How Good Metabolic Health Can Strengthen Your Immune System
With COVID-19 completely disrupting our lives, there is no shortage of advice on prevention through supplements, home remedies or specific diets. However, the latest data shows that, just like other viruses, no one is immune, we are all susceptible.
The degree to which we are susceptible to it is a little less objective though. It appears that those with good metabolic health have a much better chance of fighting off the virus or experience it to a lesser degree.
Through her research, Dr. Cate Shanahan points out that almost all those with severe cases tend to have some type of underlying disease or condition. Many of which appear to be metabolic-related. Now there are obviously exceptions, but directionally, good metabolic health seems to be a positive risk mitigation strategy.
So while social distancing, masks and good hygiene are some of the best ways to prevent the virus spread, it's worth considering taking steps to strengthen your metabolic health in order to strengthen your body's immune response to the virus.
What is metabolic health?
Metabolic health is, in short, having ideal levels of blood sugar, triglycerides, cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference, without using medications.
A good marker for metabolic health is the LP-IR score, which you can ask your doctor for, they can easily order this through Lab Corp.
Some of the diseases that result from poor metabolic health are hypertension, diabetes, pre-diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and even Alzheimers. Poor metabolic health is an epidemic in the United States, in fact, a recent study showed that only 12 percent of American adults are metabolically healthy.
So how can you improve the metabolic health of you and your family, which will ultimately strengthen your immune system?
In my health coaching business, AWAKN Health, I generally start clients on a 12-week wellness program where we take incremental steps to achieve the client’s individual “future you” vision. We cover nutrition, sleep, mindset, and fitness.
While health and wellness needs are very individual, there are some commonalities, “low hanging” fruit that I believe help all my clients.
Manage/improve insulin sensitivity and work to mitigate any systemic inflammation. Insulin resistance and systemic inflammation have both been shown to compromise and impair immune function.
Low hanging fruit:
- Eliminate sugar and refined carbohydrates. Both can lead to insulin resistance and inflammation
- Remove refined high PUFA vegetable oils from your diet (corn, canola, soybean, safflower, sunflower, etc.). These are highly oxidative and can lead to chronic inflammation and cellular damage.
Doing both can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce systemic inflammation.
Aside from being our daily reset and restoration mechanism, sleep promotes the release of hormones that support immune and endocrine function. It also plays an important role in appetite regulation and metabolizing fat.
Sleep is an aspect that you should consider taking advantage of if you are working from home. If the commute is gone, give yourself the gift of more time in bed.
Low hanging fruit:
- Try to go to bed at the same time every night and develop a good wind-down routine at least an hour before bed.
- If you are working from home, trying to see if you can wake up naturally every day without an alarm, this is a good way to gauge what your natural wake time is.
- Optimize your daily circadian rhythm, here is a great article by Dr. Satchin Panda, on how to do this.
Here is an example of my evening routine: I dim down the lights and put on my blue light filtering glasses, I usually foam roll and stretch for 20-30 minutes then either meditate or do some breathing exercises for about 15 minutes. When I get into bed I’ll read for 15-30 minutes generally some type of non-fiction.
Stress has been shown to lead to poor metabolic health, having a negative impact one many important metabolic biomarkers. Likewise, chronic stress has been shown to lead to a suppressed immune system, inflammation, and insulin resistance.
The right mindset and support in your life can help you manage stress and build mental resilience, especially in times of uncertainty.
Low hanging fruit:
- Simple meditation and breathing exercises: These don’t have to be cross-legged buddha meditations. Make it simple by closing your eyes and being at peace with yourself for 5-10 minutes. Or just structured breathwork. There are a ton of great apps out there below are a few that I use:
- Oak: Morning “awake” breathwork
- Ten Percent: tons of great meditations, including walking meditations
- Apnea: Breathwork, I like the Pranayama in the evening
- Gratitude journal: Finding things to be grateful for in life has been shown to reduce stress. I’ve been picking one thing each month I want to work on and doing this “future self” journaling exercise which includes gratitude.
- Community: while these are absolutely hard times for the socially inclined, you can still stay in touch with your community through technology. Facetime family or old friends. Find new things to do with loved ones living with you, such as at home yoga sessions or playing cards (my wife and I plan on doing a puzzle and learning to play a new card game).
It’s no secret that exercise is good for you. While I do believe that you can’t out-exercise a poor diet, you’ll get tons of metabolic benefits from adding more movement in your life. Exercise can improve insulin sensitivity and help improve your body’s ability to tap into fat stores for energy (especially aerobic exercise). Exercise also improves mitochondrial function resulting in optimized cell function, including optimizing immune cell function.
Low hanging fruit:
- Move: go for a walk in the morning (incorporate morning meditation), go for a walk in the evening (recruit a family member if they live with you). See if you can accumulate 8-12k steps per day which has been shown to reduce all-cause mortality.
- Go for a low impact jog (low-intensity zone two training is great for mitochondrial function)
- Work on foundational strength with bodyweight exercises like air squats, push-ups, and pull-ups.
Practice some short high-intensity workout like sprinting or a Tabata (ex. burpees, kettlebell swings, mountain climbers, etc.)
In summary, don't be overwhelmed if you are trying to improve your metabolic health. Just start with one of the recommendations above, build consistency with it over a week and then the following week start a new one. Before you know it you'll have built a solid wellness foundation.
Interested in taking a deeper dive into my 12-week wellness program? Head over to AWAKN Health or just reply to this email.
Before making any major lifestyle changes I recommend speaking with your doctor.
Chronic Inflammation & immune function:
T2D and immune function:
Sleep and immune function:
Stress, metabolic health, and immune function:
Exercise and metabolic health:
Exercise, mitochondrial health, and immune function:
Exercise and immune function: