In this episode of The Grown-Up Girls Report Podcast, Alex discusses strategies to ensure your immune system is in the best shape possible with Nutritional Medicine Practitioner Petra Hooyenga. Having recently recovered from a bout of the flu, Alex is keen to understand what we can do to ensure our immune system is in great shape to ward off the winter flu and COVID-19.
After a successful corporate career, Petra retrained as a Nutritional Medicine Practitioner in her early 40’s. After her daughter was diagnosed with a genetic condition, Petra embarked in a journey of discovery, determined that there must be something that she could do to help. She became intrigued by the concept of epigentics and the ability to positively influence genes using food and the environment.
Like so many of us, Petra started to question her true calling in her 40’s. She decided that she could put the knowledge she had acquired through her quest to help her daughter could be put to good use so she undertook professional study to become a nutritional medicine practitioner. Petra has a practice in Pymble in Sydney.
Petra Explains COVID-19
COVID-19 is a novel virus that is particularly lethal and damaging. A virus is essentially a parasite that is looking for a host to survive. While it can stay alive on a surface for a few hours, it needs human cells to sustain itself and survive. The aim of a virus is to find its way into human cells with the aim of destroying then and taking over so it can use them to create a new virus.
Most people will have many latent viruses in their system that may flare when a person’s immune system is under pressure. The herpes virus that causes cold sores, for example, works like this. COVID19 is different – as it is a new and our systems haven’t seen it before so we’re getting extreme reactions particularly in people who have other conditions including diabetes, hypertension, obesity and inflammation.
What Is Inflammation And How Does It Affect COVID19?
Inflammation refers to your body’s process of fighting against things that harm it such as infections, injuries, and toxins, in an attempt to heal itself. When something damages your cells, your body releases chemicals that trigger a response from your immune system.
If people are asymptomatic with COVID19 this means that their immune system is effectively responding to the virus so it is able to stop it in its tracks quite early on. These patients would likely have minimal inflammation.
However those people who already suffer from chronic illness are already in an inflamed state making it much harder to deal with the onslaught from COVID19. The research also shows that these people may also experience cytokine storms which can possibly be life threatening.
Cytokines play an important role in normal immune responses, but having a large amount of them released in the body all at once can be harmful. A cytokine storm can occur as a result of COVID19 and can include symptoms of high fever, inflammation (redness and swelling), and severe fatigue and nausea. Sometimes, a cytokine storm may be severe or life threatening and lead to multiple organ failure.
The Winter Flu
Due to our lockdown measures, social distancing and focus on hygiene – it looks like the flu season will be a mild event in Australia this year. Pre-COVID, many experts had predicted that the 2020 season could be devastating – possibly even as bad as the 2017 season during which 1100 Aussies died.
But there are still cases about – in fact Alex had a terrible bout that she has only just recovered from.
What Can We Do To Ensure Our Immune System Is In Great Shape?
Regardless of whether you are concerned about COVID or the winter flu, Petra believes that ensuring your immune system is in great shape is the first line of defence. She also believes it is important to look at your immune system holistically and employ both nutrition and lifestyle strategies to ensure its in the best shape possible. Here are the areas that Petra believes we should focus on:
Sleep – this is a big priority. Sleep is an essential time for the body to regenerate so it is important that we do everything possible to maximise your sleep. Whether it’s reducing screen time before bed, ramping up your exercise, essential oils or doing a meditation app – find what works for you. However if lifestyle changes don’t make a dent, please visit your doctor or naturopath. Alex takes melatonin to assist with her sleep which has been life changing.
Nutrition – Petra is an advocate of plant based eating. You can listen to her previous discussion about the benefits of a plant based diet on the podcast here. Petra recommends ‘crowding out’ your diet with fruit and veg and focusing on the foods that will contribute to you feeling good and healthy. She recommends eating the colours of the rainbow at every meal. She also suggests avoiding inflammatory foods such as sugar, alcohol, processed meats, trans fats as they put extra pressure on the immune system.
There are also a few key vitamins and minerals that need to be focused on for immune health:
Vitamin C – This is so important for healthy immune health. Humans can’t make their own vitamin C but it can be found in capsicums, oranges, lemons, tomatoes, mandarins and kiwi fruit. If however, family members are becoming unwell then consider supplementing it with a good quality Vitamin C tablet or capsule.
Zinc – Zinc has a role in over 200 biochemical processes. It is particularly important for the regeneration of cells – which is essential for healing and restoring health. During Alex’s recent flu, she had her zinc levels tested and discovered they were very low. Her doctor believes low levels could delay a recovery from illness.
Vitamin D – This is an important immune modulator as it helps steer and regulate your immune response. Ideally, the sun is the best source but it can also be found in fatty seafood and butter! Alex recently had her levels tested and discovered they were very low. She is now on a supplement. The majority of Aussies also have low levels of Vitamin D.
Omega 3’s – These play an important role in protecting cell membranes which prevents viruses from entering the body. They can be found in fatty fish such as salmon, herring, cod, tuna and mackerel but most people don’t eat enough in their diet. Petra recommends investing in a good quality supplement.
Stress Management – A stress response means your body is in a fight/flight state and that your adrenal glands are over active. Vitamin C can work well here. Try to find a balance and get out into nature!
Exercise – This can be a fabulous way of oxygenating and cleansing the cells in the body. It also has a very positive effect on mental health by releasing happy hormones.
How To Listen To The Podcast
You can listen to Alex and Petra’s discussion via the link below, or via your favourite podcast app.