Updated: Mar 15
There’s nothing quite like a viral epidemic to rekindle our focus on health and well-being. Coronavirus cases are on the rise, with the number of diagnosed cases set to peak around the Easter period. Epidemiologists have suggested that between 40% and 70% of the population will contract the virus at some point, and that it may become a seasonal virus like colds and the flu. For the majority of the population, the virus poses little more danger than the common cold; however, in older populations with underlining health conditions, the virus has a much higher mortality rate. This is because age and certain health conditions affect our immune systems ability to protect us from external threats.
So what can we do to improve our immune system and raise our chances of fighting coronavirus effectively? Below I’ve listed some of my immune system conditioning techniques, with a brief discussion around their mechanisms of action.
Proficient exercise is correlated with maintaining a healthy body weight, body fat and efficient immune system. Multiple mechanisms of action are at play here; however, the general consensus is that our bodies have evolved to be active and fit in order to survive in a more rudimental environment. When we align our lifestyles with our evolution, our bodies tend to reward us with improved quality and longevity of life. Improved quality of life is often a result of homeostasis, and a part of maintaining homeostasis is good immunity. It’s worth noting, that in the short term intense exercise can actually weaken immunity as the body recovers, making us more susceptible to viruses. Therefore, under the current climate I’d suggest primarily participating in moderate cardio vascular exercise 4 – 5 times a week.
Nature has provided us with a plethora of different whole foods, nutrients, anti oxidants and health boosting chemical compounds that keep humans well and fit. Typically, these components are best suited for our bodies when they’re unprocessed, and diverse in their consumption. It's been suggested that a diet rich in different fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, teas, pulses, beans and legumes alleviates the underlying causes of many metabolic diseases, and vastly increases the effectiveness of our immune system.
Abstain from alcohol
Alcohol is a huge and diverse part of many cultures around the world. It has been a driver of human culture, fuelling the development of arts, language, and religion for over 9,000 years. Alcohol has been mass-produced by ancient civilisations for millennia, dating back further than 2,000 BC and holds one of the largest mind-altering market shares in society.
That being said, what alcohol gives with one hand, it takes away with the other. Alcohol is poisonous to the human body. It reduces life expectancy, and is addictive for some, ruining homes, families and lives. It also drastically reduces immunity while the body tries to recover from its poisonous effects. People’s ability to process and recover from the effects of alcohol seems to be largely down to genetics and some are more likely to be able to handle it's effects better than others. That being said, during an epidemic, ‘laying off the sauce’ for a few months may be the best course of action.
Drink plenty of water
Most of us have heard that up to 60% of the human body is water, but some statistics suggest that over 70% of the western population is dehydrated. Remaining hydrated allows the body to function more efficiently and quite literally flush itself of unwanted material. Processes such as autophagy are greatly improved through sufficient hydration and some research suggests that there are large benefits to loading water in the morning, such as increased alertness, improved metabolism, skin, hair, and, of course, hydration. Again, this behaviour feeds into improved homeostasis and health, supporting a strong immune system.
A new, innovative and intriguing field of research revolves around the microbiome. Not much is known in terms of its specificity; however, the research is coming in thick and fast. The aim is that in the near future, we will discover the specific function of different bacteria and how they react with specific types of genetics. As it currently stands, there’s robust evidence that the microbiome is largely intertwined with how our immune system functions, which is in part why components such as our diet effects our health so drastically. It also appears that many of these relations ships are bi-directional, meaning that elements such as, exercise, sleep and diet affect our microbiome and in return our microbiome affects their function. It’s difficult at this point to determine the best bacteria for improved immunity; however, as a rule of thumb bacterial diversity appears to be a relevant component in improving immunity and health, and in turn immunity. A diverse microbiome can be improved by eating a varied diet, and possibly by consuming probiotics.
Unless you have the bacteria to cultivate in the first instance, you’re unlikely to be able to create a particularly diverse microbiome without introducing new bacteria into your gut. Currently, our best method for doing this is through faecal transplant. Admittedly, for some this method may seem rather drastic, so for now a course of probiotics and shake up in diet may still provide improvements in health, well-being and immunity.
We have evolved to be outside, in nature, in multiple environments, under a diverse array of conditions. There are theories that suggest that this trait is so embedded in our DNA that having a lifestyle absent of the outdoors, comes with a host of problems. One of those problems appears to be a weakened immune system. The way in which going outside improves our health appears to be incredibly complicated. For example, research has shown that projecting the colour green into the eyes (which is found in abundance outdoors), can improve mood, health and immunity. Other phenomenon that are correlated with components of being outdoors are providing us with a host of tools and hacks to improve health in the modern day; however, the easiest solution could be to simply spend more time outside.
Cold and heat exposures have both been shown to lower inflammation, support detoxification, reduce body fat, and improve our immune system. The exact mechanisms are still under review; however, evidence suggests that exposing our bodies to different heat conditions replicates the conditions we find within nature, as well as our bodies reaction to infection. In order to adequately survive under these conditions our immune systems needed to adapt and condition themselves to enable us to function at a level that allowed us to continue to hunt, gather, find shelter and reproduce. Research suggests that both exposing ourselves to cold situations such as ice baths, and hot situations such as sauna baths, substantially increases our body’s ability to fight off other external stimuli. The most effective methods appear to be alternating between hot and cold temperatures. Provided you have access to a cold shower or a sauna, these methods can be implemented quickly and efficiently, with responses in increased immunity found within the first few weeks of implementation. Typically, exposure to either condition should last 20 minutes. If you’re alternating between different temperatures, long exposures to heat combined with short burst of cold have also been found to be effective.
Play in the mud
There’s a theory floating around called the hygiene hypothesis. The theory suggests that our immune system learns from infection and that exposure to pathogens usually supports our health in the long term. If we’re too hygienic and avoid all exposure to external, morbific situations, then our immune systems can become hyper alert and turn on our own bodies. There’s evidence to suggest that lack of exposure to unhygienic circumstances, combined with antibiotics and stressful lifestyles, has left our immune systems untrained and overactive, which may be why we’ve seen such a sharp increase in autoimmune conditions in recent years.
Typically speaking I’m not a fan of supplementation. I believe you can obtain all the nutrients you need from natural sources such as whole foods and sunlight. More often than not I think supplements can do more harm than good. That being said, there’s evidence that in concentration certain foods can improve our ability to fight off infectious diseases. In fact, small studies (which are often the precursor to larger studies, if funding is awarded) are suggesting that a lot of these compounds are more effective than synthetic compounds manufactured in labs. This is quite typical; frequently we find that the laws of nature provide far more novel and compatible solutions for ailments than human ingenuity. There are multiple products on the market and our understanding of their effectiveness is infantile at best. The compounds may act differently when combined and more is not necessarily better. For that reason, I’d suggest combining some of the more tried and tested products on the market in moderation. Examples include: turmeric, beetroot, ashwagandha, spirulina (avoid if you have PKU), rhodiola , ZMA, and lysine. Try to obtain the other vitamins, minerals, bioflavonoids and phytochemicals from a varied diet.
All of the above points merge into one holistic picture. Be at one with nature, align your lifestyle with your biology, moving towards a more organic way of being. These changes won’t take place overnight and are only effective when implemented as a part of a continued long-term healthy lifestyle. If you are experiencing symptoms of Coronavirus, please make sure to call your local health provider and look at measures to stop the spread of the virus to others.