I'm sure we can agree the immune system has gotten a lot of attention over the past few years. In fact, the last two years I have heard more about pending virus mutations or pending new viral or bacterial attacks on the human race. Seems like each time I read the headlines, there is a new article to that affect. Let's face it, pathogens are on every corner lurking in every alley just waiting to pounce on its next victim! Ok, maybe I exaggerated just a tad. But you get my point. They are EVERYWHERE!! And we are around them EVERYDAY! Unless of course you live in a giant sterile bubble...
God was very creative when it came to the human body. Well, honestly I think He was thoughtful and creative in everything He made. But back to the immune system.
When you come in contact with germs, your immune system gets tested, or trained. It learns the difference between self and non-self and distinguishes between what is a threat to you and what is not. This testing keeps your immune system in check and ready for the real threats. Without this training, your immune system gets a little lazy. This reminds me of our National Guard. They attend monthly trainings so they can stay in shape and be ready in the event they are called to active duty.
Your immune system is the only system in your body that is designed to protect you. However, by itself, your immune system is like an army without a general! It has no clue what to do or where to go. That is where the microbiome comes in. The microbiome is the general directing the troops.
Did you know that about 80% of your immune system can be found in your gut? Without a healthy gut, you won't have a healthy immune system.
TWO PARTS TO THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
The immune system has two parts with distinct roles, innate and adaptive. The Innate Immune System is the first line of defense. It is broad and non-specific and scouts out pathogens. The microbiome assists the innate system by helping determine if the pathogen is a threat or not. If it is a threat, the microbiome will signal the appropriate troops to defend the body. Within a few days, the immune system should shift from innate to adaptive. If this shift does not happen, the immune system gets "stuck", and we see "the body attacking itself." This often results in bad outcomes from bacterial or viral loads. The second line of defense is the Adaptive Immune System. It is responsible for long term protection. The adaptive immune system sends out specific immune cells to battle the pathogen. If we think of the innate immune system being the fire or inflammatory, think of the adaptive as being the fire truck or anti-inflammatory.
Without a healthy, diverse gut microbiome, you can't really have a healthy, well-functioning immune system. In fact, immune cells would circulate without knowing what to do and simply would not respond. It would be like you getting stuck on the round-a-bout unable to exit!
Low diversity equals a poor functioning, hyperactive immune system. An imbalanced gut can lead to an increase in allergies, sensitivities, colds, inflammation, etc.
What affects the microbiome and immune system?
Antibiotics and fungicides – These are needed at times and isn’t picky about what it kills. They are designed to kill bacteria, good and bad. But, its not just the antibiotics we are given when we are sick that become an issue for our immune system. Antibiotics/fungicides are also used in our food supply. Have you read ingredient labels lately?
Diet – Do you consume mostly fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables? What about your protein sources? How often do you eat in restaurants or go through the drive-thru?
Stress – can be from poor diet, food allergies or intolerances, lack of plain water, lack of sleep, inflammation in the body, illness, toxic chemicals, job, people around you – anything your body perceives as a threat.
Sleep – poor sleep affects the body’s ability to repair.
Environment – chemicals used to clean home or make it smell good, the air outside, chemicals in water, allergens, and even toxic people or situations
IMPORTANT NUTRIENTS TO SUPPORT IMMUNE SYSTEM
• Probiotics – help to rebalance the gut. Very important when on antibiotics. Spore-based,
researched probiotics - increase key bacteria in the gut that decrease inflammation and
support the immune system.
• Antioxidants – think “rainbow” when it comes to fruits and vegetables
• Digestive Enzymes – found in raw fruits and vegetables and in supplement form. They help
breakdown the food you eat so it can be digested and absorbed by the body.
Supplementing with digestive enzymes relieves some of the burden from the digestive
system. More on digestive enzymes in future blogs.
• Fiber – An important food for probiotics. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble.
Soluble Fiber dissolves in water, is fermentable by bacteria, and is gelatinous when mixed
with water. Soluble fiber can reduce cholesterol and can also help reduce sugar intake.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and is better at promoting regularity, bulks up the
stool and, as a result, is better at eliminating toxic waste. This kind of fiber is present
primarily in leafy greens and raw vegetables.
• Greens – Alfalfa, Chlorella, Spirulina, Barley, Green drinks made with dark green leafy
vegetables, and fresh dark leafy green vegetables. These are usually high in minerals and
• Essential Fatty Acids (omega 3, 6) - Omega 3s are anti-inflammatory. This is found in foods
such as cold water wild caught fish, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, fish oil, and olive oil.
We need Omega 6 as well. But, Americans tend to consume a diet high in processed
foods and cured meats which contain high amounts of Omega 6. Too much omega 6 in
the diet can lead to more inflammation. It is all about balance!
• WATER – As a general rule of thumb, consume about half your body weight in ounces per
day. If you are exercising, working outside, doing a lot of physical activity, or it is humid
weather, increase that by at least a third. Pay attention to your urine color - it should be a
pale straw yellow. If it is clear, you might be consuming too much water. If it is darker than
a straw color, you should increase your amount of water. Remember that caffeine and
alcohol is dehydrating. You should drink 2 cups of water for every cup of caffeine or
• Potassium rich foods – Potassium is found in a variety of fruits, legumes, and vegetables.
Avocados and bananas are high in this important nutrient.
Inflammation has a time and place. Sometimes, inflammation can be good. Like when you sprain your ankle and it swells. Your body has jumped into action and is busy trying to figure out how to best repair this damage. When inflammation becomes a chronic state, it can devastate our health. The foods we eat can either help to reduce inflammation, or they can increase inflammation.
FOODS TO HELP REDUCE INFLAMMATION
Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, organic or grass-fed meat, raw honey, pure maple syrup, stevia, diversified diet
▪ Minimally Processed – the more
something is isolated, extracted,
heated, tainted in any way, the less
nutrition it will have.
▪ Enzyme Rich – Keep in mind that
cooking destroys enzymes in food.
Adding fresh, raw fruits and
vegetables to your diet is a great way
to get enzymes from food. Locally grown produce is usually higher in enzymes because
there is minimal time from harvest to your dinner table.
▪ Low-Glycemic – these are foods that digest slower and fuel the body longer. I refer to these
as "good carbs".
▪ Organic – Organic farming practices can often lead to a lower chemical residue in
the produce. You are taking the word of the farmer/producer here. There isn't good
oversight by the USDA and some large companies have been known to not be very honest.
I like to by local or grow my own when I can, so I can talk with the grower. I recommend
using the EWG produce guide to know what produce seems to have the heavier chemical
residue at the grocery store.
▪ Non-GMO – man seems to “improve” on what God made and often makes it worse. From
a growers standpoint GMO may be fine. While there isn't much difference nutritionally,
there is a difference as our bodies break down the food. Our bodies do not recognize the
foreign DNA material found in most GMO products at the cellular level, which results in
▪ Nutrient Dense – locally grown produce is usually more nutrient dense because it is often
harvested when the produce is ready instead of being picked for shipping.
FOODS THAT INCREASE INFLAMMATION
Processed/packaged foods, fast food, sugary drinks, vegetable oils, conventionally raised meat and dairy, commercial breads/pastas/grains, sweets, etc
▪ Ridiculously portioned – often packaged for multiple servings. Read the WHOLE label, plus the ingredients. Pay attention to the serving size. For example, I looked at a frozen pot pie recently. According to the picture on the front and the size of the package, it looks like a single serving. But when you read the label, it says that half the pot pie is one serving. Its also important to know what ingredients are used in the pot pie.
▪ Over processed – These foods are found in the center isles of the grocery store. They
usually have a long shelf life.
▪ Taste Bud tickling – Food engineers are really GOOD at their job! They have done a great
job mimicking tastes using chemicals. Probably the oldest example is MSG. Remember
the seasoning Accent? Products that are over-processed can also be higher in sugar and
▪ Tainted with chemicals – Next time you are at the grocery store, read the INGREDIENT
label on everything you pick up, and ask yourself the following questions: "Can I
pronounce all the ingredients? Do I know what they are without googling them? If I were to
make this item in my kitchen, would I use these same ingredients?" If you answer no to any
of the questions, put the item back on the shelf!
▪ Empty – processed food cannot reproduce life on its own its own, much less in you. Its void
of nutrients and enzymes. If you read the label on a bag of flour, you will see more than
just wheat listed. During processing, the flour is stripped of the hull, germ, and endosperm
which is where the vitamins are. Then they are added to the flour.
▪ No expiration date – actually, processed food has a really long shelf life.
I hope by now you have a better understanding of our intricate immune system, how it is connected to the gut, and the impact your diet and lifestyle has on your body. Look for future blogs where I expound on some of the information provided in this article. As always, please contact me if you have any questions, or would like personal help in making adjustments to your diet/lifestyle.