Building ImmunityBuilding Immunity

By Dr. Mao, L.Ac., D.O.M., Ph.D, Dipl. C.H., ABAAP

Our immune response comes to our rescue when we are confronted by dangerous pathogens. However, when we are dealing with a tsunami of stress, continuing exposure to environmental toxins, iffy nutrition, and lack of exercise, it is necessary for our immune system to remain on high alert. Stress weakens the immune system and makes us susceptible to illness which is why people who are under excessive stress are likely to get sick.

According to research, sleep deprivation has an effect on the body that is similar to stress. Lack of sleep disrupts the normal production of white blood cells, a crucial component of healthy immunity. When our immune response becomes dysregulated, we are more likely to experience autoimmune disorders, inflammation of internal organs, blood disorders, and digestive issues… and who would want any of those?

In Chinese medicine theory, immunity depends on several factors: the kidney organ network supplies the fuel for all our metabolic functions. The spleen network including the digestive system is responsible for absorbing and distributing nutrients. The lung network governs defensive energy that protects us from external pathogens, and the liver network manages neurological responses and promotes the smooth flow of energy. All of these organ networks must function properly and work together in harmony in order to support healthy immunity.

NEW HABITS FOR BUILDING IMMUNITY

In Chinese medicine, the abdomen is considered to be the storehouse of our energy, so we need to keep it warm in order to replenish our energy bank and provide us with important immunity and longevity benefits. During the winter, a warm sweater, sweatshirt, or puffer vest could be perfect for the job.

We talked about managing stress last week, so this is a reminder that that separating ourselves from our worries, even momentarily, and moving into our body and our spirit can help us restore our equanimity. Practices that can reduce and help manage stress include walking, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, meditation, massage, acupuncture, hobbies, and staying in touch with supportive friends and family.

One of the simplest ways to stay safe from pathogens is to wash our hands when we prepare food; before we eat; after blowing our nose; before and after treating an open skin wound; after contact with someone who is sick; after using or helping a child use the bathroom; after changing a diaper; after touching animal waste; and after touching garbage.

Eating a healthful, balanced diet that is rich in vegetables and fruit can improve a person’s overall well-being. A nourishing breakfast starts the day off right, so we have the energy to do what is necessary to keep our bodies strong and healthy. To avoid food-borne illnesses, wash fruits and vegetables before peeling them; avoid undercooked meats, fish, and eggs; refrigerate leftover food promptly; and consume pasteurized juices and dairy products when possible. Foods that are high in vitamins A, C, D, E, iron, folic acid, and zinc will bolster immune function, so here are some ideas to get you started:

VITAMIN A: dairy, liver, sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, squash, sweet red peppers, cantaloupe

VITAMIN C: citrus fruits, tomatoes and tomato juice, potatoes, red and green peppers, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, and cantaloupe.

VITAMIN D: Salmon and sardines; tuna; egg yolks; mushrooms; fortified milk, juice, cereals.

VITAMIN E: sunflower seeds, almonds, avocados, spinach, butternut squash, kiwi, broccoli, trout, olive oil, shrimp.

IRON: meat, seafood, and shellfish; liver; legumes, beans, and quinoa; leafy vegetables; tofu; dark chocolate; dried fruits; fortified cereals, breads, and pastas; pumpkin seeds.

FOLIC ACID: broccoli and Brussels sprouts; leafy green veggies; peas, chickpeas, and kidney beans; liver; fortified cereals.

ZINC: meat, shellfish, legumes; hemp, flax, pumpkin, or squash seeds; nuts; dairy; eggs; whole grains.

Exercise has the added benefit of causing the brain to release endorphins that in turn, reduce stress levels. There are many forms of exercise that are available to us even if we can’t go to a gym; we can take stairs; walk, run, or bike when doing errands; vacuum, rake, or sweep; dance or jump rope; practice yoga, tai chi, or qi gong. Wear a pedometer if you’ve got one, or activate the step counter on your phone, and then get going!

To stay on course, ask yourself these questions each day. Keeping a written record of daily answers will help you stay motivated.

What lifestyle and environmental factors do you think maybe compromising your immunity?

Which aspects of improving your immune response are you going to work on this week?



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