The coronavirus is a virus that mutates quickly, making it unstable and difficult to contain. “This also means we don’t have the typical immunity we’d have from other viruses,” explains Ara Suppiah, MD (affectionately known as Dr. Ara). In addition to being cautious about social distancing and hand washing, here are some ways Dr. Ara suggests that you might keep your body’s immune system in top condition.
Manage your body’s inflammatory response
Dr. Ara explains, “Most people will be fine if they get the coronavirus, but some will wind up in the ER due to a powerful inflammatory response. Your goal, especially while you are healthy, should be to minimize chronic inflammation, which is mainly driven by unhealthy omega-6 fatty acid levels in the body. This buys your body more resilience when infected by a virus.”
Consuming more anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA and EPA, will help counterbalance the omega-6s. “The body can’t make DHA and EPA. We have to get them from such foods as fatty fish, fish oils and avocados.” He adds, “You can also do yourself a huge favor by decreasing the amount of processed foods you eat because they may contain oils that are too inflammatory.”
Dr. Ara suggests stocking two specific oils in your pantry. “Malaysian certified sustainable palm oil is a naturally balanced fatty acid blend. It contains less inflammatory omega 6s than most commonly used seed oils such as canola, sunflower or corn oil. Plus it is rich in natural antioxidants, such as vitamin E tocotrienols. And, it also won’t break down into toxic substances when you cook with it at any temperature under its smoke point.” When an oil is heated beyond its smoke point, its molecular structure begins breaking down. It may even form trans fats. The oil may lose its nutritional value, and give your food a bitter or burnt taste. Once it reaches that point, the oil really shouldn’t be consumed.
He also recommends chia oil, especially if you have non-fish eaters in your household. “Chia oil is one of nature’s richest sources of plant-based ALA omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also loaded with antioxidants and phytosterols for overall wellness.” Chia oil can be used for some cooking applications such as sauteing and stir frying, and is good to use as a finishing oil to drizzle over salads or use in dressings, vinaigrettes, sauces, dips and spreads.
Exercise (but with caution)
Dr. Ara knows that social isolation can be frustrating, especially for people used to being active. That’s because in addition to working in the ER, he is the personal physician to many of the world’s top golfers. He shares some of the same advice he’s giving professional athletes.
“Going for a brisk walk or light run is helpful. Moderate exercise for 45 to 60 minutes mobilizes immune cells. It keeps them actively moving between the blood and tissues, where they can be very vigilant against foreign invaders. It also supports the lymphatic system and supplies organs with more oxygen,” he advises. “Another benefit to low-intensity exercise is that you’re more likely to tap into your body’s fat-burning zone for fuel.”
Just be very careful about high-intensity workouts. “Longer workouts, and those where you are reaching 70 to 80 percent of max heart rates, will stun or slow your immune system for two hours afterward. That’s not what you want right now!” he cautions. “You’re also triggering an inflammatory response.”
If you do exercise heavily, you can combat its immune-stunning effects by eating carbohydrates immediately afterward. “I know that for some people, such as those following the keto diet, this may be challenging. But it’s super important to lessen the level of stunning the immune system undergoes.”
Use good hydration and sleep to manage stress eating
Right now in kitchens across America, families are making decadent treats to help pass the time. Others are reaching for unhealthy prepared snack foods. “When you crave processed foods such as packaged sweets, it may either be because you’re thirsty or because you are not eating enough of the healthy stuff. Your body is saying you’re undernourished, so it’s responding with cravings for high-calorie foods to keep you alive.” Dr. Ara suggests drinking 16 ounces of water, then see if you still have the cravings.
Also, don’t give into the temptation of staying up later just because you’re working from home and don’t have the commute time. “When you are sleep deprived and tired, you have almost no control over your food cravings. That’s because the hormones that tell you when you are hungry or full aren’t communicating. Try to maintain your regular sleep schedule.”
Dr. Ara also suggests that now is the time to get into better eating habits. “Right now, with limited store hours and restricted movement, you’re less able to buy unhealthy foods on impulse. If you struggle with willpower, go out and buy healthy, more nourishing foods. Use this period to your advantage.”
For more information on healthy eating, visit www.palmoilhealth.org.
Biography: Dr. Ara Suppiah
A lifelong athlete, Dr. Ara Suppiah knows what it takes for an athlete to achieve his or her potential and thrives on creating optimal health in each of his patients. Dr. Ara has been a physician on the European Tour, multiple European Ryder Cup Teams and most recently on the PGA Tour. He also maintains his position as a practicing ER Physician & Chief Wellness Officer for Florida Emergency Physician and a faculty member at the University of Central Florida Medical School.