Tips to Keep Your Immune System Functioning Optimally

Making choices that keep your immune system functioning at optimal levels is always important, but perhaps now more than ever.

The protection of your immune system never rests. It is always poised to rise and fight when disease-causing exposures occur. There are deliberate choices that you can make to give your immune system a boost during times of known higher risk. There are also things that you should avoid and precautions that should be taken to increase the chances of your immune system winning the battle. During this time of threat-of-illness, it is a good time to review what you should and should not do to set your immune system up for success.

    • Eat right
      • Choose a colorful, whole foods diet. Each different food color has immune boosting components known as phytonutrients. On a daily basis, try to consume at least one food from each color of the rainbow. It can be just a small serving, but keep your plate full of delicious colors. An easy meal option is to make a quick stir-fry with a variety of colorful fresh or frozen vegetables and add your choice of protein. Consider adding a little pineapple to the mix to add a new flavor.
    • Get good sleep
      • For most adults, this means a minimum of 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Children need even more sleep depending on their age. Research shows that even 1-2 nights of poor sleep impairs your immune system and increases your stress hormone, cortisol.
    • Exercise in moderation
      • Moderate exercise is very beneficial to your immune system. Good options would be walking, using an elliptical or rebounder, yoga, or bicycling. If you have access, using a sauna can be a great substitute or enhancement to your exercise routine. High intensity exercises can be detrimental to your immune system, so this may be a time to keep your workouts lighter.
    • Meditate
      • Meditation has been proven to improve the number of your white blood cells, the cells that fight infection. Specifically, the white blood cells called natural killer cells (the first to arrive to the fight) are made more effective with meditation.
    • Stress
      • Consider setting boundaries with stressful news. Do keep yourself informed, but consider keeping your interaction with the media to a specified amount of time each day. Outside of that window of time, turn off the news and engage your energy with your other tasks.
    • Processed Foods
      • This is no time to neglect your nutrition or to rely on packaged, processed comfort foods. Your immune system does not need the extra task of cleaning up the exposure to chemicals that may result from choosing foods that are not whole and clean.
    • Stay home to reduce the exposure of yourself and others to germs. This does not need to mean avoiding social interaction. We live in a time when technology can help us to stay connected without sharing the same physical space.
    • Wash your hands. Nothing fancy is required. Soap and water will do. It is recommended that you wash for 20 seconds or more and use a paper towel to turn off the faucet.
    • Clean high-touch surfaces in your home such as light switches, door knobs, faucets, remote controls, phones and appliance handles.
    • Avoid touching your face so that you are not giving the germs on your hands a shorter pathway in.
    • If you have a cough or a sneeze, use your elbow rather than your hand to cover your mouth.
    • Avoid shaking hands, use an elbow bump or a verbal greeting.
    • In general, it is best to optimize your nutrients through your foods, but there are some supplements that can enhance your immune function.
      • Omega 3/Fish Oil/ EPA/DHA
        • The recommended dose would be 1000 mg taken twice daily with food. Food sources of omega 3 include fish such as salmon, halibut and sardines, but also plant-based foods including walnuts, flax seeds, hemp seeds and chia seeds. This can have a blood-thinning effect, so be cautious if you are taking blood thinners.
      • Vitamin D
        • Optimal vitamin D levels are essential for the functioning of your immune system. A reasonable dose would be 2000 IU daily with food. Higher doses may be recommended depending on your specific needs.
      • Vitamin C
        • The benefits of vitamin C are most proven when it is started at the time of exposure. A good dose would be 1000 mg per day. Super high doses of vitamin C are not required and can cause GI upset. Vitamin C is naturally occurring in many foods.
      • Vitamin A
        • Vitamin A is also essential for optimal immune functioning. The recommended dose would be 8000-10,000 IU per day. It is best absorbed if it is taken with food. It is naturally found in yellow and orange foods.
      • Zinc
        • Zinc is necessary for many cells in your body that divide rapidly, including your immune cells. The recommended dose would be 30 mg per day. Good food sources of zinc include oysters, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, dairy and other meats.

During this time of unprecedented response to the threat of illness, lets all take care of ourselves so that we can be here to take care of each other!

Why Do I Keep Hearing About Gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in certain grains, including wheat, barley, rye and spelt.

Gluten has been getting a lot of press lately, and for good reason.  The rate of gluten-related illness has been increasing much faster than expected in the last 20 years.  The rate of increase is faster in developed countries.  There are many theories why this may be happening, but research indicates that it is not just because we are looking more closely for the symptoms.  This is also occurring too quickly to be explained by genetics alone.  If it were only genetic, it would take several generations to see this type of shifts in frequency.  That means that the environment is also likely playing a role.  The leading ideas about the causes for this increased incidence include that it could be related to agricultural chemical application, increased frequency of other GI illnesses that create a vulnerability or over-use of antibiotics and antiseptics that keep our environment ‘too clean’ for immune tolerance to fully develop.  This last idea is known as the hygiene hypothesis and stemmed from the observation that countries with high use of antiseptic cleaning products have a higher incidence of auto-immune illness. 

There are two groups of patients who develop symptoms related to eating gluten.  The first is a group with true celiac disease.  The second group is a group with either wheat allergy or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.  Both groups can have widespread symptoms throughout the body including digestive symptoms, skin rashes, mental illness, fatigue, anemia, other autoimmune illnesses and muscle or joint pain.   Together, these two groups are estimated to include 20-30% of the population.   Many patients with chronic digestive symptoms have not been accurately diagnosed. 

Medical research indicates that the gluten protein causes the space between the cells of the small intestines to widen.  This opening is referred to as ‘leaky gut’ or increased intestinal permeability.  Leaky gut is one of the necessary pieces of a puzzle to set the stage for any autoimmune illness.  The other pieces of the puzzle include genetic susceptibility and a triggering event such as a gastrointestinal infection, stress, lack of nutrition or exposure to a toxin.  Since autoimmune illnesses such as Hashimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, MS, colitis and others are increasing at a rapid rate, taking a closer look at the role that gluten is playing in that puzzle is a logical conclusion. 

The diagnosis of celiac disease is confirmed with a biopsy taken from the small intestine.  Blood testing can be used in some cases, but the results can be tricky to interpret, and the testing is only reliable when gluten is regularly eaten.  Genetic tests can also be helpful, but they only help us to determine if you are susceptible to celiac disease, not if you have the disease.  The gold standard for diagnosing gluten-sensitivity is to follow an elimination diet.  This means that gluten would be removed from your diet completely for 4-6 weeks and then re-introduced.  When the gluten is returned to your diet, you are asked to pay close attention for any return of symptoms.  If symptoms occur, your body has just answered the question that you are indeed gluten sensitive. 

At Root Function Wellness we help patients with all autoimmune illnesses to not only understand your symptoms, but also to empower you back to health.  Each treatment plan includes recommendations about managing your foods, your sleep, your stress, your exercise and any medications or supplements that may be beneficial to your individual needs.  If you have symptoms that are caused by your immune system attacking your own body, we examine why your immune system is off track and in many cases, we are successful retraining your immune system to settle down the attack and return you to a state of well-being. 

Can Sleep Come Easy?

Getting sleep that restores you and allows you to wake feeling rested is possible!

Sleep that allows you to rest your body and your mind is one of the basic elements of optimal health. It is during sleep that our body expends the energy necessary to do the clean-up work of clearing what has accumulated in our bodies and minds from the previous day. It is also during sleep that memories and thoughts are stored away into more permanent locations in our brains. So, you can imagine that if you do not have ideal sleep, you may suffer from “brain fog”, memory loss, or have difficulty learning new things.

Even a few nights of disrupted sleep has been shown to have numerous consequences that impair our well-being. Within days of getting only 4-5 hours of sleep we can measure changes in your microbiome that deplete your ability to detoxify. It becomes more difficult to control your emotions and your appetite. Your cortisol (your stress hormone) increases, which raises your blood pressure and your blood sugar. Your immune system has a higher work load when you are poorly rested, leading to poor ability to resist illnesses.

So, what can you do if you are among the many people who struggle to enter restful sleep? There are many options and what works best is not the same for each individual. Reaching for sleep-aid medications may not be the best long-term solution for achieving naturally restoring sleep.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Get on a regular sleep schedule to set your body into a wake-sleep cycle that makes you sleepy at bedtime. Try to wake at the same time each morning and get to bed at the same night each night. If naps are needed, limit naps to no more than 30-60 minutes.
  2. Getting exposure to the morning light helps to set your sleep pattern that night. Ideally, you would get 20 minutes of sunlight in the morning, prior to 11 AM. This helps to begin the clock to set your pineal gland to begin increasing your melatonin level about 12-14 hours later.
  3. Meditate in the morning for 5-15 minutes to help set yourself up for restful sleep later that night. This could be time spent doing some deep breathing exercises or doing morning devotions or prayers. Just try to avoid immediate thoughts of your to-do list when you first wake. Give yourself a few minutes to set appreciative intentions for your day.
  4. Avoid electronic screens for one hour or more before bedtime. Use dim lights in the evening, or better yet, keep the lights off in the evenings and just rely on natural light. Bedrooms should be kept as dark as possible with slightly cool temperatures.
  5. Train yourself to use a deep breathing technique or guided imagery to help yourself fall asleep. It may take a little time to find a technique that feels comfortable for you, but once your brain understands that this type of breathing or this image means ‘go to sleep’, you will be better able to drift off without resistance.
  6. Keep a paper and pen near your bed to write down your list of to-do’s so that your mind does not need to keep repeating the list. Simply write it down and let it go. You can then read your list in the morning.

At Root Function Wellness, we discuss sleep at every patient visit because it is so central to empowering your health. We will discuss how you are sleeping now and what might help your sleep to be even better. It may take a little time to reset your body into a pattern of predictable sleep, but it is possible to stop fighting yourself at bedtime!

Do I have an Autoimmune Illness?

Are you tired of feeling tired, achy, swollen, weak and irritable?

It may be that you are suffering with an illness that is caused by your own immune system attacking you, also known as autoimmune illness. This is a large group of illnesses that can occur anywhere in your body. A few of the many named autoimmune illnesses are Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis, Psoriasis, Asthma, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriatic arthritis, Crohn’s Disease, Hashimoto’s, and Multiple Sclerosis. In the beginning, the symptoms can be vague and can mimic many other illnesses. It may take years for conventional medicine testing to confirm a diagnosis. The harm is that by time the lab testing begins to show high levels of inflammation or antibodies, the damage has been building for months or years. Often, during this time when symptoms are present, but lab testing is normal, you are often told that your symptoms are related to stress, depression, lack of exercise or poor sleep.

The good news is that YOU CAN FEEL BETTER and you do not need to wait until the lab tests become abnormal. Even if you are in the stage where the lab tests are showing abnormalities, through Functional Medicine, we are often able to reverse your symptoms. We retrain your immune system to understand that you are not to be treated as the enemy. We seek the underlying causes that lead your immune system to view your own body as the threat. This information is uncovered with a detailed look at when your symptoms first began. We also consider possible food triggers, environmental exposures, infections and disturbances to your optimal nutrition or microbiome balance. With this information we develop a plan to empower you back to vibrant health.