As the clocks go forward and the hours of social distancing pile up, we should continue to be mindful of the threat posed by this virus and the disease Covid -19. It can be difficult when we are locked away in our own homes (those of us that are lucky enough to be in a comfortable space that we feel safe in) to appreciate what’s going on outside the door – in GP surgeries and in hospitals.
We are reminded about the gravity of the situation by images on TV or Facebook, showing our rugby stadiums being turned into field hospitals. News continues to arrive from other countries whose health systems are collapsing, the bruised faces of nurses and doctors who have spent hours masked up – caring for people.
It is important to gather information from credible sources. You can definitely become overwhelmed with the amount of information that is swirling around, changing hourly. Sitting in a room with the tv constantly muttering ‘covid 19 updates’ in the background will do nothing for assuaging anxieties. But, I think it is important to schedule a time to watch the news or read twitter and remember that outside the door this is really happening. That may seem like an annoying statement (of course this is happening) but being asked to stay indoors will conjure an outlook that many (uninformed people) already deem unnecessary or overkill. This planned for, specifically built in venture into that world of information and opinion will continue to spur us on with our task – stopping the spread of the virus. It will come in this form without the perpetually stimulated stress response that can come from spending hours reading social media posts about something we cannot change.
As time goes on it will be so easy to slip into a more complacent outlook, as previously discussed, as humans we are spectacularly bad at conceiving risk. The thought process of ‘Well, I go to the shop so i’ll just quickly pop to… ‘ is running through thousands of people’s minds. We have to be stronger than the impulses these compelling stories we tell ourselves generate, justifying the poor decisions we make.
So what else can we do, apart from diligently hand washing, staying in our homes and maintaining 2m distance?
We have power over ourselves! Some of us have more hours in the day to do things than we ever have before.
Things no-one can dispute
We know that an optimally functioning immune system is dependent on raw materials from food – vitamins and minerals.
We know that sleep affects everything – immune response, fuel partitioning, mental health. We know that our cortisol levels and melatonin and adenosine all affect our ability to get a good night’s sleep.
We know that connecting with each other, albeit in different ways is immensely important to our wellbeing.
We do have power over all of these things, even in these times when we feel like we have no control.
There is a lot of misinformation out there that’s confusing and in my opinion detrimental to both our physical and mental health. Anyone suggesting that you should start introducing a three day fast into your life, or you should take shed loads of supplemented vitamins, or consider a rapid weight loss diet of calorie restriction isn’t doing anyone any favours. But we do need to consider what we are fueling with, what nutrients we need to allow our bodies to mount the best defence, what other things impact on our ability to get through this and out the other side relatively unscathed. There will be losses, we will grieve, how can we set ourselves up to deal with these difficult emotions, how do we have enough capacity to support each other, being open to communication and not irritable and snappy?
Nutritional adequacy is vital.
There is evidence that the people in China and Italy who have required ventilation, those with the highest risk of poor outcomes, have co-morbidities (that is other health problems) most notably the chronic illnesses which we know all have an underlying common denominator- insulin resistance which results in illnesses like – type 2 diabetes, essential hypertension, coronary heart disease, dementia, strokes. If there ever was a time that we could concentrate on our nutrition, this is it.
The foods that you are likely to see left in the shops are all the things we need to be eating right now!
The pasta, bottled sauces and bread shelves are all empty. These foods laden with refined carbohydrates and sugar, vegetable oils and additives have disappeared off the shelves. People are buying the wrong store cupboard staples! These foods are not providing us with bioavailable, nutrient density. The adversity we face will require us to open our minds to what IS available to us, we will turn to the foods that seem unpalatable or undesirable, but these are the foods that are going to ensure that our immune systems and cellular chemical processes have the constituent parts they need to be performing optimally.
Vitamins A,C,D,E , B2, B6 and B12 and copper, zinc, selenium, iron are all essential for a properly functioning immune system. We need them in the right amounts, we need them in forms that our bodies can use and the easiest way to get those things is with whole foods.
If you look back at some other posts including :
– #organuary – go nutrient dense this January (and get hooked for life) there’s some information on how vitamins can come in different forms and why we should at these times, pick sources which are nutritionally dense AND bioavailable.
We need them to ensure our methylation cycle happens without hitches, so we can make serotonin and melatonin, so we can make neurotransmitters and choline. Physically, that means we sleep well, we feel happier, have less fatigue and brain fog, we make build sturdy cells efficiently, it helps with healthy skin, and reducing the risk of fatty liver, our gall bladders won’t play up- we really don’t want to need a hospital bed for a gallstone problem…
Amazingly the whole foods that we should be thinking about eating will be the foods that are left on the shelves or that the butcher hasn’t sold, the things that you can find in your friendly local shop that you never knew sold veg. Well chosen animal foods tend to be the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. They are a perfect balance of protein and fat, replete with all of these vitamin, minerals without thinking too hard about the shopping trolley.
These may not be subtle changes in your diet and in a way you may call this a diet of exclusion as you give refined carbs the swerve and dodge foods with both high refined fat and refined grain content (yes you are excluding sugar). But right now, it is imperative that we give all the systems in the body exactly what they need to perform. This isn’t about ’boosting the immune system’ – it’s about making sure it’s working properly. We need to understand why it is important that we nourish ourselves with the building blocks of health. We’ve had the perceived luxury of not having to think about these things. Those nondescript symptoms of just feeling meh, tired when we wake up, tired through the day, headachy, fatigued, irritable, struggling to fall asleep, struggling to stay asleep, acid reflux – the things that we think are just normal life because of stress and work. Perhaps they aren’t normal, perhaps if stress and work remain exactly the same but we fuel ourselves adequately – we won’t feel so crap.
Tinned sardines/mackerel/other oily fish in olive oil (lots of sardines are in sunflower oils but this version is widely available).
Tinned wild pink or red salmon.
Liver and kidneys – so full of the B vitamins and vitamin A – even if you can only manage 10-20 g a day you’re winning.
Minced meat or any cut of red meat – a relatively small brisket can be cooked low and slow with onion, carrot, leek and water and feed you for a couple of days. Don’t forget to drink the stock that’s produced!
Eggs (eat them as eggs rather than as a constituent in baking…)
Brassicas – broccoli, brussels, cauliflower
Squashes – butternut, any of the strange little pumpkins we see.
Full fat greek yoghurt
If you cook some bacon or roast some meat, save the fat in a jar, use it to cook with, get rid of the highly industrialised, inflammatory vegetable oils.
The frozen food section has been emptied of processed foods, the foods chock full of sugar and predominantly a deathly combination of refined carbs and fat – these contain no nutrients, just calories. Left behind are frozen veg like spinach, beans, frozen berries, even frozen avocado.
Vitamin D. Yes, you can get it from food – eggs and oily fish but, the sun is our best source. Using our limited amount of time outside to stand at the front door with our arms and legs on show for 10-15 minutes not only starts the reactions required for the production of our own vitamin D, but exposure to early morning sunlight with no sunglasses reinforces our circadian rhythm promoting better sleep.
Good sleep with adequate amounts of REM and deep sleep will improve anxiety, help learning and memory, improve our ability to burn fat, reduce our risks of cardiovascular disease, the list goes on.
Further to aid good sleep – think about limiting caffeine to the first half of the day, therefore limiting its effect on adenosine levels. Turn on the red filter on your phone in the evening, thereby blocking the blue light exposure which delays melatonin rise. Infact, if you can put your phone down you’ll also limit the neverending stimulation of cortisol and adrenaline from infuriating emails or instagram posts which will also affect your ability to sleep.
Don’t go to bed too close to dinner, give it a couple of hours if possible.
Alcohol majorly impacts sleep and leaves you even more anxious than you were to start out with.
Try 15-20 minutes a day of properly moving and getting your heart rate up. Whether it’s an online Joe Wicks workout, a ‘zoom’ class with your gym or walking up and down the stairs 20 times- it does wonders for your mental health, insulin sensitivity, muscle mass, reduction of frailty, to increase longevity, improve healthspan.
Stress and anxiety
A top down method of addressing anxiety, stress, our reactions to situations is mindfulness meditation.
The super power of slowing down time, being able to ‘increase the distance between stimulus and response,’ the time between something happening and our response to that thing – will save relationships and jobs, families and friendships as we all adapt to new ways of living.
The ability to identify an emotion, sit with it, and leave it behind without building stories about the future (anxiety) or constantly playing a past event over and over are tools provided by meditation of this nature.
Understanding that anxiety is a helpful tool and like anything dose dependent, is liberating.
For example, the first time a potentially virus contaminated package arrives on your doorstep our anxiety kicks in, ‘Should I touch it? Should I wear gloves? Should I clean the box? And then, what about the contents, should I clean that?
This release of cortisol and other stress hormones, stimulates a reaction that hopefully results in a plan being formulated. Now you can act on that plan everytime a package arrives and you no longer require the cascade of chemicals that result in a thudding chest and tight throat. If that isn’t happening for you and every time a package arrives you have the same response, then a regular habit of mindfulness meditation may be the answer. Consistent practice is the key, 10 minutes a day, that’s all it takes. Building a morning routine has worked for hundreds of the most successful people in the world.
None of these things are that mind blowing or groundbreaking. Some of them we won’t have much choice over (whats left on supermarket shelves), others we always wanted to do but couldn’t find the time or motivation. Now is the time, as the days go on we have the opportunity to become healthier versions of ourselves, and given the fact that Covid-19 is counting on us not to be , it’s another weapon in our arsenal.
Helpful resources for meditation
Ten Percent Happier meditation app
Waking Up | Sam Harris meditation app
Headspace app | headspace.com
Calm app | calm.com
The Magic of Mindfulness: Complain Less, Appreciate More, and Live a Better Life | The Tim Ferriss Show
The immune-nutrition interplay in aging – facts and controversies Journal of Nutrition and Health aging