Let’s talk about your immune system

I am not a doctor nor is this medical advice. Please do your own research and consult your own qualified practitioner. Below is some of what I have learned.

Meriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the Immune System as:

: the bodily system that protects the body from foreign substances, cells, and tissues by producing the immune response and that includes especially the thymus, spleen, lymph nodes, special deposits of lymphoid tissue (as in the gastrointestinal tract and bone marrow), macrophages, lymphocytes including the B cells and T cells, and antibodies

Sounds slightly confusing, no? Well, look at that first part. “The bodily system that protects the body from foreign substances…” You may have known you have an immune system but had you forgotten what it can really do? Many people today truly have forgotten what it can do and what is needed to keep it functioning well. Too often we think about it only after we have become sick. I was that someone too.

There are so many factors that play into the world we live in today. Increased demands and hours of our jobs, long commute times, sometimes multiple jobs just to keep food on the table and bills paid, high prices of fuel, food and rent, and stress and anxiety of unknowns. We end up choosing fast food or easy prep meals because we are tired and pressed for time because evening meetings, kids extracurricular activities, our activities, homework, etc. Many live in apartments, town homes and tiny homes and do not have the time nor capacity to grow gardens, can and/or freeze food or raise food like chickens. Companies are constantly finding ways to make food cheaper and faster. It seems as if the almighty dollar drives, well, everything.

The downside is all of it is leaving us tired, stressed, and sick. The pace of life and the things we are putting in our bodies is not making us feel better. Our bodies are depleted. Our food is not what it used to be either so we think we are eating well but we just can’t get out of our food what it used to provide. Stress, especially chronic on-going stress, has a very negative effect by suppressing our whole immune system.

Sugar is a huge culprit too. Did you know that when you consume sugar it can effectively put your immune system into a coma? Sugar weakens the white blood cells ability to attack bacteria and viruses. Vitamin C and sugar also have very similar structures and so when you consume sugar, it is allowed into the cells instead of vitamin C because the body can’t tell the difference between the two. Here is a good article on this topic. It explains really well and in plain language, the benefits of vitamin C and also how sugar competes with vitamin C: https://www.boxingscene.com/supplements/20740.php And another article on how sugar affects our cells: http://www.ghrnet.org/index.php/JT/article/view/1340/1795

Nutrition plays a huge role in our immune system. If you have poor eating habits, the more likely you are to get sick. This is why socio-economic status plays a direct role in the health of people. If you can afford better food and supplements you likely have better health. If and when you can, choose fruits, veggies and organic whenever you can and grass fed meats. If you can’t do that, choose the best you can afford. Maybe you can choose that only 1x a month or two, but do it. Look for community gardens to be a part of in the summer. Seeds are cheap but produce a lot! Off season, check the prices of the organic section because they often go on sale and are only a few cents more than non-organic, if not the same. But just know that nutrition does play a big role. The healthier you are, the better your immune system will function. Often though, diet alone cannot replenish nutrient deficiencies. That’s where supplements play an important role. Which are most important for a healthy immune system? Vitamins A, B, C, D, E & iron, zinc and selenium. I won’t go over all of them, but the main ones I will touch on.

So I have to highlight too, that not all supplements are created equal. You know those popular vitamin C chewables? You find them near the front doors of big box stores, in a big display at this time of year? You know what’s in them? Sugar! Here are the ingredients from a popular brand:

Ingredients: Vitamin C 500 mg (Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Ascorbate), Supporting Botanical Blend 7 mg, Derived from rutin (Dimorphandra mollis, pod), hesperidin (Citrus sinensis, fruit), citrus bioflavonoids (Citrus limon, rind), acerola cherry (4:1) extract (Malpighia glabra, fruit) equivalent to 5.76 mg raw herb, rose hips (Rosa canina, fruit).

Also Contains: Cellulose, vegetable stearic acid, vegetable magnesium stearate, silica, natural orange flavour, dextrose, sucralose. (highlighting is mine). Jamieson Chewable C. Retrieved from https://www.rexall.ca/everyday-health/cough-and-cold/jamieson-cough-and-cold/chewable-vitamin-c

So what benefit is this supplement if it contains sugar? I have nothing against this brand, rather all supplements that contain sugar. We have become a society that if it doesn’t taste good we won’t eat it. We know that to fight colds and flus we should take vitamin C but if it contains sugar, it’s doing more harm than good. Frustrating isn’t it? You think you are choosing wisely, you trust that products on the shelf are good for you but alas, many are not. Grocery store brand vitamins often have fillers and synthetics in them. That’s how they keep the costs down, just as in food. They often also do not contain any active ingredients. They may say they contain a certain herb or plant but it can often just be the leftover parts of the plant. Kind of like hot dogs…Ick! Grocery store brands are also not really concerned with proper transportation of their items. In the winter they can be exposed to freezing and thawing and in the summer can be exposed to high temperatures. Neither are good for a product and can cause the items to become rancid. When something is rancid, it introduces toxins to the body. Look for supplements that contain no sugar or fillers.

Side note: I did not learn to swallow pills until I was in my early 40’s and I wish I had learned sooner! I definitely wouldn’t have gotten as sick as I did had I been able to take supplements sooner. But it took getting sick to push me to learn that skill. Do you need help with that? Dr. Bonnie Kaplan at the University of Calgary came up with an easy way to help kids (or anyone really!) learn how to swallow pills. It does use candy (sized tiny to large) to teach it but it’s a skill that will benefit you the rest of your life. Just don’t do it when you are fighting a cold! See how it works here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zxqs7flHJQc

Moving on! If you live in Canada or the northern States, you are vitamin D deficient. Our latitude just doesn’t give us the direct sun that we need to maintain good levels of vitamin D. If you use sunscreen, you also aren’t getting vitamin D. It is found naturally in very few sources. The flesh of fatty fish and egg yolks contain some but it depends on that animal’s diet as to how much. In addition to maintaining healthy bones and muscles, vitamin D, helps your immune system to fight off bacteria and viruses.

B vitamins are excellent for adrenals, as well as preventing infections and maintaining cellular health, energy levels, brain function, digestion and a host of other great things. There are eight B vitamins so you need a complex B supplement to get them all. You can find it naturally in some fish, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy and it is usually added to cereals and breads but those are not usually healthy sources due to the other ingredients that are less than ideal, like sugar.

Zinc is great for boosting the immune system and healing wounds. It helps shorten cold symptoms and can be found in tablet form for just that. It helps stop excess inflammation and helps control the immune response to an infection. It can be found in meats, poultry and shellfish. It does block the absorption of iron so it needs to be taken separately from that. Here is an article explaining the role and benefits of zinc: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/zinc/

Essential oils! I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention these with the supplements. I have been using essential oils for 9 months now and have seen their many benefits in myself and my family. Every body is different and everyone can have a different experience with them. Knowing your body and how it responds and to what is important. In my house we have been successfully using the Thieves and Lemon essential oils in reducing our cold symptoms. Thieves contains clove oil which is known to help with cold symptoms, as is lemon. In Canada, we have Natural Health Products (NHPs) that are approved by Health Canada as products that are known to help with various common ailments. All of these are NHPs! It’s great to be able to recognize natural products for the benefits they provide 🙂

Lastly, any healthy body needs fresh air and exercise. These are free for the taking! Even if you cannot afford organic or extra supplements, you can get out and get moving. It is a great place to start.

So what does immunity mean to you? How do you help your immune system to stay healthy? Look for part 2 of this topic coming soon! I’ll chat about our gut and it’s role in immune health. Want to chat further? Send me an email! I am always happy to discuss these topics 🙂

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