WEST JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Chamber of Commerce hosted its monthly “Morning Mingle” on Feb. 11 at 7:30 a.m. This month’s mingle was sponsored by Ashe CrossFit and guest speakers were Heather Peters, FNP-BC and Maggi Birdsell, RDN, CDE of Elevation Health, PC.
Elevation Health, located at 17 East Buck Mountain Road in West Jefferson, is a primary care practice that offers traditional services of a primary care practice but with longer, more personalized visits.
The topic of discussion was “Viruses and The Immune System: Prevention, Infection, and Recovery.” The goal was to provide viewers of natural ways and lifestyle changes to help improve their immune system and facilitate a quicker recovery.
One of the main takeaways from the presentation was that COVID-19 does not just encompass a two-week process, and some of the effects and symptoms of the disease are long-lasting.
Executive Director Kitty Honeycutt thanked county extension director Travis Birdsell and the Cooperative Extension for all of its work during the pandemic. She also congratulated the Peters and Birdsell families on their success with Ashe CrossFit.
Peters and Maggi Birdsell included a disclaimer that all of the information shared is not a substitute for professional medical advice, nor should it be used to treat or diagnose any medical problems. Prior to changing any supplementary medical routine, they encourage people to seek the advice of their physician or other qualified health providers.
The presentation reviewed four phases of COVID-19, which are prevention, infection, escalating/inflammatory and recovery phase.
Birdsell stressed that one of the first things people can do for their immune system is have a baseline, healthy diet. It is important to ingest more foods that prevent and fight inflammation
“That consists of foods that are really high in potassium, so pretty much every food that comes from a plant is a good source of potassium,” Birdsell said.
Phytonutrients are also known to fight inflammation and help support a stronger immune system. These are the more colorful foods, typically referred to as adding color to one’s plate.
Birdsell added that processed foods are known to cause more inflammation in the body.
Peters spoke about the importance of getting sufficient sleep each night.
“The body uses sleep to regenerate and heal, which is really important when you are fighting something off, but also to prevent infection of any sort,” Peters said.
She added that adequate sleep varies from person to person.
Exercise is another way to boost immunity. Birdsell emphasized the positive effects of moderate physically activity each day and how it supports the body’s immune response.
She defined moderate physical activity as activity that is above and beyond a person’s normal daily activities. Such activity helps strengthens muscles and causes an elevated heart rate.
“Start with moderate activity to begin with and go from there,” Birdsell said. “You do not want to just be a ‘weekend warrior.’”
She added that doing high intensity one-day-a-week workout has been shown to potentially increase inflammation temporarily.
Another common health detriment that affects many people that Peters discussed was stress.
“If you can improve and control some of the stressors in your life and keep those levels down, you are really helping to improve your body’s response,” Peters said.
She added that when the body is stressed it becomes confused as to what it is needing to fight off. Stress also creates inflammation and a lot of cellular changes that work against immune responses and fighter cells.
Both Birdsell and Peters provided some tips about supporting microbiome health, which refers to microorganisms located in the intestines.
“The microbiome primarily is talked about in the gut, but can also extend up through and into the lungs,” Birdsell said.
She explained that having an imbalance in the lungs and gastrointestinal tract has been shown to be a source of inflammation. To prevent any potential inflammation one can incorporate fermented foods such as sauerkraut and yogurt. Taking probiotics daily can also help support and balance the microbiome.
Peters and Birdsell also discussed nutrients that prove useful in addition to eating healthy, getting sufficient sleep and reducing stress.
Some vitamins and supplements people can take to prevent infection are Vitamin D, Vitamin A, Zinc, Vitamin C, Quercetin, Fish oil, Melatonin and N-Acetyl Cysteine.
Vitamin D is a key part in ensuring a strong immune system and Vitamin A is involved with fighter cells. Zinc contains a lot of anti-viral properties and helps the immune response. High doses of Vitamin C are associated with increased, immediate immune responses. Quercetin helps facilitate Zinc across lipid membranes and carries anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties. Consuming Fish oil daily is a good source EPA and DHA which are omega, fatty acids which play an important role in resolving the inflammatory process and also promote heart health.
Melatonin is a sleep aid, which carries anti-inflammatory properties. According to Peters, it is important for those who have trouble sleeping to take Melatonin so they can rest and allow their body that time to heal. N-Acetyl Cysteine helps improve respiratory tract immunity.
Peters and Birdsell also reviewed some botanicals that carry anti-viral properties. Trials have found that the following botanicals work well in the upper-respiratory tract and reduce inflammation.
These include Reishi mushroom, Andrographis, Astragalus, Berberine, Biacalin (Chinese skullcap), Echinacea and curcumin (tumeric).
According to Peters and Birdsell, during the Phase two, which is known as the “infection stage” some of the preventative actions from Phase one can carry over.
“If you are already doing some of those things in Phase one to prevent infection, ideally, your infection phase will not be as severe as if you were not,” Peters said.
Phase three takes place several days in, when people are actively sick and the sickness is escalating. Peters stressed the importance of ensuring adequate sleep, rest and hydration. It is not advisable to exercise or exert yourself during this stage of infection.
Peters recommended beginning to take Glutathione which helps the mucosal lining in the respiratory tract and the gut. She also recommended adding Bromaline and Reishi mushroom to the mix as well.
Birdsell added that not everyone reaches the escalating infection stage, some people have a strong enough immune system and go directly from the infection phase to the final, recovery phase.
The recovery stage’s focus is to resolve inflammation, inhibiting fibrosis, curtailing losses of function and restoring/reoptimizing total body function.
“The tricky thing with recovery is [the] recovery stage can span months,” Birdsell said.
She added that the recovery stage does not end just because people are told they can return to work or end quarantine.
“It is possible, if you had a pretty mild infection and moved into the recovery phase quickly, it is possible to then relapse back into what is considered escalating inflammation,” Birdsell said.
According to Birdsell, it has been particularly difficult with COVID-19 because the virus really attacks the inflammation that the body has, that may otherwise have gone undetected.
Both Peters and Birdsell stressed the importance of returning to normal activities slowly and with patience after recovering from the virus. In summary, they said that moving forward it is important to focus on health, beginning with prevention because medication will not always be the answer.
Prior to the end of the Zoom call, Birdsell and Peters addressed questions from viewers.