When we think of boosting our immune system, what often comes to mind is eating extra oranges to boost our vitamin C, taking drops of Echinacea or holding oregano oil under your tongue.
While these are great immune boosters, how can we really build the immune system?
One way is through the gut.
Our intestinal tract hosts the majority of immune cells in our body – which is no wonder because our digestive tract is one of the main entries into our body from the external world! Therefore, in order to build our immune system for long-term strength, it is important to have a strong gut where most of our immune cells reside.
Here are a few ways:
- Chew your food
Seriously, chew it. The stomach often bears the burden of breaking down food but, really, where this should be happening is in the mouth. The more we chew our food, the more we increase our secretions of saliva – which is full of antibodies! Also, saliva “tells” our stomach to start producing hydrochloric acid, which is needed to kill bacteria.
Therefore, just by chewing food well, the body releases more antibodies and destroys more bacteria – thus taking the burden off the immune cells in the gut – the next stop for our food traveling down the digestive tract.
Suggestion:Aim for 25-35 chews per bite. If you’re only chewing five times per bite, then try building up in 5 bite increments.
- Eat in a calm, relaxed manner
Did you know that our nervous system can be in one of two states: either in our stressed fight or flight mode (sympathetic nervous system) or in the rest and digest mode (parasympathetic nervous system)? We cannot be in both modes at the same time.
As its name suggests, the rest and digest mode is the state we’re in when we’re relaxing, sleeping and digesting food. Therefore, if we’re stressed out, we can’t be digesting food!
If food sits in our stomach and isn’t being digested, it has a higher possibility of fermenting and feeding the bad bacteria that live in our gut. This can lead to a lot of issues – including triggering a response from the immune cells in our gut to fight the toxins that they release.
If our immune system is busy fighting the bad bacteria in our gut, we have a lowered defense against other invaders entering our body.
Suggestion:When I worked from an office I was always tempted to grab my lunch on the run or eat from my desk while I worked. I now know how essential it is to take a proper lunch break. My recommendation is to take a quick walk around the block to relieve any built up stress, and then find a quiet place to sit and enjoy your lunch without the possibility of being pulled back into your work.
- Drink bone broth
Bone broth has become such a trend lately, and for good reason. Bone broth is full of gut-building nutrients like collagen and glutamine which are essential in building a strong gut lining, thus making it difficult for invaders to slip through into the blood stream!
Suggestion: If you don’t want to drink it straight, use it as a base for soup, stews and chilli. And you can add it to curry, as well as cook your rice and lentils in it! Don’t forget that you can also get the health benefits from fish bones, too. Just be sure to source wild, sustainably-caught fish, such as from the Daily Catch located on both Denman Street and Commercial Drive.
- Avoid processed foods
Processed foods are full of refined sugar and chemical additives. Refined sugar is like a drug that feeds the bad bacteria in our gut which creates toxins and exhausts our immune system. Chemical additives also wreak havoc on our gut and overload our immune system.
If our immune system is busy fighting off sugar and chemicals, who’s left to fight the bacteria and viruses that can also invade our body? Our immune soldiers have enough to do. Let’s not add to their burden.
Suggestion: Avoid pre-packaged foods (in jars and boxes), including frozen and canned foods, as much as possible. Also, read food labels. An almost rule to reading food labels is that if the ingredients list a word that is near impossible to pronounce or not understood, it’s probably best to avoid that food.
- Eat fermented foods
The gut is host to both good and bad bacteria. Imagine your intestinal tract to be a garden full of beautiful flowers and unsightly weeds. The beautiful flowers are like our good flora, while the unsightly (and invasive!) weeds are our bad bacteria. In order to keep the bad guys in check, our intestinal tract must be well-populated with the good guys. Fermented foods are rich in the good bacteria! Therefore, eat these foods on a daily basis to keep your gut happy.
Suggestion: Fermented foods include yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, kombucha and kimchi. Again, if you’re buying these foods premade, read the food labels and pick a brand that doesn’t have any added sugars or preservatives.
In summary, improve your own body’s ability of fighting infection by chewing well, eating in a calm manner, drinking bone broth and increasing your intake of probiotic-rich foods, while reducing the intake of irritants in the form of sugar and chemical additives.
Again, these “non-foods” irritate the gut and exhaust our first line of defense. If our immune system is depleted by fighting these toxins, who’s left to fight the cold and flu germs?
There are other ways to build the gut and immune system, but these are a few tips to get you started. Besides sugar and processed foods, other gut irritants that may need addressing are candida overgrowth, food intolerances and bowel issues. Like any kind of wellness plan, it is my belief to start small. Follow the above suggestions, and take it from there if need be.