Let's talk about immune health. It's a huge topic lately. I see a lot of posts talking about taking X amount of Vitamin C, X amount of Vitamin D, and so on. And, while I do think sufficient levels of nutrients are important for overall good health, it's about so much more than that.
Really, immune health, just like any other facet of health is truly a thought process. We are so conditioned to be reactionary thinkers. We have a "symptom" and we want to know what medicine or vitamin we can take for that. A better question is "How do I build true health?"
When speaking about immune health, a great discussion revolves around two distinct thought processes... 1) The "Germ Theory": This simply suggests that we get sick because we are exposed to germs. Germs are the "bad guys" and must be avoided. Hand sanitizers are a huge part of this world. As are antibiotics for every single thing you can think of. 2) The "Terrain Theory" - This theory suggests that you get sick because your body is not as healthy as it could be. It's like a garden. Weeds pop up and plants fail to thrive because the soil is not rich in nutrients and in the best condition to support healthy plants. Our bodies can be seen the same way. Much emphasis is put into improving or terrain.
I believe that this represents a huge paradigm shift in how we think. The Germ Theory is very reactionary and symptom-focused. The Terrain Theory is all about being proactive and cultivating a healthy body where symptoms don't show up because the environment is good. If we go back to the garden analogy, the Germ Theory is all about pulling weeds and throwing a bit of fertilizer on sickly plants. The Terrain Theory is all about keeping weeds from growing in the first place, watering the soil adequately and CONDITIONING the soil with things like compost to ensure that it is nutrient dense and healthy. If the soil is healthy, the plants will be, too.
If we fail to think differently, I believe we fail to harness the true power of building health from the inside out. Our bodies were made to fight off disease and our immune systems are the way we do that. Having said that, there are a number of reasons our immune systems aren't doing all they can do. Here are a list of things you can do to create a healthy terrain so that your immune system is the strongest it can be:
- Cut out the Sugar. This is by far the most important thing you can do. Consuming sugar in amounts that exceed 75 grams (think a can of soda and a candy bar) hinders the white blood cell's ability to fight off bacteria and viruses. (1) Sugar is found in so many things. Read those labels and stick to real, whole foods
- Consume a diet high in nutrients. This means focusing on lots of non-starchy vegetables. Especially those that are green, leafy and cruciferous in nature. That would be things like Broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach. Try to eat a nice salad every day. Limited amounts of fruit, especially the berries which are lowest in sugar. High Quality, pastured, grass fed, organic meats, eggs and dairy if you are able to tolerate dairy. Consume healthy fats in the form of coconut products, grass fed butter, nuts and avocados. If you do this, you will find there is also less room to consume the less healthy, high carb and high sugar foods. You will want to eliminate most grains like bread as these quickly convert to sugar. Small amounts of Rice, Quinoa and Oats are usually OK, but should be limited as much as possible.
- Get enough sleep! Many Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep per night. That is the bare minimum required by most people in order to ensure good health. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep to feel their best. In addition, you will want to sleep in a cool, dark room without distractions from technology like phones, TVs and tablets. The best sleep also happens between 10 PM - 2 AM, so make sure you are asleep in that window if possible.
- Get adequate exercise. 30-45 minutes per day 5 days a week is the magic number for most people. Exercise helps elevate body temperature, and decrease stress. These things can help you fight off potential infections. (2) Just don't overdo it. Studies have also shown that excessive exercise, like marathon training for example, can lead to a suppressed immune system. A great way to maximize benefit is to perform a circuit style, High Intensity Interval workout (HIIT) that involves some cardiovascular exercise with strength and mobility exercises. Combining that type of workout with walking or cycling on alternating days is ideal for most people.
- Get adequate Vitamin D. So many people avoid the sun! They slather sunscreen on every time they walk out the door. Our bodies need daily exposure to natural sunlight. Depending on skin tone, 15-30 minutes per day is the suggested amount. Darker skin will need more exposure than lighter skin. Taking a walk outside is a great way to get exercise and vitamin D at the same time. Most people will also benefit from taking a Vitamin D supplement. You will want to keep your levels between 50-80 ng/ML is considered by most Functional Medicine Doctors (including myself) to be optimal range. This is a simple blood test that can easily be run. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, so that means excess is stored. For this reason, I believe testing on this nutrient is important. It's rare to be toxic, but I have seen it before.
- Ensure good nutrient status. While I believe that a healthy diet should provide the majority of our nutrition, I also believe that's it is almost impossible to get everything you need from food. Our food production process is simply not the same as it used to be. Soil is depleted of nutrients and everyone I run a micronutrient test on shows up deficient in something. If possible, I recommend working with a Functional Health Professional to get your own blueprint for the nutrients your body needs. You can use this link to schedule a time to consult with me to see if this is right for you. There is no charge for this consult.
If you are looking to maximize a healthy immune system, the key players are Vitamin D as we discussed above, Vitamin C and moderate amounts of Zinc (20 mg/day). You don't want to take too much Zinc on a regular basis since this can create an issue with your copper and/or Iron levels. Short term higher dose Zinc when you feel a cold or infection coming on is usually well tolerate for a week or two. I have created immune paks that have a great balance of vitamins to support immune health and come in easy to take one a day packets. Please email me at email@example.com for more info. on this.
- Intermittent Fasting. There are several types of Intermittent fasting. The most common is to restrict eating to an 8 hour window and fast for 16 hours. This helps regulate glucose levels. Because high insulin levels suppress immune function, this can have a very profound effect on health. This is closely related to eating a low sugar diet. Extended fasting of 24 hours or more also have a very powerful effect on immune health by promoting something called autophagy, or cell death, where harmful cells are killed off because the body has more resources to allocate because it is not processing and digesting food. This can be a very helpful strategy in dealing with major illness or things like cancer.
I hope you found this helpful. Please consider adding a few of these strategies to your your life and I think you will see profound results on not only your immune health, but your overall health.
If you have a question, please reach out to me or schedule a time to chat to get a plan together.
To your health,