By Joan Ebsworth, guest writer for sense* and mother of sense* Founder, Jonathan on food and immunity, part 2 of her review of the immune system.
The impact of food on my body and immune system has fascinated me since I was a teenager. I wanted to study nutrition at university but my head teacher told me that there was no future in it. So was told to study straight sciences instead. I ended up as a biologist as a result.
He was a poet!
How I Started on My Journey
Aged 29 (I am now 81) I was a bit of a creaking door –maybe it was just the stress of working and bringing up a young family but I was on the hunt for something that might help me cope better with my life.
Then I read an article in a magazine which changed everything – for me personally and in supporting the environment.
Vegetarianism v. Veganism
I became a vegetarian. I gave myself two years but I never returned to eating dead animals. Then forty plus years later I became an almost 100% vegan.
I say “almost “because I found giving up cheese so difficult. I then discovered why it is so addictive and I have now virtually kicked the habit – why is it so addictive? because it contains concentrations of lacto-morphine! That’s a whole other topic.
More recently I have seen the effects of foods on health, within my own family.
It has been quite astounding.
Food and its Effect on the Immune System
All of this has led to an interest in the immune system within us. Well before the coronavirus happened.
My aim is to have an immune system in balance. Research shows that there are many foods out there that impact these systems. I talked about 5 of them in the Immune System – Part 1. Foods that are either enhancing or depressing those systems or preferably balancing them.
What we eat and drink can turn the immune system up or down.
There are so many diseases that are affected by the state of the immune system, from infections to cancers and autoimmune diseases. This is a broad field and really and truly I feel that everyone needs to do their own research. Testing what works for them.
I can only write about my personal experiences and my own research. Here are some of the foods and their extracts that have helped my own family and myself.
Plant foods in particular are full of bio-active substances that impact the immune system.
Mushrooms come top of the list
They contain many bio-actives and a major one is beta-glucans which has been shown to stimulate NK cells and help fight cancer.
My husband took capsules of an extract of Coriolus versicolor (a bracket fungus) throughout his battles with various cancer. We won on many occasions. Mind you we did lots of other protocols too.
Eating mushrooms of any type will help to keep the balance as prevention is far better than cure. Nowadays there are wonderful superfood powders out there too. So I add a teaspoonful of Reishi (a mushroom) powder to my morning smoothie.
Garlic comes next on the list
Especially the aged fermented variety if you can get it. The bioactives in garlic are apigenin, allicin and a variety of sulphides which have been shown to be anti-viral , anti-cancer and full of anti-oxidants. More T-cells and NK cells have been found in the blood of those who take more garlic, during clinical trials.
Thirdly the Crucifers
Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts all contain sulphoraphane and once again NK cells are activated. To release the sulphoraphane you should chop the vegetables small and leave for 10 to 15 minutes. This allows the enzyme myrosinase to convert the sulphoraphane to its active form, and then you can cook.
I tend to process some broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage in a food processor to look like rice and use it as a base for a meal. Eating it raw but you can steam it for a couple of minutes too.
Next, Organic Extra-Virgin olive oil
This is full of oleic acid, hydroxytyrosol and oleocanth. Again T-cells are stimulated and hydroxytyrosol helps cells to make interleukin 10 which calms inflammation.
Pomegranates and Ellagic Acid
This fruit together with blackberries, walnuts, chestnuts and black raspberries have the highest content of a substance called ellagic acid. This acid can aid the immune system by improving its ability to detect and destroy cancer cells. It seems that cancer cells can often make themselves seem like healthy cells by making a particular protein cloak and ellagic acid stops the cancer cells making this protective cloak.
Again this fruit has remarkable immune influencing power through the bio-active chemicals that they contain. NK cells can be doubled as shown in experimental research and inflammation was reduced. It is a fantastic anti-oxidant as you probably know. Which means it has the ability to fight off disease producing cells called free radicals. To have a therapeutic dose of blueberries you do need to eat about 250g a day but you can also get the superfood powder which is more concentrated.
Books have been written on all these topics, so there is a mass of information to access for your own personal use.
Why a Plant-based Diet is so important
My own rule of thumb is to stick with plant foods as again it has been shown that so many vegetables and fruits help to balance these systems.
In fact a plant based diet has been shown to calm the immune system in autoimmune conditions as they reduce inflammation generally. They also act as good pre-biotics to create a healthy gut microbiome, encouraging the good bacteria to flourish.
Was it Hippocrates who said that “all disease starts in the gut “? He wasn’t far off the mark if he did actually say it.
Healing a leaky gut is a must if anyone wants to control any autoimmune condition and this can be done in a variety of ways.
But firstly start by eliminating all of the bad things that might be living there (pathogenic bacteria, viruses, parasites and the like) and increasing all of the good through diet. This is the starting point for any serious health threat or illness.
Processed foods must be eliminated too, as must sugars (but not those in fruits and veggies). No more soft drinks (even so called sugar free) and potentially get rid of poor quality carbs. All are inflammatory, a sign of a dis-regulated immune system.
To go the whole hog (forgive the pun), then animal products should be eliminated too in my opinion.
One regime to follow if you are looking to make a quick, positive impact on your gut health and therefore your immune system is smoothies. By replacing one or even two meals a day with a highly nutritious smoothie, you get great benefits.
My son, Neil went onto a smoothie regime when he got cancer and is still on it. He has reaped the benefits. It is good for the gut by taking the pressure off the digestive system. It is also a great way to deliver nutrients to the body. Read about his cancer story and his smoothie regime.
By blending the ingredients, they become easier to absorb.
Why is the Gut so Important to the Immune System?
The gut microbiome communicates with the immune system via gut associated lymphoid tissues (GALT). Good bacteria create a healthy system and bad bacteria –well need I say more?
We are not an organism that exists in parts. All systems within us interact one with the other and I just wish that the medical profession would take that fact on board. Instead of having these specialisms that they seem to insist on most of the time.
I wish also that they would realise the power of the bio-actives existing in vegetables, fruits and herbs –just plants in general.
Functional Medicine All the Way
Happily the Functional Medicine movement seems to be changing that attitude very slowly. Practitioners are made up of all disciplines including medical doctors. They are changing the way illness and health are perceived.
I have followed an American Dr. Mark Hyman for some time. I know he has had a big influence on our own UK Functional Medicine practitioner, Dr Rangan Chatterjee. You may have come across either or both. They are worth listening to.
Functional Medicine practitioners are actually asking why these chronic diseases are on the increase. And what can be done about them without using pharmaceuticals.
Remember prevention is better than cure and we need to start by educating our children.
This is not a sense* article. The views expressed in this article are those of the author so there may be opinions or statements in this article that are not approved by sense* and do not represent the views and opinions of the company.