Keep Your Immune System in Peak Condition

The Great Defender: that’s our immune system, uniquely designed to keep us healthy and defend against illness and infection. Made up of organs, including the skin, lungs, and gut, as well as specialized cells, the immune system’s job is to remain on alert for disease-causing invaders and to protect our body against them.

Our immune system’s first responders are white blood cells (WBC) that are alerted to the presence of an invader. Some WBCs seek and destroy invaders while others have a cellular memory that enables the body to remember and recognize previous invaders and help destroy them. For example, if you get chickenpox, your body develops immunity to the virus; if you’re exposed to chickenpox again, you won’t contract it.

Sometimes the cellular communication goes haywire and the immune system starts attacking healthy cells in the body. This is called an autoimmune response; it can lead to autoimmune disease, of which there are many types, such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Each of our immune systems are as unique as our individual family health history, our lifestyles, and the environmental conditions with which we live. Some folks seem to never get sick, while others catch every bug going around. The strength of the immune system also changes as we age. Because the immune system is our greatest defender against disease, it’s critical that we keep it strong, healthy and balanced.

Four Natural Ways to Boost Immunity

Get Your Zz’s. Sleep regenerates the entire body. Research shows that restful and regular sleep generates the hormones that help fight infection, whereas insufficient / poor quality sleep makes us prone to infection and prolongs recovery from illness.

De-stress. Persistent stress raises the level of a hormone called cortisol in the bloodstream. Over time, this creates a cascade of physiological events that result in weakened immunity. Take time out with meditation, yoga, exercise, or a walk in nature.

Say No to Sugar. A diet high in sugar interferes with optimal immune system function. Limit your intake of all sweets. Choose organic fruit or a small amount of organic dark chocolate when you need to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Crazy ’bout Shrooms. With 38,000 varieties, you’re bound to find a mushroom you like! They’re versatile in cooking, full of nutrients, and contain compounds that research shows are important to building a strong immune system. Make shrooms a part of your whole foods diet.

Relax With Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

You walk into a massage therapy office needing relief and balance. You breathe in a spirit-lifting scent and then a remarkable calm washes over you. Most likely you’ve just experienced one of the amazing benefits of lavender.

This richly scented, deep purple flower is native to the mountainous zones of the Mediterranean, but widely available throughout the U.S., Europe and Australia. Over 2,500 years ago the ancient Egyptians used lavender in rituals, including the mummification process. In ancient Greece and Rome, the flowers and oils were sold at premium prices for use in soaps, perfumes and natural remedies.

Today, lavender essential oil is used in aromatherapy to help balance and soothe mental and emotional stress. While, lavender initially feels “reviving” to the senses, within moments it has a calming and restorative effect. In botanical medicine, lavender is used in treatment for anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, tension headache, and mild depression. For individuals with ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorders, lavender is safe to use as part of a relaxation routine. It’s one of the few essential oils that may be applied directly to the skin undiluted or in combination with other oils for massage and bathing.

Lavender has a wide range of “floral notes” that can be achieved depending on the intensity of the concentration. It’s available as a tincture, infusion, extract and, as noted, an essential oil alone or in combination with other herbs used for relaxation. Dried lavender and its derivatives are used in bath salts, sachets, eye pillows, and potpourris. Lavender, in herb form, may also be used in herbal beverages and teas.

The ADHD – Diet Connection

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): an abnormal defect of moral control in otherwise high functioning children. Two generations ago that was the definition and the belief. Today, we know better, and we know more, lots more.

What is ADHD?

Today, ADHD is viewed as a multifaceted condition triggered by varying behavioral, biological and environmental factors, including certain foods and food additives. The hallmarks of ADHD are an inability to focus and/or impulsivity that is not developmentally typical for a child’s age. Symptoms fall on a spectrum from predominantly inattentive on one end to predominantly hyperactive at the other end. Certain criteria must be met for a doctor to diagnose a child as having ADHD.

The Role of Food in ADHD

While there are many ways to use “food as medicine,” for some children, food and its additives can actually trigger ADHD. Because diet plays a crucial role in ADHD, it’s important to examine issues such as food intolerance, food allergy, and the additives and chemicals associated with food production. There are various tests to determine both food allergy and intolerance. Dr. Myra can advise you about the most appropriate test and then help with interpretation and treatment.

Artificial food colors (AFCs) are widely used by manufacturers to create visually attractive food products. The FDA certifies, for purity and safety, the use of these dyes. However, the amount certified has risen from 12 mg/capita/d in 1950 to 62 mg/capita/d in 2010.

AFCs are not natural to our food system, and surely not to our bodies. These artificial molecules can bond to food or body proteins, which means they can “hide in the body,” avoid detection, and disrupt the immune system. This can have significant immunological consequences that affect gastrointestinal function, auto-immunity and even brain and behavior. For some children, ADHD can be triggered and worsened by synthetic colors, flavors and preservatives.

The Feingold Diet for ADHD

In the 1970’s, Benjamin Feingold, M.D. studied the effect of food chemicals and the role of nutrition in addressing learning disabilities and behavior disorders. He pioneered an elimination diet that removed food dyes from the diets of children. Over the years, Dr. Feingold extended the elimination diet to include petrochemical preservatives BHA and BHT. He has reported rates of 30-70% improvement in children with ADHD, depending on the diagnostic criteria used and adherence to the diet.

Over the decades, studies in Europe and the U.S. have tested the Feingold and similar diets. While research has not established a direct cause-and-effect, the evidence indicates restriction/elimination diets have value and can bring about a change in behavior if properly followed. In response to concerns that children will dislike the Feingold Diet, families can find a wide range of tips for adjusting recipes and food selection, making it easy to incorporate changes and still enjoy favorite foods.

In addition to eliminating AFCs, BHA, BHT and food allergens/intolerances, additional support may be needed for some children. This may include educational adjustments, behavior modification or counseling, nutrition supplements, and additional dietary changes. Like any medical or behavioral intervention, treatment benefits will vary based on many factors, such as when a child is diagnosed, the ADHD symptoms present, co-occurrence of other immune or medical conditions, and ability to adhere to dietary changes.

As research continues to explore the relationship between diet, food and behavior, we anticipate that many more children – and adults – with ADHD will be helped by the medicinal power of food.

If your family struggles with the consequences of ADHD, ask Dr. Myra for suggestions and guidance. You do not need to walk this path alone.

Probiotics: Manage Food Allergies and Enhance Immunity

Listen to your gut. And make sure to protect it. A balanced gastrointestinal system plays a critical role in defending your body against illness. An imbalance in gastrointestinal (GI) flora can create health issues and is typically the result of poor diet, stress, use of antibiotics, illness and food allergies.

Balance your GI flora by taking a probiotic supplement. Probiotics are live, microbial food ingredients similar to the health-enhancing microorganisms found in the gut. Well-researched health benefits show taking a probiotic will help…

  • Boost immunity by enhancing the production of antibodies
  • Support the synthesis of vitamins and increase bioavailability of nutrients
  • Protect the GI tract from disease-causing bacteria
  • Alleviate symptoms of GI illness (diarrhea and constipation, IBS)
  • Reduce seasonal and food allergies

Regarding dietary allergens and immunity, scientists believe probiotics achieve their health benefits by stimulating the immune response to increase the secretion of immunoglobulin-A (IgA), which boosts the body’s response to food allergens. Elevated IgA may also decrease pathogens in the gut, which improves the balance of GI flora. Probiotics elevate natural “killer cells” that gobble up disease-generating “invader cells” and may protect nutrients that would otherwise be destroyed by pathogens.

Probiotic supplements come in liquid, powder, chewable and capsule form, ranging from one million to several billion live organisms. Some are sold refrigerated and some have been put into a hybernated state to keep them alive and stable at room temperature, Dr. Myra carries the highest quality of both kinds. Keep probiotics properly stored and away from high heat, so as not to kill the live, healthy bacteria.

Even though probiotics have well documented health benefits, they are not a panacea. Probiotics are most effective when you are supporting your health with a balanced whole foods diet. Dr. Myra can determine the best probiotic strains and dosage for you as well as any other supplements suited for your specific health concerns.

Food Allergens: Testing How the Body Responds

Food allergies occur when the body has an adverse or abnormal response to a food. An allergic reaction can be immediate and life threatening, such as with peanuts. Or it can be delayed, taking three to five days to show up, causing hay fever-like symptoms, digestive distress, eczema or other skin irritation, or changes in behavior and mental focus. This delayed reaction is called “food sensitivity” and is usually not life threatening.

  • A true food allergy can be permanent – whenever you eat or are exposed to that food it will provoke an immune reaction that will exist over your lifetime.
  • A food sensitivity happens gradually. Triggers include: stress, infection, poor eating habits (e.g., over-consumption of foods with additives, preservatives), or foods exposed to toxins such as pesticides and pollutants. Food sensitivity can lead to chronic health problems, including ADHD, digestive disorders, and persistent infection.

Testing for Food Allergies

There are several Ig types that have different yet synergistic roles in the immune system.

IgE antibodies cause the body to react, at times violently and immediately, to things such as pollen, fungus, insect stings, medications, milk and other foods. IgE levels are often highest in people with allergies, including food allergy. An IgE test covers the major food allergens that produce immediate reactions in the body, such as nut, egg, cow’s milk, shellfish, and soy.

IgG antibodies fight bacterial and viral infection. Found in all body fluids, this antibody is typically associated with food sensitivity.

IgA antibodies protect body surfaces exposed to outside foreign substances. It’s abundant in mucus found throughout the body, including the gut; a deficiency in IgA could be tied to adverse responses to food.

The IgE test can be combined with IgA and IgG tests for a more comprehensive test of nearly 200 allergens including meat, dairy, starches and grains, mold and other environmental substances.

There are many ways Dr. Myra can approach testing and help you make dietary modifications based on test results, current health concerns, and lifestyle factors. It’s not just about eliminating a food. It’s about looking at the whole picture of your health and the role food plays as both nourishment and medicine for you and your family members.