The COVID-19 pandemic drags on, with a second surge looming. People have placed their lives on hold, consumed and overcome by distress. For many, the thinking seems to go like this. This disease can strike and kill anyone, randomly, at any time. We are all potential victims, so there is nothing one can do but cower in fear, passing the weeks, months or even years away until biomedicine rescues us with the magic medication or vaccine.
Vaccines and medications will of course be important tools, and we will be grateful when they arrive, but the above outlook is not at all helpful or accurate. In truth neither covid 19 nor other illnesses necessarily strike completely at random. Many external environmental factors can impact who gets exposed and who becomes sick. While some of these causes remain beyond our control, others we can influence, and we can actively reduce or avoid them to maximize our chances of staying healthy. Great examples of this are the social distancing measures that we have learned from the public health authorities. When you maintain 6 feet of distance, wash your hands frequently, avoid large crowds, and wear a mask, you greatly reduce your odds of exposure to covid 19.
But that’s not all. After being exposed to covid 19, some people come down with a severe and potentially deadly syndrome, while others have few or no symptoms whatsoever. This is not entirely random either. Imagine a ship is at sea and a severe storm sets in. A well-built and well-maintained ship is more likely to weather the storm, but if the vessel is neglected and fragile, it is more likely to sink. Similarly, those who are healthier, and have stronger immune systems, can better fight off a disease like covid-19.
Our public health officials have done a great job educating us about reducing exposure risk, and our outstanding biomedical scientists are hard at work looking for a covid 19 vaccine or cure. But we need more emphasis on how to reduce stress, and how to keep the physiology and immune system strong. That is to say, we need to give people proven tools to help each individual better fight off the disease.
Here is where integrative medicine steps in. Many time tested, scientifically proven strategies can help you to strengthen immune function, promote overall wellness, and stay out of trouble during the Covid19 pandemic.
Here are some of the basics:
-Stick to a regular routine! It is vitally important to get enough rest, but sleeping too late into the morning can make us feel depressed and groggy. Be sure to get to bed by around 10pm every night, and to wake up by around 6. Take time to sit down and have a good, nutritious, well balanced, hot lunch every day. This helps not only to nourish your body, but also to settle down the mind. In addition to the daily routine, you can add a 24 hour liquid fast once a week, from lunch to lunch. Periodic fasting as a great way to rekindle digestion, reduce inflammation, and detoxify the physiology.
-There are many natural remedies which will directly enhance your immune protection and overall health. Sipping hot water throughout the day, daily nasal sesame oil inhalation, and daily sesame oil mouthwash with gargle can all help to protect the cells of the upper respiratory tract. Including healthy spices in your cooking, such as cumin, turmeric, coriander, and fennel, all help to boost your body’s immune function. An herbal supplement called ashwagandha has potent immunomodulatory and antioxidant effects. Drinking tulsi (holy basil) tea helps to keep your respiratory tract clear.
-Exercise is a great prescription for stress reduction. Remember that exercise should remove stress from, not create stress for, the physiology. In other words, you don’t have to train for a decathlon, unless you want to. A brisk walk counts as exercise, and is good for just about anyone. Provided you maintain 6 feet of distance, it is perfectly safe and appropriate to get out for a walk or jog, and in fact its very important to do so, especially during a stressful pandemic. The best time to exercise is first thing in the morning, then you can enjoy the rewards all day!
– You are what you eat! Favoring a plant-based diet rich in fresh fruits and cooked vegetables provides nutritional support and helps to maintain a healthy microbiome. Be sure to have your main meal at lunch, when your digestive capacity is at its strongest. Overeating at night can lead to the accumulation of toxins which in turn can clog the physiology and derange metabolic function
– Mind body and stress reduction techniques have been proven effective for improving anxiety, boosting immunity, optimizing well being, and helping with other stress related mental and physical disorders. One of the most popular and widely researched meditation techniques is Transcendental Meditation. Many other approaches can also be helpful, including Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, guided imagery, positive affirmations, prayer and religious practice, and getting out in nature.
We encourage our patients to use all tools available, both conventional and integrative. In addition to following the advice of the public health authorities, adding these evidence-based integrative medicine approaches will boost your immunity, and help you to thrive and enjoy your life, free from fear. You can feel safe and secure knowing that you are doing all you can do to protect yourself and your family from the COVID 19 pandemic. And before we know it, modern medicine will deliver the vaccine or cure, to add the final touch. Take advantage of the best of both worlds: that is what integrative medicine is all about!