Your body does a good job fighting off illness when it is not under stress. Not so much when your adrenal glands are pumping out cortisol 24/7.
We can all agree that the coronavirus era is one of the more stressful times of our generation. When you compound everyday stress, financial worries, and the unknown of a worldwide pandemic, the increase in cortisol can stifle the protective action of immune cells.
High cortisol has other negative health effects: It increases appetite for unhealthy junk food and impairs sleep, making you feel like you can’t turn your brain off at night. It also messes with metabolism and gut function, both of which play a primary role in immunity.
Balancing cortisol needs to be individualized but supporting the body’s systems through foods and lifestyle management techniques makes good sense for anyone trying to give a boost to their immune function.
Some things that can help include deep breathing, regular meditation, yoga, exercise, sticking to a routine, having fun, playing with pets, and listening to music. Nutritional support and sleep are so important for coping with stress that we’ll cover those two below.
Use Healthy Anti-Stress Nutrition
Every healthy diet should focus on an array of foods that provide the abundant nutrients your body needs to counter inflammation and fight off disease (1). This doesn’t need to be complicated: By planning meals around high-quality protein, healthy fat, and colorful fruits and vegetables you provide the body with the abundant phytonutrients that the body needs to bolster immune defenses.
Certain supplemental nutrients can help your body handle stress:
Taurine is an amino acid that has a calming effect on the brain, lowering anxiety and racing thoughts (2).
Holy Basil (also known as tulsi) is an herb that has been shown to relieve stress and improve cognitive function during high-stress times. (3).
The Omega-3 Fatty Acids found in fish oil have anti-stress and immune boosting properties, improving the number and activity of T immune cells (4).
Sleep is an essential component of the body’s rest and repair system. During dreamtime is when your body produces disease-fighting white blood cells and sleep is necessary for production of the “master antioxidant” glutathione, which is the linchpin of your body’s ability to counter oxidative stress that compromises immunity. Sleep is also when growth hormone and other chemicals are released that allow your innate immune system to function (5).
Establishing a healthy sleep routine can help you get all the rest you need:
Adopt a set bedtime to take advantage of your body’s natural circadian rhythm.
Avoid screens in the hours before bed to give your melatonin production a lift.
Limit caffeine, especially later in the day.
Sleep in cool temperatures that mimic the outdoors.
Sometimes a sleep aid is warranted. Two sleep supplements that also support immunity are melatonin and l-theanine.
Melatonin is a hormone that is released by the pineal gland that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. One analysis of 19 studies found that taking between 0.5 and 6 mg of melatonin before bed improves sleep quality and quantity, and reduces insomnia (6, 7).
L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea that has pro-sleep, anti-stress, and immune support properties (8). Pure L-theanine supplements are available, as are formulated sleep aids, such as our Sleep Soothe in which L-theanine is combined with herbs, such as chamomile and valerian, for more powerful results.