Category Archives: Immunity

Corona – Reducing your Exposure AND Susceptibility

All of the advice we’re hearing about social distancing, washing hands, and disinfecting, is to reduce exposure to the Corona virus. Hopefully these important measures will slow down the infection rate. But there is an equally important aspect that needs to be emphasized more…

We need to start taking better care of our immune system to reduce our susceptibility to Corona virus, as well as Lyme disease, Lyme coinfections, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, the flu, etc.

We can’t avoid every microbe, even if we sit alone in our houses for a year. So, we really need to keep our immune system healthy and balanced so we aren’t as susceptible to the ravages of these infectious diseases, as well as things like cancer and autoimmunity.

Louis Pasteur, the father of germ theory, concluded that, “The microbe is nothing. The terrain is everything!” He was referring to whether our inner tissues are hospitable to microbes or not. Is our immune system nourished and balanced or suppressed and depressed?

If you were to design a diet and lifestyle that would decimate the immune system, it would be the Standard American Diet and Lifestyle! As a society, we are sleep deprived, stressed out, toxic, sedentary, and eating nutrient poor food. The fact that we’ve survived this long is a testament to our incredibly intelligent immune system and biochemistry. Your body is doing the very best it can, within the environment you’re asking it to live.

Let’s improve that environment to the extent we can, so that we can better weather current and future health threats. As a bonus, because everything in the body is interconnected, an immune supportive lifestyle and diet is also a boon to our overall health.

Below are key recommendations to support your immune system. Although numerous research papers and books have been written on these topics, I will do my best to summarize action steps that you can take right away.

Prioritize Sleep

• Your immune system and general wellbeing depend on regular, excellent quality sleep.
• Aim to go to bed around 10 PM and wake up with the sun. Being a night owl (self imposed night shift work) suppresses your immune system.
• Practice good sleep hygiene by avoiding screens (TV, phones, and tablets) an hour or two before bed and remove all ambient light while sleeping. This will help to maximize melatonin, your primary sleep hormone and potent internal antioxidant.
• Create a relaxing bedtime routine. This isn’t just for kids!
• If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, try the heavy blanket! It’s like swaddling a baby – except you’re the baby. The gentle, constant compression activates your parasympathetic nervous system (known as the rest and digest nervous system), which helps you to relax and sleep like a baby.
• Magnesium is known as the relaxation mineral. Low magnesium may make it harder for you to relax enough to fall asleep. Magnesium is one of the top three deficiencies in the US. Get more magnesium by eating more leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and legumes. If you opt to supplement, magnesium threonate or magnesium taurate are more relaxing options that increase the action of GABA in the brain.

Reduce stress

• When you’re stressed, your body de-prioritizes immunity because getting over a cold is way less important than escaping from a tiger. Deadlines, relationship stress, financial worries, etc might not feel like being chased by a tiger in your mind, but your body experiences it that way. There’s enough evidence about the negative impact of stress on our whole body. Now is the time to become aware of your stressors and do something about it. Yoga, meditation, exercise, breathwork, and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction are all effective strategies. Choose one that resonates with you.

Optimize immune nutrients

• Yes vitamin C is good for your immune system, but it also needs vitamins A, vitamin D, zinc, and protein.
• Start your day with fresh lemon juice in water for vitamin C with all of its cofactors. Oranges, red peppers, broccoli, kiwi are also great sources of vitamin C and other nutrients.
• With sunnier days coming, get out in the sun without sunscreen for 20 minutes so your body can produce vitamin D. If that’s not possible, supplement with D3 drops.
• Eat your darkly colored veggies for beta carotene (which gets converted to A).
• Snack on pumpkin seeds for zinc (these are a great option because they’re sprouted, and therefore more digestible and nutritious).
• Most people get ample protein, but you may want to double check that you’re getting at least 45-55 grams per day from varied sources. If not, plant based protein powder in your smoothie can easily and tastily fill in the gap. (Lately I’ve been liking Orgain best.)

Other dietary considerations

• Some foods we eat are a constant challenge to the immune system, making it less able to fight actual threats.
• A high sugar meal suppresses the immune system for hours… Just in time for your next obscenely decadent latte or snack. If you think about it, most Americans are immune suppressed all day long due to regular sugar spikes.
• The chemicals in pesticides hamper the cellular metabolism of all cells, including immune cells, by multiple mechanisms. Choosing organic foods whenever possible reduces this toxic burden.
• Subclinical food allergies and sensitivities are rampant, and result in chronic activation and depletion of the immune system. The top two food sensitivities are gluten and dairy. For most people, avoiding them helps the immune system stay balanced, which not only makes it more effective in fighting microbes, but also helps reduce the inappropriate immune reactions such as allergy and autoimmunity. There are many delicious dairy alternatives out there now for milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, and even ice cream. Switching from wheat to naturally gluten free grains like rice and quinoa has many benefits.
• Dairy causes most people to produce more mucous, which then provides a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses.
• Garlic, onion, and mushrooms are fantastic for your immune system. Try to eat them every day! I’m going to be writing more about mushrooms in a future post. They are amazing!

The immune system in the gut

• Did you know that two thirds of your immune system is in your gut? The microbiome, or the good bacteria in our gut, is so vital to our health that some consider it an organ.
• Most of what we do decimates that line of defense, including many medications (NSAIDs, antibiotics, oral birth control, SSRIs), fake sugars like sucralose, glyphosate (the herbicide heavily sprayed on many grains), alcohol, sugar, and conventional animal foods which contain antibiotic residues. Minimize all of that whenever possible.
• Boost your microbiome by consuming probiotics (beneficial bacteria) daily whether through unpasteurized fermented foods like Real Pickles veggies, Fire Cider, Kombucha, and/or Gut Shots or a probiotic supplement. Those good critters live on fiber, so feed them with lots plant foods.

Stay hydrated

• Dehydrated mucous membranes are more vulnerable to microbes. Drink a couple glasses of water first thing in the morning (with fresh lemon juice as a vitamin C bonus!) and then sip water throughout the day.
• Minimize things that dehydrate you like coffee and alcohol.
• Eat lots of fresh plant foods that contain lots of water.
• Consider using a humidifier when the air is dry.

Exercise!

• You know it, but here’s a journal reference if you need one. Just do it.
Outside in the woods is especially helpful. Being out in nature increases natural killer cells. Plus it’s fresh, nontoxic air, with plenty of space between germ infested people.
• But don’t over do it. Exercising too much raises your stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses your immune system.

Your immune medicine chest

• These are the things that I have found extremely effective for both cold triage and prevention. It’s a great idea to have them on hand.
• Epsom salt baths. Soaking in the hot tub functions like a fever – it heats up your body causing the viruses to die off and may boost the immune system. The steam also helps to clear your sinuses. Baths are relaxing, and when you’re relaxed, your body can prioritize immune function. I always add the Epsom salts to the bath because it’s a great way to get more magnesium and sulfur (which gently supports detoxification). If you’re congested, you might want to add a bit of eucalyptus essential oil as well.
Oregano essential oil. Put a drop of oregano oil in a shot of water and throw it back. Two or three times a day if you’re sick. This is quite potent, so don’t over do it or splash on your face. I was actually paranoid that I might be getting sick the past couple days because I was extremely tired. I had a drop of oregano oil in water a couple times each day, and I’m good as new!
• Drink tea. Lemon balm and cats claw tea are antiviral. I usually multitask with both teabags in the same mug. Throat Coat is really nice for soothing your throat, and these herbs are soothing for the rest of your digestive system! Another benefit to green tea is that it strengthens and balances the immune system. What doesn’t green tea do?! Matcha green tea (the powdered version) has the most nutrients. Be sure all tea is organic, otherwise the first time the pesticides are washed off the leaves are in your mug.
• Fruit and vegetable extracts. My kids and I have been taking Juice Plus for 10 years, and we rarely get sick. When I feel something coming on, I double it up.
Elderberry syrup and lozenges (which may have added zinc as a bonus) are also very helpful for colds.

I hope that this has inspired you to take great care of your immune system. There’s a lot here, which can be overwhelming. But even if you start with just one thing, that is a step forward. Comment below if you have any questions. I’d also love to hear what your remedies are!

Image attribution: CDC

A Tasty Technique for Better Sleep

If you’ve been having trouble sleeping, here’s a unique strategy… eat pistachios! They are a surprisingly excellent source of the hormone melatonin that helps us to sleep. Most foods have 1, 10, or even 100 ng/g of melatonin, but pistachios have a whopping 200,000 ng/g!

I purchased a huge bag of pistachios before I learned this, and have been eating a couple tablespoons of them daily for about a month. I gotta say, I’ve been sleeping like a LOG! I was actually wondering why. When I came across this study, it all made sense. The good thing about my own accidental experiment was that it ruled out the placebo effect.

And don’t worry, eating them during the day won’t make you sleepy because of all the ambient light. But when the lights go out, you’ll have more than enough melatonin to help you get and stay asleep.

If you don’t need to improve your sleep, you’re lucky! But you might want to consider adding these tasty morsels to your diet anyway. Melatonin is a potent antioxidant with far reaching benefits. Pistachios also have other notable antioxidants such as lutein, zeaxanthin, and polyphenols. Antioxidants help protect you from chronic disease and slow the aging process. Pistachios are also one of the lowest calorie nuts, and eating the ones with shells helps you to slow down and eat just the right amount.

Image credit: Mae Mu

EEE, WNV, and Lyme! OH MY!

In our area, everyone is on high alert about mosquitoes carrying Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE). Add this to on-going fears about the West Nile Virus, Lyme Disease, and the upcoming flu season, and many of us are in a legitimate tizzy, dousing ourselves with chemicals and avoiding the great outdoors. Which of course makes sense on some level, but you know what makes even more sense? Keeping our immune systems robust and balanced. 

Louis Pasteur, the father of germ theory, said on his death bed, “The microbe is nothing. The terrain is everything!” By the terrain, he was referring to whether our inner tissues are hospitable to microbes or not. Is our immune system nourished and balanced or suppressed and depressed? 

Unfortunately, most of our Standard American Lifestyle is a direct assault on the immune system. With all this going on, it’s time to bring our A game. A strong immune system makes us less vulnerable to the ravaging effects of all of these pathogens, even the really scary ones. Here are some reminders that will help keep you healthy and strong no matter what microbes are lurking nearby.

Top 8 Actions for Robust Immunity

  1. Sleep well. Get regular, excellent quality sleep. Prioritize your sleep, aiming to go to bed around 10 PM and wake up with the sun, between 5 and 6 AM. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, try the heavy blanket! It’s super soothing and sleep inducing.
  2. Reduce stress. Yup, this again. When you’re stressed, your body de-prioritizes immunity because getting over a cold is way less important than escaping from a tiger. Deadlines, relationship stress, financial worries, etc might not feel like being chased by a tiger in your mind, but your body experiences it that way. There’s enough evidence about the negative impact of stress on our whole body. Now is the time to become aware of your stressors and do something about it. Yoga, meditation, exercise, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction are all effective strategies. Drinking beer and eating cake is not (although admittedly fun and tasty).
  3. Optimize immune nutrients. Your immune system relies heavily on vitamins A and D and zinc. Get out in the sun for D (or supplement with D3 drops). Eat your darkly colored veggies for beta carotene (which gets converted to A). Snack on pumpkin seeds for zinc (these are a great option because they’re sprouted, and therefore more digestible and nutritious).
  4. Reduce sugar as much as possible. A high sugar meal suppresses the immune system for hours… Just in time for your next obscenely decadent latte or snack. If you think about it, most Americans are immune suppressed all day long due to regular sugar spikes.
  5. Nourish your microbiome.We do this in three ways. First, consume probiotics (beneficial bacteria) daily whether through unpasteurized fermented foods like Real Pickles veggies, or a supplement. Second, feed those critters with lots of fiber from plant foods. A highly processed, low fiber diet starves them. That’s mean! Third, avoid the stuff that kills them – antibiotics (unless absolutely necessary), excessive alcohol, glyphosate (which conventional wheat is saturated with – get organic whenever possible), artificial sweeteners like sucralose, pesticides, and conventional meat and dairy (because they contain antibiotic residues and crowd out the fiber rich foods).
  6. Stay hydrated. Dehydrated mucous membranes are more vulnerable to microbes. Drink a couple glasses of water first thing in the morning (with fresh lemon juice as a vitamin C bonus!) and then sip water throughout the day.
  7. Exercise! You know it, but here’s a journal reference if you need one. Just do it.
  8. Be happy, positive, and loving! I know, that sounds woo woo. But research shows that a positive mindset, connection with loved ones, and physical touch all improve immunity. Go hug someone today!

Image credit iStockPhoto

Did you get enough D?

After a long summer of gorgeous sunny days, our vitamin D levels should be stellar! That’s because our skin makes vitamin D when it’s exposed to sunlight. But some of us don’t have optimal levels even at the end of August. Below I discuss why that might be, as well as testing, and important considerations when supplementing.  

The Many Roles of Vitamin D   

Back when I was in nutrition school, vitamin D was mainly appreciated for its role in bone health. But after decades of research, this vitamin is now recognized for its vital role in many aspects of our health. It controls genes related to cancer, autoimmune disease, and the immune system. Low levels have been associated with increased mortality, cardiovascular events, various cancers, a weakened immune system, Multiple Sclerosis, dementia, Type 2 diabetes, depression, and systemic inflammation (which in and of itself contributes to all types of chronic disease).   As we go into the fall, having an optimal level of the sunshine vitamin is especially important because low levels can make us vulnerable to colds and the flu, as well as seasonal depression.      

Why We May not Get Enough   

Clearly, we need to have enough vitamin D to stay healthy. But many of us don’t for a variety of reasons. We generate our own vitamin D by exposing large areas of our skin to direct sunlight, ideally 10-15 minutes a day a few times a week. This is limited by:  

* Working full time indoors.
* Using sunscreen when outside (which blocks about 97% of vitamin D production).
* Living above the 37th parallel (which is basically everything north of Texas). There is only sufficient UVB to make vitamin D during the summer months in the north.
* Having darker skin.
* Aging. Older adults make about a quarter of the vitamin D a younger person does.  

Since most of us have one or more of these factors, Houston, we’ve got a problem. (Well, not technically in Houston.) Indeed, research has demonstrated that 50% of Americans and 70% of children aren’t getting enough vitamin D.      

Checking your Levels   

Because insufficiency can have such far reaching effects, I highly recommend staying abreast of your vitamin D status. It would be interesting to know whether it’s in the optimal range after months of sunshine.    

The conventional range for vitamin D is usually 30 – 100 ng/mL. But it’s important to understand that conventional lab ranges are just statistical norms that encompass 95% of the population (determined by going 2 standard deviations from the mean value). So the conventional ranges represent normal values for a pretty unhealthy population, not something to strive for. Research has shown that having at least 50 ng/mL of vitamin D is better for optimal health. (Be aware that sometimes values are reported in different units.)    

What to do if it’s low? Get on that right away through more sun and/or supplementation (food isn’t a very realistic source). Work with your doctor through regular testing to ensure that your vitamin D is in the optimal range.    

Boosting your Levels   

Research has demonstrated that taking 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 (the active form) is beneficial and completely safe. Even up to 10,000 IU has been shown to be safe for up to 5 months, but I don’t recommend that high dose unless there is a demonstrated need because very high doses suppress the immune system. Taking drops under the tongue helps to ensure absorption, especially if there is insufficient fat absorption in the intestines.  

Nutrients work in teams, and your body’s final conversion of vitamin D uses a significant amount of magnesium. Magnesium is one of the top three nutrient deficiencies in the US. Taking some magnesium with your vitamin D would help avoid further depletion. Symptoms of magnesium insufficiency include constipation, tight muscles, cramps, anxiety, headaches, blood sugar issues, high blood pressure, and acid reflux. Be on the lookout for that in general, and if especially you’re supplementing with vitamin D.      

Magnesium comes in different forms. A great form that won’t affect your bowels is magnesium glycinate. Magnesium citrate can cause loose stools but is a great option if you have constipation. The oxide and carbonate forms are not well absorbed, and are usually found in low quality brands. Be sure to get your magnesium in capsules, not compressed tablets, which don’t get absorbed as well. This is a great brand.    

Summary   

Stay healthy! If your levels are less than 50 ng/mL;  

* 2000 IU of vitamin D3 drops under tongue
* 100 – 200 mg magnesium glycinate
* Regular assessment of your vitamin D levels with your doctor, adjusting your supplemental dose as necessary

Image: Catching Cabo Sun by Sand Storm Trooper and Ruler of the Sea

Spring Colds & Allergies

Just as allergies are kicking in, it seems like everyone is getting colds too! Caring for your immune system will help reduce the severity of both colds and allergies.

Here’s my emergency protocol for getting over a cold quick:

  • Take a hot Epsom Salt bath. Soaking in the hot tub functions like a fever – it heats up your body causing the viruses to die off and may boost the immune system. The steam also helps to clear your sinuses. Baths are relaxing, and when you’re relaxed, your body can prioritize immune function. I always add the Epsom salts to the bath because it’s a great way to get more magnesium (which is good for just about everything) and sulfur (which gently supports your spring detoxification). If you’re congested, you might want to add a bit of eucalyptus essential oil as well.
  • Do a shot of water with a drop of oregano oil. This is quite potent, so don’t over do it or splash on your face. Do one drop per day until you feel better.
  • Tea to the rescue! Lemon balm and cats claw tea are antiviral. I usually multitask with both teabags in the same mug. Throat Coat is really nice for soothing your throat, and these herbs are soothing for the rest of your digestive system!
  • Your gut microbiome health is intimately tied to your health and immune system. So be sure to tenderly care for your microbial friends. Send them some more good guys with probiotic capsules, fermented foods, Fire Cider, Kombucha, and/or Gut Shots. Variety is fun and effective, so it’s great to have lots of options on hand. The benefits of a strong, balanced microbiome go way beyond colds and allergies.
  • Diet to the rescue! In addition to all your fermented fun enjoy hot soups like this one and anything with lots of onions and garlic. Avoid dairy (because it increases mucous) and sugar (because it suppresses the immune system). There are many delicious plant based yogurts, cheeses, and ice creams out there now, so you don’t have to be deprived at all.
  • Supplements to the rescue! My kids and I have been taking Juice Plus for almost 10 years, and we rarely get sick. When I feel something coming on, I double it up. Elderberry syrup is also very helpful once a cold sets in. If you get sick/allergic often, you may want to consider vitamin D, zinc, and possibly vitamin A for short periods of time. Your doctor may be willing to test your status of these immune nutrients. {Functional medicine tip: Red Blood Cell (RBC) nutrient tests are more accurate because they reflect longer term status.}
  • Daily use of a neti pot washes microbes and allergens from your sinuses, and also clears out accumulated mucous so you can breathe again.
  • And all that stuff your mom told you… good quality rest, staying hydrated, and stress reduction are all vital for your immune system. In its wisdom, your body will not prioritize healing from the flu when it thinks you’re being chased by a tiger! Go to bed by 10, sip water all day, and breathe and relax, and do yoga. Just do it.

Two more tips specifically for allergies:

  • A daily teaspoon of raw, local honey can help inform your immune system that pollen is not stranger danger.
  • Quercetin is a natural antihistamine with additional antioxidant benefits.

Bless you!

Image credit: Lisa Mair