The Immune Health Checklist: How Do You Measure Up?
When was the last time you felt really healthy?
Keeping your immune system strong involves more than just eating the right foods, getting exercise, and sleeping well. Factors like chronic viral burdens from past infections, digestive disorders or low metabolic reserve can prevent your immune system from functioning optimally. This immune health checklist will walk you through each of the five areas that impact your health.
The inflammatory process is a vital and necessary component of your immune system. When a immune responses is temporary and local, the inflammatory process is beneficial to your health. However, if the regulation of the inflammatory response breaks down, the end result can lead to tissue and organ damage—a hallmark of most chronic diseases.
Identifying what triggers inflammation in your body is the first essential step in building strong immune health. Here are the most common drivers of inflammation:
- Poor sleep
- Elevated blood sugar
- Hormonal imbalance
- Food Sensitivities
- Lack of physical activity
- Acute or chronic/latent infections (viral, fungal, or bacterial)
The good news is that for every root cause of inflammation, there is a solution that restores health. Depending upon what is driving your inflammation, you may need a customized food plan, targeted nutritional supplements, antimicrobial herbs, a gut restoration program, a metabolic detoxification program, or, in some cases, functional diagnostic testing to drill down further to the root cause. Whatever the cause, the functional medicine approach puts you at the center and
Lack of Reserve
Each cell in your body contains an energy factory called a mitochondrion. This is where the food you eat – protein, carbohydrates, & fats – are converted into energy to fuel your cells. All of your body’s core processes depend upon the proper functioning of your mitochondria. A sufficient number of these properly functioning mitochondria are needed to provide your body with the metabolic reserve required for you to perform well in times of stress.
The degree to which your cellular energy production is both efficient and effective, is based on the way your lifestyle and your environment affect your genes. The food you eat, your level of physical activity, and the quantity & quality of your sleep affect your mitochondria and your metabolism (the production of energy). The more unhealthy your lifestyle, the more stress your cells and, especially, your mitochondria experience. This type of stress – called oxidative stress – can result in damage to your mitochondria, your DNA, and ultimately your organs & tissues.
Here are the top three factors which boost your mitochondrial function:
- A consistent supply of antioxidants: Antioxidants protect your mitochondria, your DNA and your tissues from damage. Among the most important antioxidants are glutathione (the master antioxidant) as well as vitamins E & C, selenium, coenzyme Q10, lipoic acid, and N-acetylcysteine. Blueberries, dark chocolate, garlic, green tea, ginger, turmeric, and spinach are some of the foods richest in antioxidants. An easy way to get plenty of antioxidants is to add them to your daily meals.
- Varying your physical activity: Exercise stimulates the creation of more mitochondria. A combination of moderate intensity exercise (jogging, biking, swimming, dancing) and strength training is most effective in stimulating the production of mitochondria.
- Sufficient amount of restful sleep: Limited sleep causes oxidative stress which can target your mitochondria. Your brain – along with your heart and liver – contains one of the highest percentages of mitochondria of all your organs. That’s because the many executive functions that your brain carries out require high levels of energy. Getting adequate amount of sleep (more than 8 hours) and going to bed by 10 pm allow your brain to detox which protects your mitochondria.
Leaky Gut Barrier
The GI tract is designed to break down and absorb large amounts of nutrients in a relatively short time. To accomplish this, your gut lining contains folds and fingers, called villi, which greatly expand the surface area of your GI tract. When breaches in this barrier occur, it can lead to inflammation in other areas of your body causing joint pain, thyroid imbalances, skin rashes, or depression. Overtime, a leaky gut lining can lead to autoimmune disease, brain inflammation, and a host of chronic diseases.
Improving the health of your gut lining involves five steps:
- Identifying food allergies or sensitivities and removing those foods to allow your gut to heal.
- Eating foods that nourish your gut and the good bacteria that live there.
- Reducing your intake of foods that feed bad bacteria such as processed foods & foods high in sugar.
- Treating any overgrowth of harmful microorganisms in your gut.
- Developing a strategy to better manage stress so that it impacts your gut health less.
Antigens & Allergens
Antigens are proteins on the surface of foreign particles such as food, microorganisms, or toxins that trigger an immune response in your body. Antigens can also be associated with toxins, chemicals, and drugs. This immune response stimulates the release of white bloods cells to fight off the foreign substance or microorganism and to tag it through the production of antibodies. Antibodies attach themselves to the antigen on the foreign substance in order to mark it for destruction by other antibodies and by other components of your immune system.
When your body is unable to completely destroy bacteria or viruses, their antigens become a chronic burden for your immune system which leads to immune dysfunction. Identifying the presence of chronic bacterial or viral burdens and taking steps to reduce their impact on your immune system is essential for building strong immune health.
Allergens, whether from food or pollen or animal dander, can also present a chronic drain on your immune system, making you more prone to other infections. Avoiding exposure to your allergens is the best way to prevent them from chronically taxing your immune system. In the case of seasonal allergies, you can’t completely avoid pollen allergens, but you can reduce their impact on your health by supporting your immune system with targeted herbal supplements.
Unhealthy Gut Microbiome
The bacteria that reside in your play a key role in the health of your immune system. That’s because 70% of your immune system is found in your gut which is home to a mix of both beneficial and harmful bacteria. When you have an abundance of good bacteria, you have a healthy gut and chances are, your immune system is also healthy.
Stress, overgrowth of harmful microorganisms, frequent antibiotic use, and a diet high in processed foods and sugar produce an unhealthy gut microbiome which opens the door to multiple chronic conditions, including autoimmune illness.
Thankfully, with the functional medicine approach, you can address each of these contributing factors and restore the health of your gut microbiome and, ultimately, your immune system.
If your health is impacted by one or more of these areas, there’s hope. Thanks to the functional medicine approach, there are steps you can take to build immune health and restore vitality.
Interested in learning how functional medicine can help you regain your health?
Schedule a free Discovery Call with Dr. Williams.
Nicholson, GL. Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Chronic Disease: Treatment With Natural Supplements. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2014 Aug; 13(4): 35–43.
Saiedi,A et al. T-Cell Exhaustion in Chronic Infections: Reversing the State of Exhaustion and Reinvigorating Optimal Protective Immune Responses. Front Immunol. 2018; 9: 2569.
Stranahan, AM, Mattson,MP, Metabolic reserve as a determinant of cognitive aging.J Alzheimers Dis. 2012; 30(0 2): S5–13.
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