September 22, 2016 6 min read
Over the last decade, vitamin Dhas exploded from its modest position as “the vitamin that prevents rickets” to a harbinger of grandiose health benefits. Though vitamin D is readily synthesized in the body through UV exposure, it is otherwise almost exclusively limited to animal sources, with a few exceptions. As positive research has begun to amass, almost every health authority under the sun has begun recommending supplementation of 400IU to 1000IU of vitamin D per day (or more in some cases). Detailed research has revealed that vitamin D supplementation promotes NK cell activity and macrophage activity, both of which will challenge any would-be infectious bugs.
If that wasn’t enough to convince you, a number of world studies have shown drastic reduction in cancer rates (up to 50%) relative to healthy vitamin D status.
“Probiotics” is an umbrella term for a wide range of bacterial species that offer several health benefits. An individual who supplements with probiotics, or eats probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt or kefir, is likely to have a digestive tract that is highly populated with beneficial bacteria, leaving little room for salmonella, e.coli, or colostridium difficile to grow. Beyond that, probiotics have little tolerance for disease-causing bacteria, and can produce chemicals known as bacteriocins that are highly toxic to its competitors. Furthermore, probiotics directly stimulate antibody production, natural killer cells, T-cells, and phagocytes (the little Pac-Man characters) to eradicate infectious viruses and bacteria. To back it all up, probiotics have been clinically proven to significantly decrease the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections, dental caries, food poisoning, and diarrhea.
Want more? Probiotics regulate inflammation, and as a result, positive results have been observed with respect to allergies, asthma, and inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
A little stress never hurt anyone. In fact, a little stress is what gets us out of bed each morning to eat breakfast and then head to work. The body’s response to a stressor (stress trigger) consists of 3 phases. First, the alarm phase signals that we must act (a tiger jumps out at you). Second, the resistance phase involves continuous energy put forth to handle the stress (running from the tiger). Lastly, the exhaustion phase occurs when the body has expended its resources and cannot cope with the stressor any longer (falling down and being eaten by the tiger). While it is unlikely that any of us will ever have the need to run from a tiger, the same principles apply to our lives. Stress puts a significant strain on our body’s immune systems and produces inflammatory chemicals that create further impairment.
Today, we tend to feel pressured into doing absolutely everything until our body’s stress mechanisms fail (exhaustion) and we can do absolutely nothing. The key to managing stress is making it a priority to rest or engage in stress-relieving activities, even if it means cancelling a business dinner, closing up your facebook account, or turning off your cell phone.
The process of sleep is pure and simple: it is the time when energy is diverted away from the brain and the muscles to produce new healthy cells or repair or replace old ones. The spleen, bone marrow, thymus gland, and lymph nodes are the 4 primary factories for our immune cells that fight infectious diseases, control inflammation, and combat cancerous cells.
When the body is under constant pressure or stress to the point that sleep becomes compromised, crucial processes that are essential to the production, repair, or replacement of immune cells become limited, resulting in an immune system that is ill-prepared to handle the stress of infection. Furthermore, a chronic lack of sleep can impair the immune system to the point where severe inflammation begins and the body’s own immunity mechanisms end. Aim for at least 8 hours of shut-eye per day.
Our immune system has needs, just like all other bodily systems. Aside from basics such as carbohydrates, protein, fat, and water, some of the key nutrients that have been shown to increase immune system effectiveness are antioxidants. Quite simply, antioxidants are molecules such as vitamin C, beta carotene, or resveratrol (from red wine) that neutralize disease-promoting molecules called free radicals. Left unchecked, free radicals have the potential to weaken the immune system, damage vital organs and cells, and even set the course for malignant cancer.
With few exceptions, fresh, frozen, or (freshly) juiced/pressed whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are by far the best sources of antioxidants, contributing copious amounts of vitamin C, carotenoids, vitamin E, selenium, and other flavanoid antioxidants. As exotic as some of them might be, of particular notoriety are green tea, cocoa, acai berry, goji berry, pecans, and spices such as cinnamon, cloves, oregano, and turmeric. Be sure to include lots of these foods whenever possible to bolster your health and your immune system. Most of these antioxidants are also available in supplemental form.
The impact of exercise on immunity has both direct and indirect effects. First, the lymphatic system acts as both a factory for immune cells and a method of transporting metabolic waste. It relies on kinetic energy through movement to transport immune cells and waste through the lymphatic channels. Even a brisk, bouncy walk or light jog can accommodate this need and be a breath of fresh air for a lymphatic system that’s been parked in an office chair all day.
Second, a good bit of exercise stimulates immune cell production, and evidence indicates significant reductions in upper respiratory infections can be obtained with moderate exercise. The process of sweating also acts as a channel for toxin excretion which further reduces stress on the immune system.
Pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides have a long and documented history of acting as neurotoxins and endocrine disrupters which can indirectly suppress immunity. While farmers and agricultural workers are at the greatest risk, agricultural chemical residues find their way into our daily food supply and are accompanied by a nasty array of health implications.
Eating whole, unprocessed, organic food ensures that we entirely avoid the issue of toxicity and immune health will remain intact. Furthermore, evidence has shown that organic food tends to contain higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals, and far lower levels of toxic heavy metals, mycotoxins, and chemicals; a result of good organic agricultural practices. Quite simply, the abundance of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in organic food supports healthy immunity to a greater degree than conventional food.
Several varieties of leaves, roots, and fungi have been used traditionally for infection prevention and treatment, and studies have since confirmed their efficacy. Echinaceais now world-famous for its immune boosting prowess, and a quality Echinacea supplement should be used at the first onset of cold/flu symptoms.
Astragalusis revered in traditional Chinese medicine for its ability to act as an immune modulator, prevent infections, and improve stamina. As a preventative strategy, astragalus supplements or astragalus combinations can be consumed throughout the entire cold/flu season to reduce the risk of infection. Lastly, several species of mushroom, most notably shitake, maitake, reishi, and coriolus (now called trametes), contain complex starch molecules called beta-glucans which have demonstrated exceptional immune-boosting potential that can be applied to combat infection.
While some plants increase the number and activity of white blood cells to combat infection, others offer their services by flat out poising viruses, bacteria, fungus, and parasites. Known as anti-microbials, plants such as oregano, garlic, and goldenseal contain various compounds that are highly toxic to pathogenic organisms. Anti-microbials lend their assistance as an immune system supporter by eliminating viruses and bacteria through their own mechanisms, which makes them akin to natural antibiotics or anti-virals.
However, unlike pharmaceutical antibiotics which have a tendency to create resistant strains of bacteria, natural anti-microbials are highly complex plants that contain thousands of different molecules. Because of this, bacteria are unlikely to become resistant. Anti-microbials are best used at the first signs or symptoms of infection.
Katie has worked in the natural health & wellness industry for over 10 years and is currently studying to become a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. She is passionate about eating #feelgood food and recognized that this might look different for each and every person. She truly believes that in a healthy lifestyle, you can have your cake and eat your kale, too! Follow her on Instagram @katielmitts
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