We all hear talk about our immune system. You know it’s important to get the proper nutrients, like zinc, to support it, so we can fight back those bad infections and seasonal colds, and avoid the flu that seems to be floating around the office.
You even hear some people complain, exclaiming “I have no immune system”, or “My immune system has taken a hit since last weekend”. People also think that aging and a weaker immune system go hand-in-hand. Not true.
But what if I told you that you are completely in control of your immune system? Would you believe me if I said that diet is one of the largest contributing factors in how well your immune system functions, or doesn’t function?
Here are the 3 tiers of the human immune system, as described by Mark Sisson:
- Anatomical barriers – Skin is the basic line of defense, along with mucus membranes and other physical responses like sweat, tears, and salivation, against the intrusion of foreign bodies and antigens.
- Innate/non-specific immune system – The innate immune system is the broad, generic response to bacteria and viruses that have made it past the anatomical barriers. Imagine bacteria entering through an open wound and the resultant inflammation, which is pretty much the body’s attempt at a catch-all response. Technically, the physical barriers are included in the innate system.
- Adaptive/specific immune system – The immune system can learn and improve its response to specific microbes over time and with repeated exposure; this is the adaptive immune system, and it’s only present in jawed vertebrates.
It’s generally accepted that gut flora affects and informs our immune systems, and how it does so, though a complicated, multi-faceted process, is beginning to be teased out by researchers.
…the human gastro-intestinal tract houses the bulk of the human immune system, about 70% of it. And foreign gut flora actually aids and abets our innate immune response system by improving the function of our mucosal immune system and providing a physical barrier to invading microbiota…
…Healthy gut flora populations protect against invading microbes by simply taking up space and generally being more proficient at obtaining nutrients than the intruders. They’re playing defense, and informed, experienced defenders who know their way around always have the advantage…
…Good bacteria talks to the lymph nodes and provides a safe word, and the lymph nodes’ stromal cells produce “normal cell” antigens that tell the immune system not to attack the good bacteria. This conserves resources and improves the immune response by making it more efficient…
Gut flora plays an integral part in our immune system function. So it stands to reason that we should do our best to promote a good spectrum of gut flora, and avoid things that damage it.
Much of your gut flora for the rest of your life is determined at birth. You inherit the majority of your gut flora from your mother and the surrounding environment during birth and for the first year or so.
Proper gut flora also promotes the formation of healthy immune system organs. For example, the thymus is responsible for creating T-cells. In formula-fed infants, the thymus is smaller and less productive, compared to the healthy and fully-functioning thymuses of breast-fed infants! Breast milk is full of beneficial bacteria that is essential for the formation of proper gut flora in infants.
Of course, if you’re reading this, you have been born already, for many years. You are now stuck with the gut bacteria you were born with…Just kidding!
The best way to promote a heatlhy gut, and healthy gut bacteria, is to avoid things like sugar, grains, and vegetable oils and legumes, and include a diet rich in animal fat, protein, leafy veggies, starchy tubers, and fermented foods that provide a rich source of probiotics!
What damages gut flora, and hurts our immune system?
Lets start with sugar. Sugar causes insulin resistance, promotes systemmic inflammation, leads to weight gain, contributes to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and acts like a fertilizer for cancer cells. High gructose diets also decrease HDL levels while making LDL more dense and dangerous, contributing to heart disease. Glucose and fructose also bond to (glycate) proteins and lipids without proper enzymatic control. I think it’s safe to say that with all this crap going on, your body is going to have a much harder time focusing on an invader; your immune system won’t be up to full steam.
How about grains? Grains share many of the same problems as sugar, since they are a cheap source of sugar calories in the form of glucose. They also cause lots of gut irritation form their excessively high lectin and fiber content, not to mention all the other substances in grains that are difficult to digest, gluten is only one of them!
Grains also promote mineral deficiencies and systemmic inflammation. Phytic acid makes much of the nutrients you eat unavailable to human digestion. That’s right, those vital minerals and nutrients that are absolutely necessary for tip-top immune system function are being swept away by phytic acid and end up in the toilet, literally! Legumes share many of the immunosuppressive properties of grains, with their high insoluble fiber and lectin content.
The Standard American Diet and following “conventional wisdom” takes the largest toll on your immune system. Of course it’s no surprise that following the SAD just perpetuates the problem, making you buy up all those supplements to make up for your lack of nutrients like Cold-EEZE, Halls, and Vicks, and overuse things like hand sanitizer and antibiotics (which actually weaken your immune system).
What’s the best way to support our immune system?
Protein provides the basic needs of our lean structure, for repairing bones, muscles, and organs. Eat plenty of animals at every meal!
Fruit and veggies also provide valuable nutrients, as well as antioxidants and flavanoids that all aide the immune system.
Do your best to follow this Paleo diet framework and lifestyle, and you’ll be sick less often! Not to mention much healthier and better looking for the long-haul!
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