Worried about the Coronavirus? Does the common cold or influenza have you concerned? Do you find yourself battling one cold after another, especially during the winter time? If you are like many others, these issues may concern you or even create some anxiety in your life. The best defense you can have is a strong immune system and a proper response. How do you enhance and build your immune system so that it is a strong as a wall of bricks?
Currently, we as a world are experiencing a pandemic of sorts, involving a strain of the Coronavirus. This is not uncommon in today’s society as the ecology changes, opening up the door for virus strains to mutate and spread rapidly. Although the virus itself is a concern, there is a bigger picture that tends to stand out to me as doctor, one which is involved not just with Coronavirus, but Influenza and many other easily transmitted disease conditions. That bigger picture revolves around our health as a society, specifically our immune health as a whole. This is the greater issue, but is not one that is being addressed nor talked about in public.
When we have an outbreak of any virus or even a food borne bacterial infection, not all individuals are impacted. In fact, many times the infection rate is rather low in the grand scheme of things. Instead of reacting in fear, what we should be asking is why do some become ill and others do not? Why do some people you know never seem to get a cold, catch the flu, or contract the Coronavirus, while others seem to be like fly paper for every malady known to man?
In looking at this question, for me, I tend to narrow it down to two contributors which themselves can be broken down further.
- State of Mind
- Immune Health
Seems rather simple, right? In fact, it is complicated, yet in the end, it can make you increasingly aware that you have more power over your health than you thought. If you are one to sit back and wait for a vaccine to be developed to ‘protect’ you, then you may be missing a vital opportunity to grab the bull by the horns and make some real changes for your health. Keep in mind that your immune system is involved in more than just infections, such as the common cold, influenza, or even the Coronavirus. Your immune system is involved in allergic type conditions, inflammatory digestive ailments, inflammatory joint conditions, and even cancer. It is wise to recognize this and do your best to keep that immune response as healthy and balanced as possible.
Your State of Mind and the Immune System
Believe it or not, your state of mind impacts your health, specifically in regards to your immune response. If you take a moment for observation, you will notice that many of the times you have contracted a cold, your body was stressed either mentally or physically. This is part of the reason why many sporting events are canceled due to the Coronavirus. Despite the athletes being athletes, they are under a huge amount of stress mentally and physically, which is weakening their immune response. This makes them more susceptible to the Coronavirus or any other type of infection. The same is true for you and me both. The more stressed we are, the more negative we often think, and with that our bodies respond appropriately. Research indicates that the more negative a mood, or the more stressed a person is, the lower their immune response.
Have you ever known a person that could literally ‘will’ a cold away at the first clinical symptom? I have and sometimes I’ve even willed my own sickness away with just a thought. This is the power of positive thinking and the impact that positivity has upon your body and mine. The more negative we are in our minds, the more negative our body is internally and externally. An unsound mind leads to an unsound body. A sound mind leads to a sound or healthy body. The same is true otherwise. An unsound body cannot lead to a sound mind.
Additionally, have you ever noticed that if you see someone in your office that has a cold, your mind then focuses on that cold and you worry that you might catch it? For some, just the thought of catching a cold leads to them literally catching a cold. As we head into the winter season each year, some automatically become concerned about contracting a cold, and sure enough, they usually do. This thought pattern then transfers from one year to the next due to prior experience. It becomes like a broken record of negative thinking.
In times of stress, both mental and physical, your body increases the production of a hormone called cortisol. This hormone is designed to protect the body by impacting inflammatory events, but it also impacts the immune system, literally turning it off for a short period. For many of us, we are stressed literally 20 out of the 24 hours in the day, and with that, cortisol is continually pumping and impacting our immune response. This explains the connection between the high incidence of colds with being stressed. It also explains the increased susceptibility of some groups of people not to just the common cold, but influenza and coronavirus. Many of the high risk groups for contracting various infections are those with a compromised immune response, often due to some other associated health condition, which usually brings with it a negative or poor overall outlook in that person’s mind.
The bottom line here? You are what you think. If you focus on or have a constant concern over a virus or other infection, you are more likely to attract it. Those thoughts impact your mental health and with that, your immune health. Try not to focus too much on any one thing and be aware of your thought patterns. Your mind patterns influence other aspects of your life as well, including decisions to exercise, eat properly or otherwise. These are all tied back to your overall health.
Enhancing Your Immune Health for Well-Being
Your immune system is intricately involved in many facets of your health. Unfortunately, many just associate their immune system with a common cold, but truth be told it is involved in everything from joint degeneration to allergies, cancer and even your mental health. Considering the broad scope of the involvement of your immune system in your overall health, it just makes sense to take care of it.
How do you build your immune response? There is no ‘one-way’ of building your immune system, but more likely it is a matter of working on many factors which work together. Here is a list of things that I generally recommend considering.
- Monitor your state of mind – a healthy mind and focus leads to a healthy body. Keep your stress levels under control.
- Eat healthy and clean – monitor fruit and vegetable intake, reduced refined sugars and highly processed foods, or eliminate them completely. A healthy diet goes a long way for providing for your immune response, while an improper diet can do much to harm it.
- Exercise – helps to build and support mental health and stimulate the immune response
- Hygiene– keep your body clean, but don’t over do it. Overuse of sanitizers or antimicrobial products from hand washes to oral mouth rinses can negatively impact your health rather than protect it, due to their ability to kill off beneficial bacteria present in your body’s natural microbiome.
- Watch your body weight– an overweight body condition is associated with a higher level of inflammation which equates to a higher incidence of immune related problems and overall poorer health.
Now, with that being said, those are lifestyle factors and each of us can make a commitment to doing them. What about supplements, can some herbs and vitamins impact your immune health? Yes, and here is a list of some favorites of mine personally, some of which I take daily, others at increased times of need for a boost.
- Vitamin C or Ascorbic Acid – ideally consumed in larger volumes through fruits and vegetables, but can be supplemented in higher amounts, several times per day, to benefit your immune system and many other facets of your health.
- Astragalus membranaceus – an herb heavily relied upon in Chinese medical cultures to help boost and support the immune response and aid in energy production in the body. Heavily researched and supported to positively support the generalized immune response, curb inflammatory patterns in the body, and impact cellular energy production. Also benefits digestion on many levels.
- Medicinal Mushrooms – there are many types of medicinal mushrooms that can be of tremendous benefit to your immune response, including Ganoderma, Poria cocos, Maitake, Shiitake, Cordyceps, Coriolus and many others. A high percentage of these mushrooms have been clinically researched and do demonstrate the ability to improve the immune response and often impact inflammatory events in the body. Their ability to impact the immune response is often due to naturally present beta-glucans or other phytochemicals, which also appear to benefit digestive health additionally. I tend to use multiple medicinal mushrooms combined together in a blend for best efficacy, which allows me to take advantage of many positive aspects of each mushroom. (Cur-OST HU Immune)
- Triphala – this is an Ayurvedic herbal formula consisting of 3 herbs in combination, mainly utilized to enhance and support digestive function and health. Interestingly, your immune response is tightly connected with digestive health and so through daily usage of this formula after meals, you can directly impact your immune response through modulation of your gut microbiome. (Cur-OST HU Tri-GUT)
- Vitamins & Minerals – there is likely not a single vitamin or mineral that are not of some value in aiding your immune response, which takes us back to a balanced and clean diet. Some minerals which stand out include magnesium, zinc, vitamin D3 and many others.
In the end, you are more in control of your immune response and overall health than you may be led to believe. Preventing or minimizing infections, such as the common cold, may lie more in your hands than in the preventative measures of a vaccination. In fact, in order for a vaccine to work properly and provide a layer of defense, your body must be healthy enough to react to it. Again, it just makes sense to start at the basics, addressing your body’s natural defenses and keeping as healthy as possible.
Author: Tom Schell, D.V.M, CVCH, CHN