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Do Not Underestimate Your Underlying Immunity and Inflammation

I understand why social distancing, self-isolation, wearing face coverings, and frequent hand washing are dominating all COVID-19 media soundsbites in order to better educate others on how to protect themselves and others.  It is unfortunate that the media is NOT shedding any light on only those with a long-standing pre-existing health condition (i.e., cancer, heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes) are the only ones getting infected with COVID-19 and becoming ill.  It is important to understand that only those with weaker immune systems and high levels of inflammation are the ONLY ONES GETTING INFECTED with COVID-19. 

Going forward, let’s start paying attention to two critical factors linked to developing an infection:  Immunity and inflammation.

  1. Immunity → should be boosted
  2. Inflammation → should be suppressed. 

I’ve touched on both topics in past columns, particularly on the role of diet quality and immune response, linked for your reference:

Immune Boosters to Fight Colds and Flu

Boosting the Immune System in Pediatrics

Drugs & Immune System Support: What We Know and What We Don’t

Embarking on our third month of social distancing restrictions worldwide, we now know for certain who is more likely to become infected and die from COVID-19. Due to the complexity of immunity and inflammation, these life-saving topics are not covered in the media, even though we have known these two factors are critically important for decades before the 2020 outbreak.  It is my hope to boil this topic down in the simplest way possible.

Let’s start with one indisputable fact. Older people are most vulnerable to any highly infectious disease and its fatal consequences. For instance, individuals over 80 years old are over 100 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those in their 20s.  

The key word here is Older.  Older” doesn’t necessarily mean “old age”; it means premature aging or being metabolically old.  This translates to increased cell death versus cell regeneration and hence, increased vulnerability to infections and their serious adverse effects. Typically old age begins around age 55 (not typically considered “old age”), but can certainly start younger as in children or earlier decades if these individuals have a pre-existing health condition which delays their recovery process.

Immune defenses decline with age. This is a fundamental fact of biology and a natural phenomena of life. Even with small and moderate declines in several of the body’s organ functions, humans can still live within ranges that promote optimal health only if their external world is conducive to achieving this goal.  

Sadly, we live in a highly toxic and acidic world causing our natural killer cells (a major immunological weapon) to be less effective at destroying virus-infected cells with advancing age. We must change our environmental inputs in order to slow down or even reverse our natural immunological decline.  It is the only way we can function at our best as we age. 

Think: where is the STAIN? Here, STAIN stands for stress, toxins, antigens, infections, and nutrition: The Environmental Inputs which prevent the immune system from properly functioning.  It leads to underlying imbalances that when left “untreated”, cause poor organ functioning, premature aging, and increasing risk of infections and their dire consequences. In a conventional medicine, STAIN is often missed for years to decades and commonly ignored. 

Ignoring STAIN leads to rising inflammation in tissues throughout the body. This allows viruses, such as COVID-19, to bind to cells in our nose and lungs (entrance of our respiratory tract) and wreak havoc, compellingly explained in a webinar this month.

Having a basic understanding in biology, we know fat tissue increases inflammation and renders overweight and obese people more vulnerable to any infection, including COVID-19.

The conversation throughout the media is focused only on drug and vaccine development to solve the COVID-19 pandemic from recurring.  It would be way more effective and safer to focus on finding clear ways to diminish inflammation and improve resistance to deadly disease. The basic immunological weapons we have had all along lie in our diet, lifestyle, and mindfulness. They are still the most powerful weapons available, unlike depending only on synthetic pharmaceuticals and a vaccine loaded with dangerous side effects especially for those with weaker immune systems.

The simple act of walking in nature, for instance, can be truly restorative to a sedentary body and help boost the immune system. When skeletal muscles contract upon movement, they produce small proteins called myokines that dampen inflammation and cause big health benefits. Myokines hault infections and keep inflammation from spiraling out of control. Simple movement and the right diet diminish body fat and increases the potency of natural killer cells--no matter what your age. This is why an 80-year-old who increases muscle mass is better able to recover from COVID-19 than an 80-year-old with low muscle mass.

Bottom line: Exercise is essential for everyone.  No matter what your chronic  condition is, exercise boosts immunity. The more extensive or vigorous the exercise, the less inflammation.  Do not underestimate the power of walking. Those who reach fewer than 3,000 steps a day have the highest level of inflammation, whereas those who reach 7,000-10,000 or more steps daily have the least inflammation.

You don’t need any special workout equipment or gadgets.  Just get back to the basics and start moving.  Exercise improves sleep quality leading to further suppressing inflammation.  Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep a night, and if you need additional support, try tai chi, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation (from feet to head) to help reduce stress and calm the mind and body. 

Consuming a varied, nutrient-rich plant-based diet keeps calorie intake in-check and is the gold standard for boosting the immune system. While baking is now a new pastime for many sheltering at home, the consequences—weight gain and overconsumption of sugar and refined flour—can increase susceptibility to the virus. Excess weight weakens the immune system. Increasing abdominal fat, in particular, boosts inflammation. Focus on having yummy vegetables like red bell peppers, cucumbers, arugula, broccoli, and fresh herbs -- raw vs. cooked.  Balance with a variety of lentils, beans, mushrooms, and quinoa or millet. 

Finally, try intermittent fasting (14-16 hours at night) and avoid eating a big dinner or late night snacking. Try to also avoid having caffeine after 12 p.m. 

 

Dr. Bhandari and the Advanced Health Team Are Here to Support Your Health.

Our expert team of integrative holistic practitioners work with patients suffering from chronic health concerns.  We take the extra step to understand the root cause and how to optimize every organ’s functioning.  By better understanding how your environment directly fits into your overall well-being, we create personalized treatment plans which drive away sickness. To learn more and book an appointment, contact Advanced Health or call 1-415-506-9393.

Author
Dr. Payal Bhandari Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is a leading practitioner of integrative and functional medicine in San Francisco.

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