Support Immune Health Now & Beyond Coronavirus

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.