“Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates
In my blog series on Respiratory & Immune Support at Home, so far we have looked at your capacity for self-care, focus on the breath and focus on lifestyle factors to do at home. In these blogs, we have covered:
- Our respiratory system and the importance of creating energy in each of our cells.
- Our immune system – how we can help our bodies to work in harmony to be able to operate a defence system against invaders.
- Breath awareness and how every single time we inhale or exhale, each of these actions is directly linked to our immune system.
- Different types of breath and the beneficial impact they have on us, e.g. nasal breathing, mouth breathing and diaphragmatic breathing.
- The all-important factor of oral hygiene, lymphatic health and stress reduction to aid our bodies’ self-defence capacity.
This week we are looking at diet and how the food and drink we consume can support our overall health and immunity.
When it comes to immunity, the following information take from Charlotte’s book The De-Stress Effect is a good overview for why sugar avoidance is key for reducing inflammatory tendencies and supporting our ability to fight off invaders, so less severe symptoms of illness such as Covid-19:
Reducing sugar in your diet reduces the production of inflammatory AGEs (advanced glycation end-products), created in response to sugar and stress and which can contribute to the ageing of every cell in the body (including the skin) by ‘cross-linking’ or lost movement within cells. Sugar also disrupts white blood cell production, reducing your ability to fight infection.
With those with diabetes, obesity and other metabolic conditions linked to blood sugar regulation, known to have a much risk of severe symptoms and death from Covid-19, it is not surprising that reducing sugar is an important starting point for self-care. More info on how to reduce and alternatives to help wean off the pull of a sweet tooth are in this book and Charlotte’s other latest, Good Mood Food.
Now we look at some really important players in how our immune systems can optimally function, with .
Greens and antioxidants
There are a huge number of immune-supporting antioxidants in the natural world and we need all of them as they ‘quench free radicals’ ie neutralise destructive factors such as damaged or unstable oxygen molecules. Increase your antioxidant status by reducing stress levels (produces more free radicals as ‘oxidative stress’) and including in your diet:
- Eat as many fruits and vegetables as you possibly can.
- Drink herbal teas and add spices, like ginger, (which is very warming) as it wakes up and opens airways and lymphatics around our respiratory tract.
- Add garlic your food. Garlic is a member of the allium family, possessing antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Garlic has received a lot of press lately with people saying we shouldn’t think of it as a highly protective agent against Covid-19. It is true that garlic has potent effects for the immune system as well as antiviral but it’s the difference between something that is incredibly supportive of our immune system as opposed to something that can physically kill coronavirus. We should not think in terms if “if I have this, will it kill coronavirus?” but more in terms of “what can I physically do to support my immune capacity overall?”. That means that when we are exposed to viruses, bacteria or even coronavirus itself, we are focusing on what we can do to help support ourselves by boosting our own capacity for immune response, our respiratory capacity, our nervous system health and our digestive health, to ensure that if we do pick up something, that it doesn’t over burden our immune system and affect our ability to cope.
That said, there is some compelling preliminary research showing that garlic oil and its active sulphur components do have some covid preventative effects.
Courgette Ribbon and Green Veg Salad with Lemon, Basil, Parsley and Mint – recipe available in my Self-Care Calm Club Bundle.
This wonderful array of vegetables covers a host of textures, flavours and minerals with a fresh taste. The inclusion of herbs provide calmative properties for the gut wall and the asparagus and parsley are cleansing for the kidneys, which supports liver detoxification. Spring onions – like other members of the allium family; garlic, leeks and onions – supply sulphur for healing and detox.
Cannellini Bean and Roast Garlic Dip – recipe available in my Self-Care Calm Club Bundle.
The garlic, lemon, sesame seeds in the tahini, paprika and pepper in this lovely dip all provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that also support detoxification processes. The beans work as a soluble fibre rich carrier, also providing slow-release energy. This creates a really useful dip to have as a staple for snacks and adding to salads.
Soups and stews
Make soups and stews and fill them with spices:
- Garlic, ginger and cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, kale and brussel sprouts.
- Brussel sprouts are rich in sulphur chemicals and compounds, such as sulforaphanes and glucosinolates, that are highly supportive in clearing out waste in cells and supporting our detoxification capacity – crucial for our respiratory and immune health.
- Garlic and onions have a compound in them called quercetin which supports the immune system and is used as a key anti-inflammatory for hay fever or rhinitis, and any inflammation at all around the sinuses and respiratory tract.
Simple Celery Soup – recipe available in my Sleep Quality Calm Club Bundle.
Celery has long been used as a sleep and anti-anxiety remedy, with research showing that four sticks a days can lower raised blood pressure more effectively than most blood pressure medications. This is due to a high potassium content (also in bananas and coconut water) that enables the calming parasympathetic nervous system come into play, but also a chemical called apigenin that has also moves us into this relaxed state. This soup also contains immune-boosting onion, garlic and thyme.
Other helpful foods
The protective antioxidant, quercetin, is also found in tea, onions and apples and has a long history in Nutritional Therapy use as an anti-histamine supplement for those with hayfever, rhinitis and other respiratory health support. This has seen to be particular effective against viruses such as coronavirus taken alongside vitamin C (see more about this key immune nutrient below).
Apples are very helpful for respiratory immune health and for digestion in general, (but do choose organic where possible as they can tend to be sprayed with pretty toxic pesticides if not) – they also contain pectin, a soluble fibre which helps to eliminate through the digestive tract.
Grilled Mackerel with Gremolata and a Pickled Carrot, Walnut and Apple Salad – recipe available in my Kind Resilience Calm Club Bundle.
This beautiful, satisfying and taste rich main course sets you up with a mineral-rich and balanced bounty when feeling tired, stressed or craving sugar. If vegetarian or vegan (or simply a great alternative meal), you can substitute the fish for for magnesium and calcium rich tofu. This recipe is rich in immune supporting antioxidants.
Hydration is one of the best basic needs to support the immune system in terms of respiratory health. When we are dehydrated, we tend to produce more histamine which is part of the inflammation cascade – it is also an excitatory neurotransmitter and can contribute to a racing mind. Good hydration helps to keep histamine levels down and to prevent the over-production of mucus that can also come as part of a dehydrated body, when our body tends to overcompensate. If we can stay hydrated, we can help to prevent this. Hydrating between meals with teas that we can sip to help clear out anything that might come into the mouth or airways is key. The swallowing action helps anything unwelcome to be killed off by our gastric juices and stomach acid rather than it getting further into the blood stream.
Cleansing Broth – recipe available in my Inner Spring Cleanse Calm Club Bundle.
This basic broth is packed with natural antibiotic and immune-enhancing properties. It can be modified in anyway that works for you to provide antioxidant and mineral delivery to tissues. Hydrating through soups, stews and broths is more efficient with the sugars and minerals present in the vegetables and supports the health of your gut wall for immune system regulation.
Warm drinks – not too hot – are supportive for the mucus membrane in the mouth. Herbal teas are especially good, partly due to their inherently supportive properties that they can bring, but also many are antibacterial, anti-viral and expectorant. Liquorice tea has a particularly long usage for respiratory and immune issues and is an expectorant – meaning it can bring up excess mucus. It is useful in the morning for its energising properties, for regulating stress and for bringing up mucus in the morning. It can be useful to gargle with salt first thing and then have a liquorice tea, as this helps to clear the airways and support immunity (liquorice tea also has a great flavour!).
Tumeric Latte with Ashwagandha – recipe available in my Making Peace With Fear Calm Club Bundle.
Turmeric boasts a long health use in India that is backed up by plenty of research. Its active ingredient curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, cholesterol regulator and liver support and to protect us from the ravages of stress, increases a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, linked to improved brain function and a lower risk of brain diseases.
Herbs and oils
Although liquorice tea has a long history of being traditionally medicinal, there are lots of other herbs that have properties that can help the immune and respiratory system. These include:
- Peppermint oil (also known to clear the airway), which you can diffuse in a vaporiser or make a tea with fresh leaves.
- Thyme and oregano, which are all easily grown at home on your windowsill, making the oils much fresher. Even the smell of these plants, or any other herbal plants with these volatile oils, are really helpful for the respiratory tract and this also applies to their essential oils too. Growing these plants might be a fun thing to do while we are spending more time indoors.
- Lemon oil and its particular antioxidant, limonene, has a long history with respiratory tract and immune support. Even rubbing and sniffing orange peel wakes up the brain and has a very potent way of waking up the nasal passages too. This is also very good for appetite regulation – even more useful when we are spending more time at home, so including citrus and fresh herbs in your diet can be incredibly helpful.
Lemon and Mint Rooibusch Tea – recipe available in my Making Peace With Fear Calm Club Bundle.
This can be drunk hot, but also cooled to drink as iced tea if you feel heated or irritable. The pomegranate seeds are a wonderful immune-supporting extra but can be left out if difficult to find.
Another way to make hydration even more beneficial to us is by making sure we get an extra helping of Vitamin C. A not so widely known fact is that our bodies cannot produce this vital vitamin on its own, what we can do is recycle and store the exact amount we need to boost our immune system. Many years ago, when there was not an abundance of fresh fruit, diseases such as scurvy plagued the population; today we know that the right level of Vitamin C can power our immune cells (like natural killer cells, macrophages, neutrophils and lymphocytes) but also help make enough nitric oxide to keep our blood flowing around our bodies with an even, normal blood pressure without any clots. If we look at the work on Vitamin C and sepsis by Professor Paul Marik, we can see that receiving a healthy supply of this common vitamin in to our systems can act as both ’preventative and a therapeutic agent to protect us from Covid-19’.
Avocado and Grapefruit Salad with Tamari Seeds and Mirin Dressing – recipe available in my Finding Gratitude Calm Club Bundle.
This is a great light meal if you are feeling sluggish, bloated or that ‘icky’ or ‘dirty’ feeling when we simply know we need to support our cleaning out processes.
The research on nutrients and supplements
If you want to delve deeper into the research angle around nutrition and immunity, here is an article that is a fully-referenced overview on how so many of us fall short of the optimal nutrient requirements for healthy immune function: Study Identifies Widespread Inadequacies of Immune Health Nutrients
To take an overview of the many things you can do to help support your respiratory and immune health that we have covered so far:
- Breathing to focus on the exhalation, bringing stress levels down and allowing your breath to drop down into your full diaphragmatic movement; allowing your lungs to take in breath at full capacity.
- Posture – lie down and help support the opening of your diaphragm at the front of our chest.
- Sounding with “ooohs” and “ahhhs” to help exhalation to come out fully with a sound or a sigh.
- Moving your face and jaw to help the whole of your breathing capacity to aid stress relief.
- Gargling with salt water and camomile tea and swishing that around your mouth.
- Good oral hygiene using natural mouthwash.
- Using salts and oils like eucalyptus, whether that’s in a salt bath or simply sniffing over a steam bowl.
- Warm drinks, particularly with herbs like liquorice, peppermint, thyme, oregano, again either in teas or smelling the plant itself.
- Making sure you are hydrated to keep down inflammatory responses.
- Eating soups and stews loaded with antioxidants, cruciferous vegetables and sulphur compounds.
- Drinking herbals teas between meals.
- Dry skin brushing and gargling
- Making sure we get enough vitamin C in our diets from a host of vegetables and fruits, especially citrus, peppers, broccoli, berries, kale, watercress and kiwifruit.
For my other blogs in this series, follow the links below:
You can also see my breathing, yoga, mindfulness and meditation resources here.
Topic to follow:
- Respiratory & Immune Support at Home – Social engagement and compassion