Healthy Lifestyle

Covid-19: A Functional Medicine Response

covid fm2As our nation continues to battle the Covid and the effects of the shut down, many people are looking to get healthy and improve their immune system. These people want to do all they can to decrease their chances of getting the virus, or minimize the severity if they do contract it.

Functional medicine is focused on creating health within the body. It both approves of these efforts, and is able to provide some clear direction to support the immune system through basic lifestyle changes. 

In a recent article, “The Functional Medicine Approach to COVID-19: Nutrition and Lifestyle Practices for Strengthening Host Defense” authors Hanaway and Minich explore many things we can do to support our immune system!



Health and Covid-19

According to Minich and Hanaway, “The developing symptoms of COVID-19, as well as the progression of illness and fatality, are clearly a function of the overall health status of the individual. Complex, chronic diseases such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes are directly correlated with risk of disease severity and mortality.”

Recognizing this correlation between our lifestyle and our risk is an important step towards change. When we know better, we can do better! Embracing some of these lifestyle changes will be challenging to do, but a strong understanding of the science can give us the motivation to follow through.

So, let’s look at these lifestyle interventions that include nutrition, sleep, exercise, stress reduction, and connection. 



Nutritional Choices

The foods we eat have an incredible impact on our bodies ability to maintain health. Research has shown that our gut health directly impacts our immune system and overall health.  

Each meal we eat influences our system. When we choose healthy foods we supply nutrients to the body and support healthy immune function. On the other hand, when we choose poorly it disrupts the system. 

One way that foods impact our health is the way that food influences inflammation pathways in the body. Chronic inflammation is a huge issue in our health, leading to all kinds of disease. It will be beneficial to eliminate foods that add to this burden of inflammation  - processed foods, refined grains, sugar, trans fat, etc. Inflammation can also be addressed by balancing the amount of omega 3 and omega 6. Modern diets generally leave us lacking in omega 3 essential fatty acids. Intentionally eating foods rich in omega 3 or supplementation, can address this concern and help fight inflammation. 

One of the dangers we hear about with Covid “is referred to as a ‘cytokine storm,’ or an abundance or oxidative stress (1).” Dietary intervention can also address oxidative stress - the imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Since free radicals break down tissue in the body and destroy our health, it is crucial that we decrease our exposure to free radicals and provide our bodies with the antioxidants necessary to detox from them. In addition to fruits and vegetables, foods such as herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, and chocolate contain antioxidants.

Minich and Hanaway explain that “the gastrointestinal tract harbors a majority of immune system activity, (so) it is essential to keep it nourished with the necessary nutrients for a healthy gut microbiome.” Eating a large variety of plant based foods - especially fermented ones - is a great way to support the microbiome in the gut.

 

Take Away:

  • Lighten the burden of inflammation: Avoid processed foods, refined grains, sugar, trans fat, etc. Balance the ratio between omega 3 (anti inflammatory) and omega 6 (inflammatory) by increasing omega 3 intake. Eating wild caught fatty fish is a great way to do this!
  • Decrease exposure to free radicals: The way we cook or food impacts the amount of free radicals created. Grilling, frying, and broiling our food will increase the burden of free radicals. Boiling or steaming food will result in less exposure.
  • Increasing intake of antioxidants: Foods high in antioxidants include fruits, vegetables, legumes, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, and chocolate.
  • Balance gut microbiome: Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is great for balancing the microbiome. Variety is especially important, so aim for 9-13 servings each day. Fermented foods - yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, etc. - are especially beneficial.



Handling Stress

Stress is not all bad. We need some level of stress for normal functioning, but we learn how to handle this stress. While acute stress impacts the immune system, it is the chronic unresolved stress that is especially damaging. Chronic stress has been found to suppress and dysregulate the immune system.

Stress causes the sympathetic nervous system to tell the body to release epinephrine and norepinephrine. This results in an inflammatory state with increased inflammatory cytokines. The body then releases cortisol which can lead to decreased levels of proinflammatory cytokines in the body. 

We want healthy balanced cytokines levels in the body because they are the molecules that are responsible for communication among cells during an immune response. It is no wonder that chronic stress has been found to put people at a higher risk of viral infections and is associated with greater severity of respiratory disease. 

According to Minich and Hanaway, research has shown that “practices such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, tai chi, qigong, relaxation response, and breath regulation... benefit immune regulation.”

 

Take Away:

  • Find ways to handle stress: yoga, meditation, mindfulness, gardening, etc.
  • Develop a practice: consistency of a practice you find helpful is the key. 



Sleep

Getting good sleep is extremely important for our immune system. While we sleep, our bodies are able to reset and repair. Sleep disturbances affect inflammatory cytokines and inhibit proper immune cell response.   

It can take days for our body to recover from sleep deprivation. When we are trying to support our immune system, getting consistent adequate sleep is crucial.  Practicing good sleep hygiene should be viewed as a key factor in supporting our immune system.

 

Take away:

  • Quantity of sleep: Getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Quality of sleep: Both measurements of actual REM sleep and perception of sleep quality impact our health.   
  • Sleep hygiene: limit blue light before bed, develop a consistent sleep schedule, create an environment to encourage quality sleep (like a dark, quiet, cool room)

  

Movement

Staying physically active has a large impact on our immune system. Movement increases the white blood cell count and antibodies in our blood. White blood cells are the immune systems fighter cells that work with antibodies to neutralize pathogens like viruses and bacteria.

At the same time, movement decreases the levels of stress hormones, guarding you from the negative effects of too much epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. The increased circulation that occurs when we are active also provides oxygen and nutrients to the cells, while eliminating waste.

People who have been physically active are encouraged to continue their level of activity even when accommodations must be made for social distancing rules. Those who have not been physically active may benefit from moderate physical activity, but they may need to build up their endurance.

Moderate physical activity can be helpful when feeling a little under the weather, but care should be taken not to be too strenuous as that can have a negative impact on your immune system. Those who are acutely sick with a fever, body aches, etc. would likely benefit more from rest than physical exercise. 

 

Take Away:

  • Stay Active: Find an activity that you enjoy. Make sure that you can do it safely at the level right for your situation.
  • Consistent movement: Ideally, 30 minutes of exercise each day, or 150 minutes a week, is a good goal for most people.



Social Connections

Our personal relationships influence our immune health in a significant way. Depending on the quality of the relationship it can have either a positive or negative impact on our health. Social isolation, grief, and conflict has been found to increase inflammation while decreasing immune function.

Minich and Hanaway explain that “that individuals who feel this sense of interconnection... have favorable gene expression, decreased stress, increased antibodies, and better health outcomes. They state, “For immune health, the focus should be on reducing exposure to interactions perceived as hostile and non-supportive and, at the same time, on emphasizing and encouraging time with others who are positive or affirming.” 

It is, however, important to note that each person's personality and situation is different. Many people withdraw instinctually when they are sick. Allowing for these differences in personality and circumstance is important, and preferences should be honored. 

 

Take away:

  • Find meaningful connections: Feeling a sense of interconnection has a positive influence on our immune system. Social connections can be made with individuals, groups, or even a higher power. 
  • Avoid toxic relationships: Negative stressful relationships can impact our immune system in an unhealthy way. Creating boundaries or stepping away from difficult relationships may be an important step for your health.   

 

 

Functional medicine focuses on restoring your health on a deep level in the least intrusive way. The lifestyle changes mentioned above - nutritional choices, handling stress, sleep, movement, social connections - are truly the foundation of healing your body and leading you to optimal health.

If you would like more information about supporting your immune system, check out the “Patient Education Tools: Lifestyle Practices for Strengthening Host Defense.”

Dr. Jamie

  1. Minch DM, Hanaway PJ. The Functional Medicine Approach to Covid-19: Nutrition and Lifestyle Practices for Strengthening Host Defense. Integrative Medicine Vol. 19, No. S1

 

A Relationship We Often Neglect

blog a relationship we often neglectResponding appropriately to communication is an extremely important aspect of any relationship. If you consistently ignore someone that you are close with the relationship will be affected. The distance between you will grow, the person may stop sharing with you, and eventually intimate contact is lost. 

There is one type of relationship that is especially easy to overlook. Many of us have neglected this important relationship without even realizing it. The distance this brings leaves us feeling  disconnected. I am talking about the relationship with your body!



Body Awareness

Awareness of one's body involves being in touch with your body, listening to it’s signals, and recognizing where it is in space. While these things may seem straightforward and simple there are many reasons why people are not in touch with their own body’s.

One of the main reasons for this disconnect is the busyness of life. Living in a fast paced society provides many distractions that keep us from paying attention to ourselves. Everyday our body sends us input and insight, but many times we ignore this communication. 

Traumatic experiences may also cause an individual to become disconnected with their body. Dissociation is a protective mechanism that helps an individual get through an unbearable event or situation. While it can be useful as a short term coping mechanism, it is not helpful long term.



Befriending Your Body Again

Many people never think about being aware of their body, but when they are intentional about it they can begin to reestablish this important relationship. There are many things that can be done to create greater body awareness.

Developing greater body awareness is valuable for everyone. It’s important to recognize where you are in your awareness of your body and build off of that. Even small steps done consistently can make a big difference.

Technically speaking the three categories of body awareness that we can develop are interoception, proprioception, and spatial awareness. Let’s take a look at what those are and explore ways to grow in each of these areas.

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Grounding: The Benefits of Connecting with the Earth

GroundingChildren love to play outside - digging in the mud, picking wildflowers, walking barefoot, playing in the sprinkler, or simply lying in the grass. It is one of the highlights of childhood. They explore the world, interacting with it instinctually. 

As we grow up we often lose this connection with the earth and the many benefits this connection provides. But the practice of grounding is gaining popularity in the holistic wellness community, and even attracting the attention of some researchers.

Let’s look at this ancient practice and how we can engage in it today!

What is Grounding

“Grounding” or “earthing” is an ancient practice of putting the body in direct contact of the earth’s soil (or water). 

It is based on the belief that we can draw from the earth's energy when we connect with it in this way. Since the earth carries a negative charge, we are able to pick up the extra electrons on the earth's surface. These electrons are then able to pair with free radicals within the body and neutralize them. In this way, grounding acts as an antioxidant (1).

Grounding can occur anytime we are in contact with substances that conduct these electrons (water, dirt, sand, concrete, etc.). This means that even a simple walk to get your mail can be beneficial if you are barefoot.

Benefits of Grounding

Grounding is believed to have many benefits that go beyond what can be measured. While more research is needed, studies are beginning to find some real benefits of grounding. 

  • Better sleep
  • Stress reduction
  • Improved Mood
  • Pain Reduction
  • Cardiovascular Health 
  • Decreased Inflammation

If you are interested in looking at the science behind grounding, check out Healthline’s article “Grounding: Exploring Earthing Science and the Benefits Behind It.”

Risks of Grounding

While there are few risks of grounding, it is important to be aware of your surroundings. Obviously you will need to be aware of dangers such as sharp objects, stinging insects, etc. 

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15 Minutes to Improve Your Health

15 minutes to improve your healthMany people are experiencing the benefits of journaling for 15 minutes a day!

 While keeping a journal is an ancient practice, it has become extremely popular today and has attracted the attention of many research scientists. This simple exercise can have a profound effect on both your mental and physical health. 

 It is amazing to see the research confirm what proponents of journaling have told us all along. As we look at the benefits of journaling it becomes clear that this inexpensive, simple practice is an investment worth our time. 

 

What is Journaling?

Journaling is a way to express yourself freely through the written word. This can take on many different forms and there are no rules to how this is done. 

Many people simply start writing about their day, something that is bothering them, or a problem they are trying to solve. Getting their emotions out on paper helps clarify their experience and releases emotion. Other people use their journal to remind themselves about what they have accomplished, while others focus on things for which they are grateful.

Some people find that it is helpful to use a prompt to start journaling. Questions or inspirational quotes make good journal prompts, encouraging people to consider things they otherwise might overlook. The important thing is to let the writing flow freely without censoring yourself. 

 

Tips for Journaling

  • Confidentiality: Journals should be considered a private space. Most people feel more liberty to share their thoughts when they know other people will not read them. From time to time you may choose to share a portion of their journal with a trusted friend, but it should be assumed that writings are for the person journaling and no one else.
  • Uncensored & Unedited: Journals are a place to get thoughts down on paper as freely as possible. Discoveries are best made when you get in a flow and don’t think too hard. For this reason it is best not to censor or edit your work. Give yourself permission to get it out on paper. Tap into those thoughts that otherwise would remain unconscious. Don’t let grammar or punctuation weigh you down.

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Trimester Zero: Planning for a Wedding vs. Planning to Conceive

trimester 0What if we spent just as long preparing to get pregnant as we do preparing to get married?

 

Preparing for a Wedding vs. Preparing for Pregnancy 

Couples know that preparing a beautiful wedding takes work. Many people take 12-18 months working on the details for this one day. They know it takes a plan. It doesn’t just fall together, unless perhaps they simply elope. 

Yet when a couple decides to try to have a baby, they often jump right in without preparing themselves or their bodies. Our society doesn’t understand that there are many things a couple can do to prepare themselves for a healthy pregnancy. It’s like we think everyone can do the equivalent of eloping in this area. 

 

When Pregnancy Doesn't Happen Quickly

When a couple does not achieve pregnancy quickly, they are often told that it just takes time and to keep trying. 

Although this is intended to be encouraging, this isn’t an empowering message. I would rather offer the couple a clear plan towards health, helping them see this as a time of preparation instead of just waiting.

Focusing on helping the couple achieve ultimate health increases their chances of a healthy pregnancy and a radiantly healthy baby.

 

How Long to Focus on Preconception Health

Did you know that the egg takes about 120 days to mature from a follicle to an egg? And that sperm matures in about 60 days?

Since the health of the egg and the sperm are vital to the health of the baby, it is important to focus on being as healthy as possible for at least that long before trying to conceive. 

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Metabolic Health: The Elephant in the Room

metabolic healthWith all that is going on in our world today, everyone wants to be healthy. People want to boost their immune system, so their bodies will be resilient and strong.

Many people consider themselves healthy since they are active and in a normal weight range. But research is showing that it is possible even for thin people to be quite unhealthy. It’s like they are thin on the outside, but fat on the inside.

So what does it mean to truly be healthy? How do we measure our health objectively? And what can we do to improve our health?

Recently, I listened to one of my favorite podcasts The Doctor’s Farmacy. In it, Dr. Hyman was speaking with Dr. Aseem Malhotra on this very topic. Dr. Malhotra is a cardiologist, professor, author, and health advocate in the UK. They talked about Metabolic Health, how to measure it, why it matters, and the impact it has on public health.

Let’s take a brief look at this important subject and how you can use this knowledge on your journey to wellness!

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