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).

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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.

Checking in

Love in the time of coronavirus

Today is Day 2 of sheltering in place in Austin, Texas. We had 119 known cases as of last night (but no deaths so far), and we know the virus is being transmitted in the community. No one I know has it so far, that I’ve heard, but friends and relatives of friends do. The number of cases will almost certainly go up over the next two or three weeks. The hope is that then the number of cases will start declining because of first, social distancing, and now, sheltering in place.

For me, this means staying home, which I have been since Saturday, and for the week before, my outings were rare. I’ve ordered groceries online and picked them up. I have a wonderful daughter who can pick items up and bring them to me. I have groceries enough to last for at least a week, and I’m keeping a list on the fridge door of the items I run out of that I can get next time I shop (which will probably be online to be delivered or picked up curbside, but I do have a mask and gloves in case I need to venture inside a store). My fridge, freezer, and nonperishable shelves are full.

I feel pretty good about my chances of getting through this without getting sick, or of being mildly ill if I do get it. I had a cold in October that was mild and lasted two days, and I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I’d previously had a cold. My immune system is robust.

However, it’s unpredictable. I’m in the 60+ population and therefore considered at risk. I do yoga and dance regularly (now doing these online), I eat healthy (organic unprocessed food mostly), and I meditate, which helps keep my nervous system more balanced rather than going into stress, which is hard on the immune system. I’m working on improving my sleep, getting more deep and REM sleep according to my Fitbit.

I take really high quality supplements from Premier Research Labs and Wellevate. (I have practitioner accounts with both that you can order through if you wish.) I have homeopathic remedies on hand too. I have health insurance should I need it, and I hope that if I do, the health care system isn’t overwhelmed and can tend to me. I’m very very fortunate and grateful.

Y’all, no one is immune. This virus targets humankind. It’s a great equalizer. It doesn’t respect fame, power, talent, or riches. Movie stars, professional athletes, famous artists, royalty, and politicians have come down with it. Because it’s novel, no one has immunity, except those who have completely recovered from it.

I’m hearing people say things like “What a year this past week has been” and “there are many days in a day.” We’re in a time of rapid change.

I believe when this pandemic is over, some aspects of our lives will not go back to the way they were. This will influence people living through it for the rest of our lives. We will not take our health for granted. We will better understand the relationship between lifestyle and health. We will require that our governments take actions that support our health over corporate profits.

Dead people don’t buy stuff.

I hope the biggest takeaway is that we humans are ALL connected through our humanity. We are all dependent on this planet for our lives. Maybe we will treat each other, and our home planet, much better.

Blessings for health, immunity, resiliency, resourcefulness, and connection. 💚🙏🏽

Nutrients for the aging brain

I subscribe to Science Daily, and at a minimum, I check out the headlines for the results of studies in the almost-daily emails they send me. I follow up on a few, reading the plain-language synopses of scientific studies that may be over my head in terms of using “science-use”.

This one caught my eye: Nutrients in blood linked to better brain connectivity, cognition in older adults.

Many of my friends and integrative bodywork clients are 60+. I myself take supplements and try to eat a healthy balanced diet. I was curious: Am I getting the right nutrients to nourish my brain?

The article cites a study that shows that higher levels of specific nutrients is robustly linked with higher brain connectivity and performance on cognitive tests in older adults. They looked at 32 nutrients in 116 healthy adults age 65-75. They also invited 40 participants back after two years and got the same results.

Rather than surveying participants on their diets, they looked at biomarkers in the blood. This would show what’s actually being absorbed.

They also used fMRI technology to look at how local and global brain networks performed, to see how many steps it took to complete a task on several cognitive tests.

This appears to be a very robust study.

What they found is that indeed, several nutrients are linked with higher brain performance. The nutrients are:

  • omega 3 fatty acids (found in salmon, sardines, walnuts, flaxseed, hempseed, avocados and more — amount should be higher than omega 6)
  • omega 6 fatty acids (found in flaxseed, hempseed, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and nuts)
  • carotenoids (found in red, orange, and yellow vegetables and fruit)
  • lycopene (a carotenoid found in red tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, and papayas)
  • riboflavin (Vitamin B2, found in eggs, organ meats, lean meats, mushrooms, spinach)
  • folate (Vitamin B9, found in dark green vegetables, dried legumes, eggs, beets, citrus)
  • Vitamin B12 (found in organ meats, clams, sardines, fortified nutritional yeast, other fortified foods)
  • Vitamin D (found in sunlight on the skin and supplements — no foods contain enough to prevent deficiency)

The researchers found that higher levels of omega 3s in particular boosted the functioning of the frontoparietal network, which supports the ability to focus attention and engage in goal-directed behavior.

My take is to eat nutrient-dense foods every day for every meal. I eat wild salmon (it can be canned) or sardines several times a week, keep nuts on hand for snacking, eat the healthiest eggs I can get at least once a week, buy large bags of baby spinach and broccoli at Costco, enjoy fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice and watermelon in season, make a delicious chicken-liver paté, and eat dried beans almost daily. I cook with olive, avocado, ghee, and coconut oil.

Also, take note of what foods are not listed. What are some shifts you could make to improve your brain health?

I also supplement with Vitamin D and a methylated B complex. If you have had genetic testing that shows you have an MTHFR mutation (which I do), when you buy Vitamin B supplements, be sure the label says folate instead of folic acid and methylcobalamin (B12) instead of cyanocobalamin. If you don’t know if you have an MTHFR mutation, get these methylated versions of these nutrients because it’s estimated that 60 percent of Americans do have a mutation.

If you’re interested in using my online dispensary and saving 30% on good quality supplements, you can sign up for a Wellevate account here.

Making and using umami powder


The Splendid Table podcast had a guest caller who shared her recipe for umami powder, in October 2017. She’d grown up in Japan, and after returning to the U.S. as an adult, experimented and came up with this flavor-enhancing powder that you can add to American favorites as well as East Asian ones.

Here’s the episode (the umami power segment starts at 41:30 and ends at 46:30), and here’s the recipe. I thought I’d share my experience making it, as well as ways to use it.

Ingredients:

  • 1-oz. package of bonito flakes (makes 6 tablespoons)
  • 1 oz. bulk dried shiitake mushrooms (or if not available in bulk, a small package — use the rest in soups)
  • small package of kombu (with what you don’t use for umami powder, add half a sheet when cooking dried legumes — it takes the gas out, and you can fish it out before serving )

Tools:

  • coffee/spice grinder
  • medium-size bowl
  • kitchen scale
  • scissors
  • small whisk

Instructions:

  1. Fill the coffee/spice grinder with bonito flakes and pulverize into a fine powder. Empty the grinder into the bowl. Repeat until all the bonito flakes are ground up.
  2. Do the same with the shiitakes. You may need to manually break large ones up to fit into the grinder. Repeat as needed. Add the shiitake powder to the bonito flake powder.
  3. Place sheets of kombu on the scale and add/subtract to get one ounce. Use scissors to cut 1/4″ strips of kombu lengthwise, and then cut across the strips to make 1/4″ squares. 
  4. Put these into the grinder and grind to a fine powder. Add to the bonito and shiitake powder.
  5. Whisk the three powders gently to mix well. 
  6. Makes 1 cup of light, fluffy powder. I stored it in a jar, and you could also put some in a spice container for sprinkling on food.

The originator of this recipe, Erica from Seattle, recommends adding the powder to burgers, meatloaf, and “a savory oatmeal that was phenomenal”.

She also mentions adding it to seafood soups to make them taste like they’ve simmered for hours.

Other ideas:

  • Sprinkle it on food as a seasoning.
  • Use it to add flavor to sauces and broths.
  • Add it to savory porridges like congee.
  • Sprinkle it on a piece of fish before cooking. 
  • Sprinkle on chicken before baking.
  • Add to ricotta with herbs to make spread for toast or crackers.

Have you made umami powder? How have you used it?

Treating TMJ issues: a series of posts

I’ve been writing about TMJ pain and dysfunction on my Facebook business page and on my Austin, Texas, USA, private-practice website’s blog. Now I’m sharing an index of these posts here on my “big blog”.

If you have TMJ disorder and want to read any of those posts, here are the links.

I view TMJ issues as not just biomechanics, although it plays a role. This issue has social, emotional, historical, biological, cognitive, and spiritual aspects. I am very aware that some people, especially in the mainstream medical and dental fields, may believe it’s unnecessary or even laughable to provide information on so-called “woo-woo” or “fluffy” topics like essential oils, yoga, and the throat chakra for people who are suffering from jaw pain and dysfunction.

So let me share how I came to write this series of posts. Instead of just going to experts (and I have done that), I also asked women who suffer from this problem what helps, and they told me. And I believe them!

Since nine times more women than men experience severe, chronic TMJ issues, this is super valuable information to share.

I want the world to know that TMJ treatment is available beyond night guards, pain meds, and surgery, and there are so many options for self-care: massage, exercises, training yourself in new habits, reducing stress, improving posture, acupressure, nutrition, stretching, journaling, meditating, and more. I’m working on designing programs to evaluate and treat specific TMJ-related issues. More later!

If you bump into this limited and limiting attitude, please share this post, and please share in the comments your experiences and any other resources you have found helpful.

Sensible eating for healthy weight loss: my best practices and desired habits

I have put on some extra weight and I want to take it off. I already eat a fairly healthy, mostly Paleo diet. I was thinking about the mindset and habits I want to cultivate. I’m looking at what’s worked for me in the past and some new best practices.

Twice since 2000, I’ve lost weight: the first time, I lost 35 pounds, of which 20 pounds crept back on for a few years, and then I lost the 20 pounds and kept it off for a few years. Those 20 pounds have crept back on over the past 7 years.

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Courtesy: Diethunters.com

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MTHFR: my micronutrient testing results

I previously wrote about learning that I have a homozygous (from both parents) mutation in my MTHFR C677T gene, and that I was going to a new doctor who wanted to have my blood tested to see which nutrients were actually getting into my cells.

Why is getting tested for nutrients important for people with this mutation? The mutation, which affects 40-70% of the population, impairs a cellular process called methylation, which can create deficiencies in nutrients. This can affect metabolic processes including cell repair, immunity, detoxification, inflammation, neurotransmitter production, and fat processing and result in serious disease.

Health conditions that can be influenced by nutrient absorption include addiction, miscarriages, birth defects, autism, diabetes, mental illness including anxiety and depression, ME/CFS, fibromyalgia, cardiovascular disease, neurological disease like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, thyroid disease, certain cancers, hypertension, inflammation, migraines, and many more. These health issues are common.

If you could take the right supplements and eat the right foods to recover from or prevent problems, would you do it? I would. When you have your health, life is definitely better. Continue reading

Easy improvisational curry (vegan, vegetarian, and carnivore versions)

This recipe is like jazz: you can improvise based on what you have on hand and what your tastebuds desire. It’s a great way to eat lots of veggies because it’s so delicious. It’s easy because everything can be chopped roughly to bite-size, which adds to the charm; precision is not needed. It’s colorful, too!

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Tracking your daily food choices: the Standard Process Daily Record of Food Intake

I’ve been working with nutritionist/acupuncturist Olivia Honeycutt at Merritt Wellness for a while now. One of the tools Olivia gives her clients is the Standard Process Daily Record of Food Intake form.

Standard Process Daily Record of Food Intake

You don’t have to be going to a nutritionist to use this tool, although you may want to if you are having issues you suspect are diet-related. So many health issues are now considered to be diet-related, including auto-immune diseases formerly believed to be purely genetic, that this tool could be a useful ally on your path to better health. Continue reading