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How to Optimize Your Immune System With Plant-Based Eating

While it may not be possible to prevent yourself from ever getting sick again you can dramatically reduce your risk for infections and help ensure mild symptoms and quick recovery if you do fall ill. To achieve this you need to understand the immune system, learn the common lifestyle factors that silently sabotage it, and learn the key foods to eat and avoid.

Immune System 101

We are constantly exposed to harmful microbes, and according to a team of researchers from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), humans breathe in between 100,000 and 1 million bugs a day. But most of us are not constantly sick and we have our immune systems to thank for that. When viruses, bacteria and other infectious microbes enter our bodies, a well functioning immune system mounts a rapid response against them and they are cleared away before they can create a problem. 

The Two Branches of the Immune System

The immune system is composed of two branches. The innate immune system is what you were born with, and it includes physical barriers such as the skin, chemicals in the blood and immune system helper cells which are our first line of defense against all foreign invaders. The adaptive, or acquired, immune system is slower to respond but in a way, it is more intelligent. It creates memories of past infectious invaders so that it can protect us from them if they try to invade our systems again in the future. 

The adaptive immune system is why the recovery time from a cold, flu or other infection you’ve had before is typically shorter and the symptoms less severe. This is also why COVID-19 is more contagious, because it is new, the adaptive immune system hasn’t created any memory antibodies, T cells, or B cells to protect us against it. It is these ‘memories’ that are tested for in the COVID-19 antibody test, which is used to identify if you previously had COVID-19 and have therefore acquired some level of protection against it.

The Immune System Is Intimately Connected to the Rest of Your Body

The immune system is a large and intricate system, and it operates similar to a symphony, relying on many other organs and systems to do its job. The lymphatic system, the spleen, the bone marrow, and the white blood cells all play an integral role in immunity. The thymus is also important as it is where T cells mature which are critical to the adaptive immune system. Additional supporting players include the heart and blood vessels which are required to pump the blood carrying the immune system helper cells to where they are needed. And finally, your adrenal glands because they release secretory products (particularly glucocorticoids and catecholamines) that regulate immune cell activation and bacterial proliferation. 

The Goal Is To Optimize Immune Function

When most people think of protecting themselves from infectious diseases, boosting the immune system is often what comes to mind. But the immune system needs to be kept in balance and an overactive immune system can be just as dangerous as an underactive or weak one. It can lead to a bevy of autoimmune diseases and cause the immune system to attack the body’s own cells and tissues. An overactive immune system can also lead to the cytokine storm, which is a runaway immune response that irreparably injures tissues and can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome, which is one of the major lung complications of viruses like COVID-19. 

You Need to Take Care of the Entire Symphony 

There are several lifestyle factors that harm our bodies and impinge on the immune system’s ability to do its job. Some of the most critical factors include: lack of exercise, poor quality sleep, chronic stress, vitamin D deficiency, toxins in our homes, water, air, food and personal care products; smoking, alcohol, over-the-counter and prescription drugs; social isolation, and perhaps most importantly of all  – an unhealthy diet. 

Even just one of the above factors is enough to throw the whole orchestra off key, and many people have several that apply to them. The more factors that apply to you, the more compromised your immune function is likely to be. “When you take something that functions well and put all of this weight on it, you impair a normally robust immune system,” explains Matthew Lederman, MD, cofounder of Kinectin and coauthor of The Forks Over Knives Plan. “We have to remove the weight so that the immune system can slingshot back into this amazing, powerful thing,” he adds.

Your Diet and Gut Play Critical Roles In Your Immunity

A massive 70 percent of your immune system resides in your gut and the immune system is separated from the gut microbiome by a single layer of cells. The two are in constant communication and an unhealthy diet leads to both immediate and cumulative damaging effects. What you eat has a direct impact on your microbiome and many of the staples of the American diet – sugar, animal products, processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and alcohol, destroy the healthy gut bacteria required for optimal immunity. 

Research shows a wholefoods, plant-based diet is the best diet for cultivating a healthy gut microbiome, losing weight and preventing chronic disease. Animal based proteins and fats feed the bad bacteria and reduce the good bacteria, and they should ideally be eliminated from the diet. It’s important to eat a diverse diet with a wide range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. The fiber in these foods will nourish the healthy bacteria, and the diversity will ensure you get all the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants your body and immune system need to function optimally. 

The Right Supplement Can Make All the Difference

A plant-based diet will certainly help to support a healthy microbiome but if your gut health is already compromised you would benefit from also taking a high quality probiotic supplement. There are many things that can lead to compromised gut health, and some of the most common include the foods outlined above, the use of antibiotics, birth control pills, pesticides, and stress. Vitamin D is also critical for optimum immune function and it is estimated that at least half of all Americans are deficient in it. We have created a special formula that combines vitamin D in it’s most bioavailable form (D3) with the freshest source of probiotics. These two work together synergistically to support gut health and the immune system. * Call our office 949-720-1554 if you would like to order this specialty supplement.

Considerations

Ready to get started but don’t know where to start? Get a copy of the Simply Healthy Cookbook. It is a compilation of the most delicious, nutrient dense and easy to make recipes from cuisines around the world, so you’ll never be at a loss for new and tasty meal ideas. This is more than just a recipe book though, it is a common-sense guide to optimal nutrition through healthful and delicious food choices. You can get an ebook copy here; or for greater ease, purchase the paperback to keep by your side in the kitchen. 

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