In good times or bad, there are always issues that can impact your health. Black clouds might be on the horizon, but you can still weather the storm if you have a good immune system.
The immune system is your mechanism to protect against diseases by identifying and eliminating disease-causing germs called “pathogens”; It’s an expert at defending you against viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Most of the time, It works well, but sometimes a microbe will escape detection and cause sickness. Of these, viruses are the most problematic due to their tendency to mutate. Mutations in viral DNA or RNA might have very little effect in some cases, but, in others, can turn an average viral infection into a pandemic.
It’s important to understand that the immune system is not a single entity, but a number of different defense mechanisms that must work in harmony. To have it function optimally, changes are sometimes required in diet and lifestyle. Your ability to avoid illness is affected by several factors, including age, diet, medical conditions, physical fitness, and stress levels.
The off-grid medic can’t control all these factors, but encouragement of some simple lifestyle changes now can improve the long-term outlook for a survival group. If your people can maintain a healthy lifestyle, it will improve their ability to recover from medical issues more rapidly, if not avoid them altogether
The first line of defense is replacing bad habits with good ones:
GET MORE SLEEP
In good times or bad, a poor sleep pattern can wreak havoc on your immune system. People who are sleep-deprived are at risk for all sorts of health problems, including higher levels of stress hormones like cortisol.
Better nighttime habits, known as “sleep hygiene”, increases the chance of falling asleep and staying there. They include:
- Picking a time for “lights out” and sticking to it. If your body is trained to expect sleep at a certain time, you’ll get to sleep faster.
- Blocking out the light. Your sleep space is meant to be dark at night. If you can’t achieve enough light blockage, wear eye shades.
- Getting rid of extraneous noises. Listen for sounds that might be keeping you awake. Ear plugs can help.
- Getting some sun in the mornings. It’s important to be in the dark at night, but you should also be exposed to sunlight during the day. A healthy balance helps to maintain a natural sleep-wake cycle.
- Keeping Cool. Cooler temperatures allow for a deeper sleep.
- Shutting off the computer earlier. In normal times, computers and televisions disrupt natural sleep patterns. Off the grid, reading a book seems to help shutting down for the night.
- Avoiding late meals or snacks. Heartburn is more common when lying flat, so don’t eat anything for at least two hours before you go to sleep. Some studies suggest that eating before sleep makes the brain more active and less likely to sleep.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise is also known to increase endorphins, chemicals that help to relieve pain or stress.
For the best night’s sleep, most people should avoid strenuous exertion close to bedtime. However, the effect on sleep differs from person to person: find out what works best for the individual.
GET BETTER NUTRITION
Perhaps the most important change you can make is to decrease the consumption of sugar. Excess sugar in the diet is, essentially, a poison. Consuming too much decreases the immune system’s ability to attack germs. A detrimental effect seems to last for hours after drinking sodas or other sweet drinks.
Good nutrition is especially important for older people. Because they tend to eat less and have less variety in their diets, many suffer from “micronutrient deficiency”. Even in developed countries, the elderly lack certain vitamins and trace minerals that may affect the efficiency of immune response. A multivitamin supplement is a reasonable option, especially for seniors.
Adding more fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidant vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and zinc will make your people less vulnerable to not only infection, but many chronic illnesses as well. Brightly-colored items like berries are an example of an antioxidant-rich food.
Which foods have which vitamins? Here are some examples:
Vitamin A: egg yolks, cheese, nuts, whole grains, seeds, legumes, and oily fish like salmon
·Vitamin B6: green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, fish, chicken, and red meat
Vitamin B9: green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds
Vitamin B12: eggs, meat, and dairy products
Vitamin C: berries, citrus, tomatoes, broccoli, and red peppers
Vitamin D: fish, beef liver, egg yolks, fortified milks and cereals
Vitamin E: vegetable oils, nuts, and green leafy vegetables
Iron: chicken, turkey, lean red meat, chicken, and fish, as well as beans, quinoa, spinach, and broccoli
Selenium: brazil nuts, lean red meat, chicken or turkey breast, pork, shiitake mushrooms, and whole wheat pasta
Zinc: Shellfish and other seafood, chicken, red meat, nuts, and beans
Other foods that help boost your immune system in general include fresh garlic and raw honey, both of which have been documented to have antibacterial and antiviral effects.
About Chicken Soup: Many people include chicken soup in their food storage. It’s a time-honored cold and flu remedy and not just an old wives’ tale. Research shows it decreases the duration and intensity of respiratory infections by slowing the movement of white blood cells to the oral and nasal cavity. This reduces congestion and eases other symptoms. Chicken soup seems to limit the amount of time viruses come in contact with the lining of the nose and can decrease the length of a cold.
Although not proven to cure or prevent illness, chicken soup contains vitamins A and C, magnesium, phosphorus, and antioxidants. Just the fluid in the soup helps prevent dehydration, helpful if you are sweating out a fever.
DECREASE STRESS LEVELS
Stress is just part of life for many, but too much suppresses the immune system and makes you more vulnerable to illness. You might have less control (than you’d like) over the amount of stress to which you’re exposed, but here are some strategies that might help:
• Meditation. Here’s how to meditate.
• Learning new skills.
People who meditate regularly may have healthier immune systems. In one experiment, people who meditated regularly made more antibodies to the flu virus than others.
In situations where contagious disease is not involved, add social interaction as a stress reducer. Solo survivalists may succeed in staying alive, but it’s a miserable existence.
LETTING GO OF BAD HABITS
Across the board, smokers are less able to fight respiratory infections than non-smokers, and certainly suffer from decreased stamina. Stop as soon as possible. Vaping isn’t much better as an option. Just quit. Here’s how.
Other “vices” like drinking should be kept to moderate levels. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines excessive drinking as seven or more drinks per week for women and 14-15 for men. One standard alcoholic drink is considered to equal:
-12 fluid ounces or 234 milliliters of beer (5 percent alcohol)
-5 fluid ounces or 148 milliliters of wine (12 percent alcohol)
-1.5 fluid ounces or 45 milliliters of hard liquor (40 percent alcohol)
Why such a difference between men and women? It’s more than just the fact that men generally weigh more than women. Alcohol disperses in body water. Pound for pound, females have less water in their systems than males.
Women also tend to have lower levels of a substance called alcohol dehydrogenase (AHD) than men. AHD breaks down alcohol in the liver; having less AHD means that alcohol not only stays in a woman’s system longer, but accumulates faster.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that impart health benefits when consumed. They can be found in fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, and many dietary supplements. Many probiotic products contain the same or similar microorganisms that live inside our bodies.
Although many believe that bacteria are only harmful, a number of them (known as the “microbiome”) are beneficial to the body. Indeed, bacteria help you digest your food. They also produce vitamins in excess of their needs, which are then used by the human body. Intestinal bacteria secrete vitamin B12 and vitamin K; lactic acid bacteria produce some B-vitamins.
A lot of probiotic products can be made, even off the grid, but can they play a role in immunity? The research, although still in the early stages, point towards your microbiome having a major role in your immunity response. Even Harvard scientists suggest that, one day, we may be able to prevent certain diseases by modifying the microbiome to destroy abnormal or infected cells. There is evidence that regular consumption of fermented foods supports long-term health, helps prevent disease, and boosts our immune system. Avoid any fermented foods that are pasteurized, however: The probiotics are killed off during that process.
Although the conventionally-accepted evidence for immune benefit is still lacking for a lot of herbal products, each herb works differently for each person. The herbs in the list below have been touted for their immune benefit and come as dried spices used in cooking, teas, extracts, salves, or essential oils:
• Cayenne pepper
• Black pepper
• Lemon balm
Essential oils used in inhalation and aromatherapy may help decrease viral exposure, open airways, or boost immunity. These include Thieves’ oil, oregano, clove, eucalyptus, tea tree, lavender, and peppermint.
Some herbs are immune modulators: that is, they aid immune response while preventing an overreaction, an issue thought to have caused fatalities in COVID-19 victims. These include several mushrooms like Reishi, Caterpillar, Turkey Tail, Maitake, Agaricus, and others.
Although the above substances are thought by many to improve the immune system, it’s important to note that none are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to cure or treat disease.
There are hundreds of products available commercially that claim to boost or otherwise “support” immunity. Some of these items are the results of modern research. Others have been used for generations in a family or a culture. You might have a particular one you swear by.
While the hard scientific data on many of these is still somewhat lacking, you may feel most comfortable staying on your favorite supplement. Indeed, some supplements may alter some part of the immune process and help. It’s important to know, however, that no specific commercial product has been proven to boost immunity to a level where it is superior in avoiding disease to good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.
Part of the medic’s plan of action should always include an honest appraisal of your peoples’ current diet and habits. Instituting changes in lifestyle now can help in achieving a solid immune system that will keep loved ones healthy in times of trouble.
Joe Alton MD
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