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How To Naturally Make Your Immune System Sic, Not Sick

Written by: Leslie Parran, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

It’s more important than ever to know how to naturally make your immune system sic, not sick. As your natural defense system, your immune system helps to protect you not only from infections but also from developing chronic disease. To a great extent, you can control your diet and lifestyle to keep your immune system humming. Having a sic (slang for awesome) immune system is key to your health. This means knowing how what aspects of diet and lifestyle influence your immune resilience so that your body can bounce back from an assault on your health. Implementing a healthy diet and lifestyle can help you avoid those pitfalls that can make your immune system sick.

When you succumb to poor diet and lifestyle habits, this can lead to loss of immune tolerance, or the ability of your body’s immune system to fight back. So, implementing specific health habits can promote immune resilience. The Institute for Functional Medicine provides many natural immune-boosting practices to keep your immune system healthy. As a functional practitioner, I believe that as individuals we can use these natural measures to help support our immune function.


Let’s start with Diet:

  • Eat an anti-inflammatory diet-An anti-inflammatory diet includes foods that do not promote inflammation, focusing on fresh fruits and vegetables.

    • Eliminate processed foods such as fast foods and boxed foods that contribute to inflammation.

    • Eat organic if possible.

  • Consider an Elimination Diet when you have signs of inflammation. An Elimination Diet helps to reduce inflammation by encouraging foods that do not cause inflammation and eliminating foods that do, allowing the gut to heal and inflammation to subside. This supports the immune system to return to normal function. You can test for food sensitivities or start with eliminating the most common triggers of inflammation.

    • Eliminate common triggers of inflammation which include sugar, dairy, wheat/gluten, soy, alcohol for at least several weeks. If you know that you are sensitive to any other foods, also eliminate these from your diet.

    • When re-introducing foods, introduce them slowly and wait ideally 3-4 days before introducing another food category, although many times after 1-2 days is okay. If any specific food results in symptoms, remove the food.

    • Track your response to foods by keeping a diet journal and noting any symptoms when re-introducing foods.

  • Eat the rainbow-Mixing up your fruits and veggies to add different colors helps to provide a balance of phytonutrients and vitamins. The rainbow diet is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory molecules that prevent inflammation and oxidative stress. Red foods are particularly helpful for decreasing inflammation and immune system function.[i] You can get some good resources from Dr. Deanna Minich here.

  • Add these foods that fight inflammation

    • Ginger-Ginger has many anti-inflammatory functions and has been used for centuries for its ability to reduce inflammation similar to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. [ii]

    • Citrus Fruit-Citrus is high in vitamin C, benefits the gut in several ways to maintain a healthy gut lining, regulate intestinal immune function, and shape a healthy microbiome.[iii]

    • Turmeric/Curcumin-Curcumin is the orange-yellow component of turmeric and is well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties, although it has significant activating modulatory effects on immune cells as well as the ability to downregulate pro-inflammatory cytokines. [iv]

    • Cruciferous vegetables-Cruciferous vegetables, also known as members of the Brassica family such as broccoli, kale, and cauliflower contain sulforaphane that helps reduce inflammation as well prevent cancer. These contain important polyphenols, antioxidants, carotenoids, as well as vitamins C and E to promote immune function.[v]

    • Eat raw honey -While you don’t want to consume too much sugar, raw honey contains bee propolis, anti-oxidants, and bee pollen. It has anti-microbial and anti-viral properties, meaning that it can fight germs. Bee propolis has been shown to have anti-viral and anti-inflammatory effects as well as the ability to regulate inflammation pathways. [vi]

    • GBOMBs-Dr. Joel Fuhrman, MD describes GBOMBs as Greens, Beans, Onions, Mushrooms, Berries, and Seeds. These help your body fight off illness because they are full of critical nutrients.

      • Greens such as broccoli, spinach, brussel sprouts, and kale are rich in phytonutrients your immune system loves. They are also high in antioxidants, like lutein and zeaxanthin. They contain folate which helps in antibody production to fight off infection.

      • Beans are full of fiber and resistant starch which help develop your gut microbiome. 75% of your immune system is in the gut, so it is helpful to have a healthy microbiome to keep your gut and immune system intact.

      • Onions, garlic, and leeks contain quercetin which has powerful anti-bacterial properties. They also have prebiotic fibers which feed beneficial bacteria in the large intestine.

      • Berries such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries are high in phytochemicals and vitamins to keep the immune system healthy. Blueberries contain pterostilbene with can lower inflammation and fight disease.

      • Seeds and nuts such as chia seeds, walnuts, and almonds contain fiber, micronutrients such as vitamin E, iron, zinc, and calcium. Zinc is particularly known for its role in immune function. Brazil nuts contain selenium, a key antioxidant.

    • Eat fermented foods-Fermented foods promote healthy gut bacteria to maintain a healthy gut microbiome to boost your immune system as well as provide other health benefits.[vii] Fermented foods decrease inflammatory markers as well as increase the diversity of microbes in the gut microbiome. [viii]

  • Take a good quality probiotic to keep your microbiome healthy and ready to fight infection. Probiotics help to regulate gut mucosal immunity through interactions with existing gut flora or potentially harmful pathogens, although the immunoregulatory mechanism of probiotics and its interaction with the gut microbiome is still not entirely understood.[ix]

  • Maintain a healthy weight as obesity is associated with a higher risk of chronic disease and decreased ability to fight infection. Obesity and metabolic syndrome affect immune function, disease progression, and vaccine efficacy. [x] Obesity is similar to other forms of malnutrition, known to impair immune function, altering white blood cell counts as well as cell-mediated immune responses, and shows even greater impact with central forms of obesity where fat accumulation is greatest in the abdominal area.[xi]

Next, let’s talk about Rest:

  • Get adequate sleep: This is somewhere between 7-9 hours per night. Too little sleep can increase inflammation, decrease immune function, and promote chronic disease development while adequate sleep can reduce inflammation and promote balanced immune function.[xii] Sleep disturbances disrupt a normal circadian rhythm, promote inflammatory markers, and disrupt hormonal balance, particularly cortisol and adrenaline.[xiii]

    • Make your bedroom a safe haven from electronics.

    • Practice calming night-time rituals such as meditation or warm baths.

    • Go to bed by 10 PM and have a consistent sleep schedule as possible.

    • Use devices such as the Oura Ring to help track and analyze your sleep and readiness for activity.

Dial-in the right amount of exercise: Light to moderate regular exercise protects against bacteria and viruses infections and enhances immune responses to pathogens and vaccines whereas too strenuous or no exercise increases the risk of infection and inflammatory markers.[xiv] Exercise provides anti-inflammatory support as well as stress relief, and as such can help improve outcomes from infectious disease.[xv]

  • Too little exercise-If you are too sedentary, while this is often referred to as the ‘new smoking’, this association may not be appropriate based on the differences in research and confusion for the public it can create.[xvi] However, it is important to understand that sitting and lack of exercise can result in inflammation, loss of muscle mass, promote the development of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension, which are potential risk factors for infection.[xvii]

  • Too much exercise-Strenuous exercise can raise your stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to increased blood sugar and stress. It can run your body down, especially if you are not recovering with adequate rest.

  • Just the right amount of exercise-This is essential to keep your body strong. Exercise helps your immune system by exerting direct anti-inflammatory effects particularly providing benefits for individuals with chronic disease. [xviii]

Stress Management is super-critical: Acute stress is different than chronic stress. Chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation and hormonal imbalance which increases the risks of infection and disease. Both aging and chronic stress affect hormonal and immune balance at the level of your tissues, cells, and even intracellular components.[xix]

  • Rate your stress level on a scale of 0 meaning no stress, to 10 meaning the worst stress possible. You can monitor your stress levels daily to see if you make any improvements by using some of the techniques below.

  • Manage your stress-There are many ways to manage stress including breathing techniques, meditation, mindfulness, Emotional Freedom Technique (Tapping), exercise, Qigong, Yoga, and others. Consciously working on managing your stress is important and pays off dividends for your ability to focus, reduce stress, and even improve your sleep.

  • Stress can be physical, environmental, or chemical too, and not just psychological.

    • To reduce chemical stress, it’s important to select products that are non-toxic and to avoid those with toxic chemicals which you can learn more about by visiting ewg.org.

    • Environmental stress can be managed with measures such as air filtration, water filtration, as well as noise management and temperature management.

    • Physical stress can be addressed with moderate exercise, proper body mechanics, and body alignment techniques.

Consider Supplementation: Key dietary components such as vitamins C, D, E, zinc, selenium and the omega 3 fatty acids have well-established immunomodulatory effects, with benefits in infectious disease.[xx]

  • Omega-3 supplementation with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – Can help to reduce inflammation along with a diet low in omega-6 fatty acids and an anti-inflammatory diet. [xxi]

  • Vitamin D3 – Most people are deficient in vitamin D which is supercritical to healthy immune function. Supplementation of vitamin D3, usually with the addition of vitamin K2 can be very helpful in boosting immunity. Of note, it is important to talk with your provider about consuming vitamin K if you are on anti-coagulants.

  • Vitamin C – This helps to prevent infection and is a natural anti-inflammatory. It also has been shown to reduce the duration of colds and viruses. Vitamin C helps in both innate and adaptive immunity.[xxii]

  • Vitamin A – This vitamin is usually recommended short term and for those who have a deficiency to boost their ability to fight infection. Vitamin A (and vitamin D) regulate the microbial complexity, intestinal barrier function, and mucosal immune responses to ensure intestinal balance (homeostasis).[xxiii]

  • Selenium – Selenium is an important trace mineral that functions to support immunity. Innate and adaptive immune responses against bacterial and parasitic infections rely on sufficient selenium for eliminating these pathogens. The benefits of supplementation against virus, bacteria, and other pathogens is not clear given in current research.[xxiv] However, foods such as Brazil nuts are high in selenium, and deficiency of selenium, at least in the United States is not common.[xxv]

When you are exposed to an infectious organism, it’s important to be prepared and in an as healthy state as possible. While implementing these tips won’t reliably prevent infection, it will help support your body’s immune system balance and response. A qualified functional practitioner can support you to implement appropriate measures based on your individualized needs. If you are interested in getting support to improve your health to maximize your immune system, you can contact me to get a free discovery call to learn more.

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Leslie Parran, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Leslie Parran is a leader in natural holistic healing from inflammation and pain. As a nurse for 40 years with advanced nursing certifications, Leslie helped patients with chronic diseases and pain. Now as a Board-Certified Functional Wellness Coach and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner with several other holistic and functional practitioner certifications, she helps active and motivated people with chronic inflammation and pain move from pain to peace so that they feel better, move better, and live better.


Leslie is the Owner and Champion Peacemaker of Peace x Piece Wellness Coaching. As a functional practitioner, she uses in-home lab testing to uncover hidden metabolic healing opportunities such as food sensitivities, hormonal imbalances, gut pathogens, and toxins that can sometimes, unknowingly, lead to inflammation, pain, and chronic health conditions. As a health coach, she uses positive psychology and personalized holistic healing protocols including diet, rest, exercise, stress management, and supplementation to help her clients make their bodies work the way they are supposed to and achieve their wellness goals.

 

References:

[i] Minich DM. A Review of the Science of Colorful, Plant-Based Food and Practical Strategies for "Eating the Rainbow" [published correction appears in J Nutr Metab. 2020 Nov 28;2020:5631762]. J Nutr Metab. 2019;2019:2125070. Published 2019 Jun 2. doi:10.1155/2019/2125070 [ii] Grzanna R, Lindmark L, Frondoza CG. Ginger--an herbal medicinal product with broad anti-inflammatory actions. J Med Food. 2005 Summer;8(2):125-32. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2005.8.125. PMID: 16117603. [iii] Wang M, Zhao H, Wen X, Ho CT, Li S. Citrus flavonoids and the intestinal barrier: Interactions and effects. Compr Rev Food Sci Food Saf. 2021 Jan;20(1):225-251. doi: 10.1111/1541-4337.12652. Epub 2020 Nov 10. PMID: 33443802. [iv] Jagetia GC, Aggarwal BB. "Spicing up" of the immune system by curcumin. J Clin Immunol. 2007 Jan;27(1):19-35. doi: 10.1007/s10875-006-9066-7. Epub 2007 Jan 9. PMID: 17211725. [v] Kapusta-Duch J, Kopeć A, Piatkowska E, Borczak B, Leszczyńska T. The beneficial effects of Brassica vegetables on human health. Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig. 2012;63(4):389-95. PMID: 23631258. [vi] Berretta AA, Silveira MAD, Cóndor Captcha JM, De Jong D. Propolis and its potential against SARS-CoV-2 infection mechanisms and COVID-19 disease: Running title: Propolis against SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19. Biomed Pharmacother. 2020 Nov;131:110622. doi: 10.1016/j.biopha.2020.110622. Epub 2020 Aug 17. PMID: 32890967; PMCID: PMC7430291. [vii] Şanlier N, Gökcen BB, Sezgin AC. Health benefits of fermented foods. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59(3):506-527. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2017.1383355. Epub 2017 Oct 20. PMID: 28945458. [viii] Wastyk HC, Fragiadakis GK, Perelman D, Sonnenburg ED, Gardner CD, Sonnenburg JL.Gut-microbiota-targeted diets modulate human immune status. Cell, 8 VOLUME 184, ISSUE 16, P4137-4153.E14, July 12, 2021. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2021.06.019. [ix] Zhang CX, Wang HY, Chen TX. Interactions between Intestinal Microflora/Probiotics and the Immune System. Biomed Res Int. 2019;2019:6764919. Published 2019 Nov 20. doi:10.1155/2019/6764919 [x] Andersen CJ, Murphy KE, Fernandez ML. Impact of Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome on Immunity. Adv Nutr. 2016 Jan 15;7(1):66-75. doi: 10.3945/an.115.010207. PMID: 26773015; PMCID: PMC4717890. [xi] de Heredia FP, Gómez-Martínez S, Marcos A. Obesity, inflammation and the immune system. Proc Nutr Soc. 2012 May;71(2):332-8. doi: 10.1017/S0029665112000092. Epub 2012 Mar 20. PMID: 22429824. [xii] Besedovsky L, Lange T, Haack M. The Sleep-Immune Crosstalk in Health and Disease. Physiol Rev. 2019 Jul 1;99(3):1325-1380. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00010.2018. PMID: 30920354; PMCID: PMC6689741. [xiii] Rico-Rosillo MG, Vega-Robledo GB. Sueño y sistema immune [Sleep and immune system]. Rev Alerg Mex. 2018 Apr-Jun;65(2):160-170. Spanish. doi: 10.29262/ram.v65i2.359. PMID: 29983013. [xiv] Scheffer DDL, Latini A. Exercise-induced immune system response: Anti-inflammatory status on peripheral and central organs. Biochim Biophys Acta Mol Basis Dis. 2020;1866(10):165823. doi:10.1016/j.bbadis.2020.165823 [xv] Filgueira TO, Castoldi A, Santos LER, et al. The Relevance of a Physical Active Lifestyle and Physical Fitness on Immune Defense: Mitigating Disease Burden, With Focus on COVID-19 Consequences. Front Immunol. 2021;12:587146. Published 2021 Feb 5. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2021.587146 [xvi] Vallance JK, Gardiner PA, Lynch BM, et al. Evaluating the Evidence on Sitting, Smoking, and Health: Is Sitting Really the New Smoking?. Am J Public Health. 2018;108(11):1478-1482. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2018.304649 [xvii] Martinez-Ferran M, de la Guía-Galipienso F, Sanchis-Gomar F, Pareja-Galeano H. Metabolic Impacts of Confinement during the COVID-19 Pandemic Due to Modified Diet and Physical Activity Habits. Nutrients. 2020 May 26;12(6):1549. doi: 10.3390/nu12061549. PMID: 32466598; PMCID: PMC735222 [xviii] Jesus I, Vanhee V, Deramaudt TB, Bonay M. Promising effects of exercise on the cardiovascular, metabolic and immune system during COVID-19 period. J Hum Hypertens. 2021;35(1):1-3. doi:10.1038/s41371-020-00416-0 [xix] Vitlic A, Lord JM, Phillips AC. Stress, ageing and their influence on functional, cellular and molecular aspects of the immune system. Age (Dordr). 2014;36(3):9631. doi:10.1007/s11357-014-9631-6 [xx] Shakoor H, Feehan J, Al Dhaheri AS, Ali HI, Platat C, Ismail LC, Apostolopoulos V, Stojanovska L. Immune-boosting role of vitamins D, C, E, zinc, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids: Could they help against COVID-19? Maturitas. 2021 Jan;143:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2020.08.003. Epub 2020 Aug 9. PMID: 33308613; PMCID: PMC7415215. [xxi] Sears B. Anti-inflammatory Diets. J Am Coll Nutr. 2015;34 Suppl 1:14-21. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2015.1080105. PMID: 26400429. [xxii] Carr AC, Maggini S. Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017 Nov 3;9(11):1211. doi: 10.3390/nu9111211. PMID: 29099763; PMCID: PMC5707683. [xxiii] Cantorna MT, Snyder L, Arora J. Vitamin A and vitamin D regulate the microbial complexity, barrier function, and the mucosal immune responses to ensure intestinal homeostasis. Crit Rev Biochem Mol Biol. 2019 Apr;54(2):184-192. doi: 10.1080/10409238.2019.1611734. Epub 2019 May 14. PMID: 31084433; PMCID: PMC6629036. [xxiv] Avery JC, Hoffmann PR. Selenium, Selenoproteins, and Immunity. Nutrients. 2018;10(9):1203. Published 2018 Sep 1. doi:10.3390/nu10091203 [xxv] Ock K. Chun, Anna Floegel, Sang-Jin Chung, Chin Eun Chung, Won O. Song, Sung I. Koo, Estimation of Antioxidant Intakes from Diet and Supplements in U.S. Adults, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 140, Issue 2, February 2010, Pages 317–324, https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.109.114413.

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