Lifestyle Medicine and Immunity

February 3, 2022

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Headlines across the country report lockdowns. Cities arrest citizens for not wearing masks. Protests rage over civil freedoms. People are divided across political lines and family lines. Sound familiar? This was the reality in 1918 during the last pandemic in living memory: The Spanish Flu (Influenza). Yet at this dark point in history with the war to end all wars raging and a pandemic killing as much as 50% of the adult population in some regions, a glimmer of hope shone through that has implications for pandemics now and in the future.

The Spanish Flu, named so because Spain was the first to report about spikes in a new disease during World War I, was a devastating disease resulting in an estimated 150 million deaths worldwide. Young adults in their 20s and 30s were especially susceptible. Hospitals had death rates as high as 40%. However, there was one place of treatment that had a death rate of just 1.3% in the era before antibiotics and antivirals: Adventist Sanitariums.

Adventist Health has roots with a group of Christian believers known as the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Before hospitals existed, there were sanitariums as places of healing. Before sanitariums, there were a few determined individuals who lived their lives in a way drastically different to the norm at the time following a diet high in fresh foods, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, and uniting as a support system for each other grounded in faith.

These sanitariums did a few things different than normal hospitals:

  • Earlier treatment, sending people to rest at the first sign of symptoms
  • Fresh air and sunlight in well ventilated rooms, sometimes even relaxing outside
  • Hydrotherapy treatments to boost the immune system naturally
  • Simple diets high in fresh fruits and vegetables

This piece of history points to the importance of health in our ability to fight infections. The health of our immune system is critical to defend against COVID-19 and flu, in addition to a host of bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections. With proper priming through lifestyle choices, we can set ourselves up to survive and thrive against infections. Here are a few behaviors that allow for optimal immune function:

  • Restful and rejuvenating sleep (7-8 hours for adults), adults who get 8 hours of sleep are 3 times less likely to become ill when exposed to the common cold
  • Foods packed with the proper nutrients and vitamins to support a healthy immune system, particularly greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries, and seeds. Individuals following a vegan diet have a 73% lower chance of having a severe COVID infection while those following low carbohydrate, high protein diets increased their risk by nearly 4 times!
  • Avoiding processed sugars, which tear down our immune system and reduce our ability to fight infection
  • Exercise to assist in immune function, enhancing our immunity against invaders while reducing the risks of attacking our own bodies

If you are interested in learning more about immunity building, please join virtually or in-person for an immunity seminar on Sunday, February 6 at 1:30 pm at the Ukiah Seventh-day Adventist Church (1390 Laurel Avenue, Ukiah, CA 95482) or online at https://www.ukiahsda.com/watchlive/.

References

Eddie Ramirez, M. (2021). Pandemic Busters: A Prepper's Handbook. Hamburg, Pennsylvania: HealthWhys Lifestyle Medicine.

Michael Greger, M. (2020). How to Survive a Pandemic. New York: Flatiron Books.

Cohen S, Doyle WJ, Alper CM, Janicki-Deverts D, Turner RB. Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(1):62-67. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2008.505

Kim H, Rebholz CM, Hegde S, et alPlant-based diets, pescatarian diets and COVID-19 severity: a population-based case–control study in six countriesBMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health 2021;4:doi: 10.1136/bmjnph-2021-000272 (Eddie Ramirez, 2021)