I felt draw to post this today for a variety of reasons including the caronavirus, the stress of the immune system, and having just returned for the Integrative Healthcare Symposium in New York City, where I listed to a talk on the gut microbiome. While I appreciate the advice of hand washing and minimizing exposure to the virus, some of the recent cases, suggesting an unknow origin of transmission, really highlight how out of our control avoiding exposure can be. In addition, the stress of the pandemic like situation and the ramifications for society along with the stress of the stock market crash is adding insult to injury when it comes to our health. However, we can control, to a certain extent, our gut health and overall health as much as possible to maximize our immune systems and our overall health and wellbeing The gut is your biggest source of lymphoid tissue in the body, therefor gut health has a huge impact on the strength and ability of the immune system to act when exposed to viruses and bacteria. In addition, the microbiome (your gut bacteria) play a role in your immune system as well including help in maintaining your mucosal barrier, which is the first line defense of your immune system. This organism is incredibly complex and contains more cells then your entire body and both good and bad bacteria. In addition, the link between your gut and your brain is extensive and the microbiome health has also been linked to mental health and some research has suggested the use probiotics as a type or adjunct to antidepressants.
Probably the best think you can do to increase or maintain gut health is to minimize simple carbohydrates and refined sugars, while increasing fruit and vegetable intake. Studies have shown that you can favorably change your microbiota as early as 3 days with a change to a mostly plant-based diet and eliminating processed foods. Fiber is one of the key factors in this situation, so I do not recommend juicing in place of consuming whole fruits and vegetables. Whole grains, nuts, avocados, legumes and beans are also good sources of fiber, and should be the basis of your diet. In addition to the avocado and nuts, additional sources of healthy fats including coconut oil, olive oil, omega 3 fatty acids (flax, salmon, leafy greens) can contribute to cellular health and reducing inflammation.
While including some of these foods is great, avoiding problematic foods with sugar, trans fats, and preservatives and chemicals is also necessary as well. It is also important to avoid any food that you may have a food sensitivity too like gluten, dairy and GMO corn or soy. Consuming foods that you may be sensitive too can make your intestines more permeable and allow intestinal contents to leak into the blood stream and cause reactions that will affect your immune system. This can make it more difficult for the immune system to deal with outside bacteria and viruses, thus compromising your immune response.
Lastly, anything you can do to mitigate stress will also benefit your overall health and the health of your immune system. Giving your self extra time, not pushing deadlines, resting as much as possible are things you can control in your world. It is important, when it comes to stress, to not add “insult to injury” with the many sources of stress that are completely out of our control like traffic as well as family and work obligations. This is also a good time to not over imbibe with alcohol and find ways to get as much activity or exercise as you can, which can also help boost your immune system and mood.