Immunity and Health

I attended an Immunology talk recently and would love to share this fascinating information with you.  It was called “The Immune System:  The Mind-Body connection.  Who gets sick and who stays well.” The speaker was Lisa E. Goehler, Ph.D. from the University of Virginia.  She spoke extensively on the physiology of the immune system.  The mind and body are intricately connected and what happens with the endocrine, central nervous system and immune systems affect each other much more than we may realize.  Immune related diseases (multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, allergies, heart disease, cancer, autoimmunity, chronic pain) are on the rise with inflammation as the underlying cause in all diseases. Even depression and mental illness may be related to the health of our immune system.

Dr. Goehler focused on factors we can control to strengthen our immune systems and decrease inflammation and therefore improve our health. The body has a tremendous ability to heal.  Helping the immune system with healthy habits is important.  Improving the mind-body connection helps the immune system.  Everything we eat, think, say and do affects everything else.  Working with the body is the best way to improve our immune system and  involves fewer side effects and more persistent effects than surgery or medication.  The best way to do this is to incorporate life-style changes.  Lisa Goehler presented so much enlightening information, but I would like to focus on what strategies she presented that you can do today to help you on your journey to wellness.

One of the main things that I took away from the day was that stress, especially chronic stress, and negative thoughts, when allowed to invade us, affects our whole body and depresses our immune system and impairs healing. But this one thing we can control the most.

Dr. Mark Hyman, Functional Medicine MD and bestselling author has also spoken on how to fight stress.  He recommends relaxation by taking 5 deep belly breaths in and out 5 times a day, when you wake up, with each meal and at bedtime.  And you can do this without anyone knowing 🙂 Deep breathing and relaxation activates the vagus nerve which causes the parasympathetic nervous system to slow down our heart rate, lowers our blood pressure and decrease inflammation.  Other relaxation practices include massage, yoga, meditation and spending time socializing.

Other stress management techniques include:

  • Changing the way you think about a challenge
  • Managing stress in a positive way
  • Moderate exercise
  • Guided meditation
  • Laughter (dilates blood vessels)
  • Volunteerism, looking to help someone in need each day. There are opportunities to volunteer in the community, and I suggest you visit the elderly who may be alone and isolated for both your sakes, (loneliness causes immense stress).
  • Join groups of like-minded individuals. Having good social supports/networks and interactions has been shown to improve health and length of life.  (See “The Blue Zones” by Dan Buettner.) Feeling like you are a member of a group or tribe helps give meaning to life.
  • Limit stressful social situations or activities.

It’s not always easy, but dodge negative self-talk and self-defeat.  Think positively folks!!  Look at the glass as half full, not half empty 🙂 Write down at least 3 things you are thankful for each day.  Gratitude helps with positivity.  Practice mindfulness, savor each moment and enjoy what is happening right now.  This moment will never happen again.  Find time for the fun things in life, and time for quiet moments to slow down the pace of life. You may want to consider time away from electronics and social media which can be stressful and although we think of social media as a way of interacting, face to face socialization results in happier individuals that live longer. Work on improving your coping skills; write your thoughts or feelings in a journal.

One thing we can control is our diet.  Try eating an anti-inflammatory diet of colorful vegetables and fruits. “Eat the rainbow” say the experts.  Garlic and onions (anti-oxidants) and curcumin, which is getting a lot of media, has potent anti-inflammatory properties. Be sure to eat it with good fat like Olive oil or coconut oil and black pepper to increase its absorption.  Limit excess sugar and additives as much as possible. Sugar weakens the immune system. Microbes love sugar and thrive in this environment and can contribute to dental caries and overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut.  Seventy percent of the immune system is made up of the bacteria in our gut, so we want to populate good and varied gut bacteria.  Probiotics can help keep gut bacteria healthy which keeps our immune system functioning well.  Some foods that provide good probiotics are the fermented ones like:  raw sauerkraut, low sugar yogurt and kefir, kombucha tea, tempeh, kimchee, miso soup, curry.  And more recent studies are now showing that cancer thrives on sugar.

Omega 3 Fatty acids are important for our health and can be found in fish, especially salmon, sardines and maceral; seeds, nuts, oils like flaxseed, and green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale.

Vitamins can be helpful, especially a good multi vitamin, vitamin D, B vitamins and zinc are particularly important for the immune system.

One final basic, getting enough sleep keeps our immune system functioning well.  At least 7 hours out of every 24 is recommended.

Remember we are all on a journey of health.  Sometimes we slip back into old habits.  It’s never, never too late to restart your health!  Jump back on the train to health today.  Don’t give up!  Call for help and a free consultation to see if health coaching may be just what you need to stay on track and develop lifestyle changes that last!