• Ellen Allen

Immune Support (but it's not what you think)

Our October Wellness Series has been all about immune support - a timely subject, given both the global health crisis and the start of cold and flu season. A lot of (virtual) ink has been spilled about the immune system these past seven months, particularly in regards to how to protect yourself from a certain virus. But what we're doing here is looking at the bigger picture. Rather than not catching a threat until it's too late, what are the things you can do every day to strengthen your body's defenses against pathogens? And thus, to keep your voice functioning in tip-top shape?

Now, to be clear: STILL DO THE THINGS. Keep washing your hands, social distancing, avoiding crowds (especially for long durations of time), and wearing your mask. (P.S. that thing goes over your mouth AND your nose. Did you know that your nose also expels air?? Yup, it's true! #whyistherenosarcasmfont )

The reality, though, is that a weak immune system makes you more susceptible to ANY virus. And when you catch a virus which then elicits a perceptible immune response from your body - i.e., all those nasty symptoms you experience - your immune system is often weakened for some time after. So it's important to strengthen this system so you don't spiral into a state of endless sick all winter long.

We've all heard that sleep, exercise, and good nutrition are essential for immune health, as well as preventive measures like frequent hand-washing. We also know we need adequate amounts of vitamins and other micronutrients. And then there are the bazillion health products out there that claim to boost immune function and kick symptoms to the curb.

So, here's the deal. All those things are necessary and/or useful. (Yes, even some of the health products!) But they will not serve you as well as they could if you aren't paying to these two things first and foremost:

  1. Your gut

  2. Your stress levels

It Starts With the Gut

Did you know that 70% of your immune system is in your gut?

Yes, you read that right. In addition to digesting your food, absorbing nutrients, and

processing hormones, the bacteria in your gut work 'round the clock to fight pathogens. So, if your gut is a mess, your immune function will be compromised.

Most Americans are terrible to their guts. #sorrynotsorry. Even if you don't struggle with signs of GI issues, chances are you're feeding your gut some stuff that you shouldn't. Gluten, sugar, alcohol, and processed foods are TERRIBLE because they encourage the bad gut bacteria to breed, edging out the good bacteria that your body needs to do the things. They can also destroy the gut lining, making it harder to absorb nutrients from the good foods you are eating.

Now, I'm not here to guilt you. You're entitled to enjoy unhealthy foods from time to time, but none of the foods I mentioned above should be a daily feature in your diet. I'm serious. It's hard to cut back - or cut out - gluten and sugar, but it will pay dividends for your health.

There are two other food groups I believe we should limit for immune health:

  1. Fruit. There, I said it. Fruits contain antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients, but they're also full of fructose, which is just a fancy word for sugar. "But isn't fructose better than other sugars?!" you ask. Eh, not really. Your body processes all sugars pretty much the same way - with an insulin response and a subsequent spike in blood sugar, and a crash a short time later. Any nutritional benefit found in a fruit can *also* be found in a vegetable, without the dramatic glucose spike. So, veggies over fruits, any day of the week.

  2. Grains. Yes, even whole grains. Most "whole-grain" products are equally as processed as their non-whole-grain counterparts, and will spike your blood sugar something ridiculous. They can also be hard for some people to digest, and many provide little to no nutritional benefit. If you must eat grains, go for oats, quinoa, or brown rice.

"So what *am* I supposed to eat?!" you say.

  • Animal protein. Our bodies are made to digest it, plain and simple.

  • Nuts and seeds. If you find snacking on plain nuts boring, I got you, fam.

  • Vegetables, vegetables, and more vegetables. They are full of alllll the good things.

  • Legumes. I suggest these with caution, because some people find them hard to digest, but if you're looking for a carbohydrate source that isn't a grain and will give you *some* protein, peanuts, beans, lentils, and the like might suit.

  • Healthy fats. Fat is your friend! Fat is not to be feared! At least, not the good kinds (mono- and polyunsaturated) found in olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, and full-fat dairy.

  • Fermented foods like plain, full-fat yogurt, sauerkraut, or kombucha. Alternatively, take a good probiotic daily.

How Stressed Are You?

Have you ever gotten sick at a time when you've been super-busy-stressed?

Our bodies are well-equipped to handle stress in short, temporary bouts. Like, back in our cavemen days when we were running from bears or defending ourselves against a

rival caveman. Your body senses a threat, releases cortisol and adrenaline, which puts your body into fight-or-flight mode, suppressing other bodily functions because dealing with the threat becomes its number one priority. Once the threat is gone, the body *should* return to rest-and-digest mode.

However, in our modern society, many of us are chronically stressed about a ton of things every single day. And, just like how your body processes all sugars the same way, it also responds to all stress the same way. It doesn't matter that the stress isn't a bear or rival caveman anymore. Your body doesn't know the difference. Many people's bodies are constantly in fight-or-flight mode, which means that other functions - digestion, creative thinking, etc. - are suppressed. And if they're suppressed long enough, they'll begin to malfunction. This sets you up for pathogen invasion, and an inability to fight them off.

In extreme cases, your adrenal glands can "burn out" and your body will be forced to operate with sub-optimal levels of cortisol and other hormones that are essential for bodily function.

Stress management looks a little different for each person, but the idea is to calm the nervous system. Avoid activities or situations that cause physical or emotional stress. Try one or more of the following:

  • Yoga, or other stretching

  • Deep breathing

  • A relaxing bath

  • Reading

  • Journaling

  • Mindfulness exercises

  • Turning off screens

  • Massage, or something else to relax your muscles

  • Any peaceful activity you enjoy - painting, drawing, cooking, making music

  • Light exercise, like walking

And - here's a big one - prioritize your sleep. Shoot for 7-9 hours of good quality sleep

every night. Preparing your body for sleep is its own process and looks a little different for everyone, but suffice it to say that simply just flopping into bed after you've been up late working, watching TV, partying (lol who is partying these days?), or whatever, is not going to set you up for quality zzz's.

The Rest of the Things

As I mentioned earlier, exercise, supplements and preventive measures are all absolutely part of a good immune support protocol. These things are for separate posts, though. And as much as they're all necessary, they will not serve you very well if you're not doing the foundational things - feeding your body the right foods, and keeping those cortisol levels under control. I would know, because I've been there.

Don't Know Where To Start? Get Support!

If you find yourself:

  • Struggling to stay healthy during cold and flu season

  • Wondering how to make changes to your diet

  • Frequently under stress and don't know how to manage it

  • Wanting to improve the quality of your sleep

  • Wondering what supplements to use to support your health

...then I got you! My signature coaching program is designed to target ALL of these things, so you can navigate cold and flu season like a pro, and know what to do when threats start to come your way. The best part? We focus on lasting change - not quick fixes that will serve you now but become useless later on. Take charge of your health today by booking your free Discovery Call here!

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