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.
Sleep is the most important cornerstone for optimal health. Without the foundation of a healthy night of sleep, all other health interventions, such as nutrition and exercise, will fall short. Our memory, cognition, and ability to learn new tasks all depend on healthy sleep. ‘Sleep hygiene’ refers to the quality and quantity of sleep you are getting each night. I recommend my patients get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, depending on activity level, as well as season. During the winter months, you should opt for close to 9 hours of sleep. During the summer months, 7 hours of sleep may be adequate since days are longer and the nights are shorter. Additionally, more sleep is needed the more active you are as it is important to allow your body adequate time to recover after difficult workouts. When helping patients improve their sleep hygiene, there are three interventions I use most frequently, outlined below.
First morning sunshine
Going outside first thing in the morning with as much skin exposed as possible stimulates the body’s release of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is known as our ‘awake hormone’ and gives us the energy to start our day. Cortisol naturally starts to decline around lunch time, and by the evening levels should be low as it starts to get dark and we prepare for sleep. Cortisol becomes problematic when levels remain high in the afternoon. When cortisol levels remain elevated, it becomes a stress hormone and causes us to crave sugary and fatty foods. Additionally, high levels of our ‘awake hormone’ in the evening work against us falling and staying asleep. The best way to ensure cortisol levels are low in the evening is to secrete as much as possible in the morning. Sunshine stimulates cortisol secretion, meaning it is optimal to get plenty of sunshine in the first half of the day.
Turn off electronics at least 90 minutes before bed
Blue light exposure tricks your brain into thinking it is still light outside, decreasing the release of your sleep hormone, melatonin. I recommend turning off all electronics 90 minutes before bedtime. Not only does blue light manipulate our brain into thinking it’s light outside, but often the things we are looking at on our screens, such as social media feeds or work emails, stimulate our brain in a way making sleep difficult. Scrolling through your social media feed causes a release of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, which plays a role in the brain’s reward system. When dopamine is released, the brain is stimulated and there are feelings of pleasure. While satisfying at the moment, excessive release of dopamine prior to sleeping will make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Therefore, put those phones away before bed time!
Read fiction before bed
Reading before bed is one of the best ways to prepare our brains for sleep. Giving the brain a singular point of focus, such as a captivating fictional story, will allow you to stop thinking about the stresses of work and life and prepare your brain for sleep. With this in mind, reading materials related to work or checking emails will continue to stimulate our minds and keep us thinking about the day. Consequently, I recommend reading fiction. It is a better way to take your mind away from the pressures of the day. If you are a fan of historical fiction like myself, check out Ken Follet’s new novel, Pillars of the Earth.
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.
Goal setting has been touted as the most effective way to achieve success in life. We’ve been told to write them down, stick them to our refrigerator door and even to write them on our bathroom mirror. You’ve heard that goals should be SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time oriented. I even wrote a blog post on effective goal setting. Recently, I’ve moved away from goal setting with both myself and my patients, focusing instead on daily habit formation and the implementation of routines that set you up for success now and in the future. The inspiration for this change came after listening to the Atomic Habits audiobook by James Clear. Clear argues that goals are easily procrastinated upon, and can often be too daunting to even get started in the right direction. By focusing on daily habits and routines, you will improve yourself each day, setting yourself up to achieve success and ultimately to conquer even the loftiest of goals.
The problem with goal setting
One of the main problems I see with goal setting is that time oriented goals are susceptible to procrastination. If my goal is to lose 20 lbs. by the end of the year, it’s very easy to let myself wait until 6 or even 3 months are left in the year to start working towards the goal. Why start now when I have an entire year to accomplish my goal? A goal that is set out over a year may lose steam after a couple of months, which is what I commonly see with patients looking to make health changes at the beginning of the New Year. Everyone knows that you will see more people out walking in your neighborhood or exercising at the gym in January, February and March only for it to taper off as the year progresses. Rather than setting a time oriented goal, instead pick daily habits that will incrementally help you achieve whatever you envision for yourself.
Define your ideal self
Before completely throwing away your list of goals, make sure you have a clear idea in your mind of what you want for yourself. Envision your ideal job, body composition, and skill set. Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? Where do you want to be financially? How do you define your ideal self? Once you’ve established these parameters, you are better suited to implementing daily habits that align with this vision. If you envision yourself as having a fit and healthy body, implementing a daily habit that helps you save money or be more organized doesn’t necessarily bring you closer to your vision. Instead, for weight loss, pick habits such as a consistent gym routine, a healthy breakfast at the same time each morning, or reading a book before bed to help promote optimal sleep and recovery.
Do this instead
As stated previously, the alternative to goal setting is the implementation of daily habits and routines. Habit formation is beneficial because it focuses on daily growth. If we aim to grow and improve ourselves little by little each day, the culmination of consistent work will be incredible in the long term. We may not notice the improvements on a day to day, micro level, however, if we step back after a year and look at the macro improvement the results are substantial. True growth and change does not come with drastic lifestyle changes such as an extreme 10 day fast or juice cleanse but rather with small steps each day in the right direction.
Next, I show you how to reframe your goals into daily habit formation.
Goal #1: ‘I want to lose 20 lbs. before summer’
Habit: I will work to implement a habit where I do 3 sets x 15 push-ups in the morning followed by drinking a 16 ounce glass of water.
Habit: Weather permitting, I will go outside in the morning for a 10 minute walk in the sunshine before work.
(First morning exercise and sunshine stimulates cortisol release and helps to regulate our circadian rhythm. Sufficient cortisol release in the AM will decrease cravings for fried and sugary foods in the evening which occurs if cortisol levels remain high.)
Habit: I will place a pan, plate, and eating utensils out in my kitchen before I go to bed each night. Already having the pan on the stove increases the likelihood that I will cook a homemade breakfast and adopt a more consistent eating schedule that includes breakfast each day.
Goal #2: ‘I want to increase my sales at work by 15% this year’
Habit: I will wake up at the same time every day to ensure a consistent sleep schedule and to increase my productivity at work.
Habit: I will call 2 potential new clients each day prior to leaving for lunch.
Habit: I will send a thank you card to 2 existing clients each week thanking them for their business.
For work related goals, consider setting up a daily, weekly, and monthly checklist in a binder or whiteboard to track progress of tasks to be completed. Make these tasks part of your habits at work and you will see your productivity increase.
Goal #3: ‘I want to improve my relationship with my parents’
Habit: Each morning I will practice gratitude by writing down 3 things in my life that I am grateful as part of a journaling routine.
Habit: I will call one of my parents every Friday after work to check in.
Goal #4: ‘I want to be more organized’
Habit: Each morning I will make my bed as the first task to be completed in my day. Making your bed each morning sets yourself up for success throughout the rest of your day and helps you to establish a task completion mindset.
Habit: Each morning when my coffee is brewing I will take 5 minutes to tidy up my living room so I leave for work with an organized living space.
Goal #5: ‘I want to get better sleep this year’
Habit: I will develop a habit where I turn off all electronics at least 1 hour before bed time. Blue light exposure stimulates cortisol release at the wrong time of day and will make falling and staying asleep more difficult.
Habit: Prior to going to bed I will write out tomorrow’s ‘To Do’ list in a journal that I keep by my night stand. Getting tomorrow’s tasks written down will give you peace of mind and allow your brain to turn off before going to sleep.
Habit: I will read for 20 minutes before bed. Reading, especially fiction, gives your brain a singular point of focus, and helps you get your mind off of the day’s stresses.
I hope this article gives you valuable insight into daily habit formation and the power it can have. I finish with a quote from W.H. Auden – ‘Routine, in an intelligent man (or woman), is a sign of ambition.’
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.
As we move into summer and start spending more time outdoors, it’s important to educate yourself on proper sunscreen usage, as well as the health benefits from sensible sun exposure. It is important to find a balance between harnessing the health benefits of sunshine while protecting your skin and body from UV radiation damage. Excessive sun exposure is linked to multiple forms of cancers including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. To help prevent these skin cancers, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) suggests applying sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher 30 minutes before going outside and then reapplying every 2 hours while outside. Sunscreen is to be applied to all areas of the skin not covered by clothing. While these guidelines from the AAD should not be ignored, it is critical to address the consequences of effectively eliminating all sun exposure, such as vitamin D deficiency. The goal of this article is to move away from the ‘sun is dangerous’ paradigm which is promoted by the AAD. While excessive sun exposure may cause skin damage, the negative health consequences with avoiding sunshine are much more concerning for our overall health.
Vitamin D deficiency and cancer
It is estimated that upwards of 40% of American adults are vitamin D deficient, which is defined as having a serum level below 20 ng/mL 4. Using 30 ng/mL as the cutoff for vitamin D insufficiency, it is estimated 75% of American adults and teens do not meet this mark. Most functional medicine doctors recommend an optimal range of 60-80 ng/mL, which would place more than 90% of Americans in the sub-optimal category for vitamin D levels. Optimal vitamin D levels are protective against many forms of disease including cancer, heart disease, infection, autoimmune diseases like lupus, celiacs, multiple sclerosis, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and ALS. Research shows breast cancer and vitamin D deficiency are closely associated, and one study showed women with a vitamin D level higher than 60 ng/mL were 83% less likely to develop the disease 9. Vitamin D is one of the body’s most potent anti-cancer fighting compounds. With most of America already vitamin D deficient or insufficient, and spending much more time indoors compared to our ancestors, it is dangerous to completely cover our skin with sunscreen. In effect, we are blocking the production of one of our most potent anti-cancer fighting compounds by wearing sunscreen every day, placing us at an even greater risk of developing all forms of cancer, including skin cancer. Individuals with darker skin need even more exposure to sunshine because the increased melanin content in the skin slows the rate of vitamin D production.
Nutrition and skin cancer
One of the best ways to protect our bodies from skin cancer is to make sure we are eating a diet rich in the antioxidants designed to protect us from cancer cell growth and proliferation. Excessive exposure to UV radiation can lead to free radical formation which damage all cell types and cause inflammation and the potential for cancer. Firstly, foods with high concentrations of the flavonoid proanthocyanidin are particularly useful in protecting our body from UV radiation damage and skin cancer 2. Proanthocyanidins act in the body as an antioxidant, anticancer, antidiabetic, and antimicrobial compound 6. Foods highest in proanthocyanidins include blackberries, blueberries, marionberries, huckleberries, grape seeds, hawthorn berries, rose hips, and pine bark.
Another food compound which is effective at preventing skin cancer is the flavonoid apigenin 1. Apigenin also acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound and specifically protects our skin from UV radiation damage. The best food sources of apigenins include chamomile, apples, oranges, celery, onions, and endive. Opt for a bottle of iced chamomile tea during your next day out in the sun!
The last compound to mention is resveratrol. Made popular for the health benefits associated with drinking red wine, resveratrol is a potent anti-oxidant and anti-cancer fighting compound. Resveratrol promotes healthy cell differentiation, and being that abnormal cell division is one of the bases for tumor formation, resveratrol is exceedingly important for protecting ourselves from all types of cancer. The best dietary sources of resveratrol include grapes, cranberries, blueberries, red and white wine, peanuts, and cocoa. If individuals make a conscious effort to increase the consumption of these foods, skin damage and the potential for developing cancer will significantly be reduced.
Benefits of sunshine
There are many health benefits from regular, sensible sunshine exposure. In addition to vitamin D production, UV rays from the sun stimulate the production of melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH) which increases skin pigmentation and sexual arousal, as well as suppresses appetite 1. For patients looking to lose weight, 10 minutes of direct sunlight exposure first thing in the morning assists hormone production and Circadian rhythm. Additionally, UV rays produce beta-endorphins and natural opiates which help decrease pain and inflammation, and promote relaxation in the body 1. Natural opiates and beta-endorphins produced within the body are stronger and more effective than pharmaceutical pain killers that often come with a host of side effects and risk of dependency. Finally, UV rays help our body produce calcitonin, a vasodilatory peptide which helps protect the body’s cardiovascular system from problems such as high blood pressure (hypertension) and cardiovascular disease (CVD) 1. With the multitude of drugs aimed at weight loss, sexual dysfunction, hypertension, CVD and chronic pain, more attention should be paid to direct sun exposure as a clinically viable intervention for these conditions.
When purchasing a sunscreen, make sure to avoid products containing oxybenzone. Research shows that oxybenzone is an endocrine disruptor, meaning it alters your body’s hormonal system. Alterations in the hormonal system can lead to an array of detrimental health conditions including weight gain, chronic fatigue, altered pregnancy, sexual dysfunction and cancer among others 8. Not only does oxybenzone act as an endocrine disruptor itself, it also enhances your body’s absorption of other hormone disrupting chemicals such as toxic herbicides, pesticides, and insect repellants 5. Oxybenzone can damage our hormonal system and increase the risk of all kinds of cancer including skin cancer. Other active ingredients highly absorbable into the bloodstream that can potentially pose a threat to your health include avobenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule 10.
What should I use?
After reading this article, you may want to throw away your sunscreen and lay in the sun for hours on end with minimal clothing. Do not do this! While the benefits of sun exposure are immense, the potential for skin damage is still prevalent. If you are planning to spend more than 20 minutes in direct sunlight, make sure to apply non-nanoscale zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Non-nanoscale means the sunscreen will not easily absorb through your skin and into your bloodstream like traditional sunscreens with microscopic particles that easily cross the skin barrier. If kept on the surface, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are safe on your endocrine system. That being said, if absorbed into your bloodstream, both compounds can have similar detrimental effects as oxybenzone, so make sure to buy the non-nanoscale version! Pay special attention to areas like the nose, top of the ears, shoulders, and back of the neck, because these areas are often exposed to more sun. We recommend the sun care products from the company Badger Healthy Body Care due to their high quality and avoidance of toxic chemicals like oxybenzone.
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.
- Greenfield, B. (N.d.) Is the Sun the Ultimate Source of Health and Vitality or just a Giant Orange Cancer Circle in the Sky? Ben Greenfield Fitness. Retrieved from: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/article/lifestyle-articles/natural-sun-protection-foods/
- Katiyar, S.K. (2015). Proanthocyanidins from grape seeds inhibit UV-radiation-induced immune suppression in mice: detection and analysis of molecular and cellular targets. Photochemistry. Photobiology., 91 (2015), pp/ 156-162.
- Mercola, J. (2020). Sunscreen Safety Questioned Yet Again. Mercola. Retrieved from https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2020/02/05/oxybenzone-sunscreen.aspx
- Mercola, J. (2019). Top 5 Signs of Vitamin D Deficiency. Mercola. Retrieved from https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2019/01/01/signs-of-vitamin-d-deficiency.aspx
- Pont AR, Charron AR, Brand RM. Active ingredients in sunscreens act as topical penetration enhancers for the herbicide 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2004;195(3):348‐354. doi:10.1016/j.taap.2003.09.021
- Rauf, A. Et al. (2019). Proanthocyanidins: A Comprehensive Review. Biomedicine & Pharmacology. Vol. 116. August 2019, 108999
- Sunscreen FAQs. (n.d.). American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved from: https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/sun-protection/sunscreen-patients/sunscreen-faqs
- The Trouble With Ingredients in Sunscreen. (N.d.). Environmental Working Group (EWG). Retrieved from: https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/the-trouble-with-sunscreen-chemicals/
- McDonnell SL, Baggerly CA, French CB, Baggerly LL, Garland CF, et al. (2018) Breast cancer risk markedly lower with serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations ≥60 vs <20 ng/ml (150 vs 50 nmol/L): Pooled analysis of two randomized trials and a prospective cohort. PLOS ONE 13(6): e0199265. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0199265
- Matta MK, Zusterzeel R, Pilli NR, et al. Effect of Sunscreen Application Under Maximal Use Conditions on Plasma Concentration of Sunscreen Active Ingredients: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2019;321(21):2082–2091. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.5586
It’s no secret we are living in unprecedented times with the COVID-19 pandemic. Now more than ever, individuals need to take every possible measure to ensure the health of themselves and their loved ones. This post will focus on the steps you can take to stay healthy by boosting your immune system with diet and supplementation, sunlight exposure, exercise, and staying connected socially without in-person contact.
Double Down on Vitamin C
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) acts in a multitude of ways in the body. Firstly, vitamin C is required for the manufacture of collagen, a protein which is responsible for holding body tissues together such as cartilage, connective tissue, ligaments, tendons, skin, hair, and nails. Additionally, vitamin C is exceedingly important for wound healing, healthy teeth and gums, immune function, and it also acts as a nutritional antioxidant. With specific focus on the immune system, vitamin C has been shown to improve white blood cell function and increase the body’s antibody response. It also increases interferon, which acts as the body’s natural antiviral and anticancer compound. In fact, interferon gets its name from its ability to interfere with viral replication.
Foods highest in vitamin C include fruits such as guava, persimmons, strawberries, papaya, oranges, and grapefruit. Vegetables rich in vitamin C include red chili and red sweet peppers, dark leafy greens like kale, collared greens, and spinach, parsley, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage². The food with the absolute highest vitamin C content is the Acerola cherry, which is often sold in powder or supplement form. The vitamin C content in fruits and vegetables is markedly decreased with exposure to air, so eating fresh fruits and vegetables is essential.
During times of extreme stress and risk of infection, dietary sources of vitamin C may not be adequate. When choosing a supplemental form of vitamin C, make sure to use ‘liposomal’ vitamin C. The bioavailability, or the amount of a supplement your body actually absorbs, may be 20% or lower for traditional vitamin C supplements. GI upset and diarrhea is associated with consumption of high doses of traditional vitamin C. When liposomal vitamin C is ingested, a phospholipid coating surrounds the vitamin in the GI tract. The effect of the protective coating is a much higher percentage of vitamin C absorbed, as well as less GI upset. Here’s a link to our online supplement dispensary where you can purchase the liposomal vitamin C supplement I suggest to my patients. Our favorite product is the one made by Dr. Mercola. As you might imagine, quality vitamin C supplements are in high demand right now. Even if the product is back ordered, I recommend ordering the supplement now as suppliers are promising to get new product out within the upcoming weeks.
Get More Sunlight
Getting direct sunlight is an excellent way to naturally boost your immune system. Vitamin D is more accurately defined as a hormone rather than a vitamin, since it is produced by our body in response to direct sun exposure on our skin, and has various signaling effects on many cell types in the body. The vitamin D hormone is most commonly associated with upregulating calcium absorption in the small intestine, thereby increasing the strength of our bones. However, the vitamin D hormone has a wide array of positive benefits elsewhere in the body, as a result of cells in our bone marrow, brain, colon, breast tissue, and immune system all expressing the vitamin D receptor (VDR). Specifically, B and T cells (the two major components of our adaptive immune response) directly respond to vitamin D and upregulate our body’s ability to fight off all forms of disease¹. Not only does vitamin D help protect us from viruses, it can also halt the progression of autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus, inflammatory bowel disease, and systemic lupus. Additionally, the sun’s energy produces beta-endorphins, neuropeptides and natural opiates that regulate pain, decrease inflammation, and promote relaxation – all positive changes that strengthen our immune system and help our body combat infection. Opt for 15-20 minutes of direct sunlight exposure on as much exposed skin as possible.
Cut Out Refined Sugar
Refined sugar has a host of negative effects on the body, perhaps the most important being damage to our mitochondria and the associated oxidative damage that occurs with overloading of the electron transport chain. Oxidative damage or ‘oxidative stress’ is the result of increased free radical production in the body. Free radicals are molecules with an unpaired electron. They attack and damage healthy cells in our body, creating a state of chronic inflammation. When our body is in a constant state of low level inflammation from excessive sugar consumption, our ability to combat disease and heal wounds is significantly impaired. In fact, research suggests after consuming sucrose (white table sugar), our immune system is inhibited for six hours. Additionally, the only viable fuel source for pathogenic viruses and bacteria is sugar. Viruses and bacteria feed on sugar and multiply when placed in a high sugar environment. One of the best ways to combat viruses and bacteria is to remove their food source!
Eat More Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are rich in natural probiotics and help replenish the beneficial bacteria that line or GI tract. The beneficial bacterial lining, also known as GI flora in our digestive tract acts as a natural barrier between the foods we eat and the insides of our body. The healthier and thicker the GI flora, the less likely pathogenic substances can enter our body and cause disease. Naturally occurring probiotics are produced during the fermentation process in foods such as kefir, miso, kimchi, yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, and raw, grass-fed organic milk. Load up on these probiotic rich foods and your immune system will thank you!
Garlic is a potent antiviral, anti-bacterial, and antifungal. According to The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, garlic is rich in vitamin B6, manganese, selenium, vitamin C, phosphorous, calcium, potassium, iron, and copper – all of which are needed for a healthy immune system. Many of garlic’s benefits are associated with a sulfur-containing compound called allicin, which is a powerful anti-microbial. In fact, garlic has been called ‘Russian Penicillin’ due to its strong anti-microbial activity. Make sure to chop or crush the garlic and let it sit for 10 minutes before eating or cooking. Letting the chopped garlic sit for 10 minutes helps trigger the enzymatic process that transforms alliin into its active and beneficial form, allicin.
Connect with Others
One clear benefit of modern technology is our ability to connect socially with friends and family without having to see them in person. Utilize apps like Skype and Zoom to stay in communication with your friends and loved ones during these trying times. Staying connected socially is very important not only to the health of the body, but also the mind. Human beings crave connection, social interaction, and a sense of community. Consequently, the health of our body’s will suffer if we cannot maintain these connections. There are positive, simple ways you can stay connected with society, such as offering to do a grocery run for an elderly or at risk individual. When at the grocery store, purchase only what you need and avoid buying in excess. The next customer (and your wallet!) will thank you. Take a moment to say a prayer or perform a moment of silence for all those affected directly and indirectly by the virus. Performing small acts of kindness will keep you connected socially and add positivity to a society that desperately needs it right now.
- Aranow, C. (2011). Vitamin D and the Immune System. J Investig Med. 59(6): 881-886.
- Aschan, S. (2006). Sugar: The Real Deal. ABC News.
- Murray, M. T., Pizzorno, J. E., & Pizzorno, L. (2006). The encyclopedia of healing foods. Pages 112-114.
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.