Never has it felt more important to understand—and actually put into practice—the fundamental ways we can take care of our bodies and maintain our overall wellbeing. But with what seems like an overwhelming amount of wellness advice available online right now, it can be difficult to know where to start. To help us focus our energy on the most impactful areas, we asked Megan Kingdon, NP-C / WHNP-BC, owner and medical director at Charlottesville, Virginia’s Well Room, for advice on how we can build a strong foundation of health and boost our immune systems. Here, she breaks down the basics.
Remember to rest. You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: sleeping, resting, slowing down, and bringing mindfulness to whatever activity you’re doing has wonderful health benefits. “This turns off your sympathetic nervous system so your body can build resilience and reduce the surge of stress hormones churning out from the lifestyles we lead,” Kingdon shares. “Our constant bombardment with microstressors—from work, kids, traffic, deadlines, our phones —burns us out.” She explains that the cumulative effect is chronic inflammation and adrenal exhaustion, which shows up in many ways, including poor sleep, digestion, exhaustion, illness, depression, anxiety, and skin issues.
Maintain a healthy gut. A healthy gut is one that is populated by diverse strains of bacteria called probiotics that maintain the balance of your entire body, allowing the enteric nervous system (ENS), to function well. “The ENS is made up of neurons and neurotransmitters that line our gastrointestinal track and communicate with our brain,” Kingdon explains. Serotonin and gaba, our feel-good and calming neurotransmitters, have more receptors in our gut than our brain. “So, improving gut health helps improve mood, mental clarity, immunity, blood sugar, and hormone balance.” Additionally, our immune system is right on the other side of our gut barrier, with a one-cell-thick membrane between, so maintaining the integrity of that barrier is critical.
How do we do this? Kingdon says that gut health is as much about avoiding irritants as it is about eating well. Irritants fall into the categories of processed foods, sugars, and white foods (i.e., white bread, potatoes, white rice), which cause dysbiosis, an overgrowth or imbalance of colonies of bacteria inside the gut. Eating a diet with a rich variety of fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, and taking a good probiotic daily, maintains good gut health. In addition, Kingdon recommends including pre-biotics in your diet to feed the growth of the good probiotic population. This basically means eating lots of fiber through vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruit and legumes. For her own personal regimen, Kingdon eats some fermented foods, lots of vegetables, and includes a fiber supplement in her smoothies.
Pay attention to plant medicine. While the concept of healing our bodies with nature is as old as time, it has made a big comeback in recent years. “This concept doesn’t have to be complicated,” she explains. “It can be as simple as including lemon in your morning water, using fresh ginger and turmeric in cooking, or growing a few pots of herbs and greens on your doorstep or windowsill to throw into soups, stir fries, smoothies, and salad dressings.” Fresh herbs and greens are loaded with phytonutrients and can be powerful support for health and detoxification.
Take your immune system to the next level. If you do all of the above, you’re off to a good start. But if you’re interested in giving your immune system an extra boost, Kingdon offers the following suggestions.
- Discover the power of medicinal mushrooms. These are immune modulators that activate and regulate our immune system. According to Kingdon, they’re helpful for immune health, brain function, memory, mood, skin and gut health, and for energy use in the body. Kingdon is a big fan of formulations that have synergistic combinations of mushrooms and herbs; her current favorite is Anima Mundi Soma Elixir, which includes seven different mushrooms that are known to enhance immunity.
- Add extra greens to your diet. In addition to the usual suspects of salad greens and herbs, this recommendation specifically speaks to powdered formulations that include greens like spirulina, chlorella, and moringa—veritable powerhouses of nutrition from A to Zinc. Kingdon likes to add them to salad dressings, pesto, or smoothies. Be sure the greens you choose are certified clean—the standouts that Kindgon offers at the Well Room and personally relies on include Sun Potion Chlorella Powder, Liver Vitality Daily Green Detox by Anima Mundi, and Super Greens by Wooden Spoon Herbs.
- Treat stress and anxiety. Your stress level and immunity are closely linked. If you need help managing stress and anxiety, Kingdon recommends that you consider incorporating a full-spectrum CBD oil into your day, or a tincture like Anxiety Ally by Wooden Spoons, which is made of nervine herbs to quiet anxiety and create calm.
- Incorporate simple wellness rituals. Don’t discount the inclusion of simple rituals and morning movement into your daily routine, Kingdon says. These serve as a sort of ritual of gratitude for your mind and spirit, which is also a tonic for your immune system. She suggests trying 10 minutes of dry brushing for lymphatic stimulation and releasing stagnant energy, or taking a few minutes to breathe and stretch or meditate before you look at your phone or the news. “Try not to overcomplicate it or make it perfect, simply start folding in small rituals and nutritives to enhance your immunity and bring some peace during this time of much uncertainty and many unknowns.”