5 Steps To A Stronger Immune System

#1 Cut out Sugar – Did you know that sugar consumption literally shuts down immune function? It’s no wonder that, as a population, we’re sicker than ever – sugar is in everything and it has been linked to everything from poor immune function, to cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Check the label of your foods and emphasize whole, naturals foods making up the bulk of your diet. Shop primarily around the perimeter of the grocery store where you’ll stock up on produce, eggs, poultry, meat and fish. Veggies and fruit are packed full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, which help you look and feel young, regulate digestion and fight disease. Protein from fish, poultry, meat and eggs, form the building blocks of immune cells, regulate blood sugar, repair muscle and help keep you satiated between meals.  

 

#2 Move Your Body – Your lymphatic system is like the waste collection system for your immune system. The lymph nodes form a complex network throughout your body and are designed to carry waste to the blood stream to be filtered out. When muscles contract, they squeeze the lymph nodes and help move waste along the lymphatic system helping to help you detoxify. While burpees and lunges are great for moving lymph, even a brisk fall walk or a massage can do wonders to give your lymphatic system, and immune system, a boost.

 

#3 Sleep Well – Did you know your immune system is hard at work when you sleep? That’s when the body recovers, makes new cells and repairs any damage incurred throughout the day. Immune cells take advantage of the natural fasting state that the body is in at night and do their best work at this time. When we’re well, we should be getting at least 8 hours of quality sleep every night, so most of us need to be in bed by 10pm. When we’re sick we need even more sleep, because the immune system is working harder. Melatonin (our sleep hormone), peaks around 10pm, so if we don’t catch that wave and stay up past 11pm, sleep can be a struggle, especially for those who are prone to a busy mind at night. Naturopathic doctors have natural and effective tools to help with sleeplessness.   

 

#4 Heal Your Gut – It is estimated that 70-90% of your immune system activity is in the circulatory system located behind the gut barrier. Most of us have some degree of damage to the gut barrier (a.k.a. “leaky gut”), from the accumulation of damage from certain medications (like antibiotics, NSAIDs, and proton pump inhibitors), and it can play a role in food sensitivities, digestive issues, mood and hormonal disturbances, and most importantly, immune function. The gut barrier is there to prevent pathogens from entering the blood stream and producing and immune response – so, a tight gut is a healthy gut. Autoimmune issues such as Hashimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, Grave’s disease and Celiac disease, which predominantly affect middle-aged women (us!), begin from damage to the gut barrier. One great way to protect and repair the gut is to add fermented foods and bone broth to your daily diet. [As an aside, if eating fermented foods, or taking probiotics give you gas or bloating, that’s a sign of a very common gut infection called SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), and should be treated by a naturopathic doctor.]

 

#5 Take Vitamin D – Every cell in the body has a receptor site for vitamin D3, which speaks to its importance for immune health, including prevention of cancers, autoimmune diseases and of course, colds and flus.  Everyone should be supplementing at least 1000 international units (IU) of the sunshine vitamin every day of the year. Although we make vitamin D with sun exposure, most of us don’t get enough unprotected mid-day sun, especially in Canada. The most accurate way of knowing how much you should be supplementing is to have your MD or ND test your vitamin D3 levels. Our levels are generally highest at the end of summer, and lowest in May. 

Pumpkin Spiced Granola

I can't get enough of this granola this fall. Packed with protein, fibre and healthy fats, it will keep you satisfied and energized for hours. Adapted from the original recipe from Angela Liddon @ ohsheglows.com

Ingredients

3 cups of your choice of nuts - I usually use a combo of almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans - whatever I have in the fridge or freezer. 

1 cup rolled oats (gluten free, if possible)

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

1/2 cup honey, melted

1/4 cup hemp hearts

1/4 cup flax seeds, or ground flax

2 tbsp coconut oil, melted

3 tbsp pumpkin puree

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

3/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp sea salt

Directions

Soak the nuts and pumpkin seeds for a few hours, or overnight. This step is optional, but recommended. Pour the nuts into a colander and rinse with cool water. Drain well, spread them onto a dishcloth and gently move them around to dry. Start here if you skipped the soaking. Place the nuts and pumpkin seeds in a food processor fit with and S-blade and pulse for about a minute until the nuts are well incorporated and are a good size for your liking. Prepare the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl, large enough to eventually accommodate all the nuts. Whisk together the honey, flax, coconut oil, pumpkin puree, vanilla extract, and spices. Add the nuts to the bowl, as well as shredded coconut, oats and hemp hearts. Mix well. Preheat the oven to 175 C and prepare 2-3 large cookie sheets with parchment paper. Spread the granola in a thin layer evenly on the baking sheets and pop them in the oven. After about an hour, gently mix the granola around with a spatula. Bake for about another 45 mins. The granola should be golden brown, but not burnt. I've tried baking at a higher temperature and it burns quite easily, so learn from my mistakes! I also tend to use about 4 cups of nuts because I like it a little less sweet (and want it to last longer!) but will sometimes add raisins to the bowl if I need a bit more sweetness. Enjoy with some unsweetened milk of your choice and fresh blueberries or raspberries. 

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Podcast Episodes: Natural Ways to Build Your Family's Immunity & Natural Remedies for Kids

Last month I had the pleasure of being interviewed by a colleague and friend, Aglaee Jacob, author and Real Food Registered Dietitian (http://radicatanutrition.com) on her podcast called Read Food Mamas. This was a special interview because Aglaee had me as her doula for the home birth of her son, and I also took care of her and her son during the postpartum period as their Naturopathic Doctor. We had so much to talk about that we had to split the podcast into 2 parts! 

Part One is all about Natural Ways to Build Your Family's Immunity

Listen here: http://realfoodmamaspodcast.com/2015/11/24/022-natural-ways-to-boost-your-familys-immunity/

Part Two is all about Natural Remedies for Kids

We discuss natural remedies for: colds & flus; bumps & bruises; cuts & scratches; diaper rash; tummy bugs & constipation. We also have an important discussion about the role of fever that you won't want to miss! 

Listen here: http://realfoodmamaspodcast.com/2015/12/08/023-natural-remedies-for-kids/

Anxiety & Coffee: Are You Brewing Trouble?

Productive. Happy. Energized. This is how I feel after I have my morning cup of coffee. But if I’m being really honest with you, there are occasions when coffee makes me feel jittery, anxious and frazzled; and that’s when I know I need to take break, interrupt the addiction cycle and ground myself again.

Coffee, especially organic, freshly roasted and freshly ground, has numerous health benefits. It alkalinizes the body, provides antioxidants, enhances athletic performance, is a cognitive stimulant and has euphoria as a side effect. No wonder we’re all hooked! Unfortunately, coffee isn’t all fun and games. On the flip side, coffee is addictive, causes your adrenal glands to pump out more cortisol, contributing to sleep disturbances, weight gain and anxiety, and in the long term can lead to adrenal exhaustion.

A brief physiology lesson: The central nervous system is made up of two branches, sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The SNS is active when we are in “fight or flight” mode, or, for our ancestors, running from a bear. Blood is shunted from our digestive organs to our limbs, heart and lungs, so that we can run away from the looming threat to our lives. The PNS, on the other hand, puts us in “rest and digest” mode, slows down our breathing and heart rate, allowing blood to be sent to our digestive organs. Knowing this, it makes sense that coffee makes us feel so energized, productive and happy, right? But on the other hand, coffee tells our nervous system that we’re in trouble and that we need to be on high alert. As if we aren’t already on high alert enough, with our hectic, fast-paced, technology driven world!

Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental illness affecting Canadian adults. Could coffee be contributing to this? You betcha! As we’ve learned, an overactive SNS make you feel anxious, as you should be when running from a bear, but not in everyday life. In clinical practice, caffeine intake is one of the first things that we address when a patient with anxiety walks into the office. In practice, I’ve seen removal or reduction of coffee reduce symptoms by as much as 30-50%!

If you avoid coffee and still feel anxious, calming the nervous system and switching over zen-mode can be as easy as breathing, with a little practice. The simple act of turning inwards can change the message that your body receives from the brain from “Run, there’s a bear!” to “Om”, in just minutes. The next time you notice you’re holding tension somewhere, your breathing has become shallow and rapid or you just feel stressed out, take a moment to breathe. Direct your breath towards your belly, slow your breath down by lengthening your exhale, recognize what’s going on in your body and acknowledge it. Take 10…slow…deep…breaths. Feel any better?  

For some, cutting out coffee and working on breathing isn’t enough to reduce symptoms, but luckily Naturopathic Doctors have many more natural and non-invasive tools to treat anxiety and other mood disorders. As with all treatment, an individualized plan is best, so after conducting a thorough health history and physical exam, we’ll come up with a realistic and sustainable plan that fits into your life, to help you feel calm and grounded again.