Corona Virus Pandemic: Part VI
Boosting your immune system
The pandemic continues its surge all over the world. With the arrival of winter, we are beginning to see a sudden outbreak of clusters in many northern states. This has been particularly heavy in states such as Wisconsin, Iowa, Utah, etc., that are forced to set up field hospitals to accommodate the patient load! In other words, we are going backward to the same situation we were in 3-4 months ago! This current wave of the virus is heading towards a dangerous climax and public health experts predict that total deaths may go up to 400,000 by the end of February 2021!
This virus is deadly, so prevention is our best option. By this time, you know the drill to prevent exposure to Covid-19: wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding close contacts with those who are sick, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, observing strict personal hygiene and less outing into crowded areas. Seniors and other vulnerable groups need to be more vigilant. Coronavirus is a novel disease and hence new to our immune system. Since the virus is not going away any time soon and a vaccine is still months away, it is incumbent on us to think about boosting our immune system. Here are the main points for consideration:
Nutrition plays a key role in developing and maintaining a healthy immune system. Any virus or bacteria that enter your body is the antigen that stimulates the production of antibodies, which in turn fight the disease causing organism. All antibodies are protein based, so it makes sense to take a high-protein diet. It doesn’t matter how you get your proteins – meats, eggs, legumes, milk, fruits and nuts are great sources of protein. And many of the medicines we take are plant-derived and hence a diet rich in veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds would go a long way in boosting immunity. Here is a recommendation for an ‘immune supportive diet’: “Keep your breakfast, lunch and dinner menus simple but make sure each meal has a protein, a fat (low in saturated fat) and a carbohydrate to fuel your immune system.” One caution. Because of lockdown and house confinement, obesity is on the rise and it is a major risk for Covid-19 infections!
Drink enough fluids: Water is the best drink and it helps to eliminate toxins from the body. You can also use unsweetened beverages, milk, non-dairy milks like soy, etc. Avoid sugar- sweetened food and drinks since they help the bacteria and viruses thrive in our body.
Limit alcohol consumption: Alcohol can weaken the immune system, so avoid it altogether, if you can; otherwise limit your intake. A glass of wine daily is acceptable but if you don’t drink now, don’t start.
Exercise: Exercise increases blood flow to every cell in the body, reduces stress and inflammation, and can strengthen antibody production. Regular exercise can definitely boost your immune system and may be the single most potent elixir for healthy aging. It improves the muscle strength, cardiovascular and respiratory function, and limits the risk of getting diabetes – all important in our fight against infections. So, get moving.
Don’t smoke! Cigarette smoking is associated with numerous diseases especially that of heart and lungs, and it certainly affects the body’s immune functions too. In scientific terms, “Smoking impacts both innate and adaptive immunity and plays dual roles in regulating immunity by either exacerbation of pathogenic immune responses or attenuation of defensive immunity. In particular, cigarette smoke acts as a double-edged sword that either exacerbates abnormal immune reaction as happens in the initial phase of Covid-19 infection or attenuates the normal defensive function of the immune system.”
Reduce stress: Studies clearly show that “Stress and anxiety impair the immune system and make us more susceptible to illnesses.” So, practice stress-reducing techniques like yoga, meditation and regular exercise.
Use supplements as needed: Theoretically, a healthy diet can provide the necessary vitamins and minerals you need but older people and those with preexisting problems like cardiac, gastrointestinal, renal, etc., may end up not getting enough of these from the food, especially vitamins B and D and calcium. A standard multivitamin tablet may do the trick but sometimes you have to take additional vitamin D and calcium. Zinc has assumed some importance at this time since it has been associated with reduced antibody production and hence administration of zinc supplement has a potential to enhance antiviral immunity.
Consider preventive medicine: Low-dose aspirin is known to decrease the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Since coronavirus is notorious to produce blood clots in the body, low- dose aspirin, being a mild blood thinner, may be especially beneficial. Discuss with your doctor as to what supplements and other drugs you should be on, especially if you are an older person.
These are some of the measures you can adopt today to boost your immune system and help prevent catching this infection.
To be continued …
M.P. Ravindra Nathan, M.D., is a cardiologist and Emeritus Editor of AAPI Journal. For further reading, “Second Chance - A Sister’s Act of Love” by Dr. Nathan from Outskirts Press, can be found at www.amazon.com
IDENTIFY THE ROOT CAUSE OF STRESS SYMPTOMS WITH FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE
Let’s face it. Becoming and being a successful South Asian Indian American can be mentally exhausting on students and adults alike. Emerging medical literature suggests South Asians commonly view psychiatric symptoms as “appropriate reactions to life stress” and tend to reduce the significance of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
To complicate matters, Asian Indian Americans are more likely to have diabetes and atherosclerosis, and common psychiatric prescriptions can further increase weight gain, diabetes and heart rhythm risks.
Fortunately, an integrative science exists that combines the non-pharmaceutical solutions of Eastern medicine (e.g. Ayurveda) with the scientific understanding of brain biochemistry in Western medicine. It’s called functional medicine and respected institutions like Cleveland Clinic have dedicated a full department to promote its use. Here’s a case from our office.
Reena, a mother of 2 teenagers and practicing ER physician for 20+ years, was born in America and raised by two very traditional immigrant parents. Like many of us, she pushed herself with a fear of not being “good enough” for her parents, friends and community. Reena chose late afternoon or overnight ER shifts to be available to her kids during the day, and soon thereafter developed sleep problems. After a few years, she noted her tendency to cry easily (something new for her) was increasing, to have thoughts of “running away from it all” were more frequent, and found herself routinely overthinking her decisions, feeling overwhelmed. Many times, she was rationalizing her cravings for sweets and breads and lack of motivation to exercise with her hectic life. Convinced her symptoms weren’t “bad enough” to seek medical advice, she self-medicated with over-the-counter aids. That was all acceptable until her worsening blood sugar and cholesterol levels were too concerning to ignore.
Reena sought our functional medicine approach because she wanted to reduce her cholesterol and diabetes risks without the use of pharmaceuticals. However, during my evaluation, I noted several brain functions such as sustained focus, memory, mood optimization, restorative sleep patterns, craving control and motivation were all at reduced capacity. From a root cause analysis of dysfunction, it was clear that her demanding lifestyle was driving several hormone and neurotransmitter systems into imbalance. Reena’s stress levels increased the production of cortisol, and cortisol combined with rising insulin levels increased her belly fat. This in turn, triggered the gradual loss of muscle mass in legs and arms, resulting in her worsening blood sugar, heart disease and weight risks. Reena’s demanding lifestyle was not matched by an adequate supply of neurotransmitters in her brain (the natural compounds that both relax and activate the brain to do its major functions). Without a healthy amount of neurotransmitters that are usually derived from a nourishing diet and a functionally relaxed digestive system, Reena was lacking enough 1) GABA to calm her brain down to stop overthinking and becoming anxious, 2) serotonin to have healthy sleep cycles and calmness during the day, 3) dopamine to energize the brain to stay focused and motivated, and 4) endorphins to provide a source of natural pleasure and joy to break sugar, alcohol and bread cravings.
Through BrainRx, our neurotransmitter restoration program, we prescribed a specific regimen of food-based amino acid supplements by mouth to provide Reena’s brain what ingredients it needed to normalize her mood, focus, cravings and sleep. She noticed a benefit in the first few days and was feeling more energy and sleeping better within two weeks. After two months, she reported her stress tolerance had dramatically improved; she was doing yoga and walking regularly, and her belly fat was reducing nicely. Repeat lab studies showed her blood sugar and cholesterol had dropped considerably, and confirmed to her she was on the right path.
The functional medicine approach to Reena’s case evaluated each of her systems and then connected them to identify the mostly likely root cause(s) for her health concerns. A patient knowing what to do is not the same as patients doing what they know to do. So, a key part of functional medicine is partnering with patients so they can successfully implement the non-pharmaceutical therapies and recommended lifestyle choices to achieve the mental, emotional and physical goals we all have for a full and vibrant life at any age.
Dr. Shilpa P. Saxena is CMO of Forum Health, a nationwide network of integrative and functional medicine practices. Dr. Saxena is a board-certified family physician with 15-plus years of integrative medicine experience. She serves on faculty at the Institute for Functional Medicine and is a fellow of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.
For more information on the BrainRx program, visit www.forumhealth.com/brainrx