Let’s create a world without pandemics

One of my all-time favorite poems goes a little something like this;

We are none of us alone. Even as we exhale it is inhaled by others. The light that shines upon me shines upon my neighbor as well. In this way everything is connected. Everything is connected to everything else. In this way I am connected to my friend even as I am connected to my enemy. In this way there is no difference between me and my friend. In this way there is no difference between me and my enemy. We are none of us alone.

 

I’ve always contemplated the interconnectedness of the world and how my thoughts and actions could impact someone else that I’ve never crossed paths with. We are now seeing this play out much quicker on a global scale with Covid-19.

 

Why hoarding supplies is the wrong thing to do at this time?

We as humans have an innate tendency to be self-centered. From a basic evolutionary standpoint, the individual’s first order of business under ordinary circumstances is to preserve oneself. This is why you have people stockpiling food, toilet papers, masks, hand sanitizers, etc. You might think that you’re protecting yourself long-term by doing so, but hoarding some of these supplies only helps proliferate the spread of the virus since other individuals won’t be able to take necessary sanitary measures. This, in turn, puts everyone at more risk for contact with the virus, even the hoarder.

But here’s the kicker, according to Dr. Michael Osterholm, the transmission happens mostly through breathing, and rarely through touch. He also pointed out, that most commercial masks don’t protect you as much as you’d think, as they do not filter the virus from the air that you breathe. The best we can all do is practice social distancing.

 

Why is social distancing important?

Humans are by nature social animals. This makes it hard for us to even fathom that we might have to practice social distancing for more than just a few weeks. And so, we choose to be in denial and think that everything will revert to normal soon. The hard truth is, there’s a huge possibility that this could last for months to a year until there’s a vaccine or treatment to stop the virus. On the flipside, papers are already being published detailing several treatments that show positive signs for recovery. Needless to say, unless there comes along a treatment that is commercially cheap and widely accessible, social distancing is the only thing we can do in order not to overwhelm the healthcare system as the virus continues to spread. We are already at a limited supply for ventilators and ICU beds. If we choose not to practice social distancing and go about our lives, unfortunately, it might not end well for a lot of people. So even if you are young, and think that you have the immunity to fight off the virus, you have to be cognizant of everyone else that isn’t able to fight it off.

why social distancing is important

Illustration by Olga Zelenska

How to boost your immune system

Isolation can exact a hefty toll on our emotional and physical health, which in turn could weaken our immune system. Therefore, for us to give our bodies a fighting chance against Covid-19, we must work on strengthening our immune system on the daily.

Last year was very challenging for me as I went through symptoms like eczema, abdominal pains, bloating, shortness of breath, etc. After multiple different tests, the doctors were able to detect a bacteria called H pylori. Approximately 50% of the world population has been estimated to be infected by this bug. The good news is that it stays dormant for most individuals who contact it. Unfortunately for the select few, it could cause problems to the digestive tract, which opens up gates to a variety of other health problems.

It was around this time that I decided to take matters into my own hands and not expect the doctors to provide all the answers for me. I read a lot about health & nutrition and experimented with different diets which in turn got rid of all my symptoms but unfortunately didn’t get rid of the bacteria.

Last October I decided to take a quadruple therapy antibiotic treatment. Antibiotics are great at clearing out harmful parasites and bacterias but are also notorious at lowering one’s immunity. Therefore, erring on the side of caution I’ve been doing my best following a healthier lifestyle to boost my immune system as much as I can, and would like to share with you a few tips;

Nothing is more important than your health, yet we all take it for granted. Making healthy lifestyle changes is easier said than done. Most of us wait until we have a health scare to make any change and sometimes still fail to build long-lasting healthy habits. Through a lot of reading, I found that the recurring themes on personal health revolve around Sleep, Nutrition, Exercise, Stress Management & Relationships

  

Sleep

While not everybody needs a full eight hours of sleep every night, most people need more than six. The quality of your sleep matters more than the quantity. You can track your sleep using an app called Sleep Cycle, and for more accurate readings a wearable called Oura Ring. Ideally, you want to strive for;

  • A consistent sleep routine, that is aligned with your circadian rhythm (This is important for your body’s essential processes — including metabolic and hormone regulation). If you’re not tracking your sleep, you can figure out your chronotype by completing the power of when quiz
  • Falling asleep in 20 minutes or less
  • Sleeping at least 85 percent of the total time in bed
  • Waking no more than once per night
  • A REM sleep total of 90 minutes or more is considered good (REM sleep is associated with dreaming, memory consolidation, and creativity)
  • Deep sleep of 70 minutes or more is considered good(Deep sleep is the most restorative and rejuvenating sleep stage. During deep sleep, your body works to repair muscle, organs, and other cells. Chemicals that strengthen your immune system start to circulate in your blood)

why sleep is important for the immune system

Illustration by 嘉正简

You don’t have to track your sleep to know when you’ve had terrible sleep. You simply wake up feeling groggy and restless wanting to reach for a cup of coffee. I have been tracking my sleep for a year now and the behaviors that have significantly improved it are;

  • Having early dinners. This gives time for your body to digest food before bed. I try to have dinner around 4–6 hrs before my bedtime.
  • Taking a probiotic with my dinner
  • Wearing blue light blocking glasses at night
  • Avoiding drinking alcohol at night except for the nights I go out with friends.

 

Nutrition

I’ve learned that there is no one size fits all when it comes to nutrition. What might work for you could have the opposite effect on someone else. That is to say, just because you know someone that is thriving on a particular diet, doesn’t mean that you will too. When it comes to diet, I think its best to keep an open mind, do your research, experiment and observe your biomarkers over time.

It’s worth checking out certain companies such as Viome who are at the forefront of creating personalized nutritional guidelines based on your microbiome.

why nutrition is important for your immune system

Illustration by Zaib Ali

Given the complex nature of nutrition, the best course of action regardless of the type of diet you follow is to limit your intake of;

  • Simple carbohydrates (Fries, Soda, Ice-Cream, Chocolates, Most Cereals, White Bread, Cookies, Donuts, etc)
  • Processed foods (Typically come in a bag, can or box and contain more than one item on the list of ingredients)
  • Vegetable oils (Why I avoid them at all costs)
  • Alcohol (The liver is the body’s natural detoxifier, as it cleanses the body of toxins and produces bile to support healthy digestion. Consuming a lot of Alcohol taxes your liver and slows down the detoxification process.)
  • Tobacco
  • Gluten, Dairy, and Eggs (These are common triggers for most people, and can cause an adverse reaction to your immune system)

The next time you reach for the foods mentioned above, realize that you not only are affecting your weight, but you may be letting down your resistance to bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

No matter what diet you follow, try to stick to real foods. These are foods that are found in nature, they are unprocessed, and do not contain any chemicals or additives. Buy organic produce whenever you can. If you can’t afford organic produce, pay attention to EWG’s dirty dozen list and make sure you wash your produce thoroughly to get rid of pesticides. That being said, here’s a list of 15 foods that boost your immune system and here’s another list of 12 healthy foods high in Antioxidants.

 

Exercise

I used to think of exercise as only a way to control my body weight and physical appearance. It never occurred to me that there were so many health benefits that came with regular exercise such as, improvement in learning, memory, energy levels, mood and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression to name a few.

why exercise is important for the immune system

Illustration by Seabass

I am sure a lot of us are getting creative with at-home workouts given that we don’t have access to the gyms. Try to avoid over-training by keeping your workouts short (15–20mins), unless you are doing low impact workouts such as walking, yoga, etc. Most of the research shows that long intensive, repetitive exercise causes a decrease in the salivary IgA levels and an increased susceptibility to upper respiratory tract infection. (IgA are antibodies that play a crucial role in the immune function of mucous membranes).

Make sure you give your body time to recover in between workouts by having quality sleep, good nutrition, and hydration. Not allowing yourself adequate recovery time can lead to decreased performance and even overtraining syndrome, which compromises your immune system.

 

Stress Management

Though stress might mean something different for everyone. It’s safe to say that it is wanting things to be different from how they are at this moment. It might be because we are feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, sad, impatient, etc.

why stress management is important for the immune system

Animation by Mauro Gatti

It’s already easy as it is to get stressed in our daily lives. Now with the global pandemic and uncertainty of what is going to happen, we might end up experiencing increased levels of stress. Many studies have shown that increased levels of stress increase susceptibility to viral infections. So if you were ever thinking of taking the time to explore mediation, yoga, breathing techniques and other forms of stress management such as exercise, cold showers, etc. Now is the time to learn or double down on your practice.

Here are my favorite resources;

 

Relationships

why relationships are important for the immune system

Illustration by Tatiana Bischak

Our experience of stress is very much intertwined with our interpersonal relationships. These relationships either help alleviate emotional stress or contribute to it. Even when we are alone and isolated from one another, our relationships could give us some sense of peace from knowing that we have people that can hold us down. Therefore, let us all take the time to reach out to friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, etc, and let them know that they are on our minds and that we are none of us alone .