Here’s how to avoid becoming a statistic
I don’t know about you, but sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that we’ve been stuck in the grips of COVID-19 for a full year now.
Even with significant strides on the road to recovery, we’re all still suffering the blow of this global health crisis. And stress levels continue to climb. Not just from fears of infection… but from employment struggles and prolonged social isolation, too.
The truth is, this pandemic has introduced a level of trauma into daily life that many of us have never encountered before. And the greatest irony is that, according to some concerning new research, this stress could be the very thing that puts you directly in the virus’s crosshairs.
Higher cortisol nearly doubles death risk
In a study published this past summer, U.K. researchers found that COVID-19 patients admitted to the hospital with high levels of the stress hormone cortisol also face a greater risk of dying.1
These researchers looked at patients admitted to three London hospitals at the height of the pandemic, between early March and late April of last year. All patients received standard blood tests—including serum cortisol levels.
During the study period, some troubling trends emerged:
- Average cortisol levels were significantly higher in COVID-positive patients—coming in at 619 nmol/L versus 519 nmol/L. (For reference, healthy, resting cortisol levels fall between 100 to 200 nmol/L—and they dip nearly to zero when you’re asleep, rising again once you wake.)
- Higher cortisol concentrations skyrocketed death risk among COVID-19 patients—by a whopping 42 percent. (Ultimately, patients with baseline cortisol levels greater than 744 nmol/L had a median survival time of just over two weeks. While those admitted to the hospital with lower cortisol levels had a median survival of 36 days.)
So I think it’s safe to say that stress-reduction—in the wake of this ongoing pandemic—is critical to good health.
Train your body to “adapt”
I’ve talked quite a bit about various strategies for stress reduction—most recently in the January 2021 issue.
And some of the most basic steps to rein in stress involve safely staying connected with friends and family, exercising regularly, getting plenty of high-quality sleep, and adopting a pet.
But since this research specifically focused on cortisol levels, I want to highlight one more recommendation in particular: Withania somnifera, or ashwagandha.
This herb is an adaptogen which, as the term suggests, helps your body adapt to stressors by supporting the adrenal glands. And if you only take one supplement in your fight against chronic pandemic stress, in my view, ashwagandha should top the list.
In fact, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials show that taking 600 mg of ashwagandha for just 60 days could cut depression and anxiety scores by as much as 72 percent. And it could slash cortisol levels by nearly 28 percent.2
Plus, additional studies support ashwagandha as a natural immune modulator and anti-inflammatory, too.3 (Which could prove beneficial against COVID-19, as this latest research shows, as well as in your fight against cancer, as I discuss on page 1.)
And honestly, as we continue feeling the burden of COVID-19, we could all stand to benefit from the extra support ashwagandha has to offer. I recommend 150 mg of ashwagandha, three times per day.
SIDEBAR: Enhance your lifestyle, improve your mood
While adaptogens like ashwagandha can lend a helping hand in times of stress, I always encourage you to adopt a healthy lifestyle as well. Here are three simple lifestyle tips that can help you cope:
1.) Get a good night’s sleep. Healthy sleep helps keep stress and inflammation at bay and, as a result, reduces your risk of chronic disease and infection. I always recommend getting seven to nine hours of quality shuteye each night. To help maximize your sleep, reduce your exposure to blue light (particularly from TV, smart phones, and computers); keep your room completely dark; and wear ear plugs to help drown out any external noise.
2.) Stay active and engage your mind. Consistent exercise is one of the most effective, drug-free ways to combat stress. It triggers the release of feel-good endorphins that kill pain, bust tension, elevate your mood, and offer a sense of calm. And your immune system will benefit, to boot. As always, I recommend getting 2.5 hours of exercise per week. I also encourage engaging in mind-body therapies like yoga, tai chi, qi gong, and meditation. In fact, simply breathing deeply is powerful enough to calm your nervous system.
3.) Unplug and get outdoors. Research has linked daily “doom-scrolling” to rates of depression.4 But the good news is, new research shows unplugging and simply getting outdoors could make you happier, even in the midst of COVID-19 restrictions.5 So, with spring in full bloom, perhaps it’s time to break up with your electronic devices for a while and start a new love affair with the great outdoors. Your mental health will thank you for it!
- Tan T, et al. “Association between high serum total cortisol concentrations and mortality from COVID-19.” Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2020 Aug;8(8):659-660.
- “A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of Ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults.” Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62.
- “Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review.” Altern Med Rev. 2000 Aug;5(4):334-46.
- “Social media use linked with depression, secondary trauma during COVID-19.” Science Daily, 09/29/2020. (sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/09/200929152149.htm)
- “Heading outdoors keeps lockdown blues at bay: Study finds time spent outdoors is associated with higher levels of happiness.” Science Daily, 01/08/2021. (sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/01/210108084121.htm)