Our immune system is continuously interacting with our internal environment, protecting us from our external environment and provides the amazing inherent knowledge to sense the difference between friend and foe! There are many things that suppress our immune system and in a modern world we are subjected to them on a regular basis, they include: aging, flying, allergies (pollen, dust, food), chemicals in our environment and food, alcohol, drugs, emotional extremes, infections (viral, bacterial, yeast, fungal and parasitic), high fat diets, excess sugar, poor quality sleep, malnutrition (despite living in a world of plenty!), surgery and of course, stress!
Our immune system is comprised of many components including our organs, bone marrow, cells, antibodies and chemicals and of course, all the nutrients that nourish and produce them. The immune system provides both innate (inborn) non-specific immunity and specific learned or acquired immunity. Specific immunity depends on humoral (chemicals and antibodies carried in the bloodstream) and cellular (white blood cells) responses, which can produce immediate or delayed reactions.
Consider food allergies as they can trigger an immune response leading to inflammation and damage to the gut lining allowing undigested food particles through which the immune system considers a “foreign body” and consequently sends out the army to conquer them! Around 80% of our immune system is present in the gut and on high alert!
Be conscious of FAT choices: Saturated and hydrogenated fats and excess polyunsaturated fats can stimulate production of the prostaglandins and interleukins which encourage inflammation. Increasing the ratio of essential fatty acid (EFA’s) in your diet will reduce inflammation in the gut and elsewhere in the body, support cardiovascular health, support your liver and aid digestion, increase energy, improve memory and support the nervous system. EFA’s also synthesize prostaglandins which aid the body’s healing mechanisms, reduce inflammation and strengthen skin cells. So try to include more good sources in your diet, such as oily types of fish (salmon, herring, anchovy, mackerel, tuna), and linseed or flaxseed. Other good sources include walnuts, pecans, and traditional soy products such as tempeh and miso.
Minimise takeaways and processed foods: often contain damaged fats and additives that put extra stress on the immune system and increase inflammation. Trans fatty acids (TFA’s) encourage “free radicals” in the body, which are molecules with unpaired electrons, charging around like “boy racers” causing cellular damage wherever they choose! Some occur naturally in beef, lamb and dairy fat though the amounts are very small in comparison to what we consume in processed foods. The most dangerous are those that occur when chemically hydrogenated fats and oils are heated to high temperatures. It is wise to keep the temperature as low as is practical and be very quick when cooking with fats and oils. Aim for no more than once a week.
How to reduce intake of Trans fatty acids:
- Aoid commercially prepared peanut butter – either make your own or purchase it from a health food shop, if it doesn’t have a pool of oil on top then it has been hydrogenated!
- If you use margarine, read labels carefully and use those with the lowest Trans fat content.
- Minimise takeaways as much as possible, especially fries from the big chains! Pitango do a great range of organic soups, risottos etc. and are in the chiller at your supermarket – stock up when they are on special so you have something on hand for those nights you don’t feel like cooking.
- Minimise margarine, packaged snack food, deep fried foods and commercial baking.
Water, water, water: Build up to an intake of 8-10 glasses daily as water helps to flush out impurities, and with fibre helps to clear the colon of toxic material that we may ingest or that is excreted by our cells, if we eat a good ratio of fats and the cell membrane is flexible!
Eat a rainbow: Lots of coloured vegetables and fruit will provide many vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants to fight free radical damage that puts the immune system under pressure. They also provide valuable fibre to assist removal of toxic waste in the bowel.
Soluble fibre plays an important role is assisting the liver rid the body of excess cholesterol and toxins. Bile (produced by our liver and stored in the gallbladder), contains components to break down fats, hormones already used by the body, heavy metals and toxins that we need to eliminate via the large intestine. If we have sufficient soluble fibre in our diets the bile forms a bond with this special fibre and is carried off to our large intestine and excreted. This is where the insoluble fibre comes into the picture – we need this type of indigestible fibre to assist the feces form a pliable mass that moves easily along the intestinal walls collecting carcinogenic impurities and anything else detrimental along the way for easy removal from the body.
Soluble fibre: psyllium, prunes, figs, mango, slippery elm, seaweed, linseed, legumes, oat bran, rice bran, barley, cooked apple and mushrooms.
Insoluble fibre: wholegrains, most fruits and vegetables (note that legumes, nuts and seeds have both types of fibre).
In the colon, probiotic bacteria make important fatty acids from the cell walls of fruits and vegetables. Eating dietary fibre (especially soluble fibre), provides necessary food for the bacteria to survive. Research shows the fatty acids made by probiotics help keep immune cells vigilant. If the probiotics decline, so does the supply of the fatty acids, and your overall health.
Sugar: cell mediated immunity is depressed by 50% for 120 minutes after sugar ingestion (75 grams). A 100g portion of sugar can significantly reduce the capacity of white blood cells to engulf bacteria. Maximum immune suppression occurs one to two hours after ingestion and remains suppressed for up to five hours after feeding. When you eat sugar remember your immune system slows to a crawl! Try alternatives such as stevia, xylitol, good quality maple syrup (which contains some valuable minerals), fresh and dried fruit, frozen bananas blended are great on desserts or summer cereals, honey (contains valuable enzymes if used raw), palm sugar (contains calcium and iron – grate to use, available in blocks at health food stores).
Include the following in your diet:
Active Elements 7.1 is a great preventative as well supporting us during times of illness
Garlic: Anti-inflammatory, anti-biotic and anti-viral, anti-oxidant properties, Improves circulation and immunity, sulphur content aids liver detoxification, calms NFK-B a dangerous free radical, contains germanium which assists immunity and cellular oxygenation.
Ginger: anti-inflammatory, aids circulation, antioxidants. Great in stir fries, marinades and pilafs etc. Slice some fresh ginger and simmer for 15 mins or so for a lovely warming tea in winter, serve with honey and a squeeze of lemon juice. Keep in a zip lock bag in the freezer which makes it very east to grate.
Shitake Mushrooms: Contain Vit C, germanium, iron, high in selenium- stimulates antibody production, strengthens cellular immunity, activates NK lymphocytes and phagocytes, and prevents CVD & cancer. Contains lentinan a polysaccharide that stimulates production of reticular immune cells that can ingest bacteria, particulate matter and worn out and cancerous cells, reduce inflammation. Usually found in supermarkets/health food stores dried – when dried they contain vit D too! If using dried keep a few soaking in water, in a glass jar in the fridge and use as required. Gently squeeze to remove some moisture and slice and add to any dish where you would usually use mushrooms – stir fries, casseroles, soups, omelets, rice or pasta dishes, in a hot drink made with miso paste and some seaweed flakes. Use the liquid too in soups casseroles etc. Dried shitake will keep in a cool dry place for up to year.
Red pepper, melon, paw paw, strawberries, Brussel sprouts, citrus fruit or juice, kiwifruit, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, blackcurrants: good amounts of Vitamin C that acts as an antioxidant, inhibits the release of histamine from mast cells, stimulated interferon production – anti-cancer, increase iron absorption – important for immunity, with bioflavonoids is anti-inflammatory and provides cellular defence, increases phagocyte (cells that ingest the nasties!) function.
Liver, fish liver oil, butter, cream and egg yolks as they contain preformed Vitamin A or retinal, which is the main animal source of Vit A
Provitamin A (mainly in the form of beta-carotene), is found in yellow and orange coloured fruits and vegetables as well as leafy green vegetables.
Vitamin A stimulates growth of the base layer of the skin cells. It helps skin cells differentiate normally (that just means it helps them grow from less mature cells to grown up ones without abnormalities!), and gives them their structural integrity or strength. It does this for both the external skin cells that we can see as well as for our body’s inner skin – the mucous membranes of the nose, eyes, intestinal tract, respiratory lining and the bladder lining. Through ensuring normal growth Vitamin A helps to protect these areas from cancer cell development. It also encourages healthy secretions which help us fight off environmental pollutants and infectious agents.
Vitamin A is another anti-oxidant and protects the body (especially cell membranes and tissue linings), from free radicals by neutralizing them! If we are deficient in Vit A this encourages a loss of Vit C from the body. Deficiency manifests as lowered immunity, ear problems, fatigue and acne.
Seafood, especially oysters, prawns, poultry, wholegrains, shitake mushrooms, pine nuts and pumpkin seeds as these foods contain zinc. Zinc acts as an anti-oxidant (as part of superoxide dimutase or SOD – one of the anti-oxidant super heroes!), and when paired with vitamin E speeds wound healing and prevents scarring. Zinc boosts your white blood cells which helps your immune system fight any invaders. This is a vital nutrient for the metabolism of EFA’s. Zinc is thought to help utilize and maintain body levels of Vitamin A which aids the maintenance of healthy skin cells and generate new ones. Zinc aids collagen formation too which is its role in wound healing.
Nuts, wheat germ, whole grains, soy beans for their vitamin E content. Vit E is another powerful antioxidant that protects our lipids and in particular our cell membranes from free radical damage. It enhances cell mediated immunity and assists white blood cells to do their job. Vit E assists the absorption of fat, aids circulation and muscle function, protects the immune, nervous and reproductive systems and prevents the adverse oxidative modification of LDL cholesterol.
Exercise: Particularly important for our lymphatic system that has no pump of its own and relies purely on muscle activity and exercise to get the lymphatic fluid circulating. Lymph nodes are often swollen and sore and easily felt when an infection is present. These nodes, and there are 100’s throughout the body, are filled with foreign bodies and proteins that will eventually be dumped into the bloodstream so they can be packed up and eradicated. A gentle walk can often make you feel better if you feel something coming on. A good test if you are feeling unwell is to go for a gentle walk and if after 10 minutes you don’t feel any better, then return home and REST!!
Hygiene: Particularly important during the winter months to minimise exposure to pathogens. Wash hands well before preparing food or eating, after touching any open wounds or sores, after going to the toilet, changing nappies, cleaning, playing with pets, gardening etc. It is not so much what we use to wash our hand but how long we wash them for. Use the 20+20 rule: wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and hot water and dry for 20 seconds with a clean, dry towel or paper towel. DO NOT share toothbrushes, drink bottles, food containers, cutlery etc. with others to avoid the spread of pathogens. Keep toothbrushes in a cupboard and always close the toilet lid before flushing to prevent the 20,000 or so minute droplets from covering towels and surfaces.
Fine Dining: Take a deep breath before dining, and ensure you are feeling relaxed. Avoid eating if you are upset or angry. Chew thoroughly and slowly to encourage sufficient secretion of digestive juices in the mouth and stomach to break down the food ingested. This will encourage maximum digestion, absorption and assimilation of nutrients to support your immune system.
Stress Management: Take time out – yes, give yourself permission for some “me time” without any to do lists! Spend ten minutes in nature or somewhere quiet, just “being”. Practice breathing exercises or meditation, yoga or your favourite exercise. Plan you day and schedule in “my time” just as you would any other appointment. Ask for help if you are feeling overwhelmed. Spend time with family and friends and enjoy laughter – it releases endorphins which lift your mood!