Build Immunity—Prevent Infections
We’d all like to be one of those who DOES NOT come down with what goes around the office or school, even if it is the common cold. There is nothing wrong with the conventional wisdom to wash your hands frequently, don’t pick your nose unless your fingers are clean, cough into your sleeve, and stay home if you are sick. But all that is not enough. We have to build our internal defenses.
Our immune system is our internal army. It silently protects us every minute of every day by killing and cleaning up cells that start to divide and multiply out of control and could lead to cancer. It’s also our garbage collector that removes toxic substances. Our weapons are not only the immune cells in the blood stream (e.g. the T-cells, B-cells and Killer cells we hear about), but also our lymphatic system. Surprisingly, 70% or more of our immune system is in the intestinal tract! That is one reason why friendly bacteria are so critical. A healthy thyroid gland is also important to proper immune function and many people are unaware that theirs is functioning below normal. Take the Thyroid Quiz for clues to whether or not you might be able to improve this aspect of immunity.
Some basics to keep it humming (and help it get you back to normal during illness). Although, as far as I know, I have never had the flu, once in a blue moon I did get a cold. It was when I disobeyed some of the prevention steps below. It might happen when I’d had a couple of very stressful weeks with inadequate sleep, become dehydrated and worst of all given into cravings for junk comfort food. Traveling seemed a major weak point and the cycle stopped a year and a half ago when I started paying attention more attention to the rules. (Airplanes are fertile bacteria and virus farms. We must resist the temptation to remove those dry airplane boogers until our fingers are thoroughly cleaned.) Be prepared in advance with a remedy kit in case you (or a family member) get sick in spite of your best efforts.
- Sleep – We repair and build strength when we sleep. Sleep deprivation is a stressor that lowers immunity. If you have trouble falling asleep I recommend trying a natural sleep aid such as the homeopathic Sleep Aid by KingBio before asking for a prescription for one of prescription drugs that have scary side effects.
- Relax. Stress depletes important disease-fighting nutrients such as magnesium, zinc and vitamin A. Make sure you replace those.
- Drink adequate water – Drinking plenty of water allows all systems to run more efficiently and helps flush toxins. Of course, we are much better off if we drink clean water because toxins lower immune function.
- Maintain good stomach acid levels – Your stomach acid is a first line of defense against pathogens. So, for goodness sake don’t block production of it with heartburn drugs because that is proven to put you at risk for pneumonia. (If you have heartburn or acid reflux, please read my book.)
- Low thyroid function interferes with immune function. Read more.
Eat to build immune function: Real food (especially vegetables) builds immune strength. Spices are also protective. In contrast, it is documented that sugar intake paralyzes immune function for several hours and high blood sugar (especially in women) reduces immune protection. Starch (e.g. flour) almost immediately turns into sugar. The sugar-fest that starts at Halloween and continues through Valentine’s Day may well be part of our seasonal colds and flu problem.
- Vitamin D – This hormone-like vitamin is made by our skin but most of us do not get enough sun exposure, especially through the winter. (Hmmm…think that’s at least part of the reason it is known as the “colds and flu season”?) Food that provide at least some vitamin D are: fish, egg yolks, certain dairy products and specific mushrooms. Foods are often fortified with Vitamin D2 which is not very useful (or even counterproductive) because what we want is D3. In any case, it is hard to get enough D from food. Ideally get tested and make sure your Vitamin D blood levels are in the optimum range perhaps at 50 rather that the “normal” listed which is around 30.
- Probiotics – As noted above, the majority of our immune system is in the intestinal tract and that relies in large part on the part of our team made up of trillions of friendly bacteria. Fermented foods such as the sauerkraut in the refrigerated section of the health food store contain probiotics, but most others are pasteurized. The modern day threats to our probiotics make supplementation a virtual necessity. Read more.
- Omega 3 – These fatty acids found in fish, grass-fed beef and eggs (from chickens fed an omega 3 enhanced diet) help the immune system. Grandma routinely dispensed cod liver oil for good reason-it contains omega-3, vitamin D and vitamin A. (Of course, as I outline in Fat Free Folly, omega-3’s also have health benefits for the heart, brain and eyes, etc.).
- Vitamin C – This is probably the first and likely the only nutrient the average person thinks of in connection to immunity. Citrus fruit is a well-known source. However, I suggest eating the orange or grapefruit rather than drinking the juice because, with the whole food, you obtain flavonoids and fiber and avoid the blood sugar spike and calories that come with the juice. Potatoes are a also a source of Vitamin C, but the C is destroyed by heat in making chips or fries. Tomatoes provide Vitamin C but, catsup is loaded with immune-suppressing sugar. Other food sources include strawberries, broccoli, green & red peppers, cantaloupe and cabbage. Choose supplements that contain bioflavonoids.
- Minerals – Zinc improves immune function. Sources include oysters, crab, beans, nuts, whole grains and red meat. Magnesium is critical to immune function and hundreds of other reactions in the body. (As much as 70% of the population is low in magnesium.) Dark green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts seafood, figs, and apples are rich in magnesium.
- Vitamin A – This often overlooked nutrient is especially important for immune function (as well as avoiding autoimmune reactions) and the health of the mucous membranes (like sinuses, throat, lungs and intestines) where viruses and bacteria often take up residence. We should eat lots of colorful vegetables because, among other things, they contain carotenes which we can convert into Vitamin A. (carrots do not contain vitamin A per se.) Not everyone is good at making the conversion from carotene to A and this conversion slows further during stressful periods and if there are deficiencies of other nutrients.
- Garlic – Spices in general are useful, but garlic is a superstar. When the plague hit during the Middle Ages, people who protected themselves with garlic were more likely to survive. Modern science confirms the immune benefits of what is called the “stinking rose”. Aged garlic extract (made only by our sponsor, Kyolic) has been shown beneficial for a wide range of health issues. This study talks looks at its effect on influenza. The Kyolic liquid is an economical way to supplement aged garlic extract. You can even add it to protein drinks because the aging takes away the garlic flavor and smell as well as creating new highly beneficial substances.
- Echinacea – Read about this time-honored herb in the Colds and Flu – Remedy KIT
Copyright 2014 by Martie Whittekin, CCN