By: Mark Pettus, MD
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of our lives. As true of every big challenge that rattles our sense of stability, opportunities to grow and to learn will present themselves.
A great opportunity to consider is how your lifestyle and the choices you make can enhance your immune system in a way that can give you greater resilience against the many infectious viruses and bacteria that pose threats in our environment.
Did you ever imagine you can strengthen your defense systems? There are many lines of research that are revealing how lifestyle and the “metabolic landscape” you create can either enhance your susceptibility or strengthen your defense. These tendencies are not as genetically predetermined as we once thought.
We are learning a great deal about the metabolic risk factors that seem to place many at greater risk for COVID infection and complications. These risks include being overweight, having high blood sugar, having high blood pressure, and having other medical challenges, like autoimmunity. As it turns out, these risks have been seen with other infections like influenza. While healthy people can of course become infected and become very sick, the overall odds are much, much lower for those in good health and with consistent, healthy lifestyle behaviors. As you become your own “Secretary of Defense”, you may notice that the annual patterns of cold, flu, and GI distress will change dramatically.
Based on much that has been researched, the following tips can greatly improve your health, your happiness, your quality of life, and your immune resilience during these challenging pandemic times:
- Reduce-eliminate foods and beverages with added sugar.
- Reduce or eliminate high-glycemic (quickly raise your blood sugar) flour-based foods. This includes grains like whole wheat. Eliminating wheat all together for 30 days could serve you very well! Try it!
- Plant-based foods rock. All vegetables have powerful nutrients that build your health and resilience at many levels. The fiber in plant-based foods will support your gut “biome”, the ecosystem in our guts that impact our immune response and general health.
- Quality fats from unprocessed sources like meats, fatty fish (salmon, trout, sardines), whole fat dairy (butter, whole milk, heavy cream, sour cream), olive oil, pasture-raised eggs, nuts (macadamia, almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios), and coconut oil.
- Being outdoors in nature and getting morning and late afternoon-evening sunshine.
- It is a good time to watch the shows that really make you laugh and lift your spirits.
- Be still. Whenever you are able, just sit quietly. Do nothing. Breathe slowly and deeply. Pay attention to what you observe.
- Go to bed and wake up at consistent times. Keep your bedroom as dark as possible at night.
- At the end of the day, take a “positivity break”. What was your best moment of the day? What are you grateful for?
- Some supplements have been shown to reduce respiratory infection risk and severity, such as Zinc (15-30 mg/day), Vitamin C (1,000-2,000 mg/day), and Vitamin D (2,000-4,000 units/day to achieve a blood level of 30 or greater—sunshine is your best source during the sun seasons).
Dr. Mark Pettus currently serves as the Director of Medical Education, Wellness and Population Health at Berkshire Health Systems in western Massachusetts. In addition, he serves as The Associate Dean of Medical Education at The University of Massachusetts Medical School. He is the author of two books, The Savvy Patient: The Ultimate Advocate for Quality Health Care and It’s All in Your Head: Change Your Mind, Change Your Health. He serves on the teaching faculty at The Center for Mind-Body Medicine based in Washington D.C. and The Meditation Institute in Averill Park NY. He’s also a member of NWI’s Board of Directors.