By Alana Battiston, RD, CYT
The role of the immune system is to determine what is a friend and what is a foe in order to keep you healthy. When we are exposed to a “foe”, it begins to fight the “invader” by producing warriors (cytokines, cytotoxins, and antibodies). Sometimes we may have an immune system that is out of balance, resulting in overactivation of the immune system
when it’s not supposed to, the inability to fight off certain invaders, or both. This imbalance manifests through inflammation in the form of swelling, heat, and pain.
70% of our immune system is located in the digestive system, specifically located in the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) and mucosal-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT). If GALT & MALT are structurally strong, the body will be able to fight off invaders and endure various stressors. If they are weakened, bacteria, food particles, and other unwanted molecules get into our blood and cause problems.
The immune system is comprised of multiple parts, two of which we will discuss here. The innate immune system is the 1st line of defense which responds quickly (in minutes or hours) to invaders that can make you sick. The adaptive immune system is the 2nd line of defense which is slower and undergoes a more vigilant inspection of the invader. It is
involved in allergic responses and food and environmental sensitivities.
The immune system works dynamically to regulate our state of health. Our immune function is optimal when we feel healthy, full of energy, and don’t have many infections. If we fatigue easily, have recurrent colds and infections, this is a strong indication that our immune system needs some help. In addition to avoiding things that suppress the immune system (infections, surgery, stress, many drugs, sugar, alcohol, chemicals, pesticides, and lack of sleep, exercise, and rest), the following strategies can be implemented to strengthen the immune system:
1. Eat the rainbow: Focus on whole foods, herbs, and spices. Polyphenols are anti-inflammatory phytochemicals that give the rainbow of colours to plant foods. Foods with the highest polyphenols are berries, dark fruits, red wine, cocoa powder, onions, leeks, cabbage, broccoli, beans, parsley, tomatoes.
2. Rest & relaxation: Having a daily practice of restorative yoga, meditation, qi gong, or tai chi has been shown to lower stress levels and increase lymph circulation (helps clear foreign cells and things we don’t want in our system)
3. Exercise: Moderate exercise has been shown to strengthen innate immunity as well as increase circulation of nutrients, blood, and energy throughout the body.
4. Probiotics: Add fermented foods to your diet everyday to build a healthy gut flora. This includes raw, unpasteurized cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, kombucha, gluten-free miso, pickles (in brine, not vinegar), apple cider vinegar.
5. Supplements: Nothing can replace the richness of a nutritious whole foods diet. However, the following supplements have been shown to support the immune system: Vitamins A, C, D, & E, zinc, & selenium.
Consult your dietitian/nutritionist for an individualized immune system strengthening protocol. You can find Alana at: www.alanabattiston.com