As the lockdown is upon us, it is vital to support and maintain a healthy immune system. Chronic stress can be described as long-term exposure to physical, emotional and psychological stress. Stress comes in many forms – for example, always training for 7 days straight with high intensity, being frustrated for too long about not being able to do things (like going to the gym) and being under pressure at work all the time. The key workers who are working non-stop and overtime during this pandemic may experience chronic stress.
It is important to maintain a varied diet throughout the lockdown period. The BDA (The Association of UK Dietitians) said, “Can you really boost your immune function? – you can’t boost your immune system to fight off the virus as the only thing that will fight that off is a vaccine when it becomes available – however you will be able to improve and support your immune system by making sure you maintain a healthy and balanced diet – what does that mean exactly? This means getting a varied source of protein, fat and carbohydrates that will include all of the amino acids, vitamins and minerals (i.e. copper, folate, iron, selenium, zinc, vitamin a, b6, b12, C and D) – these vitamins and minerals will help support your immune system” – BDA 2020. Read the full article here.
You can avoid suppressing your immune system by avoiding alcohol and lack of sleep. Sleep can affect your immune system – the University of Washington Health Sciences recommends at least 7 hours of sleep to help and support your immune system (see here). This study looked at blood samples from 11 pairs of identical twins with different sleep patterns, it was shown that the twin with less sleep experienced a weaker immune system. “What we show is that the immune system functions best when it gets enough sleep. Seven or more hours of sleep is recommended for optimal health.” (Watson, 2017).
Excessive alcohol consumption is linked to adverse related health effects such as the risk of getting pneumonia. “Alcohol disrupts immune pathways in complex and seemingly paradoxical ways. These disruptions can impair the body’s ability to defend against infection, contribute to organ damage associated with alcohol consumption, and impede recovery from tissue injury.” (Dipak Sarkar PhD et al, 2015). The consumption of alcohol disrupts ciliary function in the upper airways, impairing the function of immune cells and weakening the barrier function of the epithelia in the lower airways. With COVID-19, this is important to bear in mind. Read the full article here.
Our immune system is affected by stress. The changes in gene expression mediated by stress hormones can affect the regulation of the immune function and as a result, can lead to health implications. Chronic stress can be linked to prolonged cortisol secretion. Cortisol is a hormone that breaks down substrate to give your body fuel that is readily available in the blood (i.e. glucose). Chronic and sustained elevated cortisol levels can lead to diabetes. Furthermore, cortisol is known to be anti-inflammatory and contains the immune response, however chronic elevations can lead to the immune system becoming “resistant”, and accumulation of stress hormones and increased production of inflammatory cytokines that can further compromise the immune response. For example, caregivers have been implicated in significantly lower antibody and cell-mediated immune response after vaccination and also experience longer wound healing times, lower lymphocyte proliferation, increased pro-inflammatory cytokine levels, and more reactivation of latent viruses. (Morey et al, 2015). Read the full article here.
Make sure you get enough sleep, eat a varied and a balanced diet (focusing on working up to your 5-a-day would be a good start) and take control of you portions, avoid alcohol and stress! I encourage you to do things like exercise (see our home workout videos for ideas), listening to music, reading a book or anything else that relaxes you.
We are going through unprecedented times so the best we can do is stay home, take care of ourselves and keep positive! This is only temporary and we will see this through together.
Registered Associate Nutritionist AfN