With cold and flu season upon us as well as all of the hype about epidemics and outbreaks, I thought that now would be a good time to talk about the immune system.

Louis Pasteur said: ‘’It’s not about the germs, it’s about the terrain’’.

Our immune system is the terrain that Pasteur was referring to.

We are so concerned about sanitization and destroying pathogens that sometimes we forget about our biggest ally and our built-in defense system; our immune system.

It seems like the media always wants us waging war against something. These days it’s war against germs and viruses.

I recently had a kitchen session with a client that suffers from pretty severe eczema on her hands. When I watched her scrubbing her poor hands like a surgeon prepping for surgery, I questioned whether the intensity of the scrubbing was contributing to her skin problems.

In her defense, there is so much fear surrounding germs. Just listen to the news for 30 seconds and it’s easy to understand why some of us are over-scrubbing and over-sanitizing.

Don’t get me wrong! We need to use our common sense here. I’m not opposed to cleanliness or hand- washing. Good hygiene and sanitation will always be extremely important.

But I think it’s pretty clear that we’ll never manage to obliterate all of the bad bugs lurking in our environment, no matter what the Lysol commercials try to tell us.

In fact we’re seeing that the bugs are quite crafty and can mutate and develop resistance to our warring chemicals, antibiotics and sanitizers. So what’s the answer? Stronger chemicals, more vaccines?

A strong immune system is designed to protect the body against infection and cancer. Here are some key elements to help keep your immune system in top shape:

Manage stress
Increased blood levels of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol suppress immune function. We’ll never eliminate stress from our lives but it’s our job to take the necessary steps to keep it in check. What do you enjoy? Make the time to reconnect with things you love. Connecting with nature and brisk walking is an amazing stress buster and brings a little balance back into our lives. Meditation and mindfulness are scientifically proven to reduce the hormones of stress.

Adequate and good quality sleep is incredibly important for healing and regeneration. Aim for a solid 7 hours or more, reduce blue light exposure and keep your bedroom cool. Here is a quick summary of tips to ensure quality sleep from Matthew Walker’s book: Why we sleep.

Avoid sugar
Sugar suppresses the immune response. The more sugar you eat, the more the immune system is compromised. Refined foods are stripped of the nutrients that your body needs to maintain a strong defense. Studies have shown that consuming 100g of sugar can reduce the action of a specific type of white blood cell called neutrophils by 50%. Neutrophils are major players in our immune system. How much is 100g of sugar? Just to give you an idea; an energy drink can contain up to 69g of sugar. It is estimated that the average American consumes about 125g of refined sugar per day. That means that we are in a chronic state of immune suppression.

Support the gut
70-80% of our immune system lives in the gut. Eating naturally fermented foods does amazing things for immune health and provides us with natural probiotics and enzymes that help with the digestion and absorption of essential nutrients. Most cultures have some version of fermented food. These ancient foods boast amazing qualities that range from prevention of bowel disease and cancer to improving allergies and autoimmune conditions.

Leafy greens
Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, parsley, beet greens and Swiss chard are packed with nutrients and antioxidants that are essential for immune system health. Watch my easy pesto video for a delicious way to get more leafy greens into your diet.

Vegetables and sprouts
Vegetables and sprouts are naturally packed with the nutrients your immune system craves and they are delivered in a form your body can utilize. A wide variety of vegetables is a great insurance policy against succumbing to infection. If you’re into smoothies, here is a great way to maximize the nutrition of your morning smoothie.

Vitamin C
Supplemental vitamin C may be called for since we burn through this vitamin with stress. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and a major player in immune health. Naturally fermented sauerkraut is an excellent source of vitamin C.  Win win!

Vitamin D
We get most of our vitamin D from exposure to sunshine. Vitamin D is essential for immune health. Most of us living in the northern hemisphere can benefit from supplementing during the winter months. In a study conducted by Dr William Grant, it is estimated that by simply raising vitamin D levels; the death rate could be reduced by 16% and the economic burden be reduced by  more than 14 billion dollars.

Zinc increases immunity and helps fight colds. Vegans and strict vegetarians need to be especially mindful since many animal products such as lamb and grass-fed beef are great sources of zinc.  It is believed that women taking the birth control pill or hormone replacement therapy may be more susceptible to zinc deficiency.

Healthy Weight
Obesity is associated with higher rates of inflammation and decreased immune status. Studies in animals and people affected by obesity show impaired immune response as well as an increased risk of infection. Hospitalized patients that are obese are more likely to develop secondary infections and complications.

I hope I’ve provided some food for thought and helped shift your focus to some of the things you can do to naturally boost your own precious terrain.

If you would like to learn more about how a holistic approach to health and nutrition can benefit you; call me to book a free 30 minute consultation.