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On 20 March, elite performance coach Alessandra Edwards hosted a webinar covering five essential steps to immune optimisation. It’s a topical issue with communication professionals key to their organisations’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and needing to maintain their health and wellbeing during this challenging time.

Alessandra opened the presentation by saying that we are social beings and wired to be part of a herd. But we are not necessarily successful in predicting the truth, according to Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. And both cortisol and adrenaline have effects on our immune system. She mentioned that presently there is no treatment or vaccine against COVID-19 although several are in development and to be wary of anyone who is pushing supplements, diets or miracle cures to both prevent or treat the virus.

She offered the five following tips for general wellbeing and optimising our immune systems, especially as we enter the endurance phase of medium-term isolation, where chronic levels of stress have been shown to depress our immune system:

1. Snap back to reality: engaging in an emotional pandemic will do little to help any of us. Although it might sound counterintuitive during a time of high stress and heavy workload (communication often attracts people with a bias for action, for wanting to Get It Done), we will benefit from following positive health practices such as gratitude, breathing deeply, exercise and nutrition to modify our responses to stress — and observing reality in a rational, objective way.

2. Know yourself: specifically, know your own biochemical performance factors, which help us to optimise our immunity and equip us to resist viral infections. Your GP can help you with blood tests to reveal this important information and check your stores of essential vitamins and minerals. Specifically, iron and vitamin D deficiency have both been shown to decrease immune function in scientific studies.

3. Immunity starts in your gut: 70% of our immune system is found in the lining of our digestive tract. Gut health is paramount, and gut problems (such as bloating and pain) can be caused by factors such as infection, genetics, ageing or dietary considerations. If you have any concerns, speak to your GP or a clinical dietitian.

4. Maintain the barriers of your body: infections can enter through the nose, mouth and eyes, so it’s important to take extra care. It’s common for people to touch their face frequently (as many as 15-23 times per hour).

Under the circumstances, Alessandra advises the following tips to maintain our health:

  • If you have long hair, tie it back (this cuts down on face touching)
  • Keep nails short and clean, as well as frequent hand washing, scrub nails daily with nailbrushes and wash them regularly through the dishwasher
  • Keep nostrils clean and clear, blow your nose into a tissue and use a nasal rinse (such as Fess available from pharmacies) and keep your fingers away from your nose.

5. Internal and external boosters: follow these immune boosting practices:

Ensure a nutrient rich diet including zinc, vitamins (in particular A & C) and herbs such as garlic (which is more potent when crushed and left uncooked, so consider adding it to a salad dressing). While vitamin A, C and zinc have ample evidence of their role in boosting the immune system, garlic is a traditional remedy used worldwide for the prevention of parasites and mild upper respiratory infections. Unscrupulous people on the internet are touting garlic as a preventer for COVID-19. There is no evidence of this being the case.

However, including raw garlic in your daily cooking has many other health benefits, including feeding our gut microbiome and being a cardiovascular health superfood. Many people with irritable bowel syndrome cannot tolerate garlic, so please avoid if that is the case. Exercise (20-30 minutes per day).

Protect your sleep, even if that means taking naps when you can and journaling if this helps to empty your busy mind and promote rest. Aim for a high fibre diet, rich in whole grains, plant food, legumes and lean protein such as chicken, fish or tofu. Protein is essential for the production of immune factors.

Alessandra Edwards blends scientific research evidence, clinical training and experience and genetics to mentor individuals and teams on high performance strategies based on their individual genetics and neurobiology. She has recently co-written a book with Dr Amy Silver on how to ensure physical and psychological safety through COVID-19.

The book is called Brace for Impact: How to Survive and Thrive in the Pandemic Era and is now available as a free book from 14th April 2020 from www.braceforimpact.com.au or via direct email request to alessandra@alessandraedwards.com. To find out more about Alessandra’s work and read her blogs, visit www.alessandraedwards.com