COVID-19 is changing the way we understand health. Seemingly fit, and healthy people are struggling with infections in ways that shake our confidence to the core.
If we know that even high-level athletes are struggling, how will we survive, if it hits us? If nurses and doctors, confronted with all sorts of colds, flus, and infections daily, how can I?
It is scary to suddenly feel like we are not safe, that we have to avoid people to keep us safe, that people we look up to and trust, are falling ill.
In osteopathy, we often say “it depends” and students are always urged to ask “on what”.
We know that people that are exposed to the virus a lot are a lot more likely to get it. Nurses and doctors are at a higher risk than those who do not see hundreds of people from all walks of life. We are already making our effort to reduce the chances of getting it now and of getting it severely. Washing our hands and not touching our faces while we are shopping is another way of reducing risk. It’s all is nothing new.
I genuinely believe that we underestimate and misunderstand our immune system. From the moment we leave our mother’s womb, we are bombarded with a myriad of pathogens, bacteria, and viruses. Only the most tragic of circumstances mean that we don’t survive. We have contact with pets, nature, family, strangers that bring us samples of different pathogens on a daily basis. We don’t know what kind of cough, cold, even flu the person that had the shopping trolley before us had. Yet, we live.
In osteopathy, we often talk about ‘the reservoir of compensation’. It is a way of describing how much someone can cope with extra stress. The high-level athlete, training daily for an iron man in record time, may have a lot less ways of taking on additional stress, compared to a person that is fully rested, and not up to much these days. If a virus (extra strain) comes along, the average person may fare a lot better than the high-level athlete. Their reservoir of compensation is not large enough to accommodate the virus alongside training.
An example of how our immune system works can show how, with very little changes, really boost our immune system.
Sudafed (a decongestant medication) comes in its most common form with caffeine. This is only in small part to give the patient a bit of an energy kick, more to distract the immune system from tackling and breaking down the agents that keep us breathing easier. The immune system prioritizes.
We know that we shouldn’t drink alcohol with certain drugs. Again, alcohol disrupts the priories in our body and means that the medications we are taking are not as effective s they ought to be.
So how does that help me?
If the immune system feels that it has first to break down the caffeine or alcohol we ingest, it has less resources and time to fight other targets. We can choose not to have caffeine (the choice of decaf teas and coffees is growing all the time), and we can choose not to have that glass of wine. All this has a beneficial effect on our sleep, so suddenly, we come to the next way of taking pressure off our immune system: sleep hygiene. It mainly means keeping a regular sleeping pattern with enough, good quality sleep to wake up rested. It means that we give our body the time it needs to recover from the stresses of the past and letting it allocate energy to fight the next day again.
Diet can be a stressor on our body, and it can affect our sleep. I have several patients that would not be able to sleep at night if it were not for antacid medications. Research shows that a plant-based meal dramatically reduces the amount of indigestion. It is less energy-dense and less dense in saturated fats, making it easier to break down. Suddenly, this becomes an option for an evening meal and as a result of that, better sleep.
We now that inulin, a prebiotic fibre found in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, feeds a bacteria that keeps us asleep at night. It can be bought and used to supplement our diet if need be.
I know this is easier on paper than often in the real world because of children, pets, habit, and stress. Still, these are options we have, we can work toward a good sleep routine, we can have juice instead of the fermented stuff, we can have an infusion or decaf instead of that cuppa, and we can have a vegetarian meal for dinner.