10 Baby Steps to Beat Autoimmune and Prevent Worse COVID-19 Outcomes

“Little hinges swing big doors.”

– W. Clement Stone

Life is hard. Having an autoimmune condition can make it harder. Dealing with the stress, isolation, and continued uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic can make a bad situation worse.

While this may be arguably the best time to prioritize your health and wellbeing, it can feel overwhelming to even contemplate. Who wants to add more potential stress right now?

I get it. I spend my days serving clients and a growing community of people seeking to beat autoimmune disorders. While some self-starters take my book, Beat Autoimmune and run with it, people often ask whether a baby steps approach is okay.

Baby steps are just fine. As you take one small step forward in the direction of your goals, you’re on the right track. As you start to feel a little better with one step, you may feel motivated to take another, and then another. Before you know it, you’ve built some momentum with healthy habits that you can’t imagine stopping. That’s the brilliance of a baby step strategy; you ease into healthy habits, giving yourself ample time to have them stick. Over time those habits can really stack up.

Bottom line: Baby steps are fine as long as you keep moving forward.

The ten science-based strategies below are foundational ways I keep autoimmunity at bay and prevent worse outcomes of COVID-19. Don’t let their simplicity fool you. It turns out that small healthy habits compound like the best interest, creating a beneficial upward spiral that will pay you dividends over time. My hope is that you might find one or two things that you can do right away. Good news that each is simple, pretty quick, and mostly free.

10 baby steps to beat autoimmune and prevent worse outcomes of COVID-19:

Get your D levels up

Doctors and scientists are observing that people with the lowest vitamin D levels fare the worst with COVID-19. Supplementing with vitamin D3 (and K2 to ensure calcium gets into your bones and not your arteries) is an easy way to fill up your immune system reserves and protect against autoimmunity and viral threats. Experts argue about optimal levels. Know your levels through a simple blood test, and at a minimum get yours over 60. Personally I get my D levels tested twice a year and optimize my level to 70 – 100 ng/ml, both with sun exposure and also with Metagenics 10K IU D3 plus K2 or 5 – 10K IU Quicksilver Scientific Liposomal D3 + K2.

Load up on vitamin C

More than 148 studies show that Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) may prevent and alleviate infections caused by viruses, bacteria, and protozoa. Take 2,000–5,000 mg [ideally corn-free] vitamin C per day in divided doses, with or without food. The only downside of vitamin C is loose stools (“bowel tolerance”) which might be a bonus for people who are constipated. I personally take both the liposomal form from Quicksilver Scientific and several capsules of corn-free vitamin C from Ecological Formulas. Both forms are currently available in my Fullscript supplement dispensary for 15% off.

Stop eating inflammatory foods

Gluten creates a leaky gut in anyone who eats it; 1and a leaky gut is the fast path to autoimmunity. Most people who are sensitive to gluten are also sensitive to casein, the protein in animal dairy. In addition to promoting obesity and diabetes — both risk factors for autoimmunity and COVID-19 — sugar and processed foods block the immune system from functioning for up to 5 hours after eating it. 2

Shorten your eating window

Intermittent fasting, also known as “time restricted feeding,” reduces inflammation, strengthens the gut barrier, and helps you move from being a sugar burner to a more metabolically beneficial fat burner. Beyond metabolic benefits, fasting has been shown to rejuvenate the immune system through a process called autophagy, which clears out old, “senolytic” (damaged) cells, making way for new, more robust immune cells. I usually stop eating by 6 pm and don’t eat anything until 10 am or later for a 16 hour fast, also known as 16:8, for the 8 hour eating window. A couple days per week I extend the fast by skipping dinner; and one or two days I don’t fast at all to make sure my body knows I’m not starving.

Get more sleep

Research is clear that sleep deprivation, defined as 6 or fewer hours a night, negatively impacts gene expression and makes you more vulnerable to infections. 3 4 If you have an autoimmune disorder you likely need 8 or more hours. Do what you can to get in bed a little earlier, like moving dinner up an hour to give yourself a 3-hour buffer between dinner and bed. Those precious hours between 10 pm and 2 am are when your brain’s glymphatic system takes out the trash and you benefit from more deep sleep.

Move throughout the day

A review of eighteen studies found that those who sat for the longest periods of time were twice as likely to have diabetes or heart disease and had a greater risk of death compared to those who sat the least. Moderate daily exercise, like twenty to forty minutes of walking most days, reduces body-wide inflammation, and incidence of upper-respiratory illness. Because sitting for two hours can undo twenty minutes of exercise benefits, if you are able, make sure you stand and move throughout the day.

Meditate — even a little

Science is resounding that meditation decreases stress, anxiety, depression, increases resilience and empathy, and increases the size of your brain!5 etc. Meditation sounds more daunting than it is. Just find a quiet place, sit comfortably, close your eyes, and follow your breath in and out for 5 minutes. Thoughts will arise, let them pass like clouds. Come back to your breath, in and out. Don’t think you have five minutes to sit? Start with one.

Prioritize joy

Our minds’ default state is biased to the negative. We tend to ruminate, worry, and criticize ourselves harshly. To counter this downward spiral default mode, make a list of things that nourish you and bring you joy. Pick things that are easy to do like taking a soothing bath with essential oils, listening to your favorite music, dancing like no one’s watching, reading a good book, doing a creative project, going for a walk, or just being in nature, watching funny videos, or better yet, laughing with a good friend. Laughing causes a release of feel-good endorphins, which also relieve pain and may improve immune function.

Be grateful

Studies show that practicing gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects, including improving immune function, heart health, and sleep. Gratitude creates a self-reinforcing upward spiral: when you find things to be grateful for you become more grateful. Consider starting a gratitude journal and adding to it each night before bed. Don’t feel like you have much to be grateful for? Start by being grateful for the smallest things. Over time you may notice that those small things become bigger and you may feel better and sleep better.

Stay connected

A landmark study shows that lack of social connection is worse for your health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure.6 On the other hand, strong social connection strengthens your immune system, helps you recover from illness faster, and may even lengthen your life! If COVID has you alone or feeling alone, it’s profoundly important to your health and wellbeing to reach out and connect with people. Who can you reach out to today? And, if you’re feeling connected, who might benefit from hearing from you?

Which strategy resonates with you? The one(s) that works will be the one(s) you actually do. Don’t worry about doing it all at once. Just pick one. Already doing several? Pick one more. So what will you do for yourself today? Go for a walk in nature? Eat dinner a little earlier? Order that D3 with K2? Call someone who would love to hear from you?

As you take one simple step in the direction of better health, take comfort in knowing that you’re also proactively preventing worse effects of COVID-19.

You can do this. Baby steps are fine, as long as you keep moving forward.

Take good care!

P.S: Want my help reversing an autoimmune condition?

If you live the U.S. and are ready, willing, and able to invest in your best health, I offer Functional Medicine Total Health Transformation Programs over Zoom. I collaborate with a naturopath who is an expert in resolving chronic infections and toxic burdens which are almost always part of the autoimmune puzzle. Together we provide comprehensive, customized treatment plans, and collaborative, caring support. Sign up for a complimentary 15 min discovery call to discuss your goals and how we might work together. If you’re truly ready to invest in your best health and life, I’d love to work with you.
Image Credit: nic-co-uk
1 Effect of Gliadin on Permeability of Intestinal Biopsy Explants from Celiac Disease Patients and Patients with Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, Hollon, J. et. al., Nutrients. 2015 Mar; 7(3): 1565–1576, Reference
2 Sanchez, A., et al.; Role of Sugars in Human Neutrophilic Phagocytosis; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; Nov 1973; 261:1180-1184; Reference
3 Asif N, Iqbal R, Nazir CF. Human immune system during sleep. Am J Clin Exp Immunol. 2017;6(6):92–96. Published 2017 Dec 20 Reference
4 Effects of insufficient sleep on circadian rhythmicity and expression amplitude of the human blood transcriptome; Möller-Levet, Carla S., et al.; Reference
5 Benefits of Meditation: 10 Science-Based Reasons To Start Meditating Today INFOGRAPHIC, Emma Seppala, Ph.D, Reference
6 Social relationships and health, BY JS HOUSE, KR LANDIS, D UMBERSON, SCIENCE29 JUL 1988 : 540-545




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Palmer is a certified Functional Medicine Health Coach who has helped thousands of people reverse autoimmune conditions based on her own two-decade battle to successfully beat multiple sclerosis (MS). She’s the author of the Amazon #1 bestselling book, Beat Autoimmune, which has a powerful foreword by Functional Medicine pioneer, Mark Hyman, MD.

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