Dr. Chad Sato
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
COVID-19 has now been with us for five months; it’s here to stay. I am not saying this to be a downer, but to emphasize that we should be prepared. A well-informed, proactive plan on how to strengthen our immune system to better fight the infection can help us feel more empowered than focusing on things out of our control like, “Why don’t we have a vaccine yet?”
Building Immunity in Addition to Developing Tests and Vaccines
Through the popular media such as this column, we health care professionals have shared recent knowledge on coronavirus testing with the community. For instance, did you know that the COVID-19 test is not for the COVID-19 virus, but for genetic markers? In simple terms, the test is not specifically for the actual COVID-19 virus — it tests for the genetic material of COVID-19. The media have also communicated to the public multiple reports of tainted tests, test shortages and false positives.
However, while there has been much focus on testing and vaccines, the media has not emphasized strengthening what we are already born with — our immune system.
We hear a lot of advice on sanitizing and disinfection, washing hands thoroughly, wearing face masks, six-foot distancing, exchanging air fives and avoiding unnecessary social interaction as ways to avoid transmission. While those methods of prevention are helpful, government officials and medical experts could also share more guidance on boosting our body’s inborn defense against viral infections.
Antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections, but not against viral ones. And many people are waiting anxiously for the COVID-19 vaccine, but in reality, it will take years to develop one without potential major side effects, and another year after that to produce enough available vaccines for everyone. So what can you do in the meantime to feel safe and protected?
Bolstering your immune system is an accumulative process, but it can increase your wellness during these challenging times. If you test positive for COVID-19 but seem asymptomatic, that means your body has already developed antibodies to protect you from the virus. Even in this case, you are considered to be a “carrier” and should isolate and quarantine according to the latest updated recommendations on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (cdc.gov). Read on for other ways to build up the body’s resources, increasing your chances of fighting off the serious impact of COVID-19.
Monitor Your Feelings of Fear
Since the beginning of time, fear has been a great protector. Fear keeps us from putting our hand on a hot stove, tells us to run away from dangerous situations and cautions us not to talk to strangers. Fear has its purpose, but too much prevents us from trying new things and living joyfully.
To keep fear from overtaking our lives, I want us to remember an acronym I have come across in the self-help literature, F.E.A.R., which stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. Right now, our government leaders and news media are ramping up public fear, by presenting the worst possible scenarios of what can happen if we don’t stay diligent. So what we can do to handle the rising tide of fear is to check out sources of information to make sure they are trustworthy. Also, limit the amount of news you watch, and keep in touch with supportive family and friends to make a positive impact on your mental health.
Fear is created by your mind which anticipates a future event and which, as a result, creates pain or suffering — even without that event actually happening. One strategy I have learned to lower the fear is to list out the benefits for you and loved ones if the future event should actually happen. Once your mind imagines several benefits that could result from the event, the weight of your fear will lighten.
For example, surviving an illness might bring you a new perspective on life: you could develop more empathy with those suffering from the same challenges as you did, or others may admire you for a positive outlook throughout this challenging time. You might not always have control over what happens around you, but you can influence your own thoughts and feelings.
Maintain a High Energetic State
Another immunity boost comes from keeping a high energetic state. The energy levels of viruses and bacteria are extremely low, compared to our naturally high human energy. Thousands of bacteria and viruses live in your mouth and in the environment; the reason you don’t catch a cold all the time is because your energy level is high. When your energy level drops down to that of the virus or bacteria, that’s when you make yourself vulnerable to infections.
One way to keep your energy high is to make sure you have adequate amounts of restful sleep. This allows your body to repair and recover to recharge for the next day. Daily exercise, body movement and proper blood circulation are essential for proper digestion, increased testosterone and an overall sense of well-being. For example, doing yoga and stretches, or moving outdoors for fresh air and a walk, will work wonders for your energetic state.
Utilize Your Stress
Stress, believe it or not, is a key factor allowing you to function properly. Without a certain amount of stress or tension in the cells of your body, the body cannot operate at its maximum potential. However, too much stress or tension can cause your cortisol levels to skyrocket, leading to adrenal fatigue, poor gut function and even emotional and mental challenges.
It’s okay to have some stress; we stress because we care. If we didn’t care about a loved one, friend or work situation, then we wouldn’t stress. One strategy to utilize stress is to identify what you have control over and what you don’t. Once you recognize those areas, you can consciously let go. Prioritize the things you can control from the most to least important, then determine what to address now and what can be done later.
Another great way to manage stress is breathe. When you feel overwhelmed, close your eyes and take seven deep breaths in and out. By focusing on your breathing, you bring yourself back to the present moment without thinking about past or future.
Maintain Proper Gut Health
Diet also plays an important role in maintaining a strong immune system and vibrant health. Zinc supplements have been shown to boost your immune system. Also, limiting your intake of refined sugars and processed foods help your gut from becoming too acidic, which places a greater energetic burden on your body.
Eating fermented foods like natto, sauerkraut, kim chee and yogurt nourishes the good bacteria in your gut. Taking probiotic supplements further aids in your gut health, leading to a boosted immune system.
Hydrate yourself with at least six to eight cups of water per day. According to Harvard Health Publishing, water is essential for “carry[ing] nutrients and oxygen to your cells, flushing bacteria from your bladder, aiding digestion, preventing constipation, normaliz[ing] blood pressure, protecting organs and tissues, and maintaining electrolyte balance.”
Connect With Your Body
Last but not least, connecting with your body — identifying its signs — is essential to a strong immune system. Take time to reflect when you start having pain; isolate what was happening as you had felt it. Identify the signs your body gives when you feel stressed: for instance, muscle tightness, lower back pain, headaches and indigestion, to name a few. Take some time to connect with your body; the quicker you are able to sense when you experience stress, the sooner you will be able to take action to get yourself back into balance.
In closing, what you choose to do now to boost your immune system and build your body’s resources to deal with COVID-19 will bring peace of mind, even as the cases continue to escalate. Address your fears and make the choice to keep your energy level high, maintain a positive outlook, get adequate amounts of restful sleep and learn to trust your body’s signals so you can make adjustments along the way to stay healthy and well.
Dr. Chad Sato graduated from UCLA in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and earned his Doctor of Chiropractic with honors from Life Chiropractic College West in 1998. Sato founded his practice, Aloha Chiropractic (alohachiro.biz), in Mänoa valley, O’ahu, on Oct. 1, 1999. He is a sought-after educator, speaker, author and mind-body specialist who empowers people to reach new levels of health and wellness by being conscious of their body’s signs, making appropriate life choices and utilizing stress instead of managing it.
This column is not intended to replace the advice of a physician. All the statements and viewpoints expressed in this column represent the general opinion of the author. They should not be considered scientific advice or diagnoses for individual patients. Please consult a competent medical professional for expert advice about your own health condition.