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“I can’t wait till this is over!” Exclaimed a colleague.

“You might be waiting the rest of your life,” I responded.

“What!? Don’t say that,” They quickly retorted.

“We are no longer dealing with a pandemic, Covid-19 is now classified as an endemic.”

I fully understood their frustration. Covid fatigue is real! We are all feeling it at some level. Just as we were beginning to look up for air after surviving the endless months of Delta trauma, we found ourselves thrust back in the sea of destructive uncertainty by a new variant. 

Corona is like that annoying piece of gum that you can’t seem to completely scrape from the bottom of your shoe. To preserve your energy/sanity, live with the annoyance until it eventually becomes a distant memory. Though the stickiness of the gum fades, the remnants of it can be found months later. The difference with Covid-19 is that its remnants are destructive and with each new wave/variant we are thrown deeper into the abyss of trauma.  

Move Over Delta, Omicron has Entered the Chat

On Wednesday the 24th of November the world woke up to the news of a new SARS-CoV-variant scientifically identified as B.1.1529 aka Omicron. The discovery was made by a South African team of scientists, led by Dr Angelique Coetzee and we all know about the global blacklisting that the Southern region of Africa faced as a result – but that’s a colonial conversation for another day. 

What exactly do we know about Omicron? 

Unfortunately, not a lot. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are several studies underway. Scientists have however been able to confirm that the new variant has a concerning number of mutations and;

  • increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology
  • increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation
  • decrease in the effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics

The number of cases of this variant is increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa. The question now becomes over and above vaccination, what else can we do to protect ourselves and sustain our health holistically? By taking care of our immune system.

Our #wellness conversation today is with Elsa Watson from The Cultured Whey and Homeopath, Nutritionist, and author of ‘NutriLicious Kitchen,’ Dr Geraldine Robson-Parson, highlighting the importance of building and maintaining a strong immune system in light of Covid-19. 

Here’s how the conversation unfolded with Dr Robson-Parson (RP) and Elsa Watson (EW) …

Q. The festive season is around the corner and typically people reserve this time of year to indulge in rich foods and beverages that don’t serve our bodies and therefore compromise our immune health. In light of this 4th wave, how can we still enjoy some of our festive traditions without compromising our immune system?

RP. Relax, sleep well, get plenty of fresh air and sunshine. Make sure you include lots of vegetables in your spreads, hydrate, keep moving your body, and enjoy this special time with the ones you love. 

Q. Before Covid, many of us only thought about our immune system around the winter/flu season. Can you give a simple breakdown of what the immune system is, and what role it plays in our overall health? 

RP. Your immune system is your security. It keeps you safe from invading pathogens – things that make you sick like viruses and bacteria. Our immune system functions to survey and identify friends from foe, alerting the “army” of specialized cells to fight against the invasion. Throughout our lives, the immune system gathers data about how to combat various diseases and foreign invaders. 

Q. What are some common lifestyle choices that lead to compromising and or damaging your immune system? 

EW.  To understand what has compromised our immunity we need to look back in history and take a look at the evolution of our food chain. The changes in how food is grown, processed and preserved.

100 years ago, food was grown, harvested and farmed naturally, without using genetically modified seeds, synthetic fertilisers, glysophates, herbicides and pesticides.

Before the industrialisation of food and before mankind had refrigeration, the methods of preserving and processing foods differed from how it is done today. Food was preserved through natural processes such as fermentation, brining and bottling.

These traditional processes encourage the growth of healthy bacteria and microbes thus increasing the health benefits and bioavailability of the nutrients in food.

Q. Is it possible to irrevocably damage your immune system? 

RP. It is possible that our immune system malfunctions, in the sense that it doesn’t recognize self (friend) from non-self (foe), or overreacts. Our understanding is continually growing about the intelligent nature of the immune response, and what could confuse and compromise it. Lifestyle factors, hereditary predispositions and environmental exposures have been implicated in a maladaptive immune response. 

Q.  Covid-19  has highlighted the fact that we can no longer afford to only think about the health of our immune system when it’s compromised – maintaining our immune health needs to be a lifestyle. What does a lifestyle that supports a healthy immune system look like?  Can you give us some tips? 

RP.  Supporting a healthy immune system requires some simple steps. Concentrate on getting a good night’s rest by making 8-9 hours of sleep a priority. You can improve your sleep by; having your evening meal 2-3 hours before sleeping. Make your evening meals simple and easy on the digestive system. Include lots of vegetables, good fats like olive oil and protein. 

  • Limiting screen time in the evenings
  • Create a routine by going to bed around the same time.
  • Create your sleep time rituals to quieten the mind and relax the body. Reading, journaling, meditation and breathing can help. 
  • Enjoy a cup of herbal tea before retiring to bed. Chamomile, lemon balm and rose geranium are good choices. 

Regular exercise is not only vital for overall health and well-being, but it is also a good way to support the immune system, so get moving! 

Managing stress is another crucial part of maintaining a healthy immune system. Create awareness around your stress levels and recognize what helps you to relax. Take regular time outs and make time for things that bring you joy. You could try a massage, do yoga, meditate, and go for walks in nature. Spending quality time with the people you love, journaling, and/or making time for a hobby. 

Q. What role does food play? 

EW.  Eighty per cent of our immune system resides in our gut, the state of our gut helps determine how we feel, physically and mentally. The relationship between good and bad gut bacteria is the secret to a healthier you. Simply put, when your gut bacteria are in balance and your gut is happy, you have a thriving population of beneficial bacteria supporting your immune system. When your gut is not happy, digestive issues, immune imbalance and weight fluctuations can occur, along with other undesirable symptoms including everything from occasional gas, bloating, constipation and stomach upset, to disrupted sleep and mood disturbances, not to mention food sensitivities.

RP.  Make sure you are eating lots of fresh vegetables and fruit. Plant foods contain vital nutrients and fibre that keeps your body and good gut bacteria happy. The good gut bacteria live in our digestive tract and help us defend against illness, so we need to make sure we give them what they need. Probiotic foods like yoghurt, kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi are great ways to get good bacteria. Make sure you are well hydrated with 8-10 glasses of water and herbal teas which helps to keep your digestive system in good working order. 

Q. In light of the 4th wave and the reality that Corona will be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future, what herbs, vitamins, or tonics do you recommend we start implementing into our daily routine?

EW. To enhance your immunity, Fire Tonic strengthens the immune system and can help treat viral, bacterial, parasitic and fungal diseases.

It encourages blood circulation and lymph flow, purifying the blood which is necessary as COVID causes blood clotting and therefore this tonic will facilitate recovery.

Ingredients:

  • Kombucha Raw Vinegar
  •  Ginger
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Chilli Pepper
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Turmeric

You can purchase the Fire Tonic from AoS here:

Another tonic I’d highly recommend is called the ‘Neuro Tonic’. This tonic assists with Chronic Fatigue, Stress, Brain Fog and Concentration and is the perfect blend of hand-picked herbal ingredients to boost your mind and body in recovery from COVID.

The three selected adaptogens (Ashwagandha, Gotu kola and Holy Basil) used within Ayurvedic medicine all have a noted affinity for the nervous system, enabling you to withstand the effects of ongoing stress on the neuroendocrine system. Their combined action helps to keep the mind focused and fully functional in an ever-changing environment. When it comes to the nervous system negative stimuli can take many forms, not all easy to identify. These include environmental toxins and stressful events. We can experience the cumulative effects of these negative stimuli in our daily lives with symptoms such as lack of concentration and ability to perform tasks, loss of memory, affected moods and various stress-induced impacts on our nervous systems, including anxiety and altered sleep patterns. The long-term effects of these disorders may lead to various neurodegenerative diseases.

This safe and effective Neuro Tonic addresses these issues and can be used for extended periods.

Ingredients:

  • Kombucha Vinegar
  • Ashwagandha
  • Gotu Kola 
  • Holy Basil

You can purchase the Neuro Tonic from AoS here:

RP.  Adding a quality multivitamin, omega 3, Vitamin D3, vitamin C and Zinc is of particular importance when it comes to the immune system. Herbs that are commonly used to support the body’s immune response include echinacea, elderberry, pelargonium and astragalus. Medicinal mushrooms such as chaga and reishi can also be used. Remember to consult with your health professional before taking any supplements and herbal remedies.