The Best Way to Strengthen Your Immune System

by | Oct 14, 2020

When I graduated from school 25 years ago, the term autoimmune disease was this weird and rare thing you didn’t really see a lot. If you did have to take care of a patient in the hospital with autoimmune disease, it was almost nerve wracking because…well, because it was rare and no one really knew what to do with it or why one’s immune system would ‘turn on them and attack them’. Fast forward to today and the majority of people I see in my functional medicine practice have some kind of imbalance in their immune system (e.g., inflammation, high CPR, homocysteine, MPO), are on their way to autoimmune disease (e.g., positive ANA, elevated thyroid antibodies) or have already been diagnosed with autoimmune disease (e.g., Sjogren’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Ulcerative Colitis, etc.). 

What is the immune system?

So just what is the immune system…besides being one of the most important systems in our body that, when not balanced, can cause debilitating symptoms and diseases? By definition, the immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues, organs, and the substances they make that helps the body fight infections and other diseases. It includes white blood cells, organs and tissues of the lymph system, such as the thymus, spleen, tonsils, lymph nodes, lymph vessels and bone marrow. In addition, over half of our immune system is located in our gut! This is why I encourage patients to consider doing a GI Map stool test when they have issues/complaints that sometimes aren’t even GI type symptoms such as constipation, bloating, diarrhea, etc. Inflammation in the body can trigger all kinds of non-GI type symptoms!

What is an autoimmune disease?

So, why does our immune system turn on us? That is not what really happens. When autoimmune disease is diagnosed, it’s more like your immune system is trying to PRTOECT YOU from something. The immune system has evolved to protect you from infectious and/or foreign substances (or triggers). An imbalance in the immune system causes overreaction to such substances the body sees as foreign; this causes inflammation. You address this imbalance by reducing exposure to foreign substances and providing things the immune system needs to correct messages to genes that control inflammation. There are important environmental, dietary, and lifestyle triggers that can alter immune function initiating injury to the body itself. If we alter the environment, diet, and lifestyle behaviors that talk to our genes we can END, REVERSE, and AVOID the injury!

How do you boost your immune system? Balance.

You hear people say you need to boost your immune system. What the immune system really needs to function appropriately, is balance. Think of the immune system like an analog dial on your car radio. When the radio dial is in balance, you can hear the music perfect, it’s easy to listen to. When the radio dial is turned down too low, you can’t hear it. If turned up to high, it’s way too loud (hyperactive/out of control). Your genes have the ability to regulate or ‘turn the dial either way’ (chromosome 6 contains over 100 genes related to the immune response!). Guess what? Located on that same chromosome 6 are the genes for autoimmune diseases (RA, SLE, Celiac, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, etc.). Coincidence? Not at all. When the ‘dial’ is turned up so loud that the immune system is hyperactive, this is when you are on track for and eventually diagnosed with autoimmune disease. 

We aren’t born with autoimmune disease. We are born with genes that sense factors and events in our environment, lifestyle, and diet as either friend or foe and then respond accordingly. If the response is extreme, you get immune disease. If the response is less threatening, you get chronic intermittent symptoms. 

If inflammation is the immune system’s response to trying to protect you from something, it seems the question we should be asking if we want to end, reverse or avoid injury to the immune system to begin with is…how do we decrease chronic inflammation and ultimately, balance the immune system? 

How do you boost your immune system? Decrease inflammation using Phytonutrients.

Dr. Jeffrey Bland, author, researcher and also known as the Father of Functional Medicine claims that his most significant discovery in all forty years in scientific research was in 2005 when he discovered phytonutrients in food actually speak to our genes. Phytonutrients are the compounds in plants (think color!) that have evolved to become protective. Plants can’t hide from the sun. They can’t jog down to the river to get water when they are thirsty. They can’t swat bugs away when they try to bite them. They must be strong in order to survive. These phytonutrients protect the plant and in turn, protect us. Since different plants have different phytonutrients, they can influence your genes in different ways.  Thus, humans eating plant foods can reap the benefits of a range of protective capabilities built into the plants through evolution.

It can be tough to get the recommended servings of vegetables during the day (6-15 depending on who you ask). This is why I wanted to share my favorite recipe with you so you too can get the colors of the rainbow in – multiple times a day!  Enjoy!   

Decrease inflammation and increase your immune system balance with this recipe.

From the grocery store, farmers market or local farm, find 15-20 different organic fibrous vegetables to buy from the list below…

  1. 1 beet with greens
  2. 3 asparagus spears
  3. 3 celery sticks
  4. 6 small Brussels sprouts
  5. 1 small zucchini
  6. 1 small broccoli bunch
  7. 3 carrots with greens
  8. 1 small Bok choy
  9. 5-6 Kale leaves
  10. 1 handful of spinach
  11. 2 Swiss Chard leaves
  12. 1 wedge of cabbage
  13. 1 wedge of red cabbage
  14. 1 handful of sugar snap peas
  15. 1 handful of green beans
  16. small bunch of fresh parsley
  17. small bunch of fresh thyme
  18. small bunch of fresh basil

You can also use:  mint, cilantro, dill, fennel, radish with greens, parsnip, yellow squash, kohlrabi, fenugreek, and/or cauliflower!

  • Wash and clean them.
  • Put small batches of the veggies in your food processor and break them down to a pulp.
  • Transfer the small batches to a large mixing bowl and continue until all your veggies are broken down to a pulp.
  • Mix well

Enjoy as a salad (alone or topped with a protein such as chicken or salmon), in an omelet, mixed in as part of a turkey or veggie burger, in smoothies, etc. 

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Meet Toni

Toni is a wife, a mom to three amazing and very active boys, a wellness warrior who lives with and successfully manages three autoimmune diseases and an ultra passionate Family Nurse Practitioner certified in Functional Medicine through the Institute for Functional Medicine. Her dream has always been to ‘reach the masses’ with this root-cause, personalized medicine that saved her life.

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