How Do You Repair Your Immune System After A Lifetime (Or Just A Few Months) of Damage?
Posted Mar 23 2009 3:03pm
Don’t let this be your only defense against infection.
I have a friend that from all appearances should be healthy. She is thin and active. Yet she is constantly sick. A cold. The flu. Strep throat. Just goes to show that being hot and sexy doesn’t necessarily make one healthy.
Then I got to thinking about how this isn’t all that abnormal. So many people accept illness as a regular part of being alive. But is it really? Is illness the normal human life, an inevitable part of drawing breath? I don’t think it is. And I say that as someone that’s rarely ever sick. Of course, when you’re surrounded by sick people, you’re eventually going to get ahold of something, but with a strong immune system, what puts others down for days, you’ll deal with in hours.
So how I would advise someone to repair their immune system after a lifetime of destroying it? What can one do over the course of, say, 3 months to turn around (or at least start to turn around) the damage of years and years of poor diet, poor habits, and poor health?
First, Do No Harm
The very first thing that has to be done is to stop damaging your immune system! There are three dietary elements that are prevalent in most people’s diets that do a good bit of damage to the immune system. So if you’re one of those people that catches every single bug that rolls through the neighborhood, your first order of business is to deal with these trouble spots.
Not so cute when you realize they're making you sick
Yeah, I’m going after your sweets first and foremost. Candy bars, cakes, cookies, pie, ice cream…there’s no place for these things when you’re trying to repair your immune system. Why? The sugar and processed grains cause a sharp rise in insulin levels, which suppresses growth hormones, which suppresses the immune system. If you’re constantly beating your immune system down with sugar and processed grains, you have no hope of repairing yourself. How bad is it?
These studies show that in adults, cell mediated immunity is significantly depressed after sugar ingestion (75 grams). A 100g portion of sugar can significantly reduce the capacity of white blood cells to engulf bacteria. Maximum immune suppression occurs one to two hours after ingestion and remains suppressed for up to five hours after feeding.
Replace your high-carb foods of processed grains and sugars with more vegetables and fruits. Your waist-line will thank you, as well.
Skip The Sauce
I’m not talking about the Hollandaise sauce. I’m talking about the beer, wine, vodka, gin, rum, or bourbon that we all love so much. Every time you sit down and have three or more drinks, you’re suppressing your immune system:
One drink (the equivalent of 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 ounces of hard liquor) does not appear to bother the immune system, but three or more drinks do. Damage to the immune system increases in proportion to the quantity of alcohol consumed. Amounts of alcohol that are enough to cause intoxication are also enough to suppress immunity.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have a drink. It means you don’t want to get tanked.
Avoid New Fats
Once upon a time, mankind ate three kinds of fat, in naturally-occurring proportions: mostly monounsaturated, a good bit of saturated fat, and little in the way of polyunsaturated fats. But then some well-meaning, but misguided scientists decided that saturated animal fats were a bad idea and told us to eat more of those polyunsaturated vegetable oils.
Unfortunately, polyunsaturated fats are highly immunosuppressive, and as Ray Peat has pointed out, are used for their ability to suppress the immune system in organ transplant patients.
Immunosuppression was observed in patients who were being “nourished” by intravenous emulsions of “essential fatty acids,” and as a result coconut oil is used as the basis for intravenous fat feeding, except in organ-transplant patients. For those patients, emulsions of unsaturated oils are used specifically for their immunosuppressive effects.
So go back to the past…swap out your corn, peanut, canola, and other new oils for butter, lard, and coconut oil. And definitely avoid trans fats, the absolute worst thing you can put in your body.
Now, Start Repairing
So basically, the above three guidelines push you towards a diet of real foods. But for the average person, that’s not going to be enough to get back to health in any reasonable amount of time. You need to call in some reinforcements to help your body make use of all the good fuel you’re giving it.
Bacteria Are Your Friends
Pop-quiz…what is the most abundant thing in your body? It’s not cells. Your body has about 10 trillion cells. And your intestines have about 10 times that many bacteria in them, helping you digest food and serving as a first-line of defense against pathogens coming in orally. So what happens when you take antibiotics, which you probably turn to at the first sign of a sore throat? Antibiotics are like shooting a fly with a bazooka. They kill off everything, including those beneficial bacteria in your guts. Any wonder your digestion sucks?
So find a good probiotic supplement and start getting your intestines back in shape. These bacteria will serve as your friends, fighting off invaders, as long as you keep them happy with plenty of nutrient-dense foods. And that sugar I told you to stop eating? It helps the bad bacteria flourish and overwhelm your good bacteria.
Fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut are great food sources of probiotics.
Turn Off Conan And Go To Bed
When you’re asleep, your body is repairing. While you’re trying to get healthy, you need to get at least 8 hours of sleep per night and preferably more. Since you probably have daily obligations, that means you need to go to bed earlier or grab some naps. If you can’t get more sleep, everything else becomes even more important. “The Late Late Show” really isn’t worth your health, so you better come up with another excuse for why you can’t go to bed earlier.
Soak Up Some Vitamin D
It’s a beautiful thing that vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins there is and that it’s free! Get outside and get some sun. Some sun without sunblock! Food sources of vitamin D can’t even come close to the amount of vitamin D your skin produces. And since we’re told to avoid the sun because it’s going to kill us, most of us are vitamin D deficient.
Eat Nutrient-Dense Foods
Meat, vegetables, nuts, seeds, tubers, squashes, fruit, and healthy oils like butter, lard, olive oil and coconut oil. That’s really all there is to it. These foods are full of vitamins and minerals that will support your health instead of destroying it.
Add A Few Important Vitamins
I’m not a big fan of individual vitamin supplementation. Most people are focusing on taking a ton of vitamin C or extra this or that. But the body is far more complex than just adding some vitamin C, a bit of vitamin E, a dollop of B-complex and stirring. However, there are a few that most of us are getting far too little of.
As I mentioned above, vitamin D is very important and few of us get enough. I’ve heard recommendations to take 1000IU per 25lbs of bodyweight. You can get your vitamin D checked as part of the D-action study. I bet yours is low…mine was and I very rarely get sick, so don’t assume your vitamin D levels are good.
Magnesium and zinc are two important minerals that most people don’t get much of. And exercise only increases the need for these two minerals. I take a cheap zinc-magnesium supplement (ZMA) from NOW Foods most days of the week to make sure my zinc and magnesium levels stay at optimal levels where they can help with testosterone production.
And Finally, Try To Relax
Constant stress is an immune system killer. With our daily hustle and bustle, most of us are like racecars in the red. Eventually that engine is going to blow. We keep our cortisol levels sky-high with work stress, family stress, the stress of the commute, hurried lunches, and late nights.
So turn off the news, which tends to do nothing more than stress people out, and take up a hobby. And being outside in a natural setting, perhaps hiking or just hanging out at the park allows you to relax AND get some sun.
Why Is This So Important?
Boy, that sure sounds like a lot of work. Dropping sugar? Keeping more fresh food around the house? Supplements and sleep? Why not just take advantage of modern medicine and its ability to keep us well?
One simple reason: modern medicine does not keep you well. It typically does no more than mask the symptoms of the damage you are doing to yourself.
With Tamiflu no longer effective against this particular flu strain, known as H1N1, physicians are turning to zanamivir, which has problems of its own. The drug, which is inhaled, is not recommended for some of the very populations that would need it most - very young children and people with respiratory problems
Drug-resistant flu, Methicillin-resistant Staph (MRSA), antibiotic-resistant bacteria…everytime we dose the population with drugs indiscriminately, we’re sowing the seeds of our own illness by creating these strains of bacteria and viruses that can resist our drugs.
You’re Your Only Hope
Obi-Wan Kenobi can't help you now
In the end, you can rely on modern medicine, which is very good at treating things like broken bones but not so good at keeping people healthy, to kill off every little bug. Or you can recognize that illness isn’t normal and there’s no reason that you should be laid up multiple times per year with a cold or the flu or strep throat.
You can recognize that there are people that stay healthy for years on end because they treat their bodies right. They eat right, they exercise, they sleep, and they avoid toxic environments. There’s no reason you can’t do the same.
That doesn’t mean you’ll never get sick. A couple weeks ago, I took my first sick day since sometime around 4th grade. Seriously. It’s been that long since I’ve felt bad enough to have to stay home from work or school. Okay, I might’ve missed a few college classes due to feeling bad, but that wasn’t driven by illness. Hah!
But remember that it takes time. You didn’t get 50 pounds overweight overnight, so you wouldn’t expect to lose 50 pounds overnight. You didn’t get to where you are in 3 months. This is just a set of things you can do to start feeling better. But it’s a journey you have to continue. And believe me that all the cookies in the world aren’t worth the feeling of vomiting your guts out.
Take charge of your health…live well, be well.
Any other advice on repairing the damage most people are doing to their bodies?