COVID-19 continues to dominate the news and everyone’s thoughts – and it’s going to get more difficult before things get better.
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in the US at alarming rates, and the climbing number of death reports is taking a toll on everyone. We’re realizing that although this disease hits the at-risk population, it is also claiming young, seemingly healthy people.
“What can we do to protect ourselves?” This seems to be the question everyone is asking.
I just want to let you know I am committed to being here to answer your questions and reassure you as much as I can.
One of the most important things that I’ll say again and again is this: NOW is the time to do everything you can to boost your immune function. The stronger your immune system is, the less likely it is that you will get critically ill.
A couple of weeks ago, I was exposed to the coronavirus.
When I began to feel lousy, I worried that I had been infected, despite taking every precaution. I was tested and waited for the results. I was a bit unsettled but wasn’t overly concerned because I knew that I’m pretty active when it comes to keeping my immune system strong.
Thankfully, my test results came back negative. I believe that my lifestyle choices helped my body resist infection. Perhaps we will find out later that I have antibodies to COVID-19.
What I do each day to maintain my immune system health isn’t difficult; anybody can do it. You don’t need special food, equipment, or a lot of money to take immediate steps towards better immune health. If you’re interested in those steps, click here.
Today, I want to focus on one specific thing that can have a big impact on your immune system functioning: your weight.
It probably won’t come as any surprise that carrying extra pounds can directly impact your health.
But before I dig deeper, I want everyone to know two key things:
- It’s not your fault.
- There is something you can do about your weight – even if you’ve tried everything to little to no success.
Losing weight is a sensitive topic, and I want you to know that my goal is to eliminate any shame or guilt felt. In fact, guilt and shame can make the problem much worse!
This is why I make use of practical information that can help put you on the path to a stronger immune system. First, let’s start with a quick explanation of inflammation, its connection to weight, and then discuss how being overweight impacts your immune system.
What is inflammation?
To really understand how inflammation impacts health, you first need to understand that inflammation is an immune response. So, despite the fact that everyone is talking about how destructive inflammation is to health, it’s critical to recognize that it’s chronic inflammation, not acute inflammation that they are talking about.
Acute inflammation is necessary to keep your body in good health. Take, for example, an allergic reaction or infection. In these instances, your body is designed to react. It identifies dangerous or infectious substances and repairs any damage these may cause. But here’s the key factor – when the threat has been taken care of, anti-inflammatory compounds are released to return your body to a balanced state.
Problems occur when the pro-inflammatory immune cells in your body are stimulated continuously, resulting in chronic inflammation. As these unnecessary immune cells flow through your system, they can begin to attack and damage healthy tissues – sometimes permanently! This can result in major health issues – including arthritis, heart disease, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.
While factors that contribute to inflammation are different for every individual, being overweight is a big one. Let’s take a look at how carrying excess weight impacts your immune system.
The impact of being overweight on immune function
For many years, research has been illustrating the impact that excess fat has on inflammation and immune functioning. As discussed above, inflammation is a natural immune response. But chronic inflammation is another story.
A 2012 review article discussed the relationship between obesity, inflammation, and the immune system. This article found that data suggested that visceral adipose tissue (fat) and central obesity had a greater impact on the inflammatory process than total body fact. The authors concluded that both local inflammation in adipose tissue and altered immune response in obesity contribute to the development of metabolic complications.
A more recent review article in Frontiers in Physiology (from June 2018) summarized the information we now know about how adipose tissue is considered an active endocrine organ – not just a storage receptacle – that secretes hormones called adipokines, which connect the immune system and metabolism. This review article focused primarily on leptin, which plays a big part in controlling energy metabolism and the regulation of the relationship between the immune system and metabolism.
A 2019 animal study published in Nature showed that there are specific immune cells in the small intestine that tend to slow metabolism and prompt food to be stored as fat rather than converted to energy. Genetically engineered mice that didn’t have these immune cells were able to consume a diet high in fat, sugar, and salt without developing adverse conditions like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. These findings may lead to ways to change the balance in the gut of people who have a genetic tendency to slower metabolisms, thus treating a root cause of obesity rather than the consequences.
The above is just a small sampling of the research that solidifies the connection between obesity and immune function, while also helping to illustrate the fact that obesity is clearly tied to genetics and is NOT just a result of poor lifestyle choices.
At the same time, lifestyle choices DO make a difference, and you don’t have to succumb to those genetic influences. You just need all the right information to determine what will work for your unique situation.
Obesity and Infectious Disease
Because the novel coronavirus is the main topic of conversation right now, I wanted to talk briefly about the connection between obesity and infection. Research in this area is limited, but there have been enough studies to convince me that there certainly IS a relationship between weight and your body’s ability to fight off infection.
A May 2019 article in Frontiers in Immunology discussed the impact of obesity on the Influenza A virus. The 2009 H1N1 influenza A virus pandemic helped researchers identify, for the first time, obesity as a risk factor for more severe disease and mortality in infected individuals. This review article focused on influenza A virus pathogenesis in the obese host, as well as the impact of obesity on the antiviral response, viral shed, and viral evolution.
Through a comprehensive review of the literature, the authors determined that innate and adaptive immune responses are delayed in an obese host, allowing increased viral spread and infection. Additionally, immune responses late in the infection led to poor outcomes. Even when the initial IAV infection was cleared, poor healing of lung epithelium and secondary bacterial infections contributed to high mortality rates in the obese population.
While there is no clear correlation between these findings and other respiratory viruses, this research is enough to make me think more carefully about the connections between weight and viral infection. And with what we already know about the adverse impact excess weight has on a variety of health issues, there’s a clear benefit to maintaining healthy body weight.
5 Focus Areas to Help Boost Your Immune System and Maintain a Healthy Weight
I’ve talked to so many women in the past few weeks who all have their own responses to the current crisis. Some tell me they’re more productive than ever before, giving their home a deep clean and organizing long-neglected spaces. Others continue to work, and often (like me) they find themselves busier than ever before! Still, others say they can barely function at all – just getting out of bed feels like a major feat. Some are stress baking and eating everything in sight, watching the numbers on the scale rise with growing despair. Others are taking advantage of unanticipated downtime to work out more and focus on healthy eating.
This is not an easy time, and there are no simple solutions. What works for you may not work for someone else. But you have more control than you might think. If you give attention to the following five areas, you CAN lose weight and ultimately boost your immune functioning to help keep your body safe and free from infection. Let’s take a look at these areas now.
1. Healthy Eating
I’m sure this isn’t news to you – but sometimes we all need a reminder. It’s tempting in times of stress to reach for the chocolate, drink a little more wine than usual, or eat an entire bag of chips in one sitting. But this is short-lived relief, and often becomes a source of MORE stress, especially as you begin to hold on to extra pounds. If you do nothing else for yourself right now, I’m urging you to stock your house with fresh foods and lean protein. Leave the chips on the grocery shelves. Snack on nuts or fresh fruits and vegetables instead. Eliminate processed foods as much as you can. If baking is your go-to stress relief, try switching it up and cooking healthy entrees to freeze for later.
2. Gentle Exercise
If your stress level is through the roof, it’s not a great time to take up vigorous exercise. But getting outside for a daily walk (if you live in a rural enough environment where you can do so while maintaining adequate space) can boost both physical and mental health. If you are truly confined to your home, try an online yoga class or walk up and down your stairs for five to ten minutes several times a day. Avoid the temptation to sit on the couch binge-watching tv shows for hours – at the very least, get up and walk in place often as you watch.
3. Nutrient Intake
It is so important to your immune system function to be getting enough essential nutrients. Eating healthy is a great first step, but it probably isn’t enough – especially if you are trying to lose weight Taking this high-quality multivitamin as well as this omega-3 supplement is a great start, but you should talk with a health care professional for advice on which targeted supplements could make the most difference for your own situation as well.
4. Honoring Emotional Health
Now is a perfect time to discover how your emotions can impact your health – and what you can do to be sure you aren’t stuck in unhealthy emotional patterns. I’ve seen a lot of positive messages floating around, honoring all the different ways people may be feeling during this difficult time. You shouldn’t ignore difficult emotions. Keeping these buried inside can have real physical consequences. Learning to release painful emotions is crucial. You may need the support of a professional counselor, many of whom are available online or via phone consultation.
5. Prioritizing Gut Health
There’s a clear connection between gut health and weight, and both our probiotics and our prebiotics can help keep your gut healthy. The toxins in our food and water supply wreak havoc on the bacterial balance in your gut, and without shifting the imbalances in a positive direction, it may be nearly impossible to lose weight. Taking a daily probiotic can help ensure that you have an adequate supply of beneficial bacteria in your gut. But prebiotics can be equally important. These supply food for the probiotics, helping them thrive (and protect your gut). Your body doesn’t produce these – so you have to get them by eating foods high in prebiotic fiber. Some of the best options are chicory root, asparagus, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, and onions. It can be hard to add enough of these foods to your daily diet, so a daily prebiotic supplement can also be a good idea.
We will get through this – together
As horrible as this pandemic is, it is also an opportunity to reflect on what we know and react accordingly. Jeffry Bland, who founded the Institute of Functional Medicine, gave an inspiring talk on this topic recently. In that talk, he reminds us that the current shelter at home policy allows us the time for reflection, a chance to respond in ways that can actually alter our genetic expression. When we consider how we are living, and how those choices impact our own personal resilience and response to crises such as the current pandemic, we have an amazing opportunity for change.
That internal change then leaves us open to change on a higher level on the other side of this pandemic. Perhaps this is just the wake-up call we need to shift our societal expectations and live a more healthy lifestyle long-term. If nothing else, maybe we’ll all remember how good it feels to connect with others and help each other out.
I’m not waiting until this is all over – I am committed to providing the support and assistance you need right now. If you have questions or want to know what I can do for you, don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m here for you!
Call us today to get more information on nutrient and weight loss support!