Nurture your WHOLE self during Lockdown
Updated: Mar 7
During these days of the pandemic crisis, mainstream authorities and media have focused very little attention, and certainly offered barely any advice, on ways we can naturally strengthen immunity and overall health in order to protect ourselves. This has been a source of great frustration to myself and many of my health colleagues. Having for many years used diet and lifestyle tools to support those with cancer, people with a particular need to rebalance immunity, I am acutely aware of how powerful, and also safe such techniques can be, and know there is supporting evidence in many instances. That this information, which is easy to find, has been largely ignored by those issuing official health advice is, in my view, negligent.
But enough of that, I’m not here to bore you with a rant, or waste your time speculating why this information is being overlooked, let’s get to the point. In this article I will provide information I know many of you are hungry for, my goal being to leave you feeling motivated and empowered. I guarantee, once you realise how much power you hold over your health, even in the face of a novel virus, any fear hanging over you the past year will decrease. And that is a good thing, because nothing suppresses the immune system more significantly than a hefty dose of fear.
Why holistic matters
If health optimisation is your goal, there are no shortcuts. You can’t eat well, detox regularly, but spend your evenings shouting at your partner and expect to be in vibrant health. Just as you can’t meditate daily, take supplements, and ignore your exercise needs. We are beings made up of a body, a mind, and a spirit, with all three aspects interconnecting and affecting one another. To be truly healthy with an immune system functioning at maximum strength, they all need your attention.
To address all aspects of our being, I will refer to the Seven Elements of Healing model I developed several years ago and use in my clinical practice. If it seems overwhelming to consider all elements at once, don’t worry, you can start with one, give it your full attention for a few days, weeks or even months, and when you feel ready, move on to the next element. There is no order in which to work through them either, I would say choose the element you believe needs most attention, or the one that feels easiest. In this article I will address each element in turn, starting with nutrition, and give tips in bullet point form on how each can support your immunity and overall health.
Good nutrition is fundamental to a healthy immune system and experts are concerned those most at risk from COVID-19 are also those most at risk from nutritional deficiencies (1) There is also strong evidence that obesity, so common in the UK, is a major risk factor for the serious effects of COVID-19. Whilst we need more research and discussion on the impact of nutrition on this disease, experts are already outlining how it may play a role in supporting recovery (2), with particular interest in vitamins C (3) and D (4).
There is so much to say on the topic of diet improvement, too much to squeeze in to this article, and I therefore refer you to the Key Healthy Eating Principles and Healthy Eating Guidelines in the Nutrition section on the Resources page of my website. The information in these documents will help support your general health and optimise your immune strength. Here are some additional points.
A strong immune system requires a balance of all vitamins, minerals, essential fats, and nucleic acids. Other important nutrients or dietary factors include water, fibre and phytonutrients (plant nutrients). To get such a mix of nutrients, eat a varied diet based on fresh whole foods. Whilst all such foods are important for immunity, foods with particular research-supported benefits include: vegetables and fruit–eat in abundance emphasising a variety of colours; mushrooms–choose a wide variety as each has slightly different benefits; herbs and spices (fresh or dried, although dried may be less potent)–again variety is important, a few examples include garlic, chilli, curcumin, cinnamon, ginger, rosemary and thyme.
Vitamin D is one of the most important nutrients for immune strength and viral protection, and yet many of us have low levels, especially during the winter months. Your GP may be prepared to check your vitamin D levels or, for relatively little money, you can check them yourself (see Further Information), and if your levels are low, you can supplement. Note that sufficient levels are not necessarily the same as optimal levels and, according to many experts, optimal blood levels are at least 75 nmol/L (5).
Whilst it would be lovely to obtain all nutrients from food and avoid supplements, declining levels of nutrients in foods over the last few decades have made getting optimal levels of certain nutrients difficult, such as zinc and selenium (both important for immunity). It is therefore a good idea to take a high-quality multivitamin and mineral. In addition, you may need extra vitamin D (see above) and vitamin C - both have a very important role in supporting the immune system. To find good quality supplements, I suggest speaking to a knowledgeable member of staff in your independent health food store, or ideally, speak to a nutritional therapist.
Herbal supplements such as Echinacea, Astragalus, Andrographis and Goldenseal can also provide extra immune protection, however ideally, they should be tailored to your specific needs and therefore recommended by a health professional.
Our body’s microbiome is an essential partner to our immune system (6) and without a balance of beneficial microbes immune function becomes compromised. Support your microbial health by including plenty of fibre in your diet; eating healthy fermented foods regularly such as sauerkraut, kimchi, live yoghurt, kefir; and minimising refined sugars and alcohol.
Did you know you are more likely to have severe or prolonged symptoms with a virus if you are carrying a high toxic load? This is because the liver is an important part of our innate immune system and when liver function is compromised it is less able to help the body clear pathogenic microorganisms. We are now living in a world more polluted than at any point in history which is taking its toll on our health as shown by huge rises in chronic disease. One of the best ways we can protect our general health and guard against the effects of viruses is by reducing our toxic exposure and embarking on regular detoxification (7).
One important way you can encourage your body to let go of toxins is to improve your diet by removing all the refined processed foods and packing it full of fresh healthy foods. Vegetables, fruit, herbs and spices are rich in fibre, as well as anti-inflammatory, antioxidant compounds that support your body during detoxification. See the Nutrition section for more information. To further utilise food to help you cleanse, you might like to set aside two weeks a year–perhaps one in early spring, and another in early autumn, to embark on a fast. For example, you may choose to eat only plant foods during this time or to go completely raw (this is more appropriate in warmer weather). Whatever you decide, make sure you take a sensible approach (water fasting is too extreme unless supervised!) and ideally seek advice from a nutritional therapist.
Two of the simplest way you can support your liver and help your body release waste products is to cut right back or avoid alcohol, and ensure you are drinking plenty of water each day (around 2 litres). As tap water can itself contain toxins, use a water filter or purchase water in glass bottles. Surprising to some, coffee is actually beneficial to the liver and can support detoxification. If you enjoy coffee, include a cup of caffeinated (unless you are sensitive to caffeine) organic coffee in your daily diet.
Most of our chemical exposure doesn’t happen outside, but within our homes. If you look around your house, I imagine you’ll be shocked by the number of chemical products you find, from cleaning products, toiletries and cosmetics, to scented candles, weed killers, fly sprays, etc. The list goes on. Invest some time to explore safer, natural alternatives to as many of these products as possible. You’ll find many natural, environmentally safe products now available in health food stores, supermarkets and online, and the good news is they are often no more expensive.
For an extra level of home cleansing, fill your indoor environment with plants. Indoor plants have so many benefits to offer, but one is their ability to cleanse the air of impurities—toxic chemicals, harmful radiation, and even pathogenic microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses. See Further Information for more details.
Exercise has more benefits for our physical and mental wellbeing than I could begin to describe, and supporting our immune system is certainly one of them (8). Physical activity supports immunity by encouraging healthy blood circulation, keeping our lymphatic system healthy (our lymphatic system forms part of our immune system and our detoxification system), and makes us feel good emotionally (as you’ll see emotional wellbeing is vital for a strong immune system).
One of the worst things we can do for our health is sit all day. Some experts believe it is as damaging as smoking. If, like many of us, you have a job that involves a computer, a simple solution is to invest in a desk that allows you to stand. If you don’t have the space or budget for such a desk right now, find a box or something similar to place on your current desk allowing you to raise your laptop to height that works when standing.
If your life is fairly sedentary because of your job or immobility issues, take time out at regular intervals during the day to stretch and move your body. Even if you can’t raise yourself from a bed or chair, there are things you can do to support circulation such as leg and arm lifts, arm rotations, torso twists and massage of your arms and legs.
There are three basic forms of exercise that are important and ideally, we should do a mix of all of them. They are: cardiovascular exercise to raise our heart rate, for example fast walking or jogging; stretching to improve flexibility, such as yoga or pilates; and strength building to improve and maintain muscle tone, such as lifting weights. Plan your weekly schedule so you build in time for each.
Whilst physical activity is essential for health, overexercise can be very damaging, particularly for the immune system. Plan your schedule carefully and build up your exercise slowly when you first begin. You should end a session feeling physically tired but invigorated and never weak or drained.
Rest and relaxation
Physical rest and mental relaxation are critical for our health and wellbeing, and without enough of each, our immune system quickly becomes compromised (9). Many of us, unfortunately, do not get enough quality sleep, and over-stimulation of our minds is now so common, people see it as normal. In fact, many wouldn’t even know how to quieten their minds if given the chance.
Aim to be in bed, ready to sleep between 10-11pm. Regular late nights will lead to chronic tiredness and will upset circadian rhythms and melatonin levels; both are very important for immune health.
To help you get to sleep easily, start a wind-down routine several hours before bed. For example: turn off your phone, iPad and computer, and relax with a good book, some TV you enjoy, or a warm bath. A couple of drops of lavender essential oil in a bath or on your pillow can help you unwind, and nutritional supplements may also support your body in releasing tension, for example B vitamins and magnesium–speak to a nutritional therapist for advice.
To help you sleep deeply at night, remove all electrical equipment from the bedroom apart from lamps–it is especially important not to have a phone, iPad or computer near you at night (if you use either an electric clock or your phone for an alarm, consider switching to a battery-operated alarm). Also, consider turning off your Wi-Fi at night. Make sure your bedroom is as close to pitch black as possible when you sleep and regulate the temperature so you don’t get cold or overheat, which will disturb your sleep.
Get into the habit of taking regular relaxation breaks during the day. Develop your meditation skills and use these breaks to let your mind and body sink into a state of deep relaxation. With time, your body will find it easier to let go of tension in these moments and you will notice the accumulated benefits on your health. Short daytime naps are another good way to reduce stress and boost the immune system.
If you have been unaware of the fact your physical body is actually a complex system of many forms of energy, don’t worry, you are not alone. This fact is not widely discussed and is generally completely ignored by mainstream medicine (one day, when the profound discoveries of quantum physics are more widely appreciated, this will have to change). Even though it is hard to get your head around, your bioenergetic nature is something important to consider, because the health of your energy system is not just important, it is what decides the health of your physical body, and you will never achieve optimal health and strong immunity while your energies are out of balance.
The biggest threat to our energetic system right now is the introduction of ever more powerful levels of electromagnetic radiation into our environment. This a huge experiment, never done before and, because of increasing reports of damaging health effects, is the cause of great alarm to many experts around the world. The first piece of advice I can’t stress enough is to do your own research on this topic, making sure you look beyond the headlines–you will find some sources in Further Information.
You can reduce your electromagnetic radiation exposure immediately with some simple changes, some of which I listed earlier. Whilst it is not possible for many people to avoid mobile phones, iPads and computers during the day, you can keep them in flight mode as much as possible and always use your phone on speaker, keeping it away from your body. Pay particular attention to your sleeping environment (see earlier) as this is when we can take advantage of not needing our tech and turn it off completely.
Being outside in nature rebalances our energy systems, so do your best to spend time in green space every day. Direct contact with the Earth (known as Grounding or Earthing) has a powerful rebalancing effect on the body and has been shown to support a healthy immune response (10). In the warm weather, make the most of the Earth's fee healing energy and walk barefoot on the grass often.
Many therapies and movement practices help restore energetic balance, these include acupuncture, shiatsu, yoga and qi gong. A growing body of research demonstrates their benefits for overall health and immunity (11,12).
Feeling good is good for us, and particularly for our immune system. There is now a mass of research showing emotional stress, in the form of loneliness, anxiety, fear etc. is very damaging to the immune system (13) and there are direct links between emotional stress and increased risk of viral infection. Emotional wellbeing rebalances and regulates our energy system, and this supports our physical body.
With so much negativity in our news right now, one way we can support our emotional wellbeing is to switch it off! You might feel it is necessary to keep up-to-date with all the stories, but is it? Do you really need to know everything that is occurring day to day? I think you’ll find you survive quite well without a daily injection of news and you’ll probably feel much better for it too. Along the same lines, many people find checking in with social media right now, or any time, in fact, is leaving them feeling a little down. Again, if this is the case, stop engaging with it. Many of us are drawn to the drama we find in the news, and many of us are addicted to social media but as hard as it might be to disconnect initially, if either are bringing you down (ask yourself clear questions about this), then extracting yourself will bring significant emotional benefits in the long-term.
As you withdraw attention from those things that bring you down, place your focus instead on the things that give you an emotional lift. The list of options is endless and will be different for each individual, but for most people these include speaking to friends and family, being with animals, spending time in nature, listening to music, pampering ourselves, enjoying delicious food, etc. Attempting to add pleasure-inducing activities into our daily life leads to a long-term boost to emotional wellbeing.
Another very simple way we can increase our level of joy is to pay close attention to all the good things in our lives and regularly give thanks for them. A daily gratitude practice, involving thinking of things we are thankful for, or ideally writing them down, has again shown its effectiveness in boosting emotional wellbeing in clinical trials (14).
Thinking positively and expecting good things to occur is a very successful way of enhancing our mood. However, this should never take the form of forced positive emotions, as this will have the opposite effect in the long run. If we are feeling upset, fearful or depressed, these emotions need addressing, maybe even with professional support. I am a particular fan of Energy Psychology for processing and releasing challenging emotions as these methods are very effective and often work quickly. Once difficult emotions are released, it frees up space to allow the bubbling up of genuine positive feelings.
Deep connection, which we can also call spiritual connection, is faith in a force greater than ourselves. It could be described as feeling as if you really matter, that you are worthy, and at some level you belong, also that your life has purpose and meaning. Spiritual connection doesn’t have to involve religion, although for some it will, instead the spiritual aspect comes in the form of trusting that at the heart of everything, all is well. ‘Heart’ is an important word here, as it is through our energetic heart that we connect to the spiritual part of our being.
One of the most important ways we tap into those feelings of spiritual connection is by connecting with other people. We are social beings and loss of human contact damages our soul, our mental wellbeing and our physical body. Research has shown that social isolation during our current pandemic crisis may contribute to poor immune function (15). Make sure you connect with people as often as possible, if you live alone and find this difficult, reach out to organisations there to support those in your situation–there are many out there (see Further Information). Even contact by phone or online chat (Skype, Zoom, etc.) can be very beneficial.
When there are no people around to communicate with, connect with plants or animals instead, as a connection with nature brings us similar benefits. Nurturing your plants or a pet, loving and talking to them, creates a relationship, a bond (yes, even with plants!), and this is very supportive to our wellbeing.
Apart from connection to other living beings, we can find spiritual connection by being creative, or appreciating the creations of others. Many people find themselves transported to a more joyful place when they create through writing, producing art, gardening etc., and similar feelings abound when we tune into other’s artwork, music, literature, architecture etc. and allow it to move us. Whatever creativity makes our heart sing, and it’s different for everyone, is what connects us to spirit.
We can connect to spirit via a multitude of physical ways, i.e., through those things we find in our material world, however, we can also connect directly through meditation and prayer. By ‘speaking’ to spirit (or higher consciousness, All That Is, God–whatever you choose to call it), we can develop a level of faith and trust in a benevolent force that may be more difficult to achieve using other methods. Research reveals those with a spiritual faith experience benefits to physical and mental health, including improvements to immune health (16).
In case you still doubt that lifestyle changes can really lead to greater immune health and protection against viral disease, I have included some references and other sources of information. I really hope you’ll check these out, and I also hope you’ll take on board some of my recommendations. Your health is in your hands, so make some changes at your own pace, and before long you will start reaping the rewards, not just during this pandemic but, if you keep them up, for the rest of your life.
McAuliffe S., Ray S., Fallon E., et al. Dietary micronutrients in the wake of Covid-19: an appraisal of evidence with a focus on high-risk groups and preventative healthcare. BMJ Nutr Prev Health. 2020; 3(1): 93-99.
Yanuck S.F., Pizzorno J., Messier H. et al. Evidence supporting a phased immuno-physiological approach to COVID-19 from prevention through recovery. Integrative Med. 2020; 19(1): 8-35.
Vitamin C and COVID-19 Research Resource - https://www.otago.ac.nz/christchurch/research/nutrition-in-medicine/vitamin-c/
Bischoff-Ferrari H. Optimal serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels for multiple health outcomes. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2008; 624: 55-71.
Lambring C., Siraj S., Patel K. et al. Impact of the microbiome on the immune system. Crit Rev Immunol. 2019; 39(5): 313-328.
Sears M., Genius S. Environmental determinants of chronic disease and medical approaches: recognition, avoidance, supportive therapy, and detoxification. Journal of Environmental and Public Health. 2012: 356798
Wang J., Liu S., Li G. et al. Exercise regulates the immune system. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2020; 1228: 395-408.
Ibarra-Coronado E., Pantaleon-Martinez A., Velazquez-Moctezuma J. et al. The bidirectional relationship between sleep and immunity against infections. J Immunol Res. 2015; 678164.
Oschman J., Chevalier G., Brown R. The effects of grounding (earthing) on inflammation, the immune response, wound healing, and prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. J Inflamm Res. 2015; 8: 83-96.
Morgan N., Irwin M., Chung M. et al. The effects of mind-body therapies on the immune system: meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2014; 9(7): e100903
Kim S. K., Bae H. Acupuncture and immune modulation. Auton Neurosci. 2010; 157(1-2): 38-41.
Brod S., Rattazzi L., Piras G. et al. ‘As above, so below’ examining the interplay between emotion and the immune system. Immunology. 2014; 143: 311-318.
O'Connell B., O'Shea D., Gallagher S. Feeling Thanks and Saying Thanks: A Randomized Controlled Trial Examining If and How Socially Oriented Gratitude Journals Work. J Clin Psychol. 2017; 73(10): 1280-1300.
D’Acquisto F., Hamilton A. Cardiovascular and immunological implications of social distancing in the context of COVID-19. Cardiovascular Research. 2020; 116: e129–e131.
Koenig H. Religion, spirituality, and health: the research and clinical implications. ISRN Psychiatry. 2012; 278730.
Vitamin D test - https://www.vitamindtest.org.uk/
Air-cleaning plants - https://www.ourhouseplants.com/guides/50-plants-that-clean-the-air
Organisations for those feeling lonely - https://www.countryliving.com/uk/wellbeing/a30526876/loneliness-support/
Doctor-led organisation educating and advising on the damages of electromagnetic pollution - https://phiremedical.org/