COVID-19: practical ways to cope with stress and anxiety

img_1188.jpgHong Kong endured nearly 8 months of social unrest before COVID-19 hit the city in January 2020. Citizens were already facing a major mental health burden, with the medical journal The Lancet reporting that almost 2 million people in Hong Kong- about 1 in 3 adults in the city- experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) one time or another during that period. The current global pandemic only adds more worries and anxiety as people are thrusted into a “new normal”. Social distancing, economic or financial uncertainty, school closures, home learning, information overload- not to mention you, loved ones or friends getting sick or succumbing to COVID-19… The impact of this coronavirus outbreak can be overwhelming.

The following self-care strategies can help you cope.

  1. Take care of your physical health. 
    1. Get enough sleep. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Try to stick to your typical daily schedule as much as possible. 
    2. Consume a healthful diet. salmon-fish-grilled-fish-grill-730914.jpegEat more colourful vegetables and fruits such as dark greens, carrots, and berries, which contain a lot of nutrients and antioxidants. Click here to find the top healthful foods. Ensure adequate protein intake. Consume more good fats. Avoid sugary foods/ drinks and processed foods.
    3. Avoid excessive refined sugar and junk food. Limit caffeine intake as it can aggravate stress and anxiety. Click here to learn how to avoid overeating if you are staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    4. Keep active. Daily physical activity and exercise can help reduce anxiety and improve mood. Even 30 minutes a day can help keep you fit and lift your mood.
    5. Avoid alcohol, drugs and smoking. If you smoke tobacco or if you vape, you are already at a higher risk of lung disease. COVID-19 affects the lungs, so your risk increases even more. Drinking alcohol reduces your coping skills and can make matters worse, not to mention it can increase your risk for pneumonia. Read more here.
  2. Avoid constant exposure to media. Constant news about COVID-19 from all types of media can fuel anxiety and fear. Get your news from a reliable source and limit your news reading or watching to once or twice a day.
  3. Focus on positive thoughts. Start each day by listing 3 or more things you are thankful for. Some people find it helpful to draw on their faith or religion to maintain a sense of hope and purpose during difficult times.
  4. Recharge by setting aside time for yourself. Some people benefit from practices such as journalling, deep breathing or meditation. Listening to nature sounds or relaxing music, reading a book or doing something you enjoy can help you relax.
  5. Build support and strengthen relationships. Stay connected with others by email, text messages, FaceTime or phone. Check in on your family members, friends and neighbours. If you can, help those who are in need. Find purpose in helping others.
  6. Get help when you need it. If you notice persistent feelings of helplessness, sadness, fear, anger or anxiety OR if you are struggling to do routine chores, having trouble concentrating or experiencing body aches/ pains/ insomnia, it is time to ask for help.

Everyone reacts differently to challenging situations, and it’s normal to feel worried, lonely or stressed. But if you feel persistently overwhelmed, reach out to someone and seek professional help.



How to delay memory loss and cognitive aging

Everyone ages, but have you noticed that no two people age in the same way? Some people experience dramatic memory loss as they grow older, while others remain cognitively fit. Some experts say that diet is key, while others emphasise exercise and keeping active. Both factors have an impact on how your brain will age, but you may ask, which is more important to keep your brain healthy? Well, it turns out it depends on your genetic makeup.

Researchers from Kings College, London in the United Kingdom recently found that changes in lifestyle such as diet and exercise can “delay a decline in memory and thinking but that the effectiveness of these approaches will depend on the genetic makeup of each person.” In a study they published earlier this month, people with a particular genetic variant of GRB10 were found to benefit from consuming a Mediterranean diet, while those with variations in gene SIRT1 benefited more from physical exercise.

You may talk to your doctor about getting your DNA tested to know which- diet or exercise- will have more impact on your aging process. But regardless, here are some ways to help keep your brain healthy:

  1. Consume a Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, olives/ olive oil and fish such as sardines, salmon and mackerel, and nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, etc. Click here to read more about the benefits of nuts.).
  2. Exercise regularly. According to Heidi Godman, Executive Editor of Harvard Health Letter, “exercise changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills.” According to a study done at the University of British Columbia, regular aerobic exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Interestingly, resistance training, balance and muscle toning exercises did not yield the same results. “… Engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions,” says Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School. Regular exercise can reduce insulin resistance as well as inflammation, both of which have been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Staying active also improves mood and sleep while reducing stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas commonly cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.
  3. If you are experiencing memory loss, mental decline or cognitive impairment, find a healthcare practitioner who will work with you in addressing your concerns. According to Dr. Dale Bredesen, professor of neurology at University of California, Los Angeles, Alzheimer’s disease is a result of what happens when the brain tries to protect itself from inflammation (from infection, diet, stress, etc), a shortage or decline of supportive nutrients and hormones and/ or toxic substances such as metals or moulds.
    He suggests testing for insulin resistance, certain nutrient deficiencies, inflammation, heavy metal toxicity, food sensitivities/ intolerances and genetic status particularly for APO E4 (*see below), all of which are risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Bredesen believes that by correcting and rebalancing these factors, the cognitive decline of early Alzheimer’s can be prevented and even reversed in some cases. Dr. Ardyce Yik offers such testing in her clinic.
  4. Get enough sleep! Sleep plays a vital role in brain function and helps you consolidate your memories. Aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night. If you have trouble falling asleep or wake up in the middle of the night, seek a healthcare practitioner who will address the cause and not just give you a quick fix. Sleeping pills can compromise cognitive function. Click here to read more on how to get a good night’s rest.

*Genetics may affect your risk for Alzheimer’s disease but it doesn’t mean you will necessarily have the condition. Increasing evidence is showing that environmental and lifestyle factors (i.e. epigenetic changes) can affect whether that gene is turned “on” or “off”. You are in control of your own fate much more than you realize.


Bredesen, D. (2017) The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Programme to Prevent and Reverse the Cognitive Decline of Dementia. UK: Penguin Random House.


2020’s “Dirty Dozen”: What are the most pesticide-laden foods?

strawberry-1180048_1920The 2020 Dirty Dozen™ List is out! Here is the list of foods that contain the most pesticide residues:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

The list is released each year by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization which uses more than 40,000 produce samples tested by the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


Childhood cancer, brain disorders such as ADHD/ autism/ dyslexia and infertility have all been linked to pesticide exposure. The pesticide industry and chemical agriculture insist that pesticides on produce are nothing to worry about, but doctors and scientists strongly disagree.

Dr. Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard and lead author of a 2014 study linking synthetic chemicals to brain disorders, is concerned because even ordinary (undiagnosed) children are often affected. In the study, he found that certain types of pesticides may cause cognitive delays. “The greatest concern is the large numbers of children who are affected by toxic damage to brain development in the absence of a formal diagnosis… They suffer reduced attention span, delayed development, and poor school performance. Industrial chemicals are now emerging as likely causes.”

“Even low levels of pesticide exposure can be harmful to infants, babies and young children, so when possible, parents and caregivers should take steps to lower children’s exposures to pesticides while still feeding them diets rich in healthy fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.


Coronavirus COVID-19: Scottish government advises people to take vitamin D

As part of the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic guidance, the Scottish government has recommended that people start getting a daily dose of vitamin D. The government statement published last week says: “Since it’s difficult for people to get enough vitamin D from food alone, everyone (including children and pregnant and breastfeeding women) should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D. This advice is especially important for people who are indoors all of the time.”

Our body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on our skin when we’re outdoors. For those who are able to go outside, or crack open a window to sunbathe, up to 15 minutes of sun exposure per day is recommended, but sun exposure only counts when you don’t use sunscreen.

An Irish study found that vitamin D helps prevent respiratory illness and enhances the immune system. Conducted by Trinity College Dublin, the findings suggest that vitamin D can help prevent the disease from reaching a critical stage. Professor Rose Anne Kenny, concluded, “We have evidence to support a role for vitamin D in the prevention of chest infections, particularly in older adults who have low levels. In one study, vitamin D reduced the risk of chest infections to half in people who took supplements… Though we do not know specifically of the role of vitamin D in COVID-19 infections, given its wider implications for improving immune responses and clear evidence for bone and muscle health, those cocooning and other at-risk cohorts should ensure they have an adequate intake of vitamin D.”


Another study found that among 800 military men in Finland, those with lower vitamin D levels took significantly more days from active duty to recover from upper respiratory infections than recruits with higher vitamin D levels (above 40nmol). In Japan, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial compared vitamin D3 supplements (1200 IU/day) with placebo in school-aged children. Researchers found that the children receiving the sunshine vitamin had a 42% reduction in getting influenza A compared to those not receiving it. The study also found that the group not getting the vitamin D had six times more asthma attacks.

Vitamin D is a crucial vitamin that ensures your immune system is functioning well. Those living in the northern hemisphere, such as in Scotland, can follow the government’s guidelines of taking 10 micrograms (or 400IU) of vitamin D every day. In Dr. Yik’s practice, she finds that many adults and children in Hong Kong are deficient in vitamin D, regardless of how much sunshine they get. She advises getting your vitamin D level checked before taking a daily supplement, so you can supplement at the correct dosage. Too much vitamin D puts you at a higher risk for kidney stones.

Click here to read more practical tips to protect your health.


Staying home during COVID-19 pandemic: how to avoid overeating

Are you among the millions staying at home during this pandemic? You may have seen the “COVID-19” memes about gaining 19 pounds during self-isolation at home. It’s easy for some people to overeat on a normal day, not to mention now, as we face unprecedented and unpredictable times. Have you been craving high-calorie and high-sugar foods lately? When faced with crisis, we tend to reach for these foods as they provide short-term bursts of energy. Elevated cortisol levels triggered by stress can also increase appetite, while sugary foods generate dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with motivation and reward. Boredom and anxiety may also lead people to emotional overeating. While “comfort eating” can feel good in the short term and provide initial comfort, this feeling doesn’t last and it is often followed by guilt (and weight gain), which in turn increases distress.

If you find that you’re reaching for (unhealthy) snacks more often than not, here are some coping strategies that can help in the long-run:

  1. Plan your meals and meal portions ahead of time. Meals should be balanced and healthful, with plenty of vegetables, adequate protein and good fats. Plan your portions, i.e. how much you will eat, before you start eating.
  2. Instead of buying an extra bag of potato chips or a box of chocolates, opt for healthier snacks like mixed nuts, kale chips or Greek yogurt with berries. Don’t buy or keep unhealthy snacks at home. When unhealthy snacks are “out of sight”, they will be “out of mind” as well.
  3. Eat around the same time every day and recognise when you are hungry. If you wait too long before the next meal, you may feel so hungry that you eat too quickly or too much.
  4. Eat slower. “Stretch receptors in the stomach are activated as it fills with food or water; these signal the brain directly through the vagus nerve that connects gut and brainstem. Hormonal signals are released as partially digested food enters the small intestine,” explains Ann MacDonald, a contributor to Harvard Health.  This process of sending signals from your gut to your brain can take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, so it’s important to take your time to eat. Chew your food thoroughly and enjoy your meal.
  5. Before you reach for another snack, ask yourself if you’re really hungry. If you’re not hungry, think about how you’ll feel after you eat too much. Or, another tactic is to think about how you’ll feel if you don’t eat that food i.e. you will feel happy and proud that you didn’t indulge unnecessarily.
  6. fat tummyWhen you’re not hungry but find yourself grabbing food, ask yourself why. Are you bored? Are you stressed? Are there other ways to manage how you’re feeling, like connecting with a friend? Journalling? Uploading a funny video to TikTok? Exercising?
  7. Stay active! Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These brain chemicals play an important part in regulating your mood and keeping you happy. If you are stuck indoors, there are plenty of online videos you can watch and follow to get your body moving. 

Click here to read more about Dr. Yik’s “Be Your Best” weight loss program. Remember to practice physical distancing, wash your hands often and do your part in this outbreak crisis. Together, we can get through these turbulent times.


Coronavirus COVID-19: virus can survive on surfaces for up to 17 days and ‘digestive symptoms are common’

The coronavirus survived for up to 17 days aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, living much longer on surfaces than previous research has shown, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States. Traces of the coronavirus were found on surfaces in cruise-ship cabins for as many as 17 days after passengers left, researchers noted, but they were not able to determine whether the virus caused any infections. The study looked at the Japanese and U.S. government efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreaks on the Carnival-owned Diamond Princess ship in Japan and the Grand Princess ship in California.

It was previously reported that the virus can last up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. That study also found that the amount of the virus left on those surfaces decreased over time.

On a separate note, a new study which analysed 204 people who received medical care for COVID-19 in January and February of 2020 has found that 48.5% of the patients experienced digestive symptoms. 7 of the 204 patients with COVID-19 had no respiratory symptoms at all but presented with digestive ailments. The researchers of the study, published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology, found that the main digestive complaints were a lack of appetite, in 83 individuals, and diarrhea, in 29.

Other symptoms included vomiting, in 8 individuals, and abdominal pain, in 4 people. Those without any digestive symptoms appeared more likely to recover from COVID-19 and be discharged from the hospital sooner than those with digestive symptoms.

Given these findings, the authors advise that suspicion levels should be raised for “at-risk patients presenting with digestive symptoms, rather than waiting for respiratory symptoms to emerge.”

The study authors also note that 7 of the 204 patients with COVID-19 had no respiratory symptoms but did experience digestive symptoms.

Click here to read more on what you can do to protect your health.



Coronavirus COVID-19: how to support your immune system

COVID-19 has taken center stage as countries across the world scramble to implement social restrictions in an attempt to curb the spread of the potentially deadly coronavirus. According to Harvard scientist Marc Lipsitch, 40 to 70% of the global population could become infected with the coronavirus. Though the majority of infected people experience symptoms similar to the flu, studies show infections can be much more severe in the elderly and immunocompromised, as well as those with diabetes. Below are some practical ways to support your immune system and protect your health.

  1. Safeguard your lungs. The new coronavirus can cause pneumonia even in the young and healthy- and recent studies show that a number of recovered patients have persistent lung damage- so it’s crucial to protect your lungs. Stop smoking. If you have asthma, COPD or other lung ailments, find a licensed naturopathic doctor if you are interested in supplements, nutraceuticals and botanical medicine that support and tonify the respiratory system.
  2. Reduce your alcohol consumption. Findings from 14 different studies suggest that alcohol consumption increases the risk of contracting pneumonia. Dose–response analysis found that for every 10 to 20 grams of alcohol intake per day, there was an 8% increase in the risk of getting pneumonia (community-acquired pneumonia, not hospital-acquired). One standard drink contains 10 grams of alcohol, which is equivalent to one ordinary beer, a small glass of wine (100 mL) or a nip of spirits (30mL). Drinking alcohol can also weaken your immune system. “Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol could cause damage to immune cells in the lungs and upper respiratory system,” explains Dr Aragona Giuseppe, GP and medical advisor at Prescription Doctor, “which in turn can increase the risk of developing diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia and respiratory distress syndrome, not to mention making you more susceptible to viruses. Furthermore, alcohol can also affect the gut barrier allowing more bacteria to pass into the blood, and this, in turn, causes a depletion of the three most important kinds of cells in your immune system, Macrophages, T- and C- cells.” Stay hydrated by drinking water and healthier, non-alcoholic beverages instead.
  3. It’s normal to feel stressed, anxious and uncertain. Take time to relax. Try journaling, prayer, a meditation practice, deep- breathing exercises or stepping out into nature for a jog or a hike. Connect with a friend or loved one (preferably someone who won’t make you more anxious!) over Zoom or FaceTime. Click here for more ways to reduce anxiety naturally.
  4. Keep moving! Light exercise is a powerful stress reliever and immunity booster, helping the body sweat out any toxins. As many gyms and fitness centers have closed during the pandemic, try going outdoors (in open space) for your exercise. Or, follow a YouTube video to stay active.
  5. Consume a healthful diet. Eat more colourful vegetables and fruits such as dark greens, carrots, and berries, which contain a lot of nutrients and antioxidants. Onions, garlic and turmeric (a spice) are also rich in antioxidants. Click here to find the top healthful foods. Ensure adequate protein intake. Consume more good fats. Avoid sugary foods/ drinks and processed foods.
  6. Ensure adequate sleep. Keep your room dark, ditch your digital devices and try to sleep at the same time every night. Click here for more tips on getting a good night’s rest.

Click here to read more on how you can boost your immune system. Remember, we are all human, we are all vulnerable to illness and we are all in this together. Please do your part in social distancing and practising good hygiene. Stay safe and healthy during these turbulent times.



Coronavirus COVID-19: dealing with the epidemic and practical tips to protect your health

doctor1As the number of coronavirus COVID-19 cases keeps climbing up, education and information are crucial factors in the management of this novel virus that causes pneumonia. As of February 15th, there are 67,100 confirmed cases and 1,526 deaths globally, the majority of which are reported in Mainland China (66,492 confirmed cases). In Hong Kong, panic amid the crisis seems to be spreading faster than the virus itself. Despite currently having less than 0.001% of the population confirmed to be infected with COVID-19, many citizens have been “panic buying” and hoarding a variety of household essentials such as toilet paper and rice. Toilet paper is sold out within a matter of hours after stock arrives. Long queues for toilet paper can be seen outside supermarkets around the city at the break of dawn.

With so much information circulating around, here are a few points to keep in mind and a few ways to help you protect your health:

  1. While it is normal to feel anxious about COVID-19 (especially if you are in a city experiencing an outbreak), having an appropriate level of anxiety driven by the facts will help you take the right kind of action. In the digital era, it’s often a challenge to discern fact from fiction. According to a Stanford study, millennials have difficulty determining what’s true and what’s false online and on social media, despite their fluency with the internet. How do we separate fact from fiction? Try to get facts from news and articles that quote medical experts, epidemiologists, the World Health Organization and other trusted sources.
  2. While we should not downplay the seriousness of COVID-19, we should focus on improving our immunity to protect against ALL types of pathogens. The strength of our immune systems determines who gets sick and how well we can fight infections. Read on for more tips to boost your health and prevent infections.
  3. Keep your body healthy:
    1. Eat more healthful foods and avoid processed foods. Click here to find the top healthful foods.
    2. Ensuring adequate sleep every night. Did you know that nearly 40% of Hong Kong adults have difficulty sleeping? Click here for tips on sleeping better.
    3. Safeguard your lungs. Stop smoking. COVID-19 can cause pneumonia, so it’s crucial to protect your lungs. Dr. Yik’s patients see good results in terms of lung function, shortness of breath, lung capacity, etc. after taking nutraceuticals and botanicals that tonify the respiratory system.
    4. Reduce your alcohol consumption. Findings from 14 different studies suggest that alcohol consumption increases the risk of contracting pneumonia. Keep hydrated by drinking water and healthier beverages instead.
  4. Avoid crowds and large gatherings. Wear a mask if you are sick or if you are in close contact with others out in public, as well as in crowded places.
  5. Do not share eating utensils, cups or bowls.
  6. Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face. Did you know that 30% of people don’t wash their hands after using the restroom? And of the 70% who do, only 50% do it right- not only rinsing the hands with water, but also applying soap and scrubbing the palms, the back of the hands, between the fingers, and under the fingernails. The correct washing of hands remains public health officials’ top advice when it comes to controlling infection rates. Click here to read more on how to improve your immunity and protect your health. 



Loneliness: how it impacts your health and how to overcome it

Have you ever felt lonely? Nearly everyone feels lonely at some point in their life, perhaps due to a life change such as starting a new school or job, or moving to a new city. But for some people, loneliness is a way of life. For the younger generation, it may stem from a lack of connection with others. While technology may “connect” people remotely  through instant messaging, video conferencing or social media, studies show that the more time people spend on technology or social media, the more lonely they feel. A study done by George Mason University in the United States found 1 in 3 youth below the age of 25 felt lonely. Another study found 40% of youth aged 16 to 24 in the UK felt lonely “often or very often.”

For older folks, they may not feel too lonely until their 70s, when the resilience to loneliness begins to decline. Loneliness peaks as people age into their 80s and 90s. “It isn’t until the losses begin to mount in much older age — the loss of health and mobility, the deaths of spouses, family and friends — that people begin to be unable to bounce back and loneliness spikes,” says Louise Hawkley, a scientist at the University of Chicago.

Regardless of how old you are, chronic loneliness can have adverse consequences for your health.


  1. Loneliness often leads to sleeplessness. Researchers have found a link between sleep disruptions and loneliness. Researchers from King’s College London found a link between loneliness and poor sleep quality in a study of more than 2,000 British young adults. “Lonelier people were 24% more likely to feel tired and have difficulty concentrating during the day,” according to the study. 
  2. Loneliness can compromise your immune system. Studies show that loneliness can weaken the immune system, increase sensitivity to physical pain and contribute to inflammation in the body.
  3. Feeling lonely can increase your risk for dementia. In a study of nearly 2,200 older adults, researchers found that those who reported feeling lonely (regardless of the number of friends or family surrounding them) were more likely to experience dementia than those who lived alone.
  4. Loneliness can increase your risk for heart disease. An analysis of 181,000 adults discovered that loneliness, social isolation or both were linked to a 29% higher risk of heart attack and a 32% greater risk of stroke.


  1. Connect in real life. We can build stronger in-person connections by being present, looking people in the eye and through active listening. Remember not to be distracted by your phone or other technology!
  2. Do more things with people. Engaging in face-to-face social interactions can improve our mood and reduce feelings of loneliness. Activities such as sports or religious services, which involve other people, are more likely to have positive effects on our mental health.
  3. Shift the focus. Instead of focusing on yourself, shift your focus on what you can give and offer to others. You can offer your time by volunteering at a food bank, homeless shelter or refugee centre. You can sell things online to raise money for a good cause. You can donate old (or new) books or things to a charity. By giving to others, you take the focus off yourself and do good at the same time, helping you to feel more connected and less lonely.
  4. Be nice to yourself. Practising self-kindness and engaging in self-care can boost your mood and change the way you view certain situations. Try talking to yourself in a way that is supportive and caring. Take a nature walk, give yourself a manicure or try a new restaurant in town- better yet, ask someone to join you.
  5. Pay attention to things that matter. What experiences make you feel lonely? Which ones make you feel connected or feel like you belong? Try to identify these moments to help you reduce loneliness. Limit your engagement in activities that make you feel lonely and do more of the activities that make you feel more connected.



How loneliness can impact the immune system

Novel coronavirus outbreak: practical tips to protect your health during Lunar New Year

Chinese New Year is fast approaching, and according to Hong Kong experts, the novel coronavirus has already spread to 20 other cities in China, just ahead of the country’s biggest festival. China has confirmed that this respiratory virus can be spread from human to human. Although the majority of the cases have been in Wuhan, the disease has spread to other Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. Japan and Thailand have also reported confirmed cases. 

Currently, there is no vaccine for the new virus. Symptoms include fever, difficulty in breathing, coughing as well as pneumonic infiltrates in the lungs.


Your immune system protects you from infectious bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites that cause disease and even death. “The strength of your immune system is what determines who gets sick and who doesn’t,” explains Woodson Merrell, MD, director of integrative medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. We know that adequate sleep, regular exercise, limiting alcohol consumption and not smoking are essential to good health, but what more can we do to improve our immune system?

  1. Choose the right type of probiotic. Probiotics are the helpful, good bacteria in our gut that keep us healthy and provide a number of health benefits. Many people know that probiotic supplementation can help maintain a strong immune system, but what you may not know is that different strains of probiotics treat different conditions. Not all probiotics are the same, so it’s important to find the right type. A supplement with various probiotic strains including a high(er) amount of Lactobacillus rhamnosus is beneficial for boosting immunity.
  2. How important is vitamin D? Researchers have found that people with adequate levels of vitamin D have reduced rates of infections, and when they do get sick, they tend to recover faster compared to those who are deficient. There have been various cross-sectional studies looking at vitamin D levels and rates of influenza as well as other infections including bacterial vaginosis and HIV. All have reported an association of lower vitamin D levels and increased rates of infection. One study found that among 800 military men in Finland, those with lower vitamin D levels took significantly more days from active duty to recover from upper respiratory infections than recruits with higher vitamin D levels (above 40nmol). kid2In Japan, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial compared vitamin D3 supplements (1200 IU/day) with placebo in school-aged children. Researchers found that the children receiving the sunshine vitamin had a 42% reduction in getting influenza A compared to those not receiving it. The study also found that the group not getting the vitamin D had six times more asthma attacks. “Vitamin D helps your body produce a protein called cathelicidin that fights bacteria and viruses,” says Carlos Camargo, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. In Dr. Yik’s practice, she finds that many adults and children in Hong Kong are deficient in vitamin D, regardless of how much sunshine they get. Before you start taking vitamin D supplements though, get your level checked so you can supplement at the correct dosage. Too much vitamin D puts you at a higher risk for kidney stones.
  3. woman5Are you deficient in micronutrients? Micronutrient deficiencies are associated with an impaired immune response and higher incidence of infection. Deficiencies can stem from reduced food intake (due to eating disorders, dieting, etc.), excessive consumption of junk/ processed food, an imbalanced diet or impaired/ weak digestion. Zinc, selenium, iron, vitamins A, C, D, E, B6 and folic acid in particular help the immune system work properly.  To ensure you are getting adequate micronutrients, eat whole foods with adequate protein, good fats and a variety of vegetables and fruits. Include immune-boosting foods such as garlic, onions, ginger, dark green vegetables, shiitake/ maitake/ reishi mushrooms and berries in your diet. If you suspect you are deficient in certain nutrients, talk to your doctor and get tested.
  4. Certain essential oils such as clove and eucalyptus have immune-enhancing and antimicrobial properties. Some choose to diffuse it while others use direct or indirect inhalation. For topical use, always read the labels carefully and seek a certified practitioner if unsure.
  5. doctor1Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands with soap after you use the toilet and before eating. Avoid touching your nose, mouth or face. Sneeze or cough into a tissue or sleeve (not your hands), or wear a mask when you are sick. Change into clean clothes when you return home.

If you are sick, seek medical attention. Dr. Ardyce Yik ND helps adults and children rebuild immunity, naturally. Click here to learn how she can help you achieve and maintain optimal health.