By Dr. Sheila Kilbane
How to Keep the Immune System Strong
When The Whole Tulip asked me to write a blog on immunity, I thought, perfect, I already have it written.
Then I pulled up my blog to review it, and realized it was from 2011. In medical speak this is ancient information. Medicine changes so rapidly I figured I would need to completely re-write it.
I was pleasantly surprised however, at how many of my recommendations remain the same today. This speaks to the wisdom of integrative medicine. It is based upon the ancient teachings of Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine…and that of The Whole Tulip…Hippocrates said, “let food be thy medicine”.
And when you couple healthy eating with a vibrant emotional, spiritual and social life, your immune system can weather a whole lotta bugs.
The biggest change to my list of “How to Keep the Immune System Strong” since 2011 is #1. All the strategies I have listed are superseded by our belief system. What do I mean by this?
There is a great deal of research available to date showing how much our thoughts and emotions effect us on a cellular level as well as other people. And this goes for our beliefs about our body’s ability to fight disease and to heal itself.
When we have a strong sense that our bodies are healthy and vibrant, this does a great deal to strengthen the immune system. We are exposed to viruses and bacteria all the time and our immune system takes care of them Johnny on the spot, and we are none the wiser…no runny nose or cold.
There have been plenty of times when a sick child coughs directly into my mouth while I am examining him, yet I rarely get sick…and yes, I am knocking on wood right now!
I think this concept of knowing how incredible our bodies are put together is extremely important in this current atmosphere of Ebola. If we allow our minds and bodies to go into fear mode, that puts us in fight or flight and suppresses the immune system.
So although the rest of my list remains very similar to what it was in 2011, my shift in understanding the power of our minds is far greater now and I think it is our most important first line of defense.
1. Cultivate a sense of gratitude toward your body. An appreciation for everything it does for you on a daily basis. As silly as this sounds, add your immune system to your daily gratitude or prayer list.
2. Get plenty of sleep.
3. Continue to exercise and get outside in nature.
4. Keep stress to a minimum. We know the immune system functions better when we keep our outlook positive and our stress low.
5. Good regular hand washing with soap and water. Keep in mind that antibacterial soap is no more effective at killing germs than is regular soap. In fact using antibacterial soap may lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the product’s antimicrobial agents, making it more difficult to kill these germs in the future.
6. Alkalinize your diet – Eating foods like green leafy veggies, cucumbers, avocado, almonds, and lemon, just to name a few, help your body to be less acidic. This allows all of your systems to work optimally, including your immune system.
7. Cook with spices, onions and garlic – Many spices like thyme and turmeric have wonderful health benefits. Thyme is great for cough and congestion and turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. Include these spices along with onions, garlic and vegetables to slow cooked soups and stews and you are giving your body a big dose of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and prebiotics (these feed the bacteria in our gut and promote the growth of the good healthy bacteria).
8. Probiotics – Most of our immune system happens in our gut. This is why it is so important to keep it healthy and chock full of good bacteria. We do this by eating fermented foods like pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha regularly.
9. Omega-3 fatty acids – The virtues of omega-3 fatty acids are endless, including benefits to the heart, brain, nervous system, and immune system. My favorite ways to get omega-3 fats is through seeds and nuts. Two tablespoons of chia seeds contain almost 5 grams of omega-3 fats. The recommended daily amount for an adult female is about 1 gram. So a really simple, clean and vegan way to get your omega-3 fats is by putting them in a smoothie every morning. Other ways are flax seed, hemp seed, almonds and walnuts. Cold-water fish like salmon and tuna are also an option.
10. Take Juice Plus. In addition to a good healthy diet, I do think a whole food supplement is important. The soil we grow our fruits and vegetables in today is different soil than it was 30 or 40 years ago. It is less nutrient dense, and our fruits and vegetables reflect this. That is why I think it is still a good idea to add a high quality whole food supplement to a healthy diet. Juice Plus is the product I have been using personally and recommending for years.
11. Vitamin D3 – There is a vitamin D receptor on every cell of the body. Adequate amounts of vitamin D have a profoundly positive impact on the immune system. It will help stave off illness and may decrease your susceptibility to certain autoimmune conditions like multiple sclerosis and some types of cancers like colon cancer.
As the sun moves further away from us in the winter, it is impossible for our bodies to synthesize the amount of vitamin D we need through sunlight. For the children and families in my practice, I recommend a vitamin D supplement throughout the winter. It is a fat-soluble vitamin so you can overdose on it, so it is important to be careful with vitamin D. What I use with my patients is a product called Carlson’s liquid D3. I give children 2 and younger 400 IU per day (babies who are on formula do not need vitamin D supplementation because it is in the formula) and over 2 years, I give them 2,000 IU per day. Foods that contain vitamin D include fatty cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel.