08 Apr The Immune System: How Much Can We Control?
Do you understand how your immune system works? Do you know all the components that make up your immune system? How do you know if it’s strong, or weak, or functioning properly? Don’t worry, most of us don’t know the answers to these questions. But we should!
On a recent episode of The Darin Olien Show, I sat down with Dr. Heather Moday, a board-certified allergist and immunologist. She’s also an integrative and functional medicine physician and knows her way around the immune system. But the truth is, most people don’t. Heather is part of the Mindbodygreen Collective– a curated group of 50 experts in the wellness space. Through her practice, The Moday Center, she works to empower people to reclaim their health. And in most cases, reclaiming your health means taking a closer look at your immune system. Her new book, The Immunotype Breakthrough: Your Personalized Plan to Balance Your Immune System, Optimize Health, and Build Lifelong Resilience, does just that.
But as Dr. Moday told me, “The immune system is a moving target. It’s the only system in our body that is everywhere and nowhere.” It’s hard to conceptualize what the immune system actually is, and actually does, let alone describe it. So unless you are an experienced immunologist like Heather, it can be hard to understand how to support this amazing system of your body.
A Vast Network
Like most systems in your body, your immune system is actually a network. “It’s a network of cells and chemical messengers,” Dr. Moday explains. All these cells and messengers work together to fight germs, bacteria and viruses in your body to keep you from getting sick. And if you do get sick, they work together to make you better. But because every person is so incredibly unique, everyone has a different immune system. What strengthens one person’s system, may actually weaken yours, and vice versa.
But, like any other part of your overall health, diet, lifestyle and stress plays a major role in the strength of your immune system. If you’re a follower of mine, I’m sure this comes as no surprise. However, like other illnesses, most doctors don’t address these crucial factors when treating immune disorders or illnesses.
Diet & Immune Health
I don’t think I have to explain to you why what you eat affects your immune health. I wish it was common sense. But today’s modern medicine unfortunately leads people to believe that some things are beyond your control. Yes, there are immune disorders that are genetic and you’re born with. But if you’re born with a “normal” immune system, you have all the cells and parts to make it function, there ARE things you can do to strengthen it– and weaken it.
What you eat–and what you don’t eat– has a huge impact on your immune health. Recently a Harvard study concluded that “a balanced diet consisting of a range of vitamins and minerals, combined with factors like adequate sleep and exercise and low stress, most effectively primes the body to fight infection and disease.” Well, duh. But why?
Well, if your diet is lacking in one or more nutrients, according to this study, the production and activity of your immune cells and antibodies, which are produced by your immune cells, are impaired. We hear all the time about vitamin C being essential for your immune system, and it is, but it’s not quite that simple.
Processed, empty calorie foods are doing nothing for your immune system, or your health. More and more studies conclude that vibrant, fresh fruit and vegetables are what gets your immune system moving. And a healthy, functioning immune system leads to a healthy, functioning body. Because like Dr. Moday says, “You can look at almost any disease, and at the crux of that is the immune system going awry in some way.”
Little Tweaks Make a Big Difference
So how can you strengthen your immune system? No, you don’t have to completely change your diet overnight. Starting small could still make a huge impact. Make your plates colorful at every meal. Get a variety of fresh, raw veggies in your diet and start there. Replace your chips with carrot or celery sticks. Replace your morning OJ with a fresh orange instead. The more fruits and vegetables in your diet, the healthier your immune system will be.
But it’s not just how you eat that affects your immune health- it’s how you live. Stress is a big factor in how your immune system functions. Dr. Moday and I talked in depth on how studies have shown that stress actually changes your immune cells, and impacts how they respond to triggers. In so many words, stress makes your immune cells sluggish and slow to respond. Ever notice that when you’re completely stressed out at work, you tend to get sick? This isn’t a coincidence, stress is just as impactful as an unhealthy diet on your immune system.
But we can’t avoid stress completely, of course. It’s more about how you react to stress than the stress itself. Having an outlet for that stress is incredibly crucial. That could be exercise, meditation, therapy, or a hobby. Whatever works for you. The important thing is to find something that helps you deal with the hard stuff when it happens in a healthy way. Stress is a part of life, and essential for human evolution, but it’s how we handle the stress that affects our health.