This winter has been a doozy for illness. So many people have been sick, and the illnesses just seems to LINGER. Or it’s just one virus after another for weeks or months. It’s awful to hear about adults suffering, but I hate it when I hear that kids are sick for months on end! I have worked with several of these lingering cases and wanted to give you a few safe, DIY health tips that may make all the difference in decreasing the duration and recurrence of illness.
Our Gastrointestinal Tract — The Home of 80% of our Immune System
If you know me at all, you know I am REALLY into the gut microbiome. So I’ll start with my favorite topic.
LOVE YOUR BUGS! (I wrote an article with this title in January. Check in out!)
Our gut lining, if you were to stretch it our flat, is approximately the surface area of two tennis courts. This layer of epithelial tissue between this digestive tube (lumen) and the inside of our bodies is one cell thick. (1)(1.5) On the other side of the thin layer of intestinal lining sits 80 percent of our immune system. (2) This is because the digestive tract is actually “outside” our bodies, and there is only a single layer of cells protecting the crud in our GI tract from our blood stream. So the immune system sits in waiting, at the ready for battle if our gut lining is overwhelmed by toxins or pathogens. But this lining not only has the immune system for back-up, it has an army! In fact the lining and the immune system work in concert with trillions of microbes that live in our GI tract. It is this trifecta that keeps us healthy and keeps our immune systems intact.
Microbiome + Gut Lining + Immune System = immune health, immune balance, system homeostasis
So what does this have to do with your kid’s lingering or recurring virus/cold/cough/infection?
Well, since so much immunity is going on in our GI tracts, we better mind what we put in them.
#1: When we are eating junk food, sugar, processed foods, chemicals and pesticides, our immune system will have no choice but to become activated since this is more than our trifecta can handle. The gut lining begins to break down, and the immune system goes into overdrive. When we over-tax our immune system with inflammatory foods and it is busy defending the gut lining, it cannot mount a proper defense over the real enemies — germs, viruses, etc.
#2: If we don’t keep our microbiome healthy, it can’t do its job: which is to act as the army protecting the gut lining, breaking down toxins and inflammatory substances, producing nutrients and supporting immunity.
The cool thing is that the same things that help support our microbiome also keep our gut lining healthy and our immune system from having to go to battle.
Here’s what to do to have a robust microbiome and healthy GI lining:
- Eat plenty of veggies — our gut bugs thrive on the fiber in veggies.
- Don’t eat refined carbohydrates like bread, crackers, cookies and cakes — because this feeds the pathogenic, inflammatory gut microbes.
- Don’t eat sugar, high fructose corn syrup, juice, soda, processed dried fruit products, candy, cakes, etc. — sugar not only feeds the bad bugs but is the achilles heel of the immune system. Sugar is a double whammy for this beautifully synchronized gut microbiome-immune system dance.
- IN FACT, 1 tsp of sugar suppresses the immune system by 70 percent for up to 6 hours!!!!!! (2.5)
- Eat fermented foods — this feeds as well as seeds the healthy microbes to join the fight. If you don’t know what fermented foods are, check out this video, this article and this podcast.
- After many of the medications given to kill infections, we must repopulate the healthy microbiota. The irony of antibiotics and antivirals is that they kill the bad guys, but also decimate the good guys. This is a huge reason why illnesses linger, especially after these medications are used.
- A) Take PROBIOTICS! Especially after a round of antibiotics or anytime you are fighting or preventing an illness.
- B) Eat fermented foods: sourkraut, kefir, kombucha, fermented pickles (Bubbies or Sonoma Brinery), Gut Shots, kimchi)
- C) Keep in mind that pesticides on food (any non-organic foods) are antibiotics — they KILL everything except the genetically modified plant they are sprayed on. Eat organic foods whenever possible, especially when fighting recurrent illness.
The Sunshine Vitamin
Ever thought that one of the reasons we get so much sicker in the winter is because we don’t see the sun? Vitamin D is ESSENTIAL to immune function. At the latitude we live here in Reno, we get very little if any Vitamin D from the sun from November-May. Kids can be as deficient as adults. Check with your child’s physician about the possibility of supplementing during the winter months or if your child is ill. In my clinical experience, Vitamin D can be instrumental in preventing chronic infections. The Vitamin D Counsel recommends that the optimal level of 25(OH)D is 50 ng/ml. Though testing kids is hard, there are blood spot tests. Or work with a qualified health care practitioner to safely dose your child during the winter months.
Foods with the active form of vitamin D include: cheese, butter, sardines, tuna, caviar, wild caught salmon, mushrooms, eggs, cod liver oil.
The Missing Antiviral Vitamin
Vitamin A is a feared and misunderstood vitamin. However, it is deficient in most of our diets and is hugely important to immune function. In fact, in the 1920 and ’30s, Vitamin A was used to treat the measles and tuberculosis. (3)(4)(5) (6) It is especially important in lung infections.
Foods that provide Vitamin A are: liver, cod liver oil, fish, eggs, cheese and pastured meats. Precursors to Vitamin A come from red, orange and yellow veggies, so eat plenty of these as well.
The Antioxidant Toxin Busting Vitamin
Vitamin C is protective of tissues that have been exposed to toxins or infections due to its antioxidant power. Vitamin C can halt and reverse the inflammation from microbes and shorten illness. Vitamin C is also found in extremely high amounts in our adrenal glands, indicating that it is needed to produce adrenal hormones. Vitamin C can play an essential role in prevention of illness, healing damaged tissues and assisting in recovery via the adrenal glands. It has been researched and used in the following situations:
~ helps process toxins
~helps heal vascular system
– acts as an antihistamine
- used historically and recently researched to treat Whooping cough (7)(8)
Sources of Vitamin C
- Fresh citrus fruit — Vitamin C levels diminish as the fruit sits off the tree
- Kiwi, guava and black currant are the highest
- Broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts
- Bell peppers
- Sodium Ascorbate is one of the most effective forms if you are going to supplement
Sleep is ESSENTIAL to growth, immune function and brain function. Without deep, long sleep, we do not produce growth hormone to heal, regenerate nerves and reset our immune system. Studies show one night of “short sleep” (less than 6 hours for an adult) makes the person insulin resistant the next day. (8.5) This means lack of sleep makes you physiologically seem like a pre-diabetic for a day! The cascade of chemicals starting with Melatonin is essential to heal from any illness. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers need eight to 11 hours, ages 6-12 need nine to 12 hours and ages 3-5 need 10-13 hours. (9)
Acupuncture for immunity
Of course this is not a DIY, but acupuncture is a powerful treatment method for chronic illness. It has the ability to stimulate your body’s white blood cells, as well as overall blood flow, and can powerfully kick-start the immune system. Synchronized with the right dietary adjustments and targeted herbal medicine and supplements, acupuncture may be just what you need to overcome a stagnant state of health.
If you need additional guidance, would like to see me for acupuncture and Chinese medicine or would like to work with me over the phone to dial in your diet and supplements to optimize immunity, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, kataniataylor.com or pathtowellnessreno.com.
1 Thickness of gut lining, repair