Helping the Immune System and Decreasing Inflammation

Many diseases, both genetic and lifestyle related, are linked with pro-inflammatory conditions or states in the body – things like diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and auto-immune diseases. And, although there are factors that can not be changed (for example, your DNA) there are things you can do to help prevent or decrease the impact of these things.

And to go over some basic lifestyle and diet issues:

1. Stop Smoking

(actively or passively)… Some of the chemicals in cigarettes are, without a doubt, some of the is the most detrimental and damaging things you can voluntarily put into your body. It is linked with just about every cancer with in the body, as well as causing chronic lung disease, and contributing to things such as heart disease, and high blood pressure. So by simply quitting (or swapping to gum) can make a marked impact on your health and well-being.

2. Exercise

A moderate exercise level is known to boost immunity and aid in health and well-being. Exercise also helps to decrease stress levels – something that (if too high) can decrease your immunity.For most people exercise can/ should includes:

  • Cardiovascular fitness
  • Muscle strengthening
  • Stretching and flexibility

Stretching/ flexibility and mobilisation work is especially important for those suffering from inflammatory conditions that attack joints and muscles – research has shown that the more active you can stay, the less of an impact the joint disease will have.

While I am on this topic – I will also add that, as is the case with many things, too much exercise can be detrimental. And those who exercise at elite levels (> 12-15 hrs a week) are at risk of decreased immunity, which can impact negatively on their health.

3. Diet Changes

Now, don’t worry – I am not going to advocate some weird ‘detox’ or ‘raw food’ thing… BUT what I will say is that there are some foods/ ingredients which, if eaten to excess, WILL impact your health negatively and they can decrease your immune system and increase inflammation potential in your body. Examples are foods which increase ‘flairs’ or attacks in things such as rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. We also now know that ‘inflammatory prone’ diets are associated with heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, various forms of cancer, and even acne.

So – overall, some ‘broad tips’ to helping with immunity and inflammation include:

  • Follow a low inflammation diet
  • Follow a high alkaline diet
  • Add supplements as required

Foods to Include:

Omega-3 Fatty Acids – found mainly in cold-water fish like salmon, sardines, anchovies, and herring are high in Omega-3 fats called DHA and EPA. These substances, when eaten, are then incorporated into cell membranes and decrease their ‘reactivity’ in terms of the inflammatory response. Other sources of Omega-3 such as nuts and seeds are not nearly as good as fish sources. Reason being is that they are different forms of the omega-3 fats (mostly ALA) which is not converted efficiently into the more useful DHA and EPA. Olive oil contains Omega-9 fatty acids which are either ‘inert’ or work in synergy with omega-3 fats to increase the benefits to the body

Anti-Oxidant Rich alkaline Vegetables and Fruits – Green leafy vegetables and dark / intensely coloured fruits are packed full of anti-oxidants and vitamins / minerals all of which can aid in maintaining health and immunity. The more ‘alkaline’ vegetables (for example – spinach, seaweed, kale) and fruits (for example – figs, raisins, avocado) are very good options – not only to help with maintaining overall health and decreasing acid load caused by most modern diets, but they also help to regulate minerals in your body (such as magnesium and potassium) which help to decrease pain and inflammation.

Foods to Avoid:

Overconsumption of Omega-6 fats – if eaten in moderate amounts these fats are not too bad… BUT when they are eaten in HIGH amounts (and not in balance with omega-3 fats) you can actually result in an upregulation of the pro-inflammatory pathways of cells. Some research also suggests that partly hydrogenated fats and oils lead to the synthesis of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins too – so it is best to try to avoid these (found in sauces, manufactured bakery products, as well as margarine and other manufactured goods).

High Grain Intake – There have been some studies to suggest a high grain intake (especially a high GI one) *could* be linked with increased rates of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. As such, although the ‘jury’ is still out – maintaining a moderate approach is probably beneficial.

Other Foods and Supplements That Boost The Immune System

Vitamin C: Vitamin C tops the list of immune boosters for many reasons. It is available naturally in many fruits and vegetables. Also, you can buy a vitamin-C-fortified version of just about anything. Vitamin C increases the production of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies and increases levels of interferon, the antibody that coats cell surfaces, preventing the entry of viruses. Vitamin C reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by raising levels of HDL (good) cholesterol while lowering blood pressure and interfering with the process by which fat is converted to plaque in the arteries. As an added perk, persons whose diets are higher in vitamin C have lower rates of colon, prostate, and breast cancer.

Vitamin E: Vitamin E stimulates the production of natural killer cells, those that seek out and destroy germs and cancer cells. Vitamin E enhances the production of B-cells, the immune cells that produce antibodies that destroy bacteria. Vitamin E supplementation may also reverse some of the decline in immune response commonly seen in aging. Vitamin E has been implicated in lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Carotenoids: Beta carotene increases the number of infection-fighting cells, natural killer cells, and helper T-cells, as well as being a powerful antioxidant that mops up excess free radicals that accelerate aging.

Bioflavonoid: A group of phytonutrients called bioflavonoid aids the immune system by protecting the cells of the body against environmental pollutants. Bioflavonoid protects the cell membranes against the pollutants trying to attach to them. A diet that contains a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, at least six servings per day, will help you get the bioflavonoid needed to help your immune system work in top form.

Zinc: This valuable mineral increases the production of white blood cells that fight infection and helps them fight more aggressively. It also increases killer cells that fight against cancer and helps white cells release more antibodies. Zinc supplements have been shown to slow the growth of cancer.

Garlic: This flavorful member of the onion family is a powerful immune booster that stimulates the multiplication of infection-fighting white cells, boosts natural killer cell activity, and increases the efficiency of antibody production. Garlic may protect against cancer, though the evidence is controversial.

Ginger and Turmeric – known since ancient times for their ameliorative properties are two, often considered essential, components of an effective anti-inflammatory diet

Selenium: This mineral increases natural killer cells and mobilizes cancer-fighting cells. Best food sources of selenium are tuna, red snapper, lobster, shrimp, whole grains, vegetables, brown rice, egg yolks, cottage cheese, chicken (white meat), sunflower seeds, garlic, Brazil nuts, and lamb chops.

4. Drink more water

Water comprises 85% of our body’s weight when you are born. And although this figure decreases as you get older most people don’t maintain an adequate water intake to maintain proper hydration. The exact amount needed varies based on where you are in the world, your exercise level, and your diet (as well as many other things) = the message is still the same -> drink up!