The current spread of COVID-19 is making a lot of us feel on edge, unsure of what it could mean for us and our loved ones. We can see it stirring a lot of fear and panic in the media and can make it hard to know what we can actually to do help and take back a bit of control over our family's health. And although the virus appears to be mild in children and people under 50, this is especially concerning for the elderly and immuno-compromised people.
You're washing your hands regularly, trying to avoid touching your face and sneezing into your elbow, but is there anything else you can do give your family's immune system a boost to avoid getting sick (and having milder symptoms if you do)? Our immune systems are beautifully evolved to guard us from all kinds of viruses, bacteria and parasites. The fact that we only get sick a few times a year, illustrates how well our immune systems protect us from most of the disease we come into contact with everyday. Our immune systems have lots of barriers and tactics in place to help prevent an infection getting a foothold, so what can we do to support our incredible immune systems and get them working at full capacity to keep us healthy and reducing our anxiety?
Tips To Boost Your Family's Immune System
The good news is that no matter what age or health concerns you have, there are a lot of easy, practical things which have been proven to help naturally boost and protect your immune system. We've created a list of some of the most effective things you can do to boost your family's immunity starting straight away.
1. Look After Your Gut
There are a number of barriers our immune system has in place to prevent an infection getting in, including our skin, mucus and our microbiome (literally trillions of helpful bacteria that make antimicrobial chemicals). Infections need to get past all these defences before they can enter the blood stream, so we want to create a really healthy microbiome to boost our immunity.
Our gut bacteria thrive on plant foods because they contain lots of fibre, so think lots of vegetables, legumes and whole grains. The larger variety of different kinds of plant foods, the better, as they will help feed different bacterial strains and make sure you have diverse gut flora. Fermented foods which are rich in probiotics help to introduce more helpful bacteria to your gut, including foods like yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha and kimchi.
As well as supporting your microbiome, eating a varied, healthy diet will help to ensure your family is getting all the nutrients essential for healthy immunity including Vitamin C and Zinc daily.
2. Get Your Body Moving
If an infection does make it's way into your bloodstream, our immune system sends in our white blood cells to effectively kill intruders. White cells can be quite sedentary, so the best way to get them moving is with exercise, to get your blood pumping and reaching all your tissue and any possible invaders. That doesn't mean over-exerting yourself, but making time for physical activities like playing ball sports, a nature hike, yoga and even just making sure you getting enough steps in each day. If you have limited mobility, speak to your doctor about exercises you can safely do. Every little bit helps boost your immunity.
3. Reach For These Herbal Helpers
There are lots of herbs which have been researched and shown to be effective in supporting our immune system to fight off infections. These are some of my favourite family-friendly herbs to boost immunity -
- Peppermint - The soothing menthol in peppermint can be lovely for a sore throat, having an analgesic effect. Peppermint vapours can also help make blocked nasal passages feel clearer. It also has significant antimicrobial and antiviral actions. It can be used as a natural Vapour Rub or soothing tea.
- Chamomile - Calming and anti-inflammatory, it can help your family get a good night's sleep, which is essential for a healthy immune system. Use it as a tea before bed, in a Herbal Bath or apply in our Sleep Balm.
- Elder Berry - High in anti-oxidants and have been shown to reduce the length and severity of colds in children. It can be taken as a tea, and commonly found in lozenges.
- Lemon Balm - Great for helping to ease anxiety and stress, this beautiful herb also has anti-viral effects. Drink as a tea, or use it in our Calm Balm and Sleep Balm.
- Echinacea - Shown to boost white blood cell count, Echinacea is also anti-viral. It is found in lots of immune vitamins and supplements in both tablet, lozenge and liquid forms.
4. Get Your ZZZs
We all know how important getting enough sleep is for our mood, but it is also essential for a healthy immune system. Studies have found a that lack of sleep impaired the disease-fighting ability of a type of white blood cells called called T cells. So put down those distracting screens, dim the lights, rub on some Sleep Balm and create a bedtime routine which helps the whole family wind down for a restful, immune boosting sleep (we wrote an article with some tips to help your child sleep better here too).
5. Take Time To Relax
In times of stress, our body produces cortisol to activate the fight or flight response. It suppresses our parasympathetic nervous system and limits functions like our immune system, digestive system and even slows hair and nail growth. This is great if we are being chased by a bear and need all that extra energy to get away quickly, but chronic stress and anxiety can leave us depleted, exhausted and immuno-compromised.
It's important to take time out by ourselves, and as a family, to relax and have fun. Doing activities we enjoy such as gardening, reading a book or watching a movie gives our body down time to rest and repair. Make time to discuss anything that might be worrying you with friends or loved ones, and encourage your kids to talk about their concerns with you so no one feels that they are carrying anxieties on their own. Turn your home into a safe sanctuary away from all the coronavirus panic by turning off the uninformed mainstream and social media hype around the virus. Meditation and yoga can also be great ways to unwind a stressed mind.
6. Ditch the Immune Suppressors
Just as there are foods and herbs that can support our immune systems, there are also foods, drinks and chemical products that can suppress it. Processed foods high in refined carbohydrates (sugar), preservatives, artificial additives, alcoholic drinks, smoking and household and body care items which contain synthetic fragrances and other harmful chemicals can act as damaging toxins to our immune systems. Many of these chemicals act as free radicals which cause inflammation and contain liver toxins which put a lot of pressure on our immune systems, reducing their effectiveness against illness. So when trying to give yourself a health boost, best to avoid these unhelpful substances.
We hope these tips can help you feel like you can take back a bit of control over your health, and turn-down the anxiety. If you're looking for an easy way to incorporate some of the herbs we mentioned in the article, we have put together an "Immune & Calm" kit containing our Vapour Rub, Calm Balm and Sleep Balm for $34.95 (normally $41.80) to help your family feel supported and calm during this challenging time.
Wishing you good health and peace of mind.
xx Charelle - Naturopath & Founder The Physic Garden