Immunity in the Time of COVID-19

Recharge the protective shield known as your immune system with rest, relaxation, and food
April 20, 2020 Updated: April 20, 2020

This COVID-19 pandemic is uncharted territory. We have no idea where it’s going and when it might end. It can make you feel scared and rock your life physically, emotionally, and financially. Many people feel helpless in the wake of this virus that’s moving through our country with alarming speed. Taking action, however small, can give you a sense of control in a situation that feels very out of control.

First, you can limit your exposure to other people and the outside world by staying home and keeping your distance when you leave your house for groceries or a blast of fresh air. Second, you can take some steps to boost your immunity. While the COVID-19 virus,  affects people of all ages and health statuses differently, the statistics are telling us that those people with underlying health conditions and older adults are at a greater risk for developing severe symptoms, hospitalization, and death. Translation: Weakened immunity is a factor in negative outcomes.

While having a healthy immune system may not determine whether or not you get the coronavirus, it may play a role in how sick you become if you should get it. For a little insight on understanding how best to bolster your immunity, we can look to the fundamental teachings of Chinese medicine. While this may seem ironic, as China is ground zero for this pandemic, its traditional medicine has a rich and nuanced history of treating febrile diseases (those that involve a fever).

In Chinese medicine, immune function is viewed as something akin to a protective bubble that wards off potentially harmful pathogens that come from the outside environment (viruses, bacteria, pollen, etc.) and make you sick. This protective bubble is called Wei Qi, and when it’s strong, it keeps you healthy by fighting off illness. Unfortunately, when your Wei Qi is weak, lots of nasty bugs can get through your bubble, causing colds, flu, and other illnesses.

During this coronavirus pandemic, is there a way to strengthen your immunity? The answer is yes. Because immune function is considered to be a kind of Qi, or energy, having strong energy in general is protective. Or to put it another way, if you become depleted or run down, the energy that goes into protecting you is also depleted. Knowing this, there are some things that you can do to safeguard your immunity.

Get enough rest. This translates into getting enough sleep and not becoming run down. Your body heals and rejuvenates itself while you’re asleep. If the quality of your sleep is compromised, your immunity suffers.

Take care of your lungs. Wait … what? In Chinese medicine, your lungs are closely related to your immune system, because with every breath, they come into contact with the outside world. This means that your lungs are exposed first and tasked with neutralizing harmful pathogens. Considered your most external organ, your lungs are the protector of the outside of your body; that protective bubble called Wei Qi.

Think about it; the first organ that’s affected by the COVID-19 virus? Your lungs. Having healthy lungs, then, is a way to boost your immunity. Deep relaxed breathing; exercise; avoiding breathing really cold air; and during this current pandemic, wearing a face mask are all ways to keep your lungs as healthy as possible.

Eat good food. Your energy is built on the food and nutrients that you consume. The ideal is to get lots of colorful fruits and vegetables (which are packed with vitamins), whole grains, and small amounts of protein every day. Avoid lots of sugary foods that can promote inflammation, and very fatty or rich foods that can bog down your digestion. And stay away from packaged or processed foods, which are usually nutritional wastelands.

Tamp down your stress. I know, easier said than done while you’re worrying about this virus, your loved ones, and the financial fallout. However, stress—especially long-term unrelieved stress—also has a negative impact on many of your body’s systems, including immunity. During the fight-or-flight response associated with stressful situations, your body turns down the volume on the systems you don’t need in the moment to deal with the stress. Immunity gets put on the back burner until your stress dies down. Unfortunately for many of us, stress is a regular part of our lives, so immunity is sidelined indefinitely. Dealing with your stress by altering long-term stressful situations or slowing down will ultimately help strengthen your immunity.

Go outdoors. Even better, take a walk in the woods or a park, if possible. A number of research studies have found that walking in a wooded setting can decrease stress, lower your cortisol (a stress hormone), decrease your blood pressure, and actually boost your immunity.

The bottom line is that during this time of the COVID-19 virus when you feel like you have no control, there are a couple of things you can do. This includes staying away from others to decrease your risk of transmission, and taking really good care of yourself as a way to boost your immune system.

Lynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of “Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.” This article was originally published on AcupunctureTwinCities.com