We have powerful immune systems. There is an intricate coordination of various protective mechanisms that help to keep you well and functioning at your best. It consists of physical barriers like our skin and mucous membranes, cells like neutrophils which are specifically designed to deal with threats, molecules such as cytokines, beneficial microbes, an acidic environment in the stomach, and an effective removal process to eliminate the byproducts. However, one or all of these components of the immune system can take a back seat or play second fiddle to other bodily functions deemed more critical. For example, resources will not be devoted to the immune system, digestion, or recovery if a grizzly bear is intent on making you its next meal. A more dire concern exists that needs immediate attention, so the available energy will be allocated to the brain and skeletal muscles to fight or flee.
This is a natural process that should only last for a short period before being inactivated. When the nervous system never returns back to baseline, your body remains in a state of hypervigilance which continues to steal valuable resources from your immune system. Not to mention, cortisol will itself signal a downregulation of your immune response.
The chronic nature of stress is the key factor that will limit your immunity, assuming that there is a steady supply of vital nutrients. We actually want acute stressors in our life so that our immune systems can learn how to protect us better. It is similar to a warrior that must endure arduous training in order to become the master of his domain. This is what is known as hormesis. Hormesis is essential for your body to learn how to defend and protect itself. If the burden becomes too much for it to handle, then there is a breakdown. This is akin to an athlete overtraining which sets them back on their path to optimization.
Hormetic stressors include exercise and cold exposure. When performed in appropriate doses, both exercise and cold exposure will enhance your immune response. Those little white blood cells will be able to kick butt and take names later. However, when performed to excess, exercise and cold exposure will cause more harm than good, eliminating the beneficial effects of hormesis.
I would also include exposure to microbes and viruses as hormesis. If your terrain is significantly disrupted, then pathogens will overtake the microbiome and cause havoc. But if there is a minor introduction of a new microbe to a healthy body, the beneficial residents will keep it at bay even if it has pathogenic capabilities. Children were once expected to contract chicken pox and measles, which were minor annoyances that ultimately helped the immune system learn from these infections. Now, there are vaccines that do not exert the same benefits, most likely because they are synthesized in a lab and introduced to the body in a foreign manner.
Once upon a time, children also spent long hours outdoors, digging in the dirt which exposed them to a multitude of beneficial bacteria and other microbes that helped develop their defenses. This is another example of hormesis. If the child is doused in filth for considerable periods of time, then sickness will ensue. But mild exposure provides massive benefits instead of disease.
We cannot discuss immune health without touching on essential nutrients. The first one has to be Vitamin D3, which has many effects in the body but just know that it helps stimulate and regulate the immune processes. Almost everyone is deficient in this vitamin, which acts more like a hormone, and could benefit from increasing serum levels of it. Supplementation is one avenue, but I like for my patients and the general public to focus on sun exposure first and foremost. The sun provides us with the bioactive form of Vitamin D, but simultaneously provides us with many other benefits. Depending on one's skin tone, this may be easier for some compared to others. If you are of Caribbean descent, you will need significantly more sun to reap the benefits. These individuals may require supplementation along with increased sun exposure. Here is a short list of other nutrients to boost your internal defenses:
Vital Immune Nutrients
· Vitamin A
· Vitamin C
· Prebiotics & Probiotics
· DHA & EPA
The last thing to consider on this topic would have to be sleep. All things being equal, sleep would have to be the most important factor to build a robust immune system. Our modern society facilitates chronic stress. We are all inundated with stress so we must actively do things to mitigate it. Whether that be breathwork, vagal stimulation, meditation, reading, essential oils, Epsom salt bath, or just listening to calming music, it is imperative that you prep yourself for bed just like you would warm up prior to exercising. I will be going very deep on this specific topic in a later blog post since sleep is so vitally important to our health while it has become so vitally difficult to attain these days.
If you would like assistance on your health journey and are fed up with the conventional medical model, then contact our office at (727) 789-4020 and Janine will get you all set up for your initial consultation. I look forward to meeting you and helping you to be your best self.