Everyone talks about masks. I like them and wear them but that is external protection only. While important and useful, let’s use common sense:
The way we respond from a pathogen has more to do with our internal protection, as in our immune system!
So ask yourself if it’s up to par. Because if it’s not, then you need to start fertilizing your garden of microflora (ie probiotics) and also avoid or at least minimize anything that weakens your immune system. In no special order, here are the most common factors that suppress your immune system:
People think of this as good for the heart, but studies repeatedly show that free radical harm takes place in your liver, and can lead to compromised liver enzymes as well as hepatotoxicity. If you can’t filter out and neutralize poisons and pathogens, your immune system is weaker.
I can say everything here that I just said for alcohol. Additionally, smoking is known drug mugger of vitamin C which everyone knows helps reduce misery from the common cold and flu. If you smoke, you have lower levels of C and again, this weakens your ability to fight. Furthermore, smoking hurts your lungs and that is one target organ of COVID-19.
Need I say more than the word “junk?” If you’re eating junk food, your body is still starving for nutrients at a cellular level. You may very well be at a healthy weight and BMI, however, your cells are dying for more nutrition and that means you’re immune system is weak.
There are some immune-suppressing medications that people take for autoimmune conditions to slow down the self-directed attack at their own tissue. For example, methotrexate, azathioprine, and etanercept are three that come to mind off the top of my head. These are necessary, and I’m not saying to discontinue them, however you should be extra vigilant about exposure, masks, social distancing and so forth. Since you shouldn’t stop your medication, just be more careful. Another immune-suppressing category are the steroids such as inhalers for asthma and those used for allergies (prednisone, dexamethasone, hydrocortisone and so forth). Cyclosporine is another used frequently after organ transplants.
If you have the measles, HIV, Lyme disease, bartonella, candida, mold exposure or mononucleosis for example, these types of chronic infections weaken your immunity. Your body is already fighting in these cases and dealing with an imbalanced set of pro-inflammatory cytokines, so another infection like a cold would be harder to deal with because your immune reserves are spent! Supporting your body on a daily basis with healthy foods and nutrients is key to keeping your immune system strong.
Being overweight is bad for immune health because it changes the hormones in our body. The cardiovascular system is taxed as well. Obesity is a known risk factor for complications in every disease. The difficult part and I see this where I live here is that one must wear the mask during exercise. So I tried it and almost passed out. I went to my regular yoga class which has a room temperature of 101 degrees, and 50% humidity. Without a mask, this is a bear to get through! But with the mask made it so uncomfortable I haven’t been back. I tried wearing it at Zumba too. That was another awful experience. They won’t let me in without it due to the state laws, and I do understand and respect that. My point here is that if you’re sedentary all of a sudden, and let’s add some stress and fear in the mix… you’re going to put on weight. This is not good because it means more complications from any infection that you get. So do your best to find alternate methods for exercise. For me, I’ve had to take up more hiking and walking/jogging and control the portions on my plate.
In closing, keep in mind that a mask doesn’t guarantee prevention, nor does it prevent complications of any infection. The reality is, it is how strong your body fights that matters the most. That explains in part why the youth are spared of complications … because their immune system is very strong.
If you encounter a pathogen, remember that as these organisms die off, they burst and release poison into the body. They leak! This triggers your own body to start a cascade. Your B cells make antibodies that chase the invader. Your white blood cells seek and destroy pathogens, but in doing so, they themselves secrete chemicals that can harm normal cells. The inflammatory response results in collateral damage. So in short, it’s best to keep your immune system well and to avoid or at least minimize the things that weaken it! An ounce of prevention… remember the saying?
So while masks are helpful, they are only for external protection. People get mad at me when I say that but it is a fact. The mask does not crank out more antibodies, and it does not improve T helper cell function. It’s a mask. It is excellent external protection but offers nothing for your innate or adaptive immunity. You can still get sick and that’s because exposure still occurs when your fingers and hands are touching things in the store that others have touched, or you touch a door or a handle. You’re also tracking pathogens through the house on your shoes and clothes. There are some that live in you for that matter! We are made up of opportunistic organisms and so we need to co-exist peacefully. The way to do that is to keep your immune system strong, and you do that internally. I call it internal protection for your cells. If you consider both internal and external methods for immune support, you give yourself the best odds.
So how would you rate your body right now? What grade would you give it, an A plus or just a C?
Dietary supplements can offer a natural approach to support your immune function.* You may recognize some of them as Vitamin E, zinc, D and others. There are herbal antioxidants that are known to help. Probably the best known one is green tea extract, but others include skullcap, resveratrol, blueberry, and more. There are many more in fact! Read my article entitled “Skullcap – An Intriguing Potent Herb” to learn more about skullcap.
But a good rule of thumb as we move into the colder months is to NOT weaken your immune system. Many are tempted to drink or smoke due to financial problems, loss of a job or loved one, even political stress. Do your best to keep your immune system from crashing when you need it most which is in the fall and winter. Putting antioxidants in the bank, allows you to call on those ‘savings’ when you need them such as during holiday gatherings, parties and travel.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.