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The Employee Wellness Programme (EWP) at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) hosted a webinar on Holistic Strategies to Boost Your Immune System, to assist the DUT community to focus on individualised care in a more integrative patient centric approach, on Microsoft Teams, recently.  

Welcoming the DUT staff, EWP Manager, Samantha Rajcoomar said: “Our specialist, Claudette Jordan, will be unpacking this emerging healthcare model which explores the different, modifiable lifestyle factors which has the potential to improve our overall immune function. As we know, we all are very different, both genetically and biochemically. So, functional medicine takes a personalised approach in treating the patient and not the disease. And with the spread of COVID-19, this integrative approach has the potential to boost our immunity and at times maybe optimise our recovery. Claudette Jordan is no stranger to DUT, she is a certified functional medicine health coach and psychologist. She is indeed a behaviour change agent, who will provide us with holistic strategies to boost our immune system,” she said. 

Jordan gave useful tips to boost one’s immune system. “So, basically we have been in this climate for over a year now, being feeling so at loss, a lot of our general coping mechanisms have been stripped of us, and many people have been left feeling quite afraid and anxious. I think many people can still feel very disempowered with regards to their health. The question on everybody’s mind is am I at the mercy of this virus or at the mercy of this vaccine which could possibly help me endure the virus. So the topic is not whether you should or should not take the vaccine but that is left to each individual to research and gather your facts and make a decision on your own. What this workshop aims to do is help you to see that you are not just at the mercy of being infected or putting hope in a single intervention like the vaccine, but there is a lot that we can do as individuals to strengthen our immune system, so that firstly we reduce the rate of being infected. Secondly, that if in the chance of that we are infected, the course or the consequences of how infection can be minimised, and the long term consequences is that we are starting to see many people suffering from, that even post-COVID, their systems are still suffering tremendously,” she said.  

She indicated that even if one chooses to take a vaccine, one’s body should be in the best possible condition to be able to make sure that that vaccine works for one and that one is not in any risk for any potential side-effects or ill-effects from the vaccine. 

She further relayed that there is a lot that everyone can do, saying  that the thinking behind functional medicine is not just at looking at teaching symptoms but to get to the root cause of the persons’ health and well-being, and help people understand treating anything that one experiences, be it emotional, physical, and a sociological concern that one has, involves looking at one’s self as a whole person and helping to see that everything that one goes through as individuals is impacted by all aspects of ourselves. 

“What we eat how we move, how we manage our stress, how we sleep and even the quality of our connections, our social interactions with other people. All the information I am going to share with you is based on scientific research, and based on information that has been collated and gathered,” she said. 

Jordan conveyed that the information is simple, everyday language to understand, sharing a very basic understanding of what the immune system is. 

“When we are functioning our bodies function optimally, our immune system is in a very delicate balance and that balance is needed to be maintained and is very, very susceptible to threats at any time. So when we are facing any injury or any threat our immune system triggers a response to be able to deal with that threat,” she said. 

She explained that the first way of lifestyle adjustment is through nutrition which plays a vital role in helping the immune system fight infection.

“Poor nutrition can damage the gut microbiome, food insentivities can cause damage to the walls of the digestive tract. Also, a poor or inadequate diet can impair our bodies causing pre-existing inflammation which makes us more prone to infection as the body’s immune system is already burdened,” she stressed. 

Jordan further communicated about the things that can be quite inflammatory in one’s diet, saying that the Western diet is quite damaging to one’s immune system and creates inflammation and burden. 

“Inflammatory dietary patterns have been identified as one of one that is high in sugar, salt, refined grains, trans fats, processed meat, alcohol, coffee, pesticides, hormones and toxins,” she said. 

Jordan stressed one should avoid foods that provoke inflammation. 

“Increase foods with known anti-inflammatory effects may be beneficial. These include plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes, which contain phytonutrients to have anti-inflammatory effects such as polyphenols and flavonoids,” she said. 

She emphasised that foods rich in antioxidants are spices/herbs, nuts/seeds, raw cocoa (dark chocolate) and vegetables, are foods to consider including in one’s diet. Jordan spoke on the role of fermented foods such as yoghurt and sauerkraut which are good to nourish the gut microbiome. “What is key for immunity is not just ensuring the intake of plant-based foods in the diet but getting a diverse blend of plant compounds for the gut microbiome. Our exposure to plant varieties has significantly decreased over time,” she said. 

Jordan indicated that food preparation measures can also put stress on the immune system. She said it is best to cook foods at lower temperatures, using moist methods of food preparation rather than dry. 

“Be intentional about what you eat. Reduce offenders such as added sugars and salt, high-glycaemic foods and excessive saturated fat. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Aim for 9 to 13 servings per day of variety of types for a wide array of phytonutrients to enhance the gut microbiome. Consume dietary fibre, a minimum of 28-35 grams daily, preferably from whole foods. Eat fermented vegetables or other probiotic-containing foods to maintain epithelial health and gut barrier function,” she said. 

She said that besides eating healthily, one has to also learn to manage one’s stress, which is a vital aspect. “Stress responses increase strain upon circulatory system due to increased heart rate, and have an effect on the digestive system inhibiting digestion,” she said. 

Jordan said it was vital to practice mindfulness for just 10 to 15 minutes three or four times weekly which can lower one’s stress, reducing one’s cortisol levels and reducing inflammation. She said that research has shown that deep breathing, stretching, can help to lower stress hormone levels and calms one’s whole nervous system down. 

Jordan also delved into the importance of sleep, saying that less than seven hours of sleep a night on a regular basis, will have negative effects, creating a fight or flight state, with increased stress hormones and the release of adrenaline. She said that improving one’s sleep starts by focusing on one’s habit, routine and practicing sleep hygiene. 

Jordan said exercise also benefits one’s immune system in many ways, increasing blood flow, improving lymph drainage and eliminating toxins, to name but a few. 

“There is more and more research coming out that shows our connections, our relationships with people that matter to us are so important to our immunity,” she said. 

Rajcoomar thanked Jordan for her insightful presentation. “Remember to listen to your body and give it what it needs and I’m sure this will improve our longevity, and for me, from the talk I realised our lifestyle choices is key,” she said. 

The session concluded with a question and answer session and with many workshop attendees having a better understanding of holistic ways to boost one’s immune system.  

Pictured: Health coach and psychologist Claudette Jordan. 

Waheeda Peters 

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