Health Hack #23 - How To Boost Immunity During Quarantine
Many of us are stuck inside. If not for the entire day virtually everyday, then certainly for much longer than we’re accustomed to. For most, this resonates as a wise restriction aimed at limiting our exposure to the outside world and the Covid-19 Virus that has been spreading like wildfire. The notion is that this virus has a lifespan, and if we can self-quarantine and social distance ourselves from others for long enough, the virus will run out of steam. Additionally, if we ourselves are carriers - whether we know it or not - we’ll assist in preventing the spread.
Shacking up in our homes clearly has its merits in the face of what has quickly become a global pandemic. There is no doubt about that. However, it’s important to consider some of the ramifications this sudden lifestyle adaptation has on our health. It turns out, though properly shielding ourselves from Covid-19 to some degree, we may be compromising other aspects of our immunity, ironically making us potentially more susceptible to contracting illness when exposed to it. Fortunately it’s not difficult to get the best of both worlds.
In our first Health Hack (link here) we banged the drums on the importance of Vitamin D, otherwise known as the Sunshine Vitamin. There, we delved into the distinct ties between “cold season” and a stark drop in our daily sun exposure. As we all know, cold season in our region of the U.S. is winter. We’re not talking about temperature (though it also rings true in that our cold weather season is known as winter), but when we see the sharpest rise in cold-related sickness. It’s no coincidence that our first ever article tackled Vitamin D. The importance of this sun-derived vitamin is immense across most aspects of health, and should be better understood. Our readership has grown quite handsomely since Day 1, so to the many of you who may have missed that first article - definitely head to the link above.
Chances are that at some point in our lives, we’ve been faced with having to take antibiotics to ward off an infection or sickness that was a bit too aggressive for less potent medications to handle. Chances are that we’ve also been schooled in one fashion or another on the dangers of relying too heavily on antibiotics. Not only can we accumulate antibiotic resistance (when the bugs that ail us are no longer slain by the antibiotic), we can also place tremendous strain on our microbiome. Antibiotics are sent in with a mission to seek and destroy harmful bacteria, but an unfortunate consequence is that they’re not the best at distinguishing between good and bad, and they wind up taking out some good bacteria as well. When this occurs, our gut is placed under undue stress, which can ultimately lead to a variety of bowel-related issues.
Vitamin D is known to boost antimicrobial peptides, which in turn function the same way as antibiotics do, but without the tradeoff. The antimicrobials build our immunity in defense of a potential attack, and also work to remedy ones that are already underway.
Though available in synthetic form as a supplement, Vitamin D is far more effective and bioavailable in its most natural form - from the sun. It’s also free and most often fairly easy to find this time of year. For highrise city dwellers, getting sun exposure may pose a tall task during quarantine. But if you’re able to find a safe way, you should definitely capitalize on it. For everyone else, the friction should be less severe. Be it in your backyard, on your front porch, wherever - prioritize maximizing your sun exposure during these times. And don’t be slanted towards forgoing this suggestion on an overcast day. The availability of Vitamin D may diminish a bit, but it’s still available, believe it or not. We pick up a fairly ample amount of ultraviolet B rays (UVB) even when the sun is hiding behind dense clouds.
Lastly, it should be known that supplemental Vitamin D is never a bad idea. If outdoors are off limits or we face a truly lousy weather day, supplementing is far better than nothing. For this, aim to have some Vitamin D3 on hand, namely 2000iu. And remember that these vitamins are fat soluble, therefore they must be consumed around a meal containing fat in order to maximize their bioavailability.
Preserving Our Circadian Rhythm
Though seemingly disconnected from the topic of Vitamin D, diving right from sunshine into our Circadian Clock is the perfect segue. Working from home has its perks, at least for some: no travel, less rigid time requirements, less supervision. But like antibiotics, there are some unfortunate tradeoffs that may not be very evident on the surface.
Speaking to readers who’ve ceased reporting into the office as you normally do - have you noticed a tendency to get to bed later than usual? I certainly have. It seems nonsensical when it’s boiled down. There is less travel to and from, the post-work errands are now largely gone (or have shifted to online ordering or may even be getting tackled during the workday), and we’re already spending much more time in our homes, which is where we’ll ultimately lie our heads at the end of the day. So why would I be staying awake longer?
Morning light triggers our internal clocks to recognize that it’s morning. This in turn sets sail to a series of hormonal signals that guide us towards knowing when to eat and when to later wind down. It may seem outlandish to consider, but the brief walk outside to our cars in the morning, or to our office only a few blocks from our home, provides the external wakeup call to our brains that yes, it’s morning and the day has begun. When we roll out of bed in the morning and simply go through our coffee routine and report to our new makeshift at home office, our rhythm is thrown out of whack. Wait, is it morning yet?
This cascades throughout the day, ultimately leading to its ugliest ripple effect - the stunting of our sleep. (Also penned in our early Health Hack days, you can learn more about the vast importance of sleep here and here.) You may have noticed that while your bedtime may budge some, your awake time is much less likely to change. There is a very scientific reason for this. Our brain operates with what’s called a suprachiasmatic nucleus, which works essentially as our circadian pacemaker, helping regulate the actual timing of its cycles. But they don’t often synchronize like they should. When a wrench is thrown in our bedtime, our suprachiasmatic nucleus is still operating the next morning under the impression that nothing has changed, jarring us from slumber at our standard AM time.
What does this have to do with viral immunity? We wind up going to bed later during these quarantine days because we’re not giving proper daylight signals to our bodies in the morning. And, well, also because we’re stressed out during these strange and dangerous times. As a result, our sleep duration begins to suffer. When this occurs, our stress hormones (namely cortisol) are thrown into overdrive, thus weakening our immune system. We find ourselves much less resilient towards warding off sickness. Always remember: sound sleep = sound body.
To combat this, in addition to seeking out daylight upon or soon after awakening, use the reverse strategy at night. Avoid blue light once the sun has begun setting. Shut off the laptops, turn off the phones, or at the very least download apps that turn the harsh blue light to a more tolerable red light during evening hours. And during those cherished AM sun exposure moments, aim for the sunlight to reach your eyes, unobstructed. This doesn’t mean one should stare at the sun. It means nix the sunglasses in the AM, and don’t turn your back to it while reaping its warmth.
Zinc probably doesn’t quickly come to mind when one thinks of immunity boosters. It’s a shame, because Zinc happens to be of unbelievable importance to our bodies, in ways that stretch far beyond immunity building. Zinc is found in every cell in our body. It’s necessary for over 300 enzymatic reactions which aid in various processes like digestion and nerve function. And interestingly, it’s a very common component in most cold medicines.
The second most abundant trace mineral in our bodies behind Iron, Zinc has proven to be a vital component in the fight against coronaviruses in general, namely SARS. It’s obviously too soon to extrapolate its precise efficacy against COVID-19, but historical precedents suggest that it’s extremely likely to be beneficial. Particularly during the incubation period of SARS (meaning the time between contracting the virus and beginning to show symptoms), Zinc consumption played an important role in helping reduce the severity of soon-to-arise symptoms. Then even later, once symptoms arose, Zinc consumption proved to be very effective during treatment.
Available in supplement form, Zinc - like Vitamin D - is far more useful when acquired from sources where it's found naturally. In the case of Zinc, these sources would be real foods. It’s fairly unlikely that our diets have remained identical to what they were before mass quarantining set in. If you receive this article, odds are you live or work near one of our restaurants and therefore have had the opportunity to eat our food. This has become much more difficult now that offices are closed, in-store ordering in restaurants is switched off, and we’re asked to leave our homes as infrequently as possible. Real Food Eatery or otherwise, your standard lunch/dinner options are now much more compromised, and as a result you’re probably eating a different variety of foods than usual, simply because your access to certain foods has changed.
During this transition, it's very important to prioritize the consumption of foods high in zinc. And if the list seems daunting (keeping in mind that eating only some items on the list will suffice, not needing to eat some of everything), then consider purchasing a Zinc supplement instead.
• Shellfish (Oysters far and away representing the highest real food source of Zinc)
• Legumes (Chickpeas, Lentils, and Beans)
• Seeds (namely Hemp Seeds and Pumpkin Seeds)
It’s important to consider that Zinc is not stored in the body for similar durations to most other minerals. Its existence is short lived, and should therefore be replenished daily. That said, aim to consume some variety of the above foods each day, of course within moderation.
An immunity defense program wouldn’t be complete without mention of Vitamin C. It would be like a bodybuilder spending 4 hours per day in the gym but never working out his lower body. But we’ll spend the least amount of time on this subject, simply because knowledge of its benefits is fairly ubiquitous.
Known as the lead antioxidant, Vitamin C helps neutralize potentially damaging free radicals, and has general anti-infection properties. There has been a heavy spotlight cast on Vitamin C as of late, suggesting that it may not provide much protection against Covid-19. This may very well be true, but these same consensuses also state definitively that it certainly can’t hurt. Eating a basket of oranges a day isn’t going to help much with warding off a potent virus or even mitigating its effects once you have it, but neither is much of anything when isolated in a vacuum. The name of the game is putting as many foot soldiers on the front lines as possible. Vitamin C intake being just one of many.
Stay Healthy, Stay Sane, Stay Real…