What is it?
The human immune system is a complex and powerful system of glands and tissues, including the thymus gland, the spleen, lymph nodes, white blood cells, and specialized cells and serum factors. The primary function of the immune system is to protect the body from infection and from the development of cancer.
Where I live in western Canada, we are in the middle of winter, which is typically the time of year when we battle colds, coughs, fevers, and the latest strain of influenza. This particular winter, we are facing the newest scary virus of unknown origins, known as COVID-19. Besides trying to avoid exposure to these contagious illnesses, we can aim to keep our immune systems as healthy as possible so that if we do, in fact, become exposed, we can fight it off and either not get sick, or get “less sick” and recover as quickly as possible.
What weakens it?
There are many factors that can weaken our body’s ability to fight off illness. Here are a number of them, but the list is not exhaustive: insufficient or poor quality sleep, lack of protein or other nutrients (via lack of intake or poor absorption), lack of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, skin disorders or mucous membrane weakness (our first line of defence from “invaders”), stress of any kind (physical, mental, psychological) which leads to excess cortisol, exposure to toxins in our food, water, air and household products, steroids, antibiotics or other drugs, and lack of exercise/movement (necessary for lymphatic drainage).
Other stressors on the immune system include food sensitivities and allergies, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, chlorine, fluoride, exposure to mold or fungus, a weakened or stressed liver, and smoking.
A review of this list reveals that most of these factors are well within our control. Though some of them may take a little more work (such as strengthening your liver function), our dietary and lifestyle choices can greatly impact the strength of your immune system.
What if I get sick anyway?
At times, no matter what we do or eat, we still catch whatever bug is going around. When this happens, some people get well quickly, while others can suffer for weeks even though they are battling the same infection. Again, there are factors that can impair your body’s ability to heal and repair, including: a deficiency in vitamin C, bioflavonoids or sulphur amino acids (impaired collagen formation), a zinc deficiency (weakened collagen synthesis), insufficient complete protein, a deficiency in galactosamine or glucosamine, excess cortisol (as a result of stress or chronic inflammation anywhere in the body), advanced age, or poor blood supply.
How do I know if it needs help?
Some signs and symptoms of an impaired immune system include: recurrent, frequent and/or lasting infections, slow wound healing, allergies, autoimmune diseases, fatigue, fibromyalgia, herpes outbreaks, inflammatory disorders such as eczema, and dysbiosis (gas, bloating, diarrhea, cramping, constipation).
What should I eat?
You can support your immune system in a number of ways, many of which are not complicated, but may require you to form some new habits. Eat regular meals, rich in whole, natural foods, low in fats and refined sugars. Maintain a proper body weight – obesity is associated with decreased immune system status. Ensure you are getting adequate, but not too much, complete protein. And increase your intake of green vegetables. Plants should make up the majority of your diet. Alcoholics are more susceptible to infections, as alcohol profoundly depresses the immune system. Water intake is important as well – drink 5 to 6, 8-ounce glasses per day (refer to my article on the importance of water).
The above are general recommendations, but there are specific nutrients that are required for healthy immune system function. If your diet does not supply enough, you may have to consider supplementation: probiotics, vitamins A, C and E, essential fatty acids (EFAs), the B vitamins, Coenzyme Q10, glutathione, zinc, copper, selenium, magnesium, bioflavonoids, carotenoids and octacosanol. Some of these are also critical to healing, namely zinc, vitamins A, C and E, and EFAs, as well as protein and enzymes.
Note that it is not simply a matter of buying the right supplements or eating the right foods – there may be something else going on that needs to be addressed, since the absorption of some nutrients relies on other nutrients in the proper ratios, as well as good digestion and elimination processes.
What else can I do?
In addition to dietary choices and/or supplementation, there are other things you should consider to maximize the effectiveness of your immune system. At least 7 hours of sleep each night is critical (refer to my article on sleep for more information). Consistent, regular exercise is also beneficial, particularly for lymphatic drainage (refer to my article on exercise which goes into more detail). Get ample, safe sunlight and fresh air. Maintain a positive mental attitude and practice good stress management to avoid excess cortisol. Don’t smoke, avoid drugs of all kinds if possible, and minimize your exposure to toxins in household products and pollution. Support your adrenals, the thymus gland, your liver, and your gut/strengthen your gut mucosa.
We can assist you with personalized, individual advice on immune support through diet, supplements and exercise. Please reach out to either Martin or Maxine with your specific questions or concerns. If you give it the care and concern it needs, your immune system can be your best friend!