Strengthening immunity through diet

Edit: I just got this link in an email (4/2/20) and since it’s relevant to the topic of this post, I’m adding it here.

Viome is a company that tests stool for microbes and prescribes the superfoods and foods to avoid, as well as supplements, to improve your gut health.

Give Your Gut a Chance: Microorganisms and Your Immune System (https://www.viome.com/blog/give-your-gut-chance-microorganisms-and-your-immune-system).

~~~

Okay, readers, I posted on the basics of the immune system. If you missed that post, click here to read it. Bare bones version: we have an innate immune system that immediately goes to work against pathogens, and a slower adaptive immune system that kills pathogens, remembers them, and confers immunity by producing antibodies to those specific pathogens.

Since SARS-CoV-2 is a novel (new) virus, our adaptive immune systems have nothing to remember, which explains why it is so contagious and why it is taking so many people down. We don’t know yet if this virus will mutate and evade adaptive memory. Can people get it twice? We don’t know.

In this post, I want to explore how what we eat and drink affects our immune systems.

In general, eating lots of fruits and vegetables is recommended for the fiber and nutrient density, as is moderate to no alcohol consumption. Maintaining a healthy weight is also recommended.

There’s a lot that we don’t know yet about the highly complex immune system, but we do know that malnourished people are more vulnerable to infectious diseases, as are the elderly. You of course are aware that you do not have to be living in poverty in a third world country to be malnourished. Diets high in processed foods (a first world problem) can result in malnourishment.

Micronutrients that affect immune responses

The micronutrient deficiencies that have been shown to alter immune responses in animals include the following:

  • zinc
  • selenium
  • copper
  • iron
  • folate
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D3
  • Vitamin E

Foods high in these nutrients are recommended, and if these foods are unavailable, supplements should be helpful. High quality multivitamin and multimineral supplements can help.

I found this cool website where you can select a micronutrient and see what foods are high in it. Did you know that hemp seeds are high in zinc? I didn’t.

Stomach acid declines with age, which impacts nutrient absorption

Older people are more likely to be deficient in micronutrients. One possible factor is that stomach acid production declines with age. Zinc deficiency, high sugar intake, and eating too quickly also contribute. Stomach acid helps break down food for digestion and absorption of nutrients.

A way to remedy this is to take HCl, hydrochloric acid, with meals. Chewing food thoroughly, limiting processed foods, eating fermented foods, drinking apple cider vinegar in water, and eating ginger are recommended ways to boost stomach acid production without taking an HCl supplement.

The gut microbiome influences the immune system, and vice versa

Seventy to eighty percent of immune cells are found in the gut. The gut microbiome provides antigens and influences immune system cells. Food is a foreign substance introduced into the body, and the immune system decides if it’s beneficial or a threat. These two systems regulate and support each other.

When all is well, the immune system helps maintain stability of beneficial gut microbes, and microbes support the development of immune cells, as well as fine-tuning immune responses.

Keeping the gut microbiome healthy includes:

  • Not taking antibiotics unless absolutely necessary,
  • Consuming prebiotics — nondigestible fiber feeds the health-producing gut bacteria. Eat lots of veggies and fruits for fiber.
  • Eating fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, and beet kvass increases beneficial micro-organisms in the gut.

Improving gut health and reducing gut inflammation (leaky gut)

One concern about the modern diet is that it may produce systemic inflammation through gaps in the cells that line the small intestines. This is called leaky gut, or intestinal permeability. These gut lining cells produce the anti-microbial chemicals that are part of the innate immune system.

Here are some recommendations to reduce gut inflammation:

  • Avoid processed, high fat, and high sugar foods.
  • Avoid common allergens, such as wheat and dairy.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Investigate a low-FODMAP diet.
  • Add foods with probiotics (kefir, yogurt, kimchi, etc.) and take probiotic supplements.
  • Add foods with prebiotics (bananas, berries, etc.). Prebiotic supplements are available.
  • Reduce your use of NSAIDs.
  • Reduce your stress level.
  • If you smoke, quit.

Working with a nutritionist can be very helpful.

This is Day 7 of sheltering in place in Austin, Texas. Here’s our case count as of last night. We’ve had another death. We’ve been getting roughly 20 more known cases per day.

Expect the case count to go up quite a bit tonight. There’s a report that a group of 70 people (mostly UT students) in their 20s went to Cabo in Mexico for spring break a week and a half ago, and after returning to Austin, 28 of them have tested positive, so far. About half the cases in Austin are still those ages 20-40.

Here’s a poignant video showing the empty streets of normally bustling Austin. The sentiment at the end says it all.

Moving toward a more traditional diet

I’ve been working with local clinical nutritionist/acupuncturist Olivia Honeycutt for a couple of months, tweaking my diet so I can be healthier and have more energy. She gave me some forms for noting what I eat for meals and snacks, when I eat, how much water I drink, how many hours of sleep I get and the quality of my sleep, bowel movements, etc. We get together every couple of weeks so I can share my forms. She looks them over and makes recommendations of little tweaks I can make to improve my health through diet.

Although I was already eating very little grains and legumes and no gluten before I started working with Olivia, I’m eating more of a traditional diet now.

It was a bit difficult to move past the belief that more fat is good, because for most of my adult life, fat has been considered the cause of heart disease and obesity. Especially animal fat. Fat = bad for decades, and now fat = good (especially animal fat, coconut oil, avocado oil, and olive oil). I went out of my way especially to avoid Mexican restaurant food cooked with lard, and now it’s considered healthy! (It’s also tastier.)

Yet here I am, eating butter, ghee, and/or bacon grease daily. I did not want to gain weight, but I have. It’s actually fat turned to muscle, because my clothes still fit. To lose weight eating like this, you eat more fat earlier in the day.

Epic barsThe great thing about fat is that it satisfies. If I’m working for hours doing massage, and I don’t have time to eat, consuming fat will stave off my hunger for longer than anything else I could eat. It’s fuel. I’ve tried eating various fat-laden foods such as almond butter, coconut butter, Epic bison/lamb/turkey/beef bars, avocados, and some organic extra-virgin coconut oil when my hunger is getting the better of me. It works.

One of the biggest adjustments is that from tracking my water intake, I learned I wasn’t drinking enough water. Now I drink 16 ounces upon arising (with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar). My water bottle holds 27 ounces, and I empty it daily. Another 16 ounces in the evening brings my total to 59 ounces, close enough to my goal of 60 ounces a day, or about half my body weight in ounces. I don’t count the caffeinated tea I drink because tea is a diuretic.

Also, I like to drink a glass of water about 10 minutes before eating because it helps me avoid overeating. It’s so easy to confuse hunger and thirst! When my thirst is sated, I’m not as hungry.

Because I work out 3-5 times per week with kettle bells and do physical work as a massage therapist, Olivia has me eating a palm-sized amount of protein at each meal. I am not an athlete, but I get to eat like one! I’ve been making chicken liver paté from different recipes for the past few weeks to get some beneficial fat-soluble vitamins found in liver. (Here’s my favorite recipe!)

I don’t eat much canned or processed foods, except for sardines. I eat raw honey, rare beef, and fermented food and drink such as sauerkraut, refrigerator pickles, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, Kevita, wine, cider, or cheese nearly every day.

I’m looking forward to obtaining some natto, having become aware of the vast benefits of consuming adequate vitamin K2 for appropriate calcium utilization (i.e., in the bones and teeth and not in the arteries and brain). There’s a supplement that also has K2

I’m learning to soak and dehydrate nuts. (Well, just walnuts, so far.) The cookbook Nourishing Traditions has been helpful. This diet is similar to the Paleo diet, is influenced by the Weston A. Price Foundation‘s dietary principles, and also by Olivia’s understanding of diet and health from her acupuncture training (having to do with heat, cold, dampness, herbs, seasons, constitutions, etc.).

I try to eat half a beet and drink a cup of dandelion tea (leaf or root) each day for better liver function. I eat dark green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, and tropical fruits. And high-cacao chocolate (over 70 percent).

I also make bone broths, especially in the winter, for the calcium. I save chicken, beef, and lamb bones and veggie scraps in my freezer. Sometimes I just buy bones. I have a big plastic container to store them in, and I also add the water from steaming veggies to this frozen stockpile of nutrients.

When I’ve got enough, I put the contents into a stockpot, add water to cover and a splash of apple cider vinegar and a moderate amount of salt, and cook it at a simmer for a day or two, skimming foam off the top when it first rises.

The resulting broth is flavorful and extremely nourishing. I drink a cup a day when I have it and also use it as a basis for soups and stews. See my post on making turkey vegetable soup with bone broth!

In summer (because it’s too hot to make broth), and when I’ve run out of broth, I consume a tablespoon of gelatin every day for the protein. It thickens smoothies, makes my hair and nails grow thicker and faster, and is good for joints and reducing cellulite. I get the Great Lakes brand sold on Amazon.

My gut seems to be working better despite recent stressful difficulties. I take L-glutamine supplements, which help with gut issues and have many other benefits.

Check out my Products I Recommend page for more recommendations for books, supplements, and products to improve your well-being.