Boost your immunity

Are you worried about your immune system’s ability to fight off infection?

A healthy immune system is more likely to be able to provide a timely and robust response when exposed to a “bug” (e.g. virus) which in turn reduces your chance of experiencing symptoms and getting sick. The health of your body’s immune system is affected by a number of factors including whether you are getting good quality sleep on a regular basis, your levels of stress, and your dietary intake of immune-boosting foods.

What can I do to boost my immune system?

Get a good night’s sleep most nights

Aim for 7-8 hours uninterrupted. Ideally, you should feel refreshed when you wake up in the morning. Getting a good night’s sleep is important to help support a healthy immune system as it is the time that your body rests, repairs and recovers and ample sleep is necessary for a healthy immune response. If you are experiencing poor sleep (whether that’s because you regularly can’t get off to sleep or because you are waking frequently throughout the night and can’t get back off) get this addressed as soon as possible to reduce the adverse effect this may be having on your body’s immune system response. Consult your naturopath for specific strategies and treatments for a good night’s sleep.

Reduce stress

If you feel that you are stressed on a regular basis, take measures to reduce your stress. Persistently high levels of stress can affect your cortisol levels and work to suppress your body’s immune system. Regular exercise, yoga, meditation, visualisation and/or breathing techniques can be useful strategies to reduce stress levels. Talk to your naturopath about specific supplements and/or herbs that may help improve your body’s ability to cope with stress.

Increase your dietary intake of immune-boosting foods

Foods rich in specific immune-boosting nutrients like Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Betacarotene and Zinc can help provide the building blocks our immune system needs for more efficient function. Focus on eating warm, nourishing foods like soups, broths and slow-cooked foods. Homemade chicken and vegetable soup can help break down mucus that often accompanies an infection. Daily bone broths (see below for a chicken bone broth recipe) are also a great way to get in additional fluids and support your immune system response in the gut. If you are sick, ingesting soups and broths help provide minerals and vitamins to give you strength and support your recovery. Regularly eat foods such as garlic, ginger, thyme, onion, chilli and turmeric to help fight off illness, warm you up and help reduce inflammation.

Drink 2-3 Litres of water a day

Keeping your body’s cells well-hydrated may help improve the uptake of nutrients across the cellular membrane which can help support a healthy immune response. It is also especially important to stay well hydrated during a cold/flu as fluids will be lost from the body through mucus excretion e.g. runny nose, phlegmy cough etc.

Talk to your naturopath about immune boosting herbs and/or supplements

Supplementing with additional immune vitamins/minerals and/or herbs may help provide additional support, especially coming into winter. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that plays a key role in the mobilisation of your immune system defences whilst Zinc helps stimulate your white blood cells to respond to an invader, such as a virus or bacteria. Zinc can be found in meat, eggs, seafood, nuts and seeds (especially pumpkin seeds) whilst vitamin C is rich in fruit and vegies.  Echinacea has been shown to support the body’s natural immune response and also reduce the duration of infections. It is important to ensure you are using a high-quality Echinacea as the active constituents of the plant directly affect its efficacy and unfortunately there are a number of poor quality substitutes. Speak to your naturopath about quality Echinacea products, herbs and supplements that may help support your immune system.

Your Guide to Healthier Mask Breathing

Healthier Mask Breathing with Carly Woods

Do you feel comfortable mask breathing?

Do you feel fear about wearing a facial mask? 

Do you find it claustrophobic? 

Do you find it anxiety producing?

Are you wearing it properly or are you treating it like a piece of face jewellery (only wearing over the mouth with your nose out, or putting it on the top of your head or chin because it feels irritating?)

So many things to consider. Read on to find answers and helpful solutions to all of these things.

Why is mask breathing so hard?

Mask wearing and mask breathing is really hard. Why? Much of it is to do with carbon dioxide which, when understood and used to your advantage, can actually be used to improve your health rather than hinder it. In fact it can be part of the solution to many health issues beyond respiratory protection. But first let’s address the respiratory aspect.

At first mask breathing can make us feel anxious. That’s because 

  • When we first start breathing more carbon dioxide (incremental amounts from our out-breath) we experience a sensation of air hunger. If your body is not trained to accommodate (and benefit from) this experience (like altitude climbers and free divers) it can be really confronting.
  • When we find it hard to breathe behind a mask we often open our mouths, which ends up contributing to a state of sympathetic dominance in our system (fight or flight) = anxiety producing.

Adapting to this new way of mask breathing can be daunting, especially for those of us who have suffered anxiety or stress around breathing, claustrophobia or air constriction in the past. Whacking a mask straight onto our faces might be really intense, let alone dealing with the sensation of mild air hunger.

Finding a solution – Buteyko Therapy

Buteyko Therapy was originally developed in the 1950s to treat asthma, however (thankfully) the Buteyko breathing exercises and principles can be applied across a variety of conditions (many of which are top of mind globally now) AND they can be easily applied to support healthy and comfortable mask breathing. 

These exercises provide a powerful tool that you can use to relieve stress and anxiety within minutes, to prompt nasal decongestion, support healthy respiration and respiratory recovery, healthy digestion, pave the way to restorative sleep and support general body-wide repair.

It seems crazy that these incredible little lungs that we grew all by ourselves, when used correctly, support such profound health. And yet not so crazy, when you think about it…

  • We can go weeks without eating.
  • We can go days without drinking.
  • We can go minutes without breathing.

So that’s pretty sobering.

It is my mission to teach you how to use Buteyko to your advantage, with urgency. Simply. Daily. Easily. Powerfully. Alongside your mask. Let’s begin.

What conditions can Buteyko Therapy help to address?

There are too many to list, so I’ll list the ones that are most relevant at this moment in time.

  • Respiratory decongestion (hayfever, colds, flu, rhinitis, sinusitis)
  • Asthma 
  • Anxiety & stress
  • Panic & overwhelm
  • Sleep issues (insomnia, sleep apnoea, snoring)
  • Digestive issues
How does Buteyko Therapy work?

A basic explanation of the way Buteyko Therapy works is to say that it retrains your respiratory centre in your brain to accept more appropriate levels of carbon dioxide in your system. This is done through a series of gentle introductions to the sensation of air hunger to gradually nudge your brain’s tolerance towards a more optimal state. 

“Purposely expose myself to air hunger? Why on earth would I do that?” I hear you saying. Fair enough. Let’s find out why.

A gradual sensation of air hunger (in controlled Buteyko Therapy setting) prompts incremental advances in carbon dioxide tolerance. This is an important balance to get right, because carbon dioxide:

  • Plays an important role in helping your blood to release oxygen into your tissues (for the keen science analysts out there check out the Bohr Effect)
  • Prompts activation of your parasympathetic nervous system (your rest, digest, repair state)
  • Contributes to decreasing your brain excitability (hello calmer brain)
  • Helps to relax your smooth muscles (which equals greater general relaxation, better sleep, better digestion and release of tension throughout your body)

Now that’s not all. Buteyko Therapy also works to increase the natural nitric oxide production in your nasal cavity, which you then breathe down into your beautiful lungs (via nose breathing). Why is nitric oxide helpful?

Nitric oxide gas

  • is antiviral and antibacterial (yay)
  • is a natural bronchodilator (opens the lungs)
  • acts in the respiratory passages and lungs in an anti-inflammatory way (so you can see the link to decongestion)
  • helps to move you into your parasympathetic state (again – your rest, repair and digest state)
Support comfortable mask breathing with Buteyko

There are many Buteyko principles and exercises that you can use to supercharge your health. For simplicity, start with the following:

  • Always nose breathe ONLY, even with your mask on – do NOT mouth breathe unless you have to talk or have physical nasal obstruction (snot, unless so dense that you cannot possibly take a breath through a tiny part of your nostrils, is not counted as a physical obstruction).
  • If you must mouth breathe (when talking) ensure it is smooth, gentle and not audible. If audible, shut your mouth and nose breathe for a time until your nervous system calms down and then resume talking, calmly.
  • Wear your mask for short periods at first (15-20 minutes) and slowly work up to wearing it for longer periods so as not to shock your system.
  • Do daily Buteyko meditations to start to retrain your body towards healthier respiration (grab the free Buteyko Starter Pack for Healthier Mask Breathing that I’ve built for you).
  • Learn how to wear your mask properly (as decreed by the WHO).

By the way, when you begin nose breathing consistently you’ll notice that your nose starts to decongest. Some people can experience post-nasal drip or the need to blow the nose more. This should not last more than a few days and doing an increased number of buteyko exercises daily will generally help you move through it more quickly.

Interesting and wonderful facts to perk up your day
  • Nitric oxide is antiviral and antibacterial and it is enhanced in the body via nose breathing – yay! Nose breathing is so easy and simple, we can all do it!
  • Use your nose to breathe in order to reduce the viral load AND to reduce the potential transmission of water particles into the atmosphere (if infected) – there is a 42% greater water* loss from breathing out through the MOUTH than the NOSE – and when something is transmitted via water particles this would feel like common sense to convert to total nose breathing, don’t you think? So get on board and (with love) shut your mouth – for all our sakes.
  • Always nose breathe, as much as possible, even during exercise. Gauge your exercise intensity by your ability to nose breathe. You can enhance your ability to nose breathe while exercising by simply smiling (with your mouth closed). Smiling widens your nostrils. Plus you get wonderful responses from people passing you. Remember not to wear your mask while exercising (WHO recommendation) – simply stay 1.5 meters away from anyone and close your mouth.

So let’s all nose breathe and let our smiles be the thing that is contagious. Connection and protection all in one foul nasal swoop. High facial fives. It’s almost like we’re designed to be happy and healthy…😉

The nose knows.

Written by Carly Woods

Buteyko Practitioner & Naturopath

Download Carly’s free Buteyko Starter Pack for Healthier Mask Breathing – 3 Buteyko embedded deeply restorative meditations complete with comprehensive instructions for duration, frequency of use, and benefits to your body. You will learn which part of your face to breathe with and why, you will be guided through using these recordings daily to build up to comfortable and healthy mask breathing, to nourish your lungs and to leverage the protective power of your nose.

Are you a natural nose breather or a dirty mouth breather? Find out via this fun and informative quiz.

I want to acknowledge all the fantastic work my trainer and global Buteyko expert, Patrick McKeown, is doing for everyone all around the world at the moment. Look up his ted talk. He is a brilliant trainer, wonderful person and incredible to listen to and learn from.

Reference

How to Breathe While Wearing Face Mask, by Patrick McKeown

Boost your immunity to prevent winter illness

Now is the optimal time to take action on your winter immune prevention program instead of allowing a winter infection to put your life on hold. An effective winter immunity and prevention program offers you support to help protect you from the dreaded ‘winter lurgy’, minimising the impact that illness can have on your life.

The common cold is easily transmitted and responsible for most absences from work and school annually. Our aim in prevention is not merely to strengthen the immune system but to keep the body in a state of balance so that illness does not occur, or so that when it does, the illness is only mild because there is only a small imbalance to correct. This works best when we strengthen the whole person and the whole family alike, while simultaneously strengthening the immune system.

Good Bugs, good gut, good immune system

When it comes to boosting immunity to prevent cold and flu, surprisingly gut health is a key area of focus. The digestive tract is in close contact with the largest part of the immune system in the body – over 70%. It is also home to a plethora of bacteria known as our gut microbiota. Certain ‘good’ bacteria, naturally found living in a balanced relationship in the gut, have supportive benefits – stimulating the activity of the immune system and boosting our immune defences. It is essential to support gut function to help reduce your risk of developing a winter illness.

We can support these good bacteria by eating certain foods that cause them to increase in number. Food is a powerful tool for boosting gut health and can be used safely for children, the elderly and anyone with poor immunity. Here is what to include:

  • Eat a ‘rainbow of fruits and vegetables’ – colourful fruits and veggies contain polyphenols that are literally food for good bacteria. Purple are some of the strongest so think blueberries, blackberries, plums, grapes, purple cabbage, carrots, onion and potatoes – farmers markets are a good place to find these.

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  • Prebiotic foods – specific superfoods that good bacteria feed on include chicory root, dandelion greens, jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onion, leeks, asparagus, barley, oats, apples, flaxseeds and seaweed (raw is better than cooked).
  • Probiotic foods – these contain live bacteria that are friends to your good gut bacteria and include coconut yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, tempeh, pickled foods: fermented sauerkraut, kimchi.

Specific strains of probiotics are demonstrated to reduce the frequency, severity and duration of infection such as colds and influenza and can be prescribed by your naturopath where appropriate.

Vitamin D prevents the sneeze

Supporting immunity is one of vitamin D’s numerous roles, specifically in the defence against infections as it improves the antimicrobial properties of immune cells on exposure to microbes.

Research supports the use of vitamin D supplementation to reduce infections. One study showed that, over a three year period, women taking vitamin D were three times less likely to experience cold and flu symptoms compared to those who did not. The study highlighted, that a low dose of D3 drastically reduced the seasonality of reported colds and flu, whilst a moderate dose virtually eradicated all reports of upper respiratory tract infections.¹

Adequate sun exposure is vital for maintaining vitamin D levels. Back this up with dietary sources including eggs and fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon. Getting sun can be hard depending on your location and diet isn’t enough alone so vitamin D3 supplementation needs to form part of your winter immune prevention program to reduce the incidence of cold and flu.

Zinc prevents infections

Zinc has immune boosting benefits as it plays an integral role in the maintenance and functioning of the immune system. The most potent food sources include: oysters, red meat, chicken, eggs, nuts, sesame & pumpkin seeds, spinach, mushrooms. Higher doses of zinc in combination with vitamin C in the form of a supplement can be used to support the immune system and help reduce the incidence of infections.

What else? Prevention & treatment starts at home
  • Minimise dairy, sugar, white wheat flour, cold drinks and processed juices as these foods can generate excess mucous and support infectious conditions.
  • Maximise warming foods with ginger, onion, garlic, chilli, peppers, mustard seeds, sage, thyme, fennel and fenugreek to clear mucous and enhance immunity.
  • Keep warm, dry hair after washing and ensure any infections are treated with bed rest.
  • Immuni-tea (see recipe below)
Sarah’s immune boosting immuni-tea for two

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  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger – grated
  • 1 qtr lemon (skin on)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ½ tsp cinnamon powder
  • 6 cloves
  • ¼ tsp fresh chopped chilli
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 500ml water

Add all ingredients to a saucepan and bring to the boil for at least 1 minute.

Strain the tea into your favourite cup and drink warm throughout the day.

 

 

By Sarah Harris,  FGHG Family and Paediatric Naturopath

sarahharris_edited_colourSarah is a qualified and experienced naturopath, herbalist and nutritionist with more than a decade of knowledge and practice in complementary medicine. As a mother of three children and highly skilled in providing  naturopathic care, Sarah has a special interest in treating children of all ages. Her empathetic and kind nature instills comfort and confidence when providing advice to parents about their child’s health and she works well with families and individuals to find solutions for health concerns.

 

References
  1. Braun L, Cohen M. Herbs and Natural Supplements. 2nd edn. Chatsworth, News South Wales: Churchill Livingstone, 2010; 701-710.