Optimizing Your Health Part 13: Strengthening Immunity
The U.S. government spends about 1/5th of its budget on defense. In the same way, your body "spends" a lot of its resources to protect you from outside invaders — using your military-like immune system.
Yes, you can think of your immune system as a kind of military organization. And its mission is to protect you from outside invaders called antigens. Antigens include not only infections, but can include any protein that looks foreign to your immune system, including toxins, allergens, and even (and especially!) incompletely digested food.
Your immune system does not believe in the Geneva convention, and it will kill outside invaders by any means possible, including chemical warfare (antibodies and cytokines), tank divisions (made up of whole armies of white blood cells), and more. This makes your immune system very complex — and very effective. But it remains so only as long as it has the resources needed to fight, and as long as it's not constantly getting overwhelmed.
In this article, I discuss the 8 key factors that can sabotage your immune system — and 9 tips that can help keep your system strong.
Eight Reasons Your Immune System Is Overwhelmed
There are more than 85,000 new synthetic chemicals in the environment today that human immune systems never had to deal with before.
Imbalanced Gut Bacteria
In health, there are more bacteria in the digestive tract than there are cells in the rest of the entire body! So it should come as no surprise that the largest portion of immune activity is generated in the gut. Healthy bacteria in the gut (i.e., probiotics) work hand in hand with your immune system to keep out 'bad guy' infections. Unfortunately, the widespread use of antibiotics and antacids, along with a diet loaded with Candida-feeding sugar, has disrupted the bacterial balance, leading to an overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria and Candida — and a weakened immune system. Probiotics can be very helpful, but it is critical to use a brand that has an enteric coating to protect the healthy probiotics as they pass through the stomach. Otherwise, they will be killed by your stomach acid, making them unable to fight off the bad guys.
Food Stripped of Enzymes and Nutrients
The enzymes that cause food to ripen are also needed by our body to digest the food. But food manufacturers have figured out that removing those enzymes during food processing prolongs shelf life. This widespread practice has dramatically increased problems with not only digestion, but also immunity. Why? Without these enzymes, the proteins in food are only partially digested. And then those protein particles enter the bloodstream, where they're mistakenly identified as outside invaders — further stressing an already overtaxed immune system. To put it in perspective, the weight of the protein in a hamburger can be thousands of times the total weight of all the viral particles when one has the flu!
To make matters worse, intestinal overgrowth of bacteria and fungi (yeast) like candida also weaken the barrier formed by our intestinal wall. This leaves our "border crossings" wide open for partially digested proteins to enter the bloodstream. (Candida is particularly tough for your immune system to handle because it's such a BIG organism. Think of a virus as the size of a period at the end of sentence. Now think of candida as the size of a house!)
Sleep rests and regenerates the immune system. In fact, sleep deprivation is a well-known method for weakening immunity, and the 21st century is a sleep deprivation experiment on a massive scale! In the last 130 years, the average night's sleep has plummeted from 9 hours to 6 3/4 hours, which has further weakened our immunity.
The amount of sugar in a can of soda can suppress immune function by 30% for three hours. The average American consumes 150 pounds of sugar added to their diet in food processing per year, which sours the disposition of the immune system. (Excess sugar also feeds candida, promoting yeast overgrowth.)
Zinc is a key player in keeping a healthy immune system. But this trace mineral is a frequent victim of food processing. In addition, but chronic infections and inflammation lead to further zinc losses in the body. This sets up a vicious cycle of low zinc causing more infections causing more zinc loss.
Healthy functioning of your adrenal glands is a must for strong immunity. But because of non-stop stress, poor sleep, excess sugar and other factors, many people have either under- or overactive adrenal glands.
Top Nine Tips for Healthy Immunity
Okay, those are the potential problems. The good news is that some simple measures can help you maintain a healthy and strong immune system.
1. Get eight hours of sleep a night.
There are easy ways to make sure you get enough sleep:
- Reserve caffeine-containing foods and beverages for before 4 PM.
- Eat a 1-2 ounce high-protein snack at bedtime.
- Avoid midnight bathroom interruptions by not drinking fluids an hour or two before bedtime.
- Take a hot bath before bed.
- Keep your bedroom cool.
- Get out of bed the same time every morning, even after a poor night's sleep.
- If needed, use a natural sleep aid herbal mix.
- If needed, the medications Flexeril (3 mg), Neurontin (100-300 mg), Desyrel (25-50 mg) and/or Lyrica (150-300 mg) can also help sleep. Using these low doses decreases the risk of side effects and can be combined with the natural therapies.
2. Take a good multivitamin that includes zinc.
I recommend vitamin powder drink mixes over vitamin pills, as a scoop of powder can generally deliver more nutritional content than a handful of tablets and pills.
3. Starve the candida — cut back on sugar.
Candida feed on sugar. An easy way to start cutting back on your intake of the sweet stuff? Limit (or completely eliminate) your intake of the four types of foods that are loaded with added sugar: 1) fast food, 2) processed food, 3) sodas, and 4) fruit juices and drinks.
4. Save antibiotics for when they're really needed.
For example, sinus problems almost never require a dose of antibiotics. Neither do colds, which are a viral (not a bacterial) infection.
5. Take a probiotic.
Probiotics help normalize gut bacteria.
6. Take plant-based digestive enzymes.
This not only promotes healthy digestion, but also takes a massive load off your immune system.
7. Use an immune-boosting supplement.
8. Optimize adrenal function.
The adrenal glands act as stress handlers in your body. Supplements with adrenal grandulars can help promote calmness. This is especially important if you tend to get very irritable when hungry.
9. Get more sunshine.
It delivers vitamin D, a must for healthy immunity. In fact, the oft-heard advice to avoid sunshine has resulted in weakened immunity and, I believe, hundreds of thousands of deaths from conditions linked to poor immune function. As I always say, the best advice is to avoid sunburn, not sunshine. Go for a walk every day in the great outdoors. Your immune system will thank you!
Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. is one of the world's leading integrative medical authorities on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He is the lead author of eight research studies on their effective treatments, and has published numerous health & wellness books, including the bestseller on fibromyalgia From Fatigued to Fantastic! and The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. Dr. Teitelbaum is one of the most frequently quoted fibromyalgia experts in the world and appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and Fox News Health.