Build Resilient Immunity in 2023
Last month, Dr. Ryan and I had the pleasure of attending a seminar taught by Dr. Dan Murphy, DC. Dr. Murphy is one of the foremost experts on nutrition and functional medicine in the chiropractic profession. He lectured on topics such as brain injury and concussion, nutrition for cognitive and immune system health, the beneficial effects of red laser therapy, and the prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease using nutrition and lifestyle modification.
Perhaps the most impactful topic for me was Dr. Murphy’s lecture on ‘host immunity.’ Host immunity refers to the strength, resiliency, and adaptability of a given patient’s immune system. The better the patient’s immune system, the more effectively that patient can combat all forms of disease and illness affecting the body. Dietary and lifestyle modifications such as exercise, proper sun exposure, and evolutionarily consistent eating are examples of techniques patients can use to improve their host immunity.
In my opinion, mainstream media does not focus enough on host immunity. Instead, we are told strategies such as staying up to date with the latest vaccine or booster, avoiding close contact with sick individuals, wearing masks in public, or taking medication for any physical or mental stress your body is subjected to. When did we become so weak we had to start relying on all of these external, synthetic inputs to keep us healthy? Since when did being around other people endanger us, rather than strengthen our immune system by presenting our immune system with a wide array of pathogens and creating a more robust immune system? I recall when ‘chicken-pox’ parties were the norm. Each individual has the opportunity to have an extremely strong, smart, and resilient immune system.
Dr. Murphy suggests a number of vital supplements for optimizing host immunity. First and foremost are omega-3’s and vitamin D. Aim for around three grams of omega 3’s each day. For many, this means supplementing with a high quality fish oil supplement. Omega 3’s help with the inflammatory balance in the body and foster an environment where immune cells can combat external infections and diseases. Next up is vitamin D. Your goal should be around 5,000 mg per day. Getting vitamin D from natural sunlight is the best option, however, during the winter months supplementation is often necessary. Nearly every cell in the body, including our immune cells, possess a vitamin D receptor and is positively activated when this hormone is at proper levels. Vitamin D is also great for bone mineral density, memory, and mental health.
No lecture on immune health is complete without mentioning vitamin C. Did you know the benefits of vitamin C were first discovered among sailors with scurvy? Scurvy is a connective tissue disease causing gum disease, hair loss, excessive bleeding, and poor healing from wounds and infection. When the sailors were given oranges, which are high in vitamin C, the symptoms of scurvy all but disappeared. Alas, the immune benefits of vitamin C were front page news! Vitamin C has a host of health benefits including reducing the duration of the common cold, helping with the synthesis of collagen so you can have healthy skin, hair, and nails, and acts as a strong antioxidant with some research suggesting anti-cancer and anti-Alzheimer’s benefits. Vitamin C is found in the highest quantity in citrus fruits. If supplementation is deemed necessary, liposomal vitamin C is your best option. Liposomal vitamin C is encapsulated with a fat or lipid coating improving absorption and decreasing gastrointestinal distress.
The final three nutrients are magnesium, zinc, and vitamin A. Magnesium is a mineral acting as a cofactor in over 600 reactions in the body, and is important for normal immune function, energy production, blood pressure regulation, and blood sugar control. Magnesium deficiency is common in developed countries. Aim for about 300-600 mg per day of magnesium from a whole food source or supplement. If supplementing, I recommend taking either magnesium threonate or magnesium glycinate, since these have the best absorption in the body and brain. Zinc is an essential mineral associated with proper wound healing and immune system function. It is an antioxidant and important for maintaining proper testosterone levels. I recommend 15-30 mg of zinc daily. Vitamin A refers to a group of chemical compounds composed of retinol and its metabolites. Vitamin A is essential for optimal immune function, and is also important for our skin and vision. Take around 5,000 IU of vitamin A each day.
Coming up soon, I will take a deep dive into the importance of exercise and sleep for healthy host immunity. At the surface level, a balanced combination of aerobic (endurance) and anaerobic (strength) training will help develop a robust individual with a strong immune system. Consistent, quality sleep each night is essential for immune health because melatonin benefits the immune system by decreasing inflammatory reactions in the body, notably the ‘cytokine storm’ seen with covid-19. Supplementing with 3-10 mg of melatonin while symptomatic may provide some benefit, however, I do not recommend long term supplementation of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body, and long term supplementation may decrease our body’s capacity for producing the hormone on its own.
Make 2023 the year for improving host immunity. With covid-19 in the rearview mirror, prepare yourself now for any future health crises that may affect our society. If we all commit to focusing more on healthy host immunity, the need for societal wide shutdowns and vaccination may not be necessary!
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here:
People are often told in order to meet their weight loss goals they need to eat clean, work out consistently, and limit the number of calories in versus calories out. Unfortunately, despite working these modifications into their daily lives, they still find their weight loss goals unachieved. I’ve worked with numerous frustrated patients who work out strenuously 5 to 6 times per week, yet are not seeing the results they would like. The overlooked missing piece to weight loss is hormonal imbalances. These imbalances may be preventing you from reaching your weight loss goals.
The two hormones I will focus on for weight loss are cortisol and melatonin. Please note, hormones such as grehlin and leptin (hunger and satiety), testosterone and estrogen (male and female sex hormones), and insulin and glucagon (energy storage and utilization hormones), are all intimately involved in weight loss, but cortisol and melatonin are a simple and effective place to start.
Cortisol often gets a bad rep as our body’s ‘stress hormone’. Cortisol is a primary hormone involved in the body’s stress response, however, cortisol is more appropriately defined as our ‘awake’ hormone. Cortisol is released in the morning and helps us get out of bed, use the bathroom, and provide us with the stimulation to start our day. In a normal functioning endocrine system, cortisol release is high in the morning and then tapers off in the afternoon to allow our sleep hormone, melatonin, the chance to take over.
Melatonin is our ‘sleep’ or ‘darkness’ hormone and it’s release is inhibited with exposure to light. Melatonin helps us wind down in the evening and prepare the mind and body for sleep. Melatonin and cortisol work in opposition to each other. Having one with high levels means the other is not fully expressed. With this in mind, if cortisol levels are abnormally elevated in the afternoon and evening, the normal release of melatonin around lunch time is inhibited, therefore impairing our ability to fall asleep. The entire system is regulated by our circadian rhythm which responds directly to light exposure on the eyeballs. Bright light in the morning stimulates cortisol release, the dimming of light in the evening stimulates melatonin release.
Cortisol becomes a stress hormone when levels remain elevated in the afternoon and early evening. When cortisol release is improperly timed and is still high in the afternoon, we feel anxious and crave sugary, fried, and fatty foods. If our ‘awake’ hormone is elevated in the evening when we are trying to prepare for sleep, we will feel uneasy and distressed. The combination of excess calories from sugary, fried, fatty foods and poor sleep due to excess cortisol and deficient melatonin is what leads to weight gain and the inability to lose weight. Even if you eat a clean diet excess cortisol in the evening will create a stress response causing systemic inflammation. Systemic inflammation and insulin resistance each make weight loss more difficult to achieve and maintain.
The best way to normalize your cortisol/melatonin system is with direct sunlight exposure within 30 minutes of waking. Dr. Andrew Huberman, neurobiologist from Stanford, was recently interviewed on The Tim Ferriss Show Podcast where he suggests everyone get 2-10 minutes of direct sunlight exposure on their eyes first thing in the morning. By stimulating photoreceptors in the eyes, cortisol release is amplified. Going outside for an additional 2-10 minutes in the evening, when the sun is at a low angle, will help to stimulate melatonin and prepare us for sleep. Start your weight loss journey by normalizing your circadian rhythm using direct sunlight exposure in the morning and again in the evening.
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.
1. Use Magnesium, Not Melatonin
For a supplement option, utilize magnesium to promote healthier sleep. Magnesium can act as an inducer of GABA, the major inhibitory neurotransmitter of the body. GABA helps the body slow down internal processes, especially in the nervous system. By decreasing facilitation of nerves, we help the nerves and the muscles they supply recover, which is extremely important for successful repeat athletic performances. Magnesium comes in many different forms or ‘chelates’, and research suggests that magnesium threonate is the best inducer of GABA in the body, and will ultimately be the best choice for athletic recovery during sleep. Other supplements supported by the research include chamomile, kava kava, and Valerian root.
However, be careful about the popular sleep supplement, melatonin. While very effective for some people, it’s important to remember that melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the body. This means that if you are taking the hormone externally, you run the risk of turning off your body’s natural production of the hormone, so reserve this supplement as a last ditch effort.
2. Avoid Late Night Workouts and Meals
Your late night workout or large meal close to bedtime may be disrupting your sleep. Working out late at night can increase levels of our ‘awake’ hormone, cortisol, and decrease the body’s natural release of our ‘sleep’ hormone, melatonin. Additionally, we induce a “fight or flight” sympathetic state when working out, which will make falling asleep more difficult. Shoot to finish your workout before 7pm to ensure that you give your body adequate time to calm down and relax before you go to sleep. If your schedule absolutely requires that you workout late at night, make sure to utilize effective down regulation strategies after your workout to turn off your sympathetic system and activate your “rest and digest” parasympathetic system. Excellent down regulation strategies include post workout foam rolling, static stretching, and deep breathing exercises.
Choosing to eat dinner late at night may also disrupt your sleep. Embedded in the lining of the digestive tract is the enteric nervous system, a complex web of neurons that has been called the ‘second brain.’ The enteric nervous system is important for the muscular contractions that move food through the digestive tract, the secretion of digestive enzymes, and communication with the brain via the vagus nerve. The importance of the connection between the gut and the brain via the vagus nerve cannot be understated, especially when one considers that 90% of the nerve communication moves from the gut to the brain. In regards to healthy sleep, it makes sense that an active digestive system will send stimulatory signals from the digestive tract to the brain, keeping us awake at night. Keeping this in mind, I like to finish eating at least 90 minutes before bedtime.
3. Foam Rolling for the Nervous System
Many professional athletes utilize massage therapy as a post-performance or before bed treatment. Massage has been shown to decrease cortisol levels (which are naturally high after exercise), while increasing serotonin and oxytocin, two hormones associated with relaxation and our parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ state. While most of us do not have access to a nightly massage, a 10-minute foam rolling session before bed can have a similar down-regulating effect on the nervous system and promote healthy sleep. Focus on the calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, as these areas may be prone to tightness after a full day of exercise or after a long day of sitting at work.
4. Consistency is Key
As with any health and fitness related goal you are looking to achieve in life, consistency and adherence to a predetermined plan is essential. Make it a point to wake up, as well as go to sleep, within the same 60 to 90 minute time frame every morning and evening, even on the weekends. Do your best to schedule social activities during the day and evening so that you don’t feel like you missed out on anything by not staying up late on the weekends. Sporting events, outdoor activities like skiing and hiking, or a trip to the botanical gardens are excellent ways to have fun on the weekends without sacrificing your sleep schedule.
Want to learn more? Check out Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson. Many of the ideas mentioned above are draw on methods from this book.
Post Written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.