This is part one of a 4-part blog series covering the immune system and how best to support it, yourself and your little ones At This Time.
(See what I’m doing there… some Harry Potter “that which shall not be named”!)
- IMMUNE SYSTEM 101. Part 1 (this post) is a brief introduction to what is top of mind at this time of Corona namely: What Corona is, Immune System Function and Stress.
- SUPPLEMENTS FOR IMMUNE SUPPORT. Part 2 will focus on specific immune-supporting and Corona-fighting supplementation.
- IMMUNE BOOSTING FOODS. Of course, I believe food is medicine, so I will cover diet in the Immune Boosting Foods post. My book, Mila’s Meals: The Beginning & The Basics, is all about eating food that is easy on the digestive system and nutrient-dense – that is, immune supportive in every way. It is a 500-page book – so to condense the abundance of food that is medicine into a blog post will take longer (or you could just order the book and get started right away 🙂 ).
- IMMUNITY ENHANCING LIFESTYLE TIPS. And then one simply cannot underestimate the importance of Primary Food (aka soul food and lifestyle) – this is what will have the greatest impact on your stress levels and sense of well-being at this time.
1. What is Corona Virus?
This is a definition from Dr. Jill Carnahan
Coronavirus is a virus that primarily affects the respiratory system. While there are around a dozen different types of coronaviruses, only three are able to infect humans. Our current health threat is a strain of coronavirus officially known as SARS-COV-2 and causes a disease which has been dubbed Covid-19.1
It’s thought to be an airborne virus – meaning it’s spread from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when someone coughs or sneezes. These droplets can end up on a surface (like your hands or a doorknob) and then be spread if you come into contact with the contaminated surface.
Once the coronavirus is contracted, symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening.
The Symptoms of Coronavirus
The coronavirus can remain latent for anywhere from two to 14 days – meaning people can be infected without showing any symptoms.
Most common symptoms (according to the WHO):
- dry cough
Less common symptoms:
- aches and pains
- sore throat
- loss of taste or smell
- a rash on skin, or discolouration of fingers or toes
- difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- chest pain or pressure
- loss of speech or movement
2. What is the Immune System?
When protecting one’s health from a foreign invader, you have to have an understanding of (and appreciation for) your Immune System.
A definition from Dr. Axe
“The immune system is an interactive network of organs, white blood cells and proteins that protect the body from viruses and bacteria or any foreign substances.
The immune system works to neutralize and remove pathogens like bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi that enter the body, recognize and neutralize harmful substances from the environment, and fight against the body’s own cells that have changes due to an illness.
The amazing thing about the immune system is that it’s constantly adapting and learning so that the body can fight against bacteria or viruses that change over time. There are two parts of the immune system:
a. Our innate immune system works as a general defense against pathogens.
b. Our adaptive immune system targets very specific pathogens that the body has already has contact with.
These two immune systems complement each other in any reaction to a pathogen or harmful substance.”
A definition from Mila:
“The immune system is your body’s army that fights the bad guys!”
So how do we support this army of ours?
At This Time it is really important to remember that stress, nutrition and lifestyle measures can help make you and your family less welcoming hosts.
Immune Support 101:
a. What is Stress?
b. Stress & The Immune System
c. Stress Be Gone!
Why am I talking about stress?
Stress affects all aspects of your life – your emotions, behaviour, thinking ability, and physical health.
a. What is Stress?
Stress is the body’s reaction to harmful/emergency situations (perceived or real). This response was designed to protect your life by preparing you to react quickly and in a certain way. This physical, chemical response is known as “fight-flight-freeze response,” or the stress response.
Stress activates our Sympathetic Nervous System and our hypothalamus, the tiny control tower in your brain, sends the signal for your adrenal glands to release stress hormones – adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones increase your heart rate (sending blood to the areas that need it most), your breath quickens (to quickly distribute oxygen-rich blood to your muscles), your blood vessels constrict (raising your blood pressure) and your muscles tighten and ready for action.
At the same time, our Parasympathetic Nervous System – our “Rest-Digest-Heal” response – is slowed down as these processes as the body focuses all energy the task at hand (saving your life from the imminent danger).
When we have escaped the predator/stressor, the hypothalamus should tell all body systems to go back to normal. We need the Parasympathetic Nervous System to kick in again to repair the physical and mental impact caused by the stress and to support our long-term health and well-being.
If the central nervous system fails to return to a parasympathetic state, or if the stressor doesn’t go away, the stress response will continue. This is known as Chronic Stress – and this is the kind of stress that does the opposite of save lives!
For humans, we have 3 states: social engagement, fight/flight, and freeze. These 3 states are elicited by our perception of threat (stress) and are biological and nervous system responses. Polyvagal theory, developed by Dr. Steven Porges, is one of the big game changers in treatment of trauma and how we understand the neurobiology of being human.
IMAGE SOURCE: Ruby Jo Walker, LCSW – an expert trainer on the forefront of the field of interpersonal neurobiology with a specialty in presenting on the neurophysiology and treatment of trauma.
b. Stress and the Immune Response
When we’re stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off bacteria and viruses is reduced due to the release of cortisol which lowers the number lymphocytes — the white blood cells that help fight off infection. (1) (2)
The stress response also negatively affects digestive system. Digestion is inhibited and blood- and oxygen-flow to the stomach decreases – creating an imbalance in gut bacteria and causing inflammation. This then affects your nutrient uptake, which again leaves you more vulnerable to pathogens and disease. (3)
When we are stressed, our liver produces extra blood sugar (glucose) to give us a boost of energy (again – to fight off the bear). If we’re under chronic stress (the bear is not going away), this extra glucose can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. (4)
Living in the fight-flight-freeze response or in a long-term stress response (and it’s persistently high cortisol levels) and not enough time in the rest-digest-heal state leads to chronic inflammation – a breeding ground for ill-health, autoimmune conditions and cancers. (5)
Stress also has an indirect effect on the immune system as when we are stressed one tends to use unhealthy behavioural coping strategies such as unhealthy eating habits, drinking alcohol, over-use of screen time as we look to “escape”.
Remember there other physical/physiological stressors too: mold/mycotoxins, heavy metals, glyphosate (Roundup), artificial dyes/flavors/preservatives. Our body makes no distinction between these stressors and phycological stress/stressors. More on this in Part 3 of this blog series.
c. Stress Be Gone!
The good news is that you can shift these states of being. I will delve into this is more detail in the 4th blog post of this series. But in brief, it is all about being fully present – both in the situation / experience and in your body. I was fortunate to be informed and guided in this healing practice a couple of years ago when I found myself stuck in the Freeze response as past traumas came back to be dealt with. I did SOMA therapy with Dr Lesley Chorn and body-work in the form of cranio-sacral therapy with Dr. Amos Heller.
The definition of Stress which resonates with me is “The inability to accept what is.”
When I heard this (from Dr. Wayne Naude) I finally understood how I could better handle my stress – because being told to manage stress seemed nonsensical to me. Stressful things (big ones, real ones) kept happening – how was I supposed to manage that? It’s not like I could stop them happening!
But once I learnt acceptance – I found a way to experience far less stress.
There are various tools for dropping into acceptance – from meditation and breath work, to simply pausing – barefoot on the earth with your face in the sunshine. (More on this in the 4th blog post – but for now, spend time outside and in the sun as much as you can! And B R E A T H E.)
During these unprecedented times, acceptance can help us enormously. Accept that Corona is here and everywhere, trying to outrun it will only add stress and anxiety.
Acceptance (for me anyway) opens the door for gratitude – because when I consciously accept what is, it is impossible to ignore or “not see” what is good.
While I acknowledge the virus and its harsh impact on our lives, I practice gratitude daily by acknowledging all the blessings in our lives at this time.
Like taking a moment to notice and appreciate my granadilla plant flowering and dropping delicious fruit like Easter eggs for me to find 🙂
What are you grateful for right now?
Exercise (aka Movement!)
Exercise/movement reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It is the evolution of running away from the bear! It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.
So forget “managing stress” – RELEASE the stress!
Mila and I are spending a lot of time on our trampoline. (We are still in lockdown and only allowed “out” of our property from 6am-9am… we are in the middle of winter – it is freezing at that time and the sun only rises at 7:30am!)
Jumping on a trampoline (or “rebounding” if you want to sound like you’re doing exercise as opposed to just having fun) makes you smile and laugh – that alone is enough! But scientifically it’s a great mood-boosting activity as exercise releases endorphins to give you a natural high. Most significantly for me At This Time, rebounding is a powerful detoxifier as it stimulates the lymphatic system and immune system.
The lymphatic system – why it is important?
Here’s a quick anatomy lesson – courtesy of Chris Beat Cancer
“Your lymphatic system is composed of your tonsils, thymus, bone marrow, spleen, lymphatic fluid, vessels, and lymph nodes.
The thymus and bone marrow produce white blood cells called lymphocytes.
Your blood vessels deliver oxygen and nutrients to your cells.
Your lymph vessels are like blood vessels except they are full of clear lymphatic fluid that carries white blood cells (B cell and T cell lymphocytes) throughout your body so they can attack invaders and infected cells.
Your lymphatic fluid also carries dead cells, metabolic waste, and toxins away from healthy tissue to be eliminated through sweat, mucus, urine, and liver bile which is carried out in your poop.
Lymph nodes are like holding stations that filter the lymph fluid and capture microbes for B and T cells to deal with. They are located in your armpits, groin, neck and around the blood vessels of your chest and abdomen.”
So not only is it an important part of your immune system it is also one of the waste-disposal systems of your body – it keeps you healthy by getting rid of your body’s unwanted toxins and waste.
BUT… unlike our circulatory system that has our heart to pump blood throughout our system, the lymphatic system has no organ to circulate lymph it relies completely on you for activation.
Without adequate movement, your cells are left stewing in their own waste products and starving for nutrients (yuck!). Your cells then become less efficient and sluggish as they fill with their own waste creating a breeding ground for infection and disease (double yuck).
Rebounding to the rescue!
Rebounding kicks the lymphatic system into high gear. The force of gravity on the body fluctuates, going from a heavy load at the bottom of your bounce to almost zero at the top. This stimulates the one-way valves in your lymphatic system increasing your lymph flow as significantly!
But back to the fun…
Mila is enjoying the trampoline so much she even made an exercise series 🙂 Take a look…
There are many online classes available for free at this time, but we still use The Magic Mat DVD.
Mila has been enjoying this magical introduction to yoga since she was 3 years old. It is a wonderful activity to do with your kids (proper quality, connection time!)
The DVD is a series of fun exercises and activities designed to build confidence and encourage feelings of gratitude and peace.
Other great resources for movement for the little ones at this time (parents can join in of course!):
Then FAITH. Have faith in and connect with whatever higher power guides and protects you… and have faith in your immune system!
Remember that your body is a self-healing mechanism and is designed to combat germs and protect your body from harm.
Bottom line: Stress negatively impacts your immune system.
When we are stressed, we are more susceptible to infections.
Remember: FAITH, ACCEPTANCE & EXERCISE!
(in nature and the sunshine whenever possible!)
I will elaborate on all of these (essentially lifestyle elements) in Part 4: Immune Support – Lifestyle when I talk about Primary Food. A concept and healing tool I learnt about at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
I started this blog series with “addressing stress” as it is something you can do immediately and for FREE! Next up is Supplements for Immune Support – because again, supplementation is quick to do.
May you feel safe.
May you feel happy.
May you feel healthy.
May you live in peace.
(PS those 4 simple sentences are a Loving Kindness meditation that I first heard on a webinar with Dr. Elisa Song. You can repeat them with your little ones at bedtime for happy hearts, peaceful sleep and resilient immune systems…)