Strategies to Improve Immune Function
In this two part series, we will explore some options to increase immune function. Earlier this month, Dr. Serné posted an article about foods to boost immune function and this article serves as a great adjunct to that.
At its core, immune health is an indication of the overall health of the individual. Many of the lifestyle tips outlined in this article aim to improve general health and wellness, as holistic treatment is the primary goal of Naturopathic medicine.
Eat a whole foods diet
Eating a varied diet consisting of whole, unprocessed foods is essential. Fruits and vegetables contain thousands of different phytochemicals, in addition to essential vitamins and minerals. Well established evidence suggests that deficiencies in certain vitamins may predispose individuals to immune dysfunction – vitamins C, E, A, D and K are prime examples. Mineral deficiencies are also implicated in immune depression, particularly with respect to iron, magnesium, zinc, manganese and selenium. The immune system also requires plenty of protein to function properly. A good rule of thumb is to ensure 25 percent of your plate consists of high quality protein, like pastured meat, fish, eggs, legumes, or organic soy. In addition to fuelling your body with whole, nutrient dense foods, it is important to remember to stay away from processed, additive laden foods and food like products typically high in preservatives, sugar and salt. With respect to immunes function, sugar is particularly infamous. Researchers have observed a decreased in the phagocytic index of neutrophils following ingesting of sugar, w this response was not observed following ingestion of the same amount of starch. The lesson? Skip the sugar and fill your plate with fruits, vegetables and lean protein, especially during cold and flu season.
Identify food sensitivities, and heal your gut
I know you’ve heard this before, but this is an extremely important factor contributing to immune health. Your gut hosts a vast consortium of microorganisms. The type, quantity and distribution of bacteria is directly associated with your diet, and can change quite drastically with changes in diet. Importantly, about 70% of your immune system is housed in your gut, as your gastrointestinal epithelium is home to Peyer’s patches composed of GALT (gut associated lymphatic tissue.) Food sensitivities can cause local inflammation within the gut, which in turn can dampen the immune system’s effectiveness and specificity. When an individual develops a hypersensitivity reaction to one or more foods, IgG immune complexes bind to food antigens, and are removed my macrophages. If macrophages are not able to keep up with the influx of dietary antigens, local inflammation develops, causing damage to gut epithelium. Over time, a syndrome termed intestinal hyperpermeability or “leaky gut” can develop. Systemic reactions such as migraines, joint pain, eczema, fatigue, difficultly concentrating and autoimmune disease may follow. Fortunately, simple blood tests are capable of measuring IgG antibodies – most testing facilities assess 96 common foods. Removing foods that are found to have high levels of circulating IgG often improves systemic symptoms, and decreases intestinal inflammation, leading to a more appropriate immune response. Additionally, a high quality probiotic containing bifido bacterium and lactobacilus, can be helpful in mitigating intestinal inflammation via the restoration of healthy gut bacteria. Additionally, slippery elm, chlorella, and certain amino acids are clinically useful in healing the gastrointestinal lining.
Your level of physical fitness directly correlates to your likelihood of experiencing seasonal respiratory tract infections. According to researchers from Apalachian State University and the University of North Carolina, those who exercised most (5 or more days of exercise) had a 43% drop in upper respiratory tract infections. Additionally, when those who exercised got sick, their symptoms were about 23% less severe than those who exercised the least. This makes great sense, during exercise, your circulatory system shunts blood throughout your body, improving nutrient delivery and waste removal. Having an efficient circulatory system provides a strong, stable framework upon which your immune system may function efficiently.
Check in tomorrow for Part 2 (This Just in… Sleep is Really Important.)
Have a great day,
Dr. Kaleigh Anstett