It’s all about the terrain!
HOW TO KEEP YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM STRONG
I get asked a lot – “What can I do to build my immune system?”
Well, believe it or not it’s not that difficult!! Many think that if they take GOBS of supplements then they will be healthy or have a strong immune system yet their diet and lifestyle is far from optimal.
Bottom line is TERRAIN – your internal environment. Build and maintain a beautiful terrain and very little can take hold and make you sick! Your best protection is a strong terrain!
There are three major factors that determine the overall strength of your terrain: Diet, Gut Health and Hormone Balance
What’s the best diet to build the immune system? Well, you might think it’s a lot of fruits and veggies, right? We know that fruits and veggies are full of vitamins and minerals that boost our immune system – Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Magnesium, Calcium. You’d be right to think this. But most people don’t realize that protein is crucial to a robust immune system! It has been shown that a diet deficient in protein actually impairs the immune system¹. We derive a huge amount of Vitamin D, Zinc, Vitamin A from animal protein sources that act to build, nurture and regulate our immune system.
My clinical experience has shown me that animal protein is far superior to plant-based protein sources. Yeah, maybe that’s not what you want to hear but it’s MY clinical experience of 17 years. Over years in practice I’ve seen plant proteins aggravate many guts (nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, soy) – it’s that simple. Many of my vegan/plant-based clients have very agitated guts and poor vitamin and mineral absorption which spills over into other systems – namely the immune system. I believe it could be the lectin and phytic acid content in most plant proteins. Lectins and Phytic Acid are anti-nutrients and prevent absorption of nutrients in the gut. In addition, nuts and seeds are relatively high in Omega 6 fatty acids – these are PRO-inflammatory. Anything that makes you MORE inflamed makes you MORE susceptible to disease!
But the quality of animal protein matters! It must be grass-fed, grass-finished, wild game, wild caught, pasture-raised to be considered quality. Organic is a strong preference as well (when appropriate). Then you are loading up on Omega 3 fatty acids – these are ANTI-inflammatory.
Recommendation: Eat a diet rich in colorful veggies, fat, animal protein and low sugar fruit. Some need more carbs than veggies and fruit provide so I often suggest to add organic, USA-grown white rice or skinned organic white potatoes as tolerated and/or needed for fuel. Some need more protein than others – especially if your exercise is heavy weight-lifting. But EVERYONE needs fat! I’m very supportive of animal fats (such as quality pork lard, beef tallow, duck fat, etc) but also find value in coconut oil, butter/ghee, avocado oil. But remember – quality matters!!
I also like Intermittent Fasting (IF) A LOT! There are many variations of IF so choose the one that works best for you!
Why is the gut so important in immune system function? Well, to start, about 70% of the immune system is actually IN the gut – called GALT – or gut-associated lymphoid tissue. GALT is a major player in the production of antibodies – the proteins responsible for identifying and neutralizing “invaders”.
Also, the gut microbiome or “gut bugs” (micro-organisms made up of bacteria, fungi, and others) have been shown to play a huge role in immunity as well². How cool is that? Something from outside of ourselves, micro-organisms that live in and on our bodies actually protect us and fight off “invaders” for us! Our own army!
So many don’t even realize that they have gut “issues”. Maybe you (or your family) consider yourself “gassy”. Doesn’t everyone fart??? Or you might be so used to skipping days in the bathroom or maybe the opposite and make many daily trips to the bathroom. While most seem to consider these things to be normal – THEY ARE NOT! It is not NORMAL to be gassy! It’s not NORMAL to be constipated. It’s not NORMAL to have many bowel movements in a day! All too often we confuse “common” with “normal”. Just because it’s COMMON doesn’t make it NORMAL!
Recommendation: Work on gut health with diet first! Make sure you are eating a nutrient-dense diet. Don’t jump to supplementation first. You CANNOT supplement a body to health – especially if other factors like diet are ignored! But if your gut is weak – you need to better understand what’s wrong! I strongly recommend the Biome FX Test to understand your microbiome better – where it goes right and where it goes wrong. THEN you can better support it with supplements. Check out the BiomeFx test HERE!
Just throwing supplements at an over-burdened body will ONLY burden it further!
Hormone balance is a loaded term – it’s multi-faceted. Hormones such as estrogens and cortisol are very interconnected to gut health and immunity. You cannot fix one without fixing the other.
Numerous studies have shown the relationship of estrogen levels on immunity, particularly autoimmunity³. Normally, estrogen is broken down in a number of steps, recirculated if needed and removed from the body if not. When done efficiently you have estrogen balance. With poor elimination of estrogen and it’s metabolites, you can be more prone to immune dysfunction that can manifest as autoimmune flares, cancer, PMS, etc.
The relationship of estrogen and the gut is strong. For example, the estrobolome – a specific microbiome dedicated to clearing out estrogens from your body is located in the gut. When it works perfectly it’s a beautiful thing as it clears the right amount of estrogen from the body. But it doesn’t always do the job properly and can result in too low or too high of estrogen.
Cortisol (a major stress hormone) is directly related to immunity. It can act as an “off switch” to the immune system. High and low cortisol can alter the body’s appropriate response to an immune threat. In times of high stress/high cortisol we often see less immune response – acting more as a suppressor of the immune system – preventing or dampening the immune response. But when that time of high stress/high cortisol passes – by removal of stress or adrenal fatigue – the immune response can kick into high gear as inflammation is no longer suppressed and you have a more dramatic immune response.
Recommendation: Learn what your hormones are saying to you! My absolute favorite hormone test is the DUTCH test. It is incredibly informative and provides so much value when you are on a fact-finding mission! Not only does it test sex hormones and metabolites (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA) but adrenal/stress hormones as well as some other valuable tests! Big bang for your medical buck! Check out more about the DUTCH Test HERE!
Balance is everything!
It’s crucial to focus on improving your overall internal environment or terrain to make sure you mount the appropriate immune response in all situations. You simply cannot rely on taking every supplement on the market to keep you “healthy”. Only by adopting a good diet, ensuring that you have optimal gut and hormone health will you give your body the tools it needs to protect you!
Check in next week to learn more about specifics on how to boost your immune system and navigate new Covid variants!
- Peng Li1, Yu-Long Yin, Defa Li, Sung Woo Kim, Guoyao Wu. 2007. Amino Acids and Immune Function. Br J Nutr. Aug;98(2):237-52.
- Fields, H. 2015. The Gut: The Bacteria and the Immune System Meet. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/research/advancements-in-research/fundamentals/in-depth/the-gut-where-bacteria-and-immune-system-meet
- Khan D, Cowan C, Ansar Ahmed S. Estrogen and signaling in the cells of immune system. Adv Neuroimm Biol(2012) 3(1):73–93