid-19, what are some things that we can put into place to support a strong, healthy immune response in our day to day lives but also if we are out visiting different regions of our own country?
As simple as it is, the importance of basic hygiene hopefully won’t be forgotten as we transition through the various alert levels.
- Wash hands
- Use PPE if required or desired
- Use sanitizer
- Don’t touch your face, viruses use those wonderfully damp and warm mucous membranes of our nose and mouth as their welcome mat to the body.
- Practice social distancing if required or desired
But what areas can we influence, areas that we might not realize have an effect on how efficient our immune response is?
- Stress levels
- Poor sleep quality
- Gut health
- Low nutrient levels
- Chronic infection
- Lack of movement
When we’re stressed, overwhelmed or anxious we are generally in a state of SNS (sympathetic nervous system) dominance and that state activates the release of corticosteroids. This has a negative effect on our immune function, suppressing our immune response so that our system is unable to launch an appropriate or strong enough attack on an encountered pathogen. Meaning that we succumb more readily to infection and may also end up being sicker for longer or more prone to recurrent infection.
Look at supporting a healthy stress response and HPA (hypothalamic pituitary adrenal) function with foods that provide key nutrients such as magnesium, zinc, B complex vitamins, vitamin C and the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, K. Supplementation with these nutrients may also be of benefit, as sometimes we need a more therapeutic dose than our diets can provide. Lifestyle wise look at things that are going to support the PNS (parasympathetic nervous system). Typically these include activities like yoga, Pilates, walking, spending time in nature, anything that brings a little calm and ‘safe’ to your nervous system.
Poor quality sleep
Poor quality sleep is often linked to a system that is SNS dominant, so see above!
Reduced or poor quality sleep can lead to increased inflammatory markers and that can compromise an appropriate immune response.
If good sleep eludes you then speak to a healthcare Practitioner about ways to address this and what might be contributing to poor quality sleep (stress, nutrient deficiencies, hormonal changes, pain and inflammation, poor sleep hygiene (screen time, temperature, darkness etc).
As such a large % of our immune function is based in the gut and GALT (gut associated lymphoid tissue) we really can’t go past the impact that healthy gut function has on our immune response. Supporting gut and therefore immune function can be achieved by including prebiotic and probiotic food sources that support a healthy gut microbiome. A variety of fruits and vegetables in the diet provides us with not only a range of immune boosting nutrients but also a variety of fibers to act as food sources for our gut bacteria. Probiotic food/drink sources include kombucha, kefir, yogurt, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi.
A probiotic supplement is useful at increasing all important microbial diversity in our gut microbiome, look for a probiotic supplement that contains Lactobacillus strains to boost immunity. There are shelf stable products that don’t require refrigeration, so are a handy travel supplement to have on hand.
Low nutrient levels
Consuming a balance of macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) means that key ingredients are available for immune supporting functions to be performed. Addressing any potential nutrient deficiencies also supports immune function by ensuring that nutritional co-factors are readily available, think iron, B12, vitamin C, zinc. Keeping an eye on intake of foods/drink that many have a negative effect on immune response can also be beneficial. Refined and processed foods, lack of dietary fiber, too much sugar and alcohol can all negatively affect immune function.
Address any low level, chronic or recurring infections that might be lingering as these can dysregulate the immune response leaving it unable to respond adequately to infection.
Low level infection can be anything from unchecked gum disease, sinus infections, ongoing issues from stealth infections like EBV (Epstein Barr Virus), chronic fungal infections or digestive system symptoms.
Note: some chronic infection needs a bit of a regime to clear, especially if there is the possibility of biofilm formation. The use of polysaccharide biofilm reducing and antimicrobial supplementation, as well as nutritional recommendations should be done with professional guidance.
Lack of movement
Exercises strengthens your immune system’s response, making it more effective in its response to infectious invaders. Even just 30 minutes of walking boosts the quantity of immune cells in the body!
There are a multitude of herbal formulas available that have a beneficial effect on the immune system. From preventative measures through to acute treatment of infection, to formulas more suited to target viral infection and those to head to for bacterial infection. Andrographis, elderberry, echinacea, kumerahou, olive, pelargonium, kawakawa are amongst the many herbal formulas that support all aspects of the immune system. As with any herbal medicine, it is advised to speak to a qualified Herbalist to make sure that you are getting the most effective extract/s and dosage for your needs. There is of course a plethora of over the counter herbal/nutrient immune support available and the ease of carrying something in a tablet form is ideal for travel purposes. Look for ingredients like echinacea, andrographis, vitamin D, zinc, olive leaf, vitamin D, elderberry.
Another highly effective immune support option is that of medical mushrooms. Cordyceps, Coriolus, reishi, shiitake are all amongst those that help to modulate an immune response, important if you are taking when already sick as you don’t want to overstimulate immune responses like NK cells during active infection. Medical mushrooms come in a variety of forms, from tablets to liquids to powders that can be added to food and drink.
A little extra ongoing attention to personal hygiene practices and an awareness of factors that have an affect on our immune response really does give our immune system the support that it needs to best protect us.
Don’t forget to contact Charmaine if you would like more personalized advice on how to improve your immune system or any other natural health inquiries.
*Disclaimer. The above information is intended to be a generalized guide to supporting immune function. It is not, nor is it intended to be used instead of individualized advice provided by your primary healthcare provider.
Charmaine Carter- BSHc (comp med), Dip Nat, Dip Herb Med
The Natural Health Clinic
022 187 3459
Charmaine is a degree qualified Naturopath, Herbalist and Nutritionist. She has been working out of her Naturopathic clinic based at Paeroa since qualifying in 2011. All health conditions are seen in clinic but she has a particular interest in autoimmunity, female hormones, anxiety and depression. When she is not seeing clients in clinic or as online consultations, she can often be found wandering the hills and tracks in the surrounding areas of the Karangahake Gorge or Waiorongomai Valley, often with a camera in hand.