The immune system works in a host defense in which the body uses barriers and chemical agents to fight against pathogens which can be viruses, bacteria, or other infectious agents. The immune system requires nutrients to aid in the ability to kill off pathogens as well as remove the debris from the body and the body functions optimally when it supports this immune process with diet, lifestyle, and targeted nutritional supplementation. Supporting the gut, ensuring a robust microbiome, regulating stress, and enhancing nutrient status are all functional ways to support your body and provide the best environment to combat any pathogen.
1. Protect your gut lining! Your immune system resides predominantly in the GALT (gut associated lymphatic tissue) that lines your intestines. This plays an important role in storing the immune cell fighters both T cells and B cells which are essential in the attack of pathogens. During times of immune stress it is important to limit dietary irritants and inflammatory foods which could reduce GALT function or create damage.
Avoidance goal: refined sugar, gluten, corn, and alcohol can all be gut irritants. Use this time to brush up on some clean whole food based recipes that are ideally produce and protein rich while limited in grains and free of refined processed ingredients.
Abundance goal: Using bone broth in family soups and stews, to sip on, or cook veggies in is a great way to support the immune system and reduce reactivity to foods protecting your GALT actually supporting the tissue of your gut lining. See more content on how bone broth heals and my best chicken bone broth recipe here. If bone broth doesn’t sound do-able, I use pasture-raised gelatin in many recipes in The Anti-Anxiety Diet Cookbook, such as avocado pudding and even in my low carb chocolate chip cookies providing a gut boost.
Supplement support: L-glutamine serves as both a fuel source and a building block for gut cells aiding to ensure a healthy tissue lining. GI Lining support combines a potent dosage of L-glutamine along with aloe and DGL to aid in coating and protecting damaged tissue, reducing inflammation and ulceration as well as serving to provide a slow delivery of fuel for repair.
2. Fuel your gut microbiome with probiotic-rich foods!
Our microbiome is impacted by the exposure to virus and bacteria and can be hit by respiratory (via nose, mouth-throat) and digestive tract from consumption of pathogens. Your microbiome is over 3 pounds of your body by weight and its composition can be favorable working in a symbiotic state or unfavorable in a dysbiotic state.
Supporting symbiosis with consumption of live-active cultures will enhance nutrient absorption, digestive function, mood stability, and will favorably impact our immune system by modulating our innate immune response and up regulating the army of immune system fighters at a time of need!
Avoidance goal: washing your hands and practicing good hygiene on your personal devices and surfaces is still good, but don’t oversterilize the microbiome via antibacterial sprays and be aware of the impact of antibiotics avoiding frequent use.
Abundance goal: aim for a probiotic food source daily including kraut, kimchi, pickles, kombucha, miso, keifer, and yogurt. If dealing with phlegm or mucous, you may consider only dairy-free sources which is especially important for toddlers with risk for ear infections.
Supplement support: to ensure a symbiotic and immune supporting environment, take a quality probiotic supplement providing 15-100 billion CFU per capsule with ID guarantee strains. You can start with my Restore: Baseline Probiotic which I use in a probiotic challenge in my clinic to determine the state of your microbiome.
3. Practice intermittent fasting and keep sugar out! If you know my passion for the ketogenic diet and use of healthy fats and ample protein to support a low-glycemic nutrition approach for mood stability and optimal health in all ages, this may not come as a surprise. Beyond the negative impact of blood sugar elevation on your mood and cognitive health, when you consume sugary refined processed foods, your immune system shuts down. This study looked at the phagocytic function of neutrophils when exposed to glucose and carbohydrates. It discovered that when immune system white blood cells (neutrophils) are exposed to sugar in the body, they reduce their ability to destroy or eat up and excrete (phagocytic) harmful bacteria in the body. Also interesting, they found that fasting for 36 or 60 hours greatly enhanced the phagocytosis of the immune system so the white blood cells were more able to attack and destroy bacteria when fasted. Intermittent fasting can aid in optimizing your immune system’s ability to surveillance.
Avoidance goal: Remove processed refined froods from the home. Keep carbohydrate intake limited and consider nutritional ketosis. This is not the time to stress eat! Practice fasting of at least 16/8 structure and consider a bone broth fast to really enhance immune support. For children, I don’t recommend fasting but I do recommend structured eating with 4 hour breaks vs. chronic grazing.
4. Power up on protein and produce!
Protein is vital to fight viral and bacterial infections. Immune system powerhouses such as antibodies and immune system cells rely on protein. Too little protein in the diet may lead to symptoms of weakness, fatigue, apathy, and tissue breakdown, sarcopenia may be one reason connected to why elderly are most impacted and at risk. Protein also promotes satiety to reduce cravings. Select red meat and darker cuts of poultry for more zinc, a mineral that is important in immune health.
Vegetables, greens, herbs, seasonings, and moderate amounts of fruits provide phytocompounds that can aid in reduction of virus replication while enhancing antioxidant capacity in your body! These choices also provide support for hormone regulation and detoxification while contributing volume to aid in satiety at meal time with low calorie and blood sugar impact.
Abundance goal: Within your eating window ensure you are getting protein at minimum 2 meals daily this includes beef, chicken, pork, fish, eggs, cottage cheese, and grass-fed whey. Aim for 5 cups of vegetables daily and incorporate herbs, seasonings, and spices in all your meals!
5. Supplements to support your Immune System:
Quality Multivitamin this is key! Look for one with chelated minerals and methylated B’s such as my MultiAvail Kids, Multidefense, and MultiAvail Mama! Ensuring you have a solid foundation of immune nutrients such as zinc, B-vitamins, selenium, A, E, K to name a few, will be the best way to support your body’s needs.
Rebuild Spectrum Probiotic: Beyond the daily probiotic, Restore Baseline mentioned above, Rebuild Spectrum is essential post antibiotics and to rev up your immune system when under stress or exposure. I always have a bottle in the house. If on antibiotics, start right away 1 at bed, then take 1 at rise and 1 at bed for 30 days post-antibiotic.
Vitamin D a baseline of 2k-5k IU for adults daily. 800-2000 IU is appropriate for toddlers and children in cold/flu season, always talk to your pediatrician. When supplementing with vitamin D, it is important to take a formula with K1 and K2 as seen in my Vitamin D Balanced Blend to reduce risk of calcification of soft tissues or kidney stone formation while providing another important immune nutrient.
Vitamin C can be consumed in the diet with healthy intake of berries, citrus, greens, but when under the weather or at immune risk, 1-3g can be added to boost immune health as a supplement in addition to diet. Bio-C Plus, is a formula that is whole food derived and contains bioflavinoids such as hespiratin and quercetin can aid further in reducing seasonal allergies and inflammation. Vitamin C is now being used as an intervention in treatment of COVID19.
Putting it all together with food-as-medicine: in my most recent book The Anti-Anxiety Diet Cookbook, I provide delicious recipes to aid in mellowing your mood and supporting a healthy mind. This resource would be a great tool at this time as it incorporates many recipes with bone broth (including a Bone Broth 5 Ways table), gelatin, grass-fed meats, wild caught fish, and colorful produce highlighted with fresh herbs, seasonings, and spices. To get you started here are some free recipes from my blog that can further aid in immune support:
- Master Tonic (an easy fermentation recipe)
- 40 Clove of Garlic Soup (makes a delicious lunch or dinner!)
- Bone Broth (good on its own or in a soup)
- Zippy Toddy (a delicious warming drink for movie nights!)
This is a guest post by Ali Miller, RD, LD, CDE integrative dietitian and author of The Anti-Anxiety Diet. To learn more about Ali and her food-as-medicine approaches as well as her functional nutrition supplement line, go to www.alimillerRD.com
For more information on diet, hormones and mental health, listen to Dr. Leaf's podcast with Ali (episode #135), check out her website, her book The Anti-Anxiety Diet and cookbook, her supplement line, and her Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.