As a compliment to the emergency response recommendations in recent weeks, I'd like to offer a few observations & recommendations from a functional nutrition perspective looking through the wider lens of long term community health and immune-supporting lifestyle choices that could be helpful as you navigate how to support you & your family’s health into the future.
The global awakening to our interconnectedness and shared vulnerability is, in my humble opinion, an opportunity to have a more serious discussion around our cultural norms in this country, in our individual communities, and even in our own homes.
Age has been highlighted as a major common denominator for complications and fatalities of a COVID-19 infection, but there have also been much quieter mentions of underlying chronic inflammatory conditions present in severe cases.
This is an important detail to take to heart.
Because we, as a collective global organism, are experiencing widespread chronic inflammatory inputs through our food, water, air, homes, workplaces, and social structures every day that have increased steadily year after year for decades.
Our lifestyles and de-prioritization of health & wellbeing behind productivity, consumption, profit, and technology is directly related to the state of mental and physical health we experience as a collective.
Regardless of a person’s age, underlying health status (chronic or acute conditions), eating patterns, sugar and fast food consumption, lifestyle habits, drug & alcohol use, physical activity, sleep quality, and stress levels all impact levels of chronic inflammation and immune system function.
Yes, age IS an underlying risk factor for health complications because disruptions to cellular function come naturally with aging (e.g., hormone depletions needed to mount an immune response, dehydration that impacts cellular communication & function, nutrient deficiencies from decreased appetite and compromised digestion), BUT we also experience insults to our health throughout our lifetimes from our environment, our food choices, our mindsets, trauma, and the epidemic of chronic stress & loneliness - and these inflammatory insults add up as we age.
But not just in older populations, for everyone.
Chronic inflammation is now known in the functional medicine community to play a central role in chronic illnesses: Autoimmune (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimotos), allergies, gastrointestinal conditions (e.g. IBS, dysbiosis, SIBO, celiac, Crohn’s), heart disease, diabetes, migraines, obesity, neurodegeneration (e.g., Alzheimers, Multiple Sclerosis), and anxiety/depression to name just a few.
Distinction Between Acute and Chronic Inflammation
Acute inflammation is the body's normal attempt to heal itself after an injury or defend itself against foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria. It is characterized by redness, swelling, warmth (fever), and pain and involves a complex cascade of immune mediators and cytokines (messengers). Although what is known and not known about covid-19 evolves daily, it is being reported that acute hyper-inflammation or a ‘cytokine storm’ may be involved in the most serious and fatal cases.
Chronic, low-grade inflammation occurs when the immune system doesn’t shut itself off completely after an insult or is chronically activated by common triggers. It may begin to attack your own body tissues or create an environment that promotes cellular damage, mitochondrial oxidative stress, even more inflammation, and decreased tissue and organ function. It is reasonable to infer that this state may predispose someone to a dysregulated immune response, such as a hyper-inflammatory response.
Chronic inflammation is widespread, present to varying degrees across the globe, and will be a significant factor in how our global organism is impacted and recovers from the current crisis and any we encounter in the future.
This feels like a watershed moment.
An invitation to (re)imagine a new world where health & wellbeing have a seat at the table with the decision-makers when decisions are made about how we live, eat, work, play, love, and innovate in the future. Decision-makers come in all shapes and sizes - government officials, community leaders, CEOs, citizens, and family members sitting around the kitchen table...
THE GOOD NEWS? There are SIMPLE, easy-to-implement nutrition & lifestyle habits that ANYONE can adopt to lower chronic inflammation in the body and simultaneously boost overall health & immune function.
And changes in your cellular physiology begin immediately when you change the inputs. Our genes respond to our daily inputs of nutrition, lifestyle, and environmental exposures by switching on and off, setting off cascades of cellular events, and remodeling our health in real time.
So you can start today, at any age, in any state of health, and begin to tip the scales in your favor. And lead by example for those around you.
IT'S ALSO NO COINCIDENCE, that the most health-promoting habits are aligned with the wisdom of nature. There is a higher intelligence in the natural world that simply can’t be ignored in times like these.
This is where reWilding steps into the spotlight.
Tips to Calm Chronic Inflammation & Support Immune Function Long Term
The goal of preventative lifestyle habits is to be a less vulnerable host to illness, disease, and any pathogens, including novel viruses. Every second the body is renewing itself on a cellular level. Old cells are being broken down and taken out of commission and new cells are being assembled to take their place, including the immune system (1 million new white blood cells are produced every ten seconds, for example). So with every second, we have the opportunity to renew our body’s largest, most complex defense system with well-functioning cells by providing the right diet, lifestyle, and environmental inputs for optimal function.
MUCOSAL LINING IMMUNITY is your first line of defense against foreign invaders. Mucosal lining is present on the inside of your GI tract, nasal passages, lungs, and genitals. This lining is policed by an antibody called Secretory IgA (sIgA) to identify and respond to foreign invaders, but chronic stress, nutrient deficiencies, & chronic illness/inflammation can reduce the number of (sIgA) antibodies policing the borders - so nutrition & lifestyle choices matter now more than ever! And I’m sure you’ve heard the term ‘leaky gut’ by now, chronic inflammation and other toxic lifestyle inputs like stress, injury, gluten, and toxins can influence the structure and function of your mucosal barriers to cause gaps in between the cells. In the gut, this allows larger food particles and other molecules into the bloodstream where they can travel around the body aggravating your immune system and creating a host of undesirable downstream effects. The bad news is, the same mucosal lining structure and function is also shared by the other areas of body mentioned above, so it also possible to have leaky lungs, leaky skin, leaky nasal passages, and even a leaky brain! Improve the health of your mucosal linings, and your overall health also begins to improve.
EAT COLORFUL WHOLE FOODS to regulate blood sugar and flood your body with nutrients by eating an antioxidant-rich, nutrient-dense, high-fiber, low glycemic, whole foods diet - nature has your back! Our food choices act as cellular signals - either optimizing our health and cellular function with the necessary building blocks we need or promoting (dis)ease and dysfunction with nutrient deficiencies and toxins, which means you have 3-5 opportunities a day to support vibrant health and cellular function!
70% of your immune system is contained in your GUT! Your gut lining and microbiome rely on plant-based whole foods to function optimally.
Anti-inflammatory power foods: EAT RAINBOWS, especially brightly colored veggies, greens, berries, dark pigmented grains (e.g. quinoa, brown & black rice). Plant-foods contain phytonutrients that neutralize free radicals produced during an infection and other inflammatory conditions. Garlic, ginger, turmeric, green tea, rosemary are immune-supporting superheroes, so eat herbs & spices liberally!
Protein: Your immune system requires protein (amino acids)to make immune cells to fight infections. If you are not eating an adequate amount, your body will breakdown muscle and other cells to reuse the amino acids. This is not desirable or sustainable. Aim for balanced meals throughout the day that include animal or plant proteins. The RDA minimum is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. If you are physically active or ill, you would benefit from more.
Break up with sugar! Your immune system temporarily shuts down every time you indulge. :( Think of this as an opportunity for discipline instead of a punishment.
I cover how to reWild your meals, your kitchen, your grocery shopping, and your mealtimes in the Wild Reset Program.
SLEEP MORE: sleep is critical for tissue repair, healing, and bone marrow production of immune cells, so do everything you can to prioritize 7 hours or more. Take naps. Sleep in. Go to bed earlier. Trade technology for books or meditation one hour before bed. Reset your circadian rhythm to the rhythm of the sun and moon and the seasons for more restful sleep, especially if you are feeling ill. I cover all the ways to make your sleep environment and routine more earthen in the Wild Reset Program.
STAY HYDRATED: your cells needs to be plump and hydrated for cellular communication, transport, lymph and blood flow, and immune cells to function optimally. Drink warm or room temperature fluids frequently throughout the day. You can also add a tiny pinch of sea salt to your water bottle to increase water absorption from the small intestine into your cells - this is especially useful first thing in the morning when you need to rehydrate.
SOAK UP THE SUNSHINE: Vitamin D plays a vital role in all aspects of the immune system. Deficiency is associated with an increased susceptibility to infection, so know your numbers. Soaking up the sun at least 20 minutes per day when possible and supplementing when it is not is one of the best health insurance policies money can buy.
MOVEMENT: 30-60 minutes per day doing something you love will balance hormones, reduce stress, flush and eliminate toxins, move lymph fluid, boost your mitochondrial function to reduce oxidative stress, and increase insulin sensitivity - all immune strengthening benefits! However, high intensity exercise has been shown to temporarily lower immunity and increase respiratory distress, so choosing moderate-to-low strenuous activities could be the safest option right now.
STRESS RESILIENCE: stress weakens your immune system response :( so please take extreme self-care measures to stay on top of how your mind & body feel during this crisis, especially if you are an essential business or first responder.
time spent immersed in nature is the ultimate multi-sensory stress-reducer. I cover nature-based stress reduction & resilience in the Rituals of reWilding Workshop.
mindfulness & meditation have been clinically proven to support immune function, decrease circulating levels of cortisol, rebalance hormones, boost neurotransmitters (e.g.,serotonin), and calm anxiety.
EFT Tapping is an essential mental pattern disruption tool for everyone’s self-care toolbox that you can use anytime, anywhere. The Tapping Solution is hands down the best!
REDUCING YOUR TOXIN LOAD: this can feel overwhelming at first, but it is possible to make small changes each day and over time to drastically reduce your exposures in your food, your personal care products, and your home. Eating plant-based foods & adequate protein also boost your body’s ability to detoxify. Yay!
The Institute of Functional Medicine now has a COVID-19 resource page on their website, too, that I highly recommend.
The Wild at Heart Method is uniquely designed to help you transition into a lifestyle that awakens your inner wild and supports your wellbeing. A lifestyle reset can be simple, sustainable, and fun when you (re)align yourself with nature.
Subscribe for Mind.Body.Home reWilding inspiration and download the reWilding Retreat Guide: a nature-infused, self-guided retreat to explore on your own or with family and friends designed to help you de-stress, disconnect from technology, soulfully connect with loved ones & nature, nourish your mind.body with healthy whole food, and provide the mental space for mindfulness.
I look forward to supporting you with the right program, service, or referral on your healing journey. Let's walk together for awhile...
We'll stop and smell the wildflowers. Smile a lot. And wander down the road less-traveled.
Be Well and I'll See You in the Wild,
Angela Juhl, MS, CHWC, CYT
Master of Science in Human Nutrition & Functional Medicine
Wellcoaches™ Certified Health and Wellness Coach
Wild Woman Project Circle Leader
Certified Yoga Teacher
Wild at Heart was founded on the mission: to take a stand against unsustainable cultural norms by empowering YOU to realign your lifestyle & mindset with the wisdom of nature for mind.body.heart & soul healing and rekindling a soulful relationship to the natural world...for yourself, your loved ones, our communities, and our beautiful planet.