Are you dipping through the thousands of posts asking you to support the immune system, and unsure what that means in the era of COVID?

I dive into the challenge of explaining why the immune system needs nutritional and lifestyle support without doing any immunology!

You leave with 6 action items.


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Disclaimer: The information in this Podcast is for educational purposes only. Vaishnavi Sarathy, Ph.D. is an educator, not a doctor, specifically not your child’s doctor. Please consult your physician before implementing any supplement or diet recommendations.

Audio Transcription:


Hey, welcome to functional nutrition. I’m learning for kids. I’m your host, Vaish So today’s challenge was to talk about the elephant in the room or the elephant in the universe right now, supporting the immune system. What does this actually mean? It sounds like a lot of food to a lot of people. And you’re not alone if you think so. So my challenge today was to see how best I could bring this deal without actually going into immunology, which I don’t want to do. Supporting the immune system one on one.

A healthy well functioning immune system is a defense mechanism against pathogens, bad guys. It is also an intelligent defense in that it does not attack self, it doesn’t attack the food that you eat. It also doesn’t attack good bacteria. Good guys. So there’s identification and memory going on in a healthy immune system.

We know that the immune system is immature in babies, and it starts decreasing in response in seniors as well. It is highly dependent on adequate nutrition. And this is the entire idea of this short episode. The actual immune response itself can sometimes be damaging in that it generates reactive oxygen species. The whole idea of this is to damage viruses and bacteria Of course, but this can also be damaging to our body cells. Nutritionally the immune system can be impacted by protein malnutrition. Also, micronutrient deficiencies like vitamins A, D, C, E, zinc, selenium, iron, and so on. Okay, what else can impact the immune system? We know there’s research that probiotic bacteria in the colon are known to enhance immune function, as is the health of the gut of the gut-associated lymphatic tissue, it’s called, because of its close proximity to microbes.

Now, this is actually a physical barrier, you call it your gut-associated lymphoid tissue is a physical barrier to the entry of microbes. Let’s discuss what this means in quotes, boosting your immunity. Now, we don’t often talk about this physical barrier, right? We are caught when we talk about boosting immunity, you hear them talk about supplements, sometimes foods and adding things into your body, but your body itself is a physical barrier.

Everything from your saliva to the acidity of your stomach, to the integrity of the epithelial lining in your gut, is an actual physical barrier against the outside against the entry of microbes from the outside to the inside. So what does this mean? My analogy here is that if you had a fortress built in had a small hole in the wall, allowing your enemies to come in boosting your immunity by increasing the number of soldiers throughout isn’t the best idea. Functional nutrition starts by bridging the gap by fixing this hole in the wall first. Now, a lot of this can be found in immunology textbooks.

An article that I really liked, is called feeding the immune system by Philip Calder published in 2013. Now coming back, like all other cells, immune cells also need energy and generate energy through glucose metabolism. And for this to happen, there are many cofactors and these are vitamins and minerals. That’s why deficiency and said vitamins and minerals can impact immune function. Protein nourishment is key because a lot of the signaling molecules that are produced during an immune system response are proteins.

There are enzymes involved in many of these steps. These are also proteins. So we need a sufficient supply of amino acids in our system. Now do you know the biggest key factor in protein malnourishment in people that aren’t actually going hungry? Do you know what that is? It is a lack of stomach acid it is insufficient stomach acid you need acid in your stomach to help break down protein. Now think lemon water that morning drink of apple cider vinegar and water Have you heard about this stuff that makes of pepper long pepper and ginger which is called regard to in Ayurvedic medicine.

These natural remedies are all indirect immune supports in multiple ways. Okay, so this is your action item one think about your stomach acid. If anybody over here any of your listeners still think that you want to reduce domoic acid No, that is a bad thing. Okay, it can impact your physical barrier. Okay, stomach acid actually destroys a lot of pathogens as they enter your body through food or water. And they can also indirectly impact protein absorption. Now, of course, if you have ulcers or if you’re currently taking ppis this issue becomes more involved and this is where you would work with a functional medicine doctor. Remember, we said that the actual immune system is generally reactive oxygen species This process is called an oxidative burst.

The nutrients that we call antioxidants protect ourselves from the damaging action of these oxidative stressors. A lot of these come from things that you see that have like tons of colors, greens, colored vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, and so on. The Odd antioxidants that we depend on from food are primarily vitamin C, Vitamin E, and glutathione, which is made in our body, again, under adequate conditions of vitamin B, 12, and folate. At this point, I will stop and hope that it is clear that there is no context where an immune function is independent of adequate nutrition.

I am really not listing every nutrient in your body at this time that is needed for adequate immune response. But I’m making a general point and I have listed most of them. We know I mean, everybody probably knows that we need to eat more vegetables, colored fruits loaded with antioxidants, like berries, good fats like ghee, coconut oil, carrot and hydrate vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, greens, and the list goes on. Right? This doesn’t exist in a vacuum, our basic non-negotiables beyond food that impact the immune system remain sleep, poop, blood sugar balance, and inflammation. Now, you probably don’t need to study for this. But in case you’re wondering whether either I’m talking common sense or just showing off that this isn’t just common sense, among other papers as a 2019 Review paper called the sleep immune crosstalk in health and disease.

I love this paper. Here the authors talk about a bi-directional axis, okay, here this disturbed sleep causes immune dysregulation and immune activation when you’re sick, that disrupts sleep. And if it feels like common sense, it probably is right? How many times have you been told about this? You’ve probably told other people about this. Obviously, we can’t even think to start thinking about immune health without our primary non-negotiable sleep, not just time, but quality. Now a 2005 paper and many other studies talk about striking changes in the intestinal flora. These are the probiotics in your gut that accompany constipation, which leads to cascading changes in the systemic immune response. So that is our secondary non-negotiable you have to poop every day once 123 times. Similarly, there are abundant studies that relate unstable blood sugar to altered immune responses to infection.

Now since your body is in homeostasis, which is a word that loosely means chemical equilibrium, for most healthy people, nutrients from food sources are ideal. Remember that the all foods work paradigm is a paradigm that does not work. If you listen to podcast episode 22. We know that moderation is a term that does not apply to the chronically inflamed or the chronically ill, it actually doesn’t apply to most people in the current state of how food is grown. So without getting into any immunology at all, this is really what it means to broadly support your immune system. So let’s get into these action items. Sleep well, and sound is considered a balance of fat fiber and protein to balance blood sugar.

Check out Episode Two about blood sugar if you haven’t yet, put 123 times a day with ease. If that is not happening, back it up and think about why it’s not happening or seek help from a functional nutritionist or functional medicine provider are wide inflammatory foods such as gluten and refined sugar. This can be more foods for you it could be dairy and obviously any other food that you react to support stomach acid. Now before everybody goes and starts glugging apple cider vinegar it’s probably best to consider a practitioner talk to a practitioner to see if that’s appropriate for you. Eat a ton of vegetables, Dr. Terry walls a style. She asked the magic number of nine cups. Anything is better than no cups of course. Okay, we’re just aiming for some cups of vegetables.

Dr. Wilds talks about a beautiful combination of cruciferous vegetables, she does three cups, cruciferous three cups, any colored vegetables and three cups of greens. If any of these steps we talked about six steps here if any of these steps are not accessible right to me, you can drop a note@facebook.com/functionalnutritionforkids or even email me advice that’s Vaish and functionalnutritionforkids.com. Like I said the aim of this podcast is to talk about why supporting immune health isn’t just trivial, easy talk. It isn’t just about supplements though they might be needed. Now of course these are just basics.

These are just basics but powerful basics. And depending on where you are you may need to do more. You may need to talk to a doctor. If you have any Sort of immune condition including autoimmunity, but sleeping well and pooping well applies to everything right blood sugar balance, avoiding inflammatory foods, supporting stomach acid at the time for functional nutrition and learning for kids is brought to you by a doctor lifestyle has a doctorate because of her Ph.D. And today’s music was composed and played by Maitri Gosh. Thank you for listening with a new episode.