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Keeping your Immune System Healthy

This time of year, I see people running around with all kinds of stuff: Colds, the flu, various viruses, etc. So I thought it was a great time to talk about keeping yourself healthy. In fact, as I write this, I'm fighing a bout of bronchitis. My kids were sick, my grandson was sick and I finally went down with it. I don't get sick that often, but every once in a while I do and it reminded me that it's a great topic.

A lot of people think that never getting sick is a good thing. Actually, you want to have a bit of a challenge to your immune system about once or twice a year. That keeps it tuned up and in fighting shape. But, you don't want to be catching everything that comes your way.

I think a shift in thinking is a big part of this. Most people think they get sick because of exposure to something. That's called the "germ" theory. They work like crazy to stay away from all germs. Sanitizing everything, staying home all the time, etc. Another theory is to wonder why some people get sick and some don't when they are exposed to the same pathogens? That's the "terrain" theory. Meaning, that some people's terrains (or internal environments) are better able to withstand exposure. It's not a matter of avoiding everything, but rather making sure you are as strong and resilient as possible.

I much favor this latter approach. Having said that, what are some things you can do to keep your self strong to fight whatever comes your way. Here are my favorite suggestions:

1) I believe we start with a foundational healthy diet. Since sugar has a negative impact on the Immune System, we can start by reducing as much sugar in our diets as possible. Especially “added sugar” from processed food. Small amounts of natural sugars in fruits and vegetables are tolerated well my most people and since fruits and veggies contain high levels of nutrients, this is a good thing to add to our diets. I recommend more vegetables than fruit and a focus on lower glycemic fruits like berries, cherries and citrus fruits. Some healthy protein like grass fed beef, pastured meats and organic or local farm-fresh eggs and poultry are a great way to ensure you are getting the amino acids you need to support good health. Healthy fats like avocado, coconut, nuts, flax and olive olive oil also help keep us satisfied. Reducing and eliminating refined and processed foods as much as possible is also a key component not just for Immune Health, but for overall good health.

2) In addition to a focus on our diet, we can make sure we get outside for at least 20-30 min. per day in the sunshine. In the summer, this is easier, but even in the winter this is important. If that isn’t happening, you may want to consider a high-quality Vitamin D supplement. You can easily have your Vitamin D levels tested. In fact, you may want to do this as I find these levels low on almost everyone I test, even those taking a Vitamin D supplement!

3) Exercise Moderately. Regular, moderate exercise has been shown to help reduce stress and improve your immune health. There is a limit, however, if you push yourself too hard with exercise, you can actually deplete your immune system. So, make sure you get plenty of exercise, but be mindful not to push yourself too hard. Using your heart rate is a great way to monitor this. Many of the smart watches will also tell your if you are going too hard. Make sure you embrace the idea of the right amount of exercise. Too little is no good, but so is too much!

4) Consider fasting for immune support. Intermittent fasting can have a big impact on immune health if it is performed for at least 16 hours. Once you hit this extended fasting window, you start to increase something called "autophagy" where your body can focus on killing off problematic cells in your body because there is no food to break down and digest. Something to consider is a 24 hour fast on a regular basis like once a week or once a month. You can do this if you feel like you are starting to get sick to give your immune system a boost.

5) Make sure your gut health is in order. You might be wondering what that has to do with immune health, but in fact, a significant portion of your immune health is actually in your gut. Gut health is a foundation of good overall health, and imbalances in healthy and unhealthy gut bacteria can impact other aspects of your health. This goes back to eating a healthy diet.

6) Consider immune health in the context of overall health. It's so tempting to look at a cold or the flu and want to treat that (and I totally understand wanting relief when you feel sick!), but I think it's important to know what your overall health profile looks like. What are your key immune system markers saying? What about gut health, and hormone health and your thyroid? How about blood sugar, are you doing a good job with that? All of those questions help you know how you are doing overall and if you need to change anything to create a healthier terrain. I have a health history process and labwork that I use to help answer those questions for my patients.

I hope you found this helpful and timely! If you have a question about your health or would like to get an idea what things might be out of balance for you, please use this link below and I'll give you a short, free call and we can see if we are a good fit for each other.

To your best health!

Dr. Jeni

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