‘Tis the season—there is so much virus talk in the news again. But don’t buy into the hype. You do NOT have to be afraid of every virus that comes along. In fact, did you know that fear suppresses your immune system? So let’s take a look at some health hacks for a healthy immune system.
There are several things that may stand between your staying healthy or getting sick when you encounter any type of bacteria or virus this cold and flu season. So let’s look at some of them, and how you can fight back.
What you need to know…
One bit of information that came out post-pandemic that has not been shared widely—outside of functional medicine circles—is just how much comorbidities contributed to the outcome of Sars CoV2, worldwide. Studies show upwards of 94% of all hospitalizations and deaths during the pandemic included a comorbidity of low vitamin D and/or high blood sugar(1). And these are two dynamics that are entirely within your ability to change as you’ll see below.
So why wasn’t this info made available to the general public during the pandemic? If people had known this, they could have boosted their vitamin D levels. And they could have worked to reduce their blood sugar levels too. Ideally, it would have been fantastic if this info was widely shared. So what gives?
The cynical side of me would say that Big Pharma can’t make Big Bucks when we’re keeping ourselves healthy. And they basically control the news media (see sidebar below.) But the sad reality is that many healthcare practitioners and governments just don’t understand much about nutrition and how it affects our overall health. And today according to the Washington Post, fewer than 20% of US med schools even require a nutrition course.(2) They are taught “a pill for every ill.”
Sidebar: It’s worth noting that the US is one of only TWO countries in the WORLD (the other one being New Zealand) that allow pharmaceutical companies to advertise at all.(3) “Ask your doctor if this medication is right for you.” And in 2020 75% of ALL TV advertising dollars in the US were spent by Big Pharma—and its likely more than that now.(4) This also means that Big Pharma contnrols what news stories you see on TV. If they don’t like a news story, they can threaten to drop their advertising dollars. And they don’t bennefit when you boost your vitamin D or lower your blood sugar. So is it any wonder that 50% of the US population are on prescription medication today? Sadly, that’s 4 times higher than any other developed nation.
Add to that, recent polls show that fewer than 30% of Americans would be willing to make necessary dietary or lifestyle modifications even if they could be totally certain of a positive benefit to their health. And a lot just fell through the cracks during the pandemic…
But when you know better you tend to do better. And that’s why I’m here, to help you understand how your dietary and lifestyle changes can hopefully prevent you from catching the latest virus while also adding more LIFE to your years.
1. Blood labs and reference ranges
When you get your annual blood labs done, if you’re lucky your doctor probably says “Your labs are fine”, or “Your numbers are normal/within range”. Have you heard something like that before?
Do you know what the standard allopathic reference range is based upon? You might think it’s a “healthy” range. But it’s not. It is based on the AVERAGE of 95% of the American population—they throw out the top 2.5% and the bottom 2.5%(5).
And unfortunately, Americans as a whole aren’t so healthy these days. In fact, 50% of Americans are on at least one prescription medication, and 25% take three or more. And 88% of Americans have unhealthy blood sugar levels.(6)
Also, 60% of Americans have at least one chronic disease, with 40% having two or more.(7) That doesn’t paint the picture of an “average reference range” I want to fall into, how about you?
Functional medicine uses an “optimally healthy” reference range for blood labs—typically a narrower, more conservative range, that may be in the lower quartile, in the middle, or in the upper quartile of the average range—depending on the specific marker. So I’ll be using functional reference ranges below.
We also want to look at annual lab markers over time and look for trends. Is one marker going up, and up, and up over several years? Or is another going down, down, down over several years? Trends paint a bigger picture of your overall health than one set of lab results—which are just a snapshot of that moment in time and can vary from day to day.
Takeaway: If you’re looking for a healthy immune system, look for trends over time in your blood labs. And learn what you’re blood lab markers are being compared to and how healthy that reference range really is. This is something I help my clients with.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a super important component in a healthy immune system. And many Americans are deficient. And it turns out that Vitamin D is actually a pre-hormone, not a vitamin at all (and if it were discovered today it would be called a hormone, not a vitamin.)(8)
The best way to get optimal vitamin D is with 15-20 minutes of exposure to the sun on your arms/legs/torso every day with OUT sunscreen. Our skin manufactures vitamin D from sun exposure. And overuse of sunscreen is one thing that’s led to rampant vitamin D deficiency. Also working indoors during most of the sunlight hours hasn’t helped. If you can’t get sun exposure, or you live in more northern latitudes, you may need to supplement.
But before you just go out and start supplementing with Vitamin D, there are a few important hings you need to know first.
- Vitamin D needs sufficient amounts of Magnesium to be absorbed. And many Americans are also deficient in Magnesium. So you may need to supplement with Magnesium for a few weeks FIRST before starting Vitamin D.(9)
- It’s super important to get your vitamin D levels tested (a simple blood test) FIRST—before you supplement. You need to know your baseline levels, to know if you need to supplement or not. So ask your health care provider to test you. Or you can go to LabCorp or Quest and pay out of pocket to get tested.
- In the US the standard reference range says you want a vitamin D level of 30 ng/mL. But that’s actually the bare minimum to survive, not to THRIVE in wellness. The functional range (and European range) is 50-70 ng/mL. It’s also worth noting that vitamin D levels above 80 ng/mL can increase auto-immunity, so there’s definitely a “Goldilocks” sweet spot.
- As a pre-hormone, vitamin D interacts with your other hormones. And for Peri- and Menopausal women it can sometimes exacerbate hot flashes. If you are supplementing with vitamin D and you experience more or worse hot flashes, you may want to talk to your wellness practitioner about that. (10)
Takeaway: Keeping your Vitamin D levels somewhere between 50-70 ng/mL will go a long way towards keeping your immune system happy and healthy. And don’t forget the magnesium too.
3. High blood sugar, pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes
Here’s another fact many people aren’t aware of. If you’ve been told you have high blood sugar, pre-diabetes, or Type 2 Diabetes, you may have been told to change your diet. And it’s likely a good idea to cut out sugar and processed carbs.
But did you know that stress alone can cause increases in blood sugar even if you eat a super-clean, healthy diet? Stress increases the hormone cortisol, which if chronically elevated over time can then increase blood sugar.(11)
Back to those blood marker reference ranges—in allopathic medicine, they’ll tell you you’re “fine” or “within range” if your blood glucose is up to 99 mg/dL. But once it hits 100 mg/dL, suddenly you’re pre-diabetic or insulin-resistant.(12)
Wait, what? How can 99 mg/dL be fine and 100 mg/dL not fine? Again, with functional reference ranges, they would say anything above 90 is “trending towards insulin resistance”. And the optimally healthy sweet spot is between 78 – 86 mg/dL. Keeping your blood sugar in that range helps to reduce inflammation and promotes a healthy immune system too.
Takeaway: If you’ve been told “you’re fine”, yet your blood glucose is between 90-99, you may want to re-think your diet and/or stress levels, and aim for the optimally healthy zone of 78 – 86 mg/dL. This is one of the things I help my health coaching clients with, and I’m happy to help you with too. Book a call.
4. Consistent, quality sleep every night
This really should have been #1. Getting enough quality sleep (7-9 hours) every night is truly the number one thing you can do for a healthy immune system, above all else.
Did you know humans are the only animal that doesn’t sleep when it’s tired? Look around at your pets, they are likely sleeping right now! Adequate sleep helps to prevent so many health ailments. From balancing your immune system, to mitigating depression and anxiety, to preventing cancer, and dementia—just to name a few. So why wouldn’t we sleep if it can do all that?
On the flip side, getting fewer than 6 hours of sleep for just one night is equivalent to being legally drunk with a .08 as far as how it can affect your cognition and coordination. And shockingly, people who’ve had fewer than 6 hours of sleep also view their fellow humans to be more unfriendly or aggressive when they aren’t. Might that account for the uptick in random acts of violence?(13)
Maybe you’re a workaholic who swears you can get by on 4-6 hours a night just fine—well, according to Matthew Walker’s sleep science researcher at the University of California, Berkeley—your body says otherwise.
Or maybe you’d love to get 7-9 hours of sleep a night but you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or waking too early. There can be different root causes for all of these things. We cover sleep issues in-depth in my Revive & Thrive Group Coaching Program for Women. Join the waitlist for the next opening here.
Takeaway: If you make only ONE change to your lifestyle, make sleep your top priority. We all need 7-9 hours of good, quality sleep a night—which will help your immune system keep you healthier too. And I really encourage everyone to read the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. It’s one of the best health-related books I’ve ever read,. And it’s been a game-changer for my sleep as well as for a few of my clients.
5. Stay well hydrated
Did you know when you become dehydrated, the mucous membranes in your nose and mouth dry and crack? The mucous that’s supposed to act as a barrier keeping pathogens out, can’t do that when you’re dehydrated. And that creates the perfect opportunity for viruses and bacteria to get inside.
Being dehydrated also dehydrates your cell membranes. This makes them more brittle and less effective in transporting vital nutrients into your cells and toxic substances out of your cells.(14)
But just drinking water might not be enough. Did you know you need minerals in your water for that water to actually be absorbed and used by your body? Consider that for hundreds of thousands of years, our ancestors got their water from springs, streams, rivers, and lakes—all of which contained many minerals from the rocks they flowed through.
Not enough minerals in your water, and you may just pee it all out, potentially flushing out more minerals and dehydrating you further. Most bottled water and filtered water (especially if it’s reverse-osmosis processed) take out the minerals too. So how do you get enough minerals to help you stay hydrated?
Here are a few of my favorite ways to stay hydrated:
- RnA Reset Liquid Minerals from Dr. Carolyn Dean, MD, ND
- Add 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of sea salt like Redmond Salt or Colima Salt (what I use) + a squeeze of lemon or lime to each quart of water you drink. This provides natural electrolytes without any artificial coloring or flavoring.
- Dr Bergs powdered electrolyte drink mix (a good source of potassium), sweetened with stevia.
- Ultima Replenisher tasty electrolyte drink packets for hydration on the go, sweetened with stevia.
Takeaway: Staying well hydrated is vitally important for a healthy immune system, and for keeping your cells happy too!
6. Understanding your symptoms
One last thing many people don’t realize so I wanted to be sure you understand. The “symptoms” of any cold, flu, or virus, be they headache, fever, cough, etc. aren’t coming from the pathogen itself. Those are symptoms of your immune system ramping up a fight against the pathogen.
For example, a fever is your body’s way of trying to burn out the pathogen (so taking a fever reducer when your fever is 102° or less) may be hindering your body from fighting the pathogen.(15) Creating massive amounts of mucous with that runny nose is your body trying to capture the pathogen in slime—for real!(16) So taking a Sudafed to dry it up, while it may make you feel better, isn’t helping your immune system irradicate the pathogen, and may actually take your body longer to feel better.
Takeaway: The best bet if you do catch a cold, flu, or virus, is to sleep a LOT, and drink as much water or herbal tea as possible. Ditch any caffeine, alcohol, or dairy, as those can all make your symptoms worse, and make it harder for your immune system to heal your body. And gargle with warm sea salt water—your mom or grandma were on to something—sea salt may prevent viral replication.(17)