Whether schools will be open in California this fall or not, it’s best to be prepared. Even though there’s no known cure or vaccine for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, there are ways to give yourself a fighting chance if you do get it.
First and foremost, your best defense is to avoid exposure. This means staying away from people who are sick, wearing a mask in public, and washing your hands thoroughly and frequently.
The next thing you need to know is that healthy people tend to stay healthy. People whose health is compromised by disease and chronic conditions (such as diabetes or heart disease) are more likely to contract COVID-19 or any viral infection. So it’s more important than ever to pay attention to your immune system.
At All Functional Health, Dr. Jeffrey Mark gives you the essential tools to optimize your immune system so you can ward off pathogens and fight those that enter your body. He is quadruple-board certified and specializes in functional medicine, an approach that relies on lifestyle and nutritional factors to improve your medical condition, rather than drugs and surgery.
Here’s Dr. Mark’s expert advice on boosting your immune system.
Understanding your immune system
Countless cells throughout your body form a team to fight off anything that shouldn’t be there. This includes anything from a splinter in your finger to a bacterium or virus. This happens in two phases: first, your innate immune cells attack the foreign body and trigger your system to usher it out immediately, then the second team comes on the scene to clean up whatever’s left behind.
This second squad, called adaptive immune cells, records and remembers the bacteria or virus so it can be much more efficient at producing antibodies in case that particular pathogen ever comes back for a repeat visit. That’s why the novel coronavirus is so widespread — no one’s immune system has ever seen it before.
How do you boost your immune system?
To be clear, strengthening your immune system is no guarantee that you’ll avoid COVID-19 or any other illness, like the flu. But it can certainly give you a better chance at lessening the severity of illnesses.
Here’s what you can do.
Your immune system never rests, but it relies on your rest to perform at its peak. If you don’t get a full night’s sleep, you’re short-changing your immune response, which can leave you vulnerable to viruses.
Human immunity decreases with age, a phenomenon called immunosenescence, but studies show that adults who get regular (not extreme) exercise can override this process and keep their immune systems running at optimal levels.
High stress, particularly if it’s constant, can wreak havoc on your immune system, so it’s important to avoid it when possible, and manage it when you can. Prayer, meditation, breathing exercises, acupuncture, massage therapy, and yoga are all good ways to calm your mind and boost your immunity.
A healthy diet is critical to your immune system. Malnourished people are more susceptible to illnesses than those who eat a well-rounded diet that includes all of the essential nutrients — protein, fats, carbs, vitamins, minerals, and water. Some nutrients that are especially important for immune function include zinc, iron, selenium, and vitamins C and D.
If you don’t get enough of these nutrients from the food you eat, Dr. Mark offers nutritional counseling and can develop a personalized supplement plan to get you back to normal. He also advises you about certain things to avoid eating, drinking, and doing that might be detrimental to your immune system, like cutting back on alcohol and tobacco.
What does gut health have to do with immunity?
Your digestive system, also called your gut, contains trillions of living microorganisms that work together to protect you from viruses, pathogens, and infections. Your body counts on them to maintain a healthy gut and a strong immune system.
Known as your gut microbiome, these countless bacteria, both beneficial and harmful, make up a complex ecosystem. When it’s all in balance, you have a healthy gut, signified by:
- Normal bowel movements
- No abdominal pain
- Effective absorption of nutrients
- No acid reflux
But, if you have diarrhea, constipation, stomachaches, nausea, food allergies, and intolerances, you may have an unhealthy gut. Rather than treating your symptoms with drugs, which simply mask the problem and may lead to other problems like Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Mark approaches your condition with functional gastroenterology.
This field of health care focuses on the root cause of your symptoms and addresses them with lifestyle changes, nutrition, and environmental adjustments. Dr. Mark thoroughly tests your urine, blood, and stool, and checks your GI tract for any anomalies to identify the underlying condition. Then he can customize your treatment for your unique needs.
Optimizing your immune system is one of the best ways to defend yourself against viruses and give yourself a fighting chance should one slip past your guard. And that includes making sure your gut is running smoothly.
If you have a sluggish gut or an otherwise compromised immune system and want to give them a boost, call one of our offices in Ramon or Turlock, California, or request an appointment online. Our offices are easily accessible from the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, Napa and Somona and the Central Valley.