As I am creating this post, we are still in the midst of a pandemic from the viral threat, coronavirus. Unfortunately we don’t get a break since we have to consider the influenza virus and it’s inevitable spread across the world.
In addition to the precautions that we know we must all take such as wearing a face mask washing your hands frequently, watching your own symptoms and living in contact with others, there are still other steps you can take to keep your internal defensive strong.
When I discuss the immune system with my patients I often envision a military system. Over the years I’ve played with this comparison so many times because family and system doesn’t quite match up to the modern military but they’re fairly close.
Components of the Human Immune System
Healthy healthy skin is a very important part of your immune system. your skin provides a physical barrier to the outside world. Your skin actually has immune cells built into it that help decide what’s threats and what is not. By the skin separating your muscles, fat, blood vessels from the world it is often your first line barrier against infectious threats.
Your respiratory tract has the main function of getting oxygen into the system and getting carbon dioxide out. We often forget that certain parts of your respiratory tract are often your Frontline defense against infectious threats. Your nose contains small hairs that help filter out debris. Your sinus cavities also container system to help filter out and contain debris. Finally within the airways of your lung they’re very small hairs called cilia that move out debris and hopefully infectious material. Coughing is the respiratory system way of eliminating threats that have made it into the lungs.
We often forget that our digestive system is incredibly important in our immune system. The acid within your stomach is able to destroy many bacteria and even viruses. You’re digestive system also has immune cells built within it that constantly scan your body for threats.
Finally, circulating within your bloodstream, within lymph nodes, contained within organs including the skin and digestive tract are the cells of your immune system. This is one of the most interesting parts of the body to me. The immune system is compliant mostly of white blood cells. These cells are further split into neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, natural killer cells, eosinophils and basophils. Many of these cells are highly intelligent. They live for several decades and maintain data on infectious threats. Some of these cells maintain the job of producing the labels that identify threat that we call antibodies. Other cells are part of your assault which is the day actually going and kill the threat.
What your immune system needs to stay healthy
Your immune system is highly capable system that accomplishes amazing feats every second of the day. When it does its job well you don’t even notice it’s there. The cells in your body sample the air you breathe, the food and water you take in, as well as your overall environment for threats. Your immune system can actually accomplish amazing things beyond fighting viruses and bacteria. You’re immune system surveys your body for abnormal growth, or early cancers and takes them down before they become a real threat.
Although your new system is miraculous it needs your help. One of the most important things you can do is maintain a healthy diet. As we enter cold and flu season you want to be taking in fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably from an organic source. If you consume meat you want it to be the highest quality, and from the best sources possible. You want to drink plenty of water and eliminate sugary drinks everywhere you can.
Stress and it’s Effect on you immune system
Stress plays a key role in how every aspect of your immune system functions. There’s actually a certain amount of stress that’s beneficial to your overall immune system and provides just the right amount of challenge to help it become stronger. One example of this is intentional exercise. When you exercise you challenge your cardiovascular system, and your muscles. They will start a chemical cascade that will feed back to your bone marrow that will later create healthier, stronger immune cells. Exercise will also help your adrenal glands function better and not overproduce cortisol.
When you are under stress, your body tends to perceive stress in a number of ways. There are certain parts of the brain that are often thought of as the”lower” brain or lizard brain. These parts of the brain correspond to the limbic system and brain stem that operate your organs. When you perceive stress as interpreted by the higher brain or the frontal lobes the lower brain responds by turning key systems in your body on to get ready for an attack. This includes tuning your adrenal glands to produce more stress hormones. Chronic exposure to this leads to high cortisol levels which will inadvertently decrease the white blood cells ability to function.
If you are experiencing high levels of stress right now it may seem contrary to practice mindfulness. However, this is exactly the time that you want to do that. Your mindfulness practice can take on a number of forms. Here are some quick recommendations that you can start at any moment of your day to help lower your stress levels and let your immune system do it as it was designed to do.
Quick Immunity Boosters
3 Minutes of Breath work
Wherever you are you can stop whether you’re standing, sitting at your desk, or even parked in your car. Inhale to the count of five and exhale to the count of five. Do the cycle for 1 to 3 minutes.
If you’re already using essential oils, keeping a small stock with you throughout your day is a perfect way to calm your nervous system and boost your immunity. Many essential oils are very safe, and using them by inhalation throughout your day is a good way to remind yourself to take a deep breath while you inhale all the benefits. Here are the oils I’d recommend to improve your immunity especially during flu season and the pandemic:
- Lavender: can be used without dilution, and is relaxing in it’s scent.
- Tea Tree oil: potent anti-fungal, anti-viral as well good for making you feel peppy. I don’t recommend using without diluting in a carrier oil or a lotion.
- Patchouli: this is a nice, relaxing scent that you can put on your wrists and temples for stress relief.
- Frankincense: This is good for everything, can be used without dilution, and is also a nice oil to use during the season change. I like to apply directly to my joints in the mornings before doing Yoga.
- Manuka: this essential oil can be a little harder to find, but is safe to use topically and helps to open up your airways.
Your mind is a power driver of your immune system’s function. Its easier said than done to control y our thoughts, however, in the times we live in, is worth your effort to control and even eliminate your negative thoughts. You can control negative thoughts a few ways:
- Do you need to watch the news so much?
- Stay informed, but at some point, what we see in the media can program us to see only the worse around us. Consider limiting how much news you take in.
- Start a journal, or use your journal to write out all the thoughts that may circulate through your head. After your write those down, read them and question if they are really true.
Taking the time to care for yourself is invaluable. We are learning so much about what’s contagious, and hopefully, we can spread calm, peace and health in this time.