Supporting Your Family's Immune System
As a parent, I am feeling extra-vigilant about implementing measures to strengthen my family's immune system this upcoming school year. And for good reason! We are currently within the throws of a global pandemic, which is COVID-19 (also known as SARS-CoV-2). Of course, I want to keep my daughter as safe as possible against contracting ANY virus, but I also am realistic and I know that she will most likely be met with contracting a standard cold or flu virus at some point. But this time around households will be affected in ways we have not seen before. For example, households may be forced to self-isolate at home for a period of time if symptoms of a viral infection arise. Like it or not, this means missing school (and potentially resorting to home-schooling), no access to childcare services, and inevitably missing work. Although there is no proven natural cure for COVID-19, we can certainly discuss ways to limit the risk of infection from this and other viruses going into the 2020/2021 fall/winter season.
The best approach always has been and still remains: PREVENTION. I've said it before, and I'll say it again...an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
TOP 7 Infection Prevention Tips
1. HYGIENE IS #1 – I'm thinking that by now you should be well-trained in the art of hand-washing. You know, singing the A-B-C's or the Happy Birthday Song twice whilst scrubbing away! But in case you have not heard the lecture, here we go: Wash. Your. Hands. Frequently! Wash those hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds or longer regularly throughout the day. Be sure to get in between those fingers (and keep your nails cut short!), wash both sides of the hands, and even wash the wrist area. When do you wash your hands, you may ask? After you visit the washroom, before and after you eat, before and after you touch your face/ cough/ sneeze, after you have visited a store or supermarket, after you have touched a dirty/soiled surface, and after you have touched a pet/animal. Soapy water is still the best method for sanitizing our hands and surfaces, but when you do not have access to soap and water, you can use an alternative. Hand sanitizers that contain 60% alcohol (or more) are best, but avoid using on young children and babies.
For homemade hand sanitizer, here are some guidelines set forth by the WHO (World Health Organization): https://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/Guide_to_Local_Production.pdf.
Here are some guidelines for disinfecting surfaces:
You can make a safer and more eco-conscious choice by using full-strength hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle AFTER cleaning a soiled or greasy surface. Be sure to allow the solution to sit on the surface for 5 minutes or longer (i.e. no need to wipe).
See here for more details: https://davidsuzuki.org/queen-of-green/non-toxic-disinfecting/. Consider using gloves when you are cleaning and pay extra attention to high-contact surfaces (i.e. doorknobs, light switches, etc.).
Of course, you should also sneeze into your elbow, avoid touching your face, and be sure to educate your children on good hygiene practices.
Fresh air and good indoor ventilation are critical for a healthy home and work environment. Consider a bedroom or workspace air purifier with a HEPA filter. And when you cannot physically distance (especially when indoors), wear a face mask.
Here are some guidelines regarding face masks: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/prevention-risks/how-put-remove-clean-non-medical-masks-face-coverings.html.
2. GET YOUR REST – Sleep and down-time are so essential for the immune system. If you run a busy schedule (like myself) be sure to ensure you are still able to get adequate sleep and rest time. Times are stressful for many households, so remember that the more stress you have, the more rest you need. Adults typically do best with 7-9 hours of sleep per night. This may mean adjusting your schedule or reducing your extra-curricular activities. Children need more sleep than adults, so as we pass through the final days of summer be sure you are preparing your child for the new routines that should be in place for September.
Here is a link to show you how much sleep your child should be ideally getting each night: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/canadian-children-getting-enough-sleep-infographic.html.
3. STAY ACTIVE & GET OUTDOORS – Regular movement activates the lymphatic system (a network that connects the blood vessels and immune system, and functions to remove toxins and wastes), reduces stress hormones (elevated stress hormones suppress the immune system), maintains a healthy body weight (obesity is linked with reduced immune activity), helps to flush out microbes out of the lungs and airways, and exercise increases body temperature temporarily which can decrease the viability of viruses and bacteria. Plus, when you are exercising outdoors you get the added benefit of being in the sunshine and better air quality (indoor air vs outdoor air)!
And don't feel that you have to “go hard or go home”! The important thing is that you are regularly moving your body (daily is great!) in a way that is safe and works for you. You may want to consider booking an appointment with a physiotherapist or sports therapist if you are physically challenged or injured before beginning your work-outs. Next, calculate your target heart rate and maintain that for the appropriate length of time based on your age group.
Here is how to calculate your target heart rate: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/measuring/heartrate.htm.
Here are guidelines for the amount of exercise you should be getting per week: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/age-chart.html.
If you are a “newbie” to exercise, start with just 5-7 minutes every two days, and gradually increase by 1-2 minutes each time until you get to 30-45min. Many people will see benefits (i.e. weight loss, improved sleep and mood) with just 15-20min! High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be an excellent approach when weight management is your main goal.
Here is a link for HIIT for beginners:
4. STAY AWAY FROM SUGAR & PROCESSED FOOD – A whole foods diet goes a long way! But I get it! Shopping for fresh/frozen fruits and vegetables and scratch-making your own food can be costly and time-consuming. However, do the best that you can! I have long discussed the importance of meal-planning with patients—having a plan with pre-chosen recipes, a predetermined grocery list, and spending a few hours in your kitchen each week, preparing food for the work/school week, is ESSENTIAL for success! If you are able to can it, freeze it, refrigerate it, or pre-package it for you to grab-and-go, you will find yourself sticking to your guns more often than not! It's when we are tired and hungry that we are most likely to make a poor choice. Handy & healthy snacks for kiddos are also a life-saver!
5. WHAT ABOUT SUPPLEMENTS – While vitamins or supplements are not always necessary for everyone, I do feel compelled to make a few statements about some essentials. The #1 vitamin to mention for immune support has got to be VITAMIN D. In my practice, I am often encouraging my patients to get their vitamin D tested. While most allopathic doctors are not able to order this test here in Manitoba, you can certainly request your naturopathic doctor order it for you (locally in Winnipeg, Dynacare charges a modest fee which often can be claimed under your private health care plan.) Using your results, a vitamin D dose can be calculated for your own personal requirements. And don't assume that since you have been sun-bathing that your vitamin D levels must be just fine...some of my patients are surprised to learn that they are still in the suboptimal range.
Other natural products that may provide immune support include zinc, vitamin C, bioflavonoids (including quercetin), and probiotics. There are many others, but these are common and safe for most folks. Please consult your allied health professional for more detailed advice.
6. ADDRESS YOUR HEALTH ISSUES – If you have an underlying health problem, do get the help that you need to work on this. If your cardiovascular system, immune system, or digestive system is compromised you are at an increased risk to get infections. If you are under a lot of stress or are struggling with a mental health condition, you may also have a compromised immune system. These are all situations where you will need coaching to address these issues and stay healthy during the most vulnerable times.
7. REGULAR CHECK-UPS AND BLOOD WORK – If you are seeing your naturopathic doctor and/or medical doctor regularly for blood work (once a year, at least)...good for you! This is a relatively easy way to “check in” and see how the body is working. I am a big fan of blood work and lab testing, so if you are not able to get tested through the usual channels let me know as that is something I can help you with! As I mentioned previously, I am able to order vitamin D testing, along with a variety of other tests that may reflect your overall immune function.
The new school year is fast approaching...and this means increased contact with larger groups of people. Take the initiative for you and your family's health NOW! I am happy to help patients of all ages and can coach you gently toward optimal health. Seeing a naturopathic doctor DOES NOT mean leaving each visit with a shopping bag of supplements! With your detailed personal assessment, I can tailor a program that fits YOU.
Reach out soon and let me know how I can help you!
Cheers, to the final days of summer and to a healthy fall and winter ahead!