For the last few weeks, in preparation for this month’s “Fundamental Foods Dinner,” we’ve been diving deep into our study of the immune system and autoimmune diseases. If you live in the Naples area, I really hope you’ll be a part of the conversation by joining us for the dinner this Thursday night. (You can RSVP to save your seat here).
One of the questions that come up when we talk about autoimmune diseases (there are over 80 of them!) is what we can do to protect our immune system. For most of my patients, by the time we have the conversation about autoimmune disease, it’s because they are already presenting with symptoms – food allergies, arthritis, psoriasis, digestive disorders, and the list goes on and on.
Balance Is The Key
Last week, I shared a couple of preliminary things we do to try to help patients get their bodies back on the path of healing (we will go much deeper with that line of thought on Thursday night), but as I was thinking about it, one of the reasons I got into chiropractic in the first place was the emphasis we place on preventative health and wellness. I want to help my patients prevent disease by living healthier lives.
So this week, I want to combat autoimmune disease by offering a couple of quick tips for protecting your immune system.
The key to immune health is balance. You don’t want your immune system under-reacting to threats, but you don’t want it going crazy and over-reacting, either. It’s so easy to get off in either direction.
I really like the way Dr. Josh Axe describes this balance:
“When our immune system is working properly, we don’t even notice it. It’s when the performance of our immune system is compromised that we face illness. Underactivity of the immune system results in severe infections and tumors of immunodeficiency, while overactivity results in allergic and autoimmune diseases.”
Simple Changes To Promote Better Immune/Autoimmune Balance
Keep in mind that these tips are not a cure-all, and they are not something you try one time when you need something quick. I see people try to jack up their flagging immune response with a pill or a triple-shot of echinacea when they realize that they have a cold or the flu, and they wonder why it doesn’t work immediately. Our fast-food, fast-acting, fast-comfort culture has us trained to expect “plop-plop-fizz-fizz” to make us feel better on contact. Blame it on the marketing, I suppose.
Instead, let’s take a lifestyle approach to wellness. I say the same thing about diets: if you want to lose weight, forget about the two-week cabbage crash diet and start making permanent changes to your eating patterns. Wellness is a lifestyle, not a quick fix.
That said, echinacea is an excellent herb for building your immune system, as are ginger, raw garlic, and ginseng. We’ve all seen the explosion of these supplements in the Publix pharmacy over the years, as they have gained popularity among people looking for a “healthy” approach to cold and flu treatments. Not all supplements are created equal, though. As a rule of thumb, I always prefer to look for the food as it appears in nature instead of capsules – in the produce section, not the pharmacy section. Elderberry is very powerful, although it can be difficult to find.
It’s probably worth mentioning that supplementing with herbs is just one part of a holistic nutritional life – not the whole answer. It’s more important to feed your body a wide variety of vegetables, some fruits, and a little bit of healthy meats and grains (I recommend the Mediterranean Diet as a guideline). A healthy diet of organic foods is the foundation of good health.
And when I say “organic,” I mean “organic.” Chances are that you will have better luck finding organic food in the produce section than you will in the chips and soft drink aisle. (I’m so glad that more and more grocery stores put the chips and sodas in the same aisle because you can kill two birds with one stone by skipping that whole aisle).
You don’t want your food full of pesticides, preservatives, artificial flavors and colors, and sugars. Stick to the perimeter of the store, where the living food is. The shelves in the middle are all the pre-packaged, chemical-treated, sugar-packed foods. Avoid that garbage and your immune system will thank you.
Drink water. I’m sorry if you don’t like the taste of water. You’re addicted to sugar. Trade all your sugary, salty drinks for water and you will discover that you actually love it. You’ll beat that demonic addiction – and feel better and live longer. Typical adults need about 3 quarts of water a day, although very few of us even come close to our daily need. Worse, most of us live in areas where our water is treated with chlorine, fluoride, and other chemicals that will ruin your gut flora. As if that weren’t bad enough, all that treatment doesn’t remove the residue of tons of medical waste that has been dumped in the water supply for decades. Bottled water is expensive, and while some of it is good, many brands are no better than tap water. Instead, I recommend you install a carbon filter for your drinking water supply. You need water. Your gut needs that water to be clean.
Myrrh and oregano are very popular essential oils, not only for their anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, but for the way they nourish and reinforce your body’s own immune response. Colloidal silver is also growing in popularity. I have to laugh when I say that, because all of these oils date back to ancient times. This is the way we used to treat disease until the 1920s, when the petroleum/pharmaceutical industry took over medical schools. That’s a gripe for another time.
Last week, I mentioned probiotics as a powerful way of rebuilding your body’s immune system, but I left out an important consideration. While it’s easy to find good antibiotics in pill form, your body prefers to receive them in food form.
There are so many great probiotic foods available to you, with tastes to suit just about anyone. From kimchi and miso soup in the east to sauerkraut and pickles in the west, just about every ancient culture provided us with a great-tasting traditional food with an active SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast). Kefir, yogurt, apple cider vinegar, and kombucha are some of the more popular fermented foods that contain this powerful bacterial culture. Sourdough bread and even some dark chocolates can provide a probiotic boost to your gut flora.
Beyond the foods you eat, there are some other lifestyle considerations that will give your body a fighting chance to protect and repair itself.
Sleep is your body’s daily reset. Your nervous system, endocrine system, circulatory system, and even your mind need at least six to eight hours of sleep every 24 hours to maintain optimal health. More and more research is showing that burning the candle at both ends is destructive to your body.
We tend to think of exercise as something we do to build and tone muscle, and that is true, but it’s only a small part of the story. A good exercise routine not only does that, it strengthens the heart and blood vessels, which helps to remove toxins that build up in the muscle tissues. It treats stress by loosening tense muscles and releasing positive neurotransmitters, like dopamine, oxytocin, and other endorphins through your blood stream. The movement also helps to drain the lymphatic system, which is your body’s internal garbage disposal. A sedentary life is a breeding ground for disease, and exercise primes your body for good health.
Do I have to say this?
Here we are in the twenty-first century, and many doctors, nurses, and pharmacists still hand out antibiotics like candy. Got a sniffle? Take an antibiotic. Ear infection? Antibiotic. Abscess tooth? Get the antibiotics flowing right away!
It’s too easy to give out antibiotics for anything that involves bacteria. The problem is not the intent, it’s the method. The way antibiotics address bacteria is similar to the way World War II bombing raids addressed people: indiscriminately. While the antibiotic is wiping out the bad bacteria your body is fighting, it also destroys the good bacteria your body needs. That interferes with your digestion, as well as your body’s ability to fight infection on its own. In a way, antibiotics can create a situation where you can’t live without them. Antibiotic residue can even live on in your liver and other organs for years, prolonging the damage.
If you must take an antibiotic to fight an infection, please follow it up with a good probiotic. A probiotic repopulates the devastated bacterial colony in your gut without strengthening the bacteria at the infection site.
Be Careful with Prescription Drugs
Most prescription drugs carry a list of side effects, and some of these lists are lengthy. One of the most common side effects is some combination of diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, cramping, and pain. This is because many of them damage the lining of the intestines or the bacterial colonies in an attempt to address other problems around the body. The best way to take medicine is to keep yourself educated on what your doctor is prescribing to you. Understand the dosage, the side effects profile, and contraindications (which is when one drug interferes with another). On the other hand, you have to be really careful with the information you find on the Internet, so make sure you’re getting your information from a reputable medical professional.
Immune Balance Is Simple…Sort Of
A healthy life is easier to achieve than you might think. Since all the systems of your body are interconnected, a change for the better in one area is going to positively impact the systems around it. Your immune system sits at the center of it all. You can achieve immune balance and enjoy the benefits for a lifetime.
There is so much more I’d like to say about this, but I’ll save it for Thursday night. I really think you’ll be blessed if you join us. RSVP here to save your seat (space is very limited). Bring a dish to share or $10 cash. I also encourage you to bring a notebook. You might want to take notes. I’m really excited about how this month’s presentation can transform your health.
While you’re here, please take a few seconds to go back to Facebook or Twitter and share this article. If you learned something that will help you improve your health, chances are someone you know will benefit from it, too. Let’s partner together to transform our city, state, and nation by educating people about good health.
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas