Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- An Epidemic of Immunity Issues
- Keeping Immunity Strong but Not Overreactive
Top Ten Influences that Zap Your Immunity+−
- Sugar and everything that contains it
- Processed carbs
- Chemically altered and artificial fats
- Lack of high quality protein in the diet
- Exposure to man-made chemicals
- Exposure to man-made sources of radiation
- Pharmaceutical drugs
- Lack of fresh air and physical activity
- Lack of exposure to sunlight
- Lack of exposure to common microbes in the environment
When I was in elementary school several decades ago, there might have been 1 or 2 children in the entire school of several hundred who had an allergy, and it was usually to peanuts. I never even heard of a wheat or dairy allergy. Gluten free? Huh?
I think many adults could share a similar story.
Fast forward to 2003.
When my oldest son started school, one or at most two children in his class had a food allergy of some kind. Fast forward again to 2009. When my youngest child started preschool, ten of the children in a class of twelve were allergic to at least one food. My children now report that lunchroom conversation can sometimes include a discussion of who is allergic to what. When someone claims to have no allergies, he/she might even be called out as a fibber as allergies have now become the norm rather the exception for this generation of children, which could aptly be dubbed Generation A.
What in the world has happened in a few short decades? Why do so many children and a growing number of adults today have issues with immunity at what seems like an accelerating rate?
The reason is the perfect storm of antagonists in our modern environment to our human immune system, the vast majority of which resides in the gut. (1)
This situation is translating into an epidemic of immunity issues.
An Epidemic of Immunity Issues
According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, nearly 24 million people suffer from at least one autoimmunity problem. Around the world, it is estimated that at least 1 in 12 people have at least one form of autoimmune disease and this number continues to grow rapidly.
Autoimmune disease runs the gamut from allergies or mild skin conditions to severe neurological and degenerative problems. Specific examples of autoimmune disease include eczema, asthma, psoriasis, ADD/ADHD, autism, celiac disease, food (or seasonal) allergies, asthma, Hashimoto’s, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, IBS, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, diabetes, cancer, and the list goes on.
Most people who have autoimmune disease suffer from more than one autoimmunity disorder with the list of problems tending to grow and become more serious as time goes on. For example, babies with eczema are more likely to become asthmatic as they get older and people with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s Disease are more susceptible to colorectal cancer.
Keeping Immunity Strong but Not Overreactive
Given that most of the immune system resides in the gut, keeping immunity strong primarily involves ensuring an optimal digestive process that includes a friendly, balanced and varied intestinal microbiota. Most people seem to grasp this as a basic first step because many tend to immediately make positive changes to their diet when they encounter autoimmune issues in the family.
In addition to diet, there are a number of other factors that greatly impact immunity that commonly go unaddressed by those seeking to keep their immune system in tip top shape.
Natasha Campbell-McBride MD summarizes these additional influences in her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome, a must read for anyone who suffers from autoimmune ailments whether mild (spring allergies) or severe (cancer).
Maintaining strong immunity goes far and beyond a whole food diet. It is a lifestyle that incorporates nontoxic living from every possible angle as much as realistically possible combined with a host of other strategies that keep the immune system strong via constant stimulation. The stimulation from natural microbes in the environment paradoxically keeps it from becoming overly reactive or destructive in the face of benign influences. This is what happens in a severe autoimmune situation when the body starts to destroy its own tissues such as with Hashimoto’s Disease.
A good analagy is to think about is what happens to your biceps when you do hammer curls. The muscles gradually get stronger and firmer from the effort expended. They might even get larger if you use an increasing amount of weight. If you do nothing, the biceps shrivel down to flab over time and provide no upper body support when you need it.
Top Ten Influences that Zap Your Immunity
What exactly then are the influences that negatively affect immunity? While some are obvious, some are less so and might even go against your current mental paradigm for what constitutes healthful living. Below is the top ten list according to Dr. Campbell-McBride.
Sugar and everything that contains it
According to Tom Valentine, author of Search for Health, significant immune system suppression begins to occur above 36 grams of sugar per day for adults (less in children). This would include fruit consumption too.
Note that a single can of soda or bottle or “healthy” processed juice would surpass this amount. Does this mean you can never enjoy sweet things? Of course not. It just means to keep the sugar in moderation and from natural sources like maple syrup, honey or sucanat. If you are battling the sugar demon, this article on how to get off sugar outlines four suggested steps that work well for freeing yourself from this immunity stealing addiction.
Just check out the aisles at the grocery store and you will soon realize that our modern society is seriously addicted to processed carbs. Cookies, cakes, chips, crackers, boxed breakfast cereals, white bread, and pasta, yes pasta, fall in this category. For many children, processed carbs make up the majority of “food” eaten in any given day!
If you want to keep immunity strong, processed carbs need to be kept in strict moderation (translation: don’t eat them every day and when you do eat them, consume in small servings and ideally in the presence of healthy fats to provide a satiation mechanism to avoid overindulging). They are only a small step better than plain sugar in how they are metabolized and negatively affect immunity. This holds true even if the processed carbs are organic.
Chemically altered and artificial fats
There is a cute saying going around that “fat doesn’t make you fat”. While this is true, it only applies to healthy fats. Factory fats like margarine, butter replacements, spreads, vegetable oils, and any processed foods prepared with these fats do indeed make you fat.
Factory fats also depress your immunity as the body has difficulty digesting and breaking these fats down. They are rancid and overprocessed in most cases too, which introduces free radicals into the equation, further causing the immune system to struggle.
Keep only healthy fats in your home and a part of your diet and your immunity will thank you.
Lack of high quality protein in the diet
Proteins, the most complex of the macronutrients, are made up of varying combinations of nitrogen-containing amino acids and are considered the building blocks of the body. There are twenty different amino acids that are important to human physiology which the digestive system primarily obtains from breaking down the proteins in the food we eat. Then, after the amino acids released from this process are absorbed into the blood, enzymes in the body repurpose them to produce the proteins required for specialized functions, such as making blood cells or building bone, ligament or muscle tissue.
It is important to obtain protein from a variety of sources: meats and fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts and seeds. Don’t forget gelatin rich homemade bone broth too, which contains a high amounts of glycine, a vital amino acid for detoxification as it assists the liver with its housecleaning duties.
It is important to note that just because a food has protein doesn’t mean that those proteins are equal in nutritional value. Grains and other plant sources—corn, rice, peas, beans, nuts and sesame seeds—contain all nine essential amino acids, but not in the same amounts and not in adequate amounts necessary to maintain human health as found in eggs, dairy products and meat.
Immunity in its peak form is maintained with adequate consumption of complete proteins, ideally obtained via a diet that includes both animal and plant foods. (2)
Exposure to man-made chemicals
It is astounding how many people who claim to eat organic don’t seem to think twice about using products containing toxic chemicals for cleaning their clothes (including dry cleaning!), washing their dishes, cleaning their house, and personal grooming. Chemical exposure can readily occur by breathing in vapors or by skin contact – not just by eating them! Keeping immunity in tip top shape requires elimination of chemical exposure in and around the home environment as much as possible.
Exposure to man-made sources of radiation
The modern lifestyle is dominated by usage and exposure to man-made radiation from TV, computers, video gaming, mobile phones, smart meters, high voltage electrical lines, nuclear power plants, and x-rays. There is no way to know what the long term effects of this will be on the human health, but initial research indicates that it does reduce immunity. This research demonstrated how exposure to smart phones affects the structure of the blood in a negative way.
While some of this exposure can’t be helped, minimization of exposure should always be the goal. Some simple ways to accomplish this include, turning off wifi at night, avoiding use of fluorescent bulbs and dimmer switches in the home, opting out of smart meters and AMR devices, using a radiation cancelling headset or the speaker phone for mobile phone use, avoiding neighborhoods where there are high voltage electrical wires or cell towers less than one-quarter of a mile away, and avoiding unnecessary x-rays both dental and medical. This article describes how to reduce the effect of blue light from digital screens which negatively effects sleep when exposure occurs after sundown.
It goes without saying that use of any pharmaceutical drugs – antibiotics, steroids, antidepressants, painkillers, statins, anti-cancer medications, the Pill, anti-viral drugs etc. – will negatively impact immunity. For example, cholesterol reducing statins increase cancer risk. (3)
While pharmaceutical drugs are necessary in life threatening circumstances, it is possible to avoid them most of the time if a healthy diet and lifestyle are followed. For example, my children haven’t required a dose of antibiotics in over 16 years. I’ve only ever used food and natural antibiotics to help them get well, sparing their digestive flora the assault of even a single round of antibiotics which damages immunity for at least a couple of years, maybe longer. In addition, I’ve never given them Tylenol or ibuprofen for headaches or for bringing down fevers naturally.
Even rare use of Tylenol is strongly associated with asthma in children. This is not such a rare feat, either. I personally know numerous parents who are succeeding at keeping their kids off immunity damaging pharmaceuticals, both over the counter and prescription based, for their entire childhood using only good diet and natural remedies as needed.
There are other ways to constructively and proactively handle illness than with immunity destroying meds! Again, drugs are sometimes necessary in emergencies, but more often than not, they can be avoided if the parent has the knowledge. If you are interested in learning more, my book Traditional Remedies for Modern Families can get you started with the basics on learning to avoid using meds as much as possible in your home.
Lack of fresh air and physical activity
The big thing that fresh air and physical activity pave the way for is good quality, deep sleep! Get outside and do what you love in the fresh air as much as possible. Looking for something new? Try rebounding which can be done by anyone at any age.
Lack of exposure to sunlight
Sunlight is critical to health. In addition, slathering on sunscreen and putting on sunglasses every single time you are going to be in the sun is a very unhealthy practice. For example, most people do not know that sensitivity of the eyes to bright sunlight is a symptom of adrenal fatigue.
The good news is that being outside in bright sunlight without sunglasses for short periods of time can over time help resolve the situation.
This article on heliotherapy describes how the sun is a very important part of immunity and health far and beyond the immunity boosting Vitamin D that is synthesized on your skin from brief, sensible sunning at midday sans sunscreen.
Lack of exposure to common microbes in the environment
Living in a too sterilized environment is strongly associated with compromised immunity.
Yes, it’s true. Being a germaphobe ultimately produces sickness instead of health. The immune system needs constant stimulation from the microbes it encounters in the environment else it will likely become over-reactive instead (think allergies, eczema etc). Just another reason to never spray your yard and let your children play in the “clean” dirt as much as possible!
Want to know how to boost immunity once you’ve eliminated these factors that zap it? The linked article goes over Dr. Campbell-McBride’s most important suggestions.
Sources and More Information
Medication can’t always be avoided. In another few weeks im due my third major surgery in less than 2 years. The last was the most major. 7+hrs under general anaesthetic, morphine for a day afterwards, and a few weeks of paracetamol and ibuprofen. Actually only a week of ibuprofen, my stomach wasn’t coping. They prescribed me something to suppress stomach acid so i could carry on with the painkillers. I just dropped my painkillers down to paracetamol. But then 6 weeks out of surgery some of my skin graft got infected. The wonderful NHS checked the type of bacteria before prescribing an antibiotic but it was so powerful that it left me dizzy.
It’s just with so much surgery going on in my life (2 down, 3 more to go as a minimum) I can’t get away from medication so i always feel a bit sad with the advice to avoid them. And on to top of that i spent my childhood on growth hormones due to chromosomal abnormality and am on replacement testosterone because my body physically can’t produce enough. I get this feeling sometimes there’s this opinion that all health can be controlled through diet, and that’s just not true for me.
But since reducing sugar consumption, ditching wheat/grains and legumes and drastically reducing my consumptn of dairy (it doesnt agree with me) I’ve suffered few colds and seen a drastic reduction in the amount of headaches. So despite the life long stuff i feel pretty good, actually better than i used to think i ever could back when i was vegetarian and eating supermarket bread and pasta daily. Sorry that turns into much more of a rant than i expected.
Great post! What is your advice for someone who works around chemicals and antibacterial soaps all day? I work in food production and love my job, but am constantly around chemicals (chemicals that are allowed under organic certification, but chemicals none the less) and wash my hands many many times a day. I avoid all the things you have listed here and eat a traditional and grain free diet (started 3 years ago when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s) and take a high quality probiotic, but am still concerned. Any thoughts? Thanks!
Great post! Bookmarking it for future reference as well. I might add that stress is also an immune system “zapper.”
I cut out all sugar and starch on 6/15/15 and as of 6/30/15 I have lost 8.6 pounds. I feel great and have so much more energy it is unbelievable. I can’t imagine why I would want to put them back in body. I basically follow the Westin Price traditional diet otherwise.
Cutting out the starch and sugar made all the difference for me.
I will be 74 in September. I have never been good at dieting and had gained 20 pounds since early 2012 due to the last of my family and my business partner dying. I was overwhelmed with grief.
In 2010 I had been starting to do a lot of the things I was studying in Nourishing Traditions.
On Mother’s Day, I picked up a rose bush to put in my shopping cart and it twisted and grabbed me and I had around 25-30 rose thorns in me. They did not heal and some were getting swollen and ugly. After 21 days I looked it up and found out about Rose Disease and fungu. I started treating it with baking soda and it was looking better. I realized in that I had Candida symptoms and had not known it.
I had been trying to diet since 8-2014 and my weight was coming down a pound or two a month. I read your article on GAPs and got the Gut and Psychology Syndrome. On 6/15/15 I cut out starch and sugar completely and eat protein, eggs, kefir, yogurt, healthy fats, cheese, non-starchy vegetables and some fruit. I had to increase my potassium intake afer 10 days because I was getting slight muscle cramps in my legs.
I have lost 8.6 pounds in 15 days and I feel better and have more energy than I have ever had. I never want to go back to starch and sugar. I have lost 22.2 pounds since the high in 2014 and my weight is coming down steadily. This is the first time I have ever really looked forward to stepping on the scale.
I have done the other things you mention in this article also and they all are contributing to a new and improved me.
Wonderful! So glad things are improving for you and thanks for sharing your experience!
very sensible rundown of current problems.
This is a topic that I have wanted to share for sometime! At this time my biggest bug-a-boo is the fact that no matter what is told tol my fellow employees about anti-bacterial soap they make a big deal that I am diluting the ultra-concentrated anti-bacterial soap! I can’t send posts any more because I think they have decided not to read them so I will print it and put it on the break table!
Great job, Kelly!
I meant to say: Great Job, Sarah!
Also fluoridation, vaccinations, GMO’s, and wifi.
I think these are all covered under the categories above.
Excellent list! Maybe exposure to man-made foods would be another way to say GMOs.
The other immune system killer that comes to mind is exposure to heavy metals, perhaps covered by one of the categories.
Great post! I’m passing it on 🙂
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
The good news is that making sure the immunity assaults listed above are minimized reduces the perception of stress from daily life considerably and also how it affects you biologically.
Yes! I would echo this! Working with a homeopath, I’ve learned stress and fear of any kind are two of the biggest disease causers in life!