Welcome to Part 4 of the Women’s Autoimmune Series. In this segment I will be talking about immune system nutrition and the use of nutrients to help support immune system regulation. Identifying the various factors that stand in the way of proper body function and therefore health, is the foundation of functional medicine.
Immune System Nutrition
Would you agree that different organs and systems of the body have different nutrition requirements? This is would make sense, considering that each organ and system carries out different functions. For example, your heart needs large amounts of a nutrient called CoQ10 because it is a muscle that beats constantly and therefore has very high energy demands. Without sufficient levels of this nutrient, the heart begins to fail. Your immune system is a system of defense, healing and communication; so, it has different nutrient needs.
While there are many nutrients that can influence immune system function; I will list some of the most essential nutrients. It is also important that you understand that nutrients are not just a “good idea” they are essential for normal immune function. Without them, the immune system simply cannot work properly. Nutrients are as essential as air and water; again, non-negotiable if you want your body to function properly. Many people do not understand how important nutrients are…any lack of key nutrients will result in altered (abnormal) body function.
Below are some of the most important nutrients that required for normal immune function.
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin B6
- Folic Acid
It can be difficult to get sufficient levels of these nutrients from food alone. There are several reasons for this including:
- Decreased nutrients in our soils
- Poor diet choices lacking vegetables / fruits
- Highly refined convenience foods
- Increased stress on body systems therefore requiring higher levels of nutrient
It is also important to make sure you are getting enough protein in your diet. Lack of protein can place a great deal of stress on the immune system and reduce its ability to work properly. Insufficient protein is associated with impaired immunity, reduced phagocyte function, poor complement and cytokine production and reduced secretory immunoglobulin A antibody (a key antibody for gut-immunity). I don’t expect you to know what all of terms mean; nor do you need to; but you do need to understand that your immune system is a very complex system and it does have nutrition demands that must be met if it is to do its job properly.
With all the attention put on inflammation these days, we should take a moment and define what it is. Not all inflammation is bad. Remember that I said that your immune system is responsible for defense and repair? Well, inflammation is involved in both of these functions. Inflammation is the immune system’s response to harmful organisms, damaged cells, toxins or irritants. In this case, the purpose of inflammation is to eliminate the cause of body injury and clear out damaged cells and tissues. Once this has been accomplished, it initiates the healing response. As you can see, inflammation itself is not a bad thing. Inflammation becomes an undesirable event when it becomes chronic or overactive. No natural process in the body is harmful, until it is no longer regulated properly.
When combating chronic or excessive inflammation, there are two factors that need to be considered.
- Identify and remove the cause of chronic inflammation
- Support the immune system and reduce the inflammation response.
Most drugs, doctors and dietary supplements only focus on #2. Failure to identify #1 can defeat your efforts to reduce chronic inflammation. Common causes of inflammation are certain foods in the diet and infections of the body (especially in the digestive tract). There are many dietary supplements that can help reduce inflammation including:
- Turmeric / Curcumin
- Vitamin D
- Essential fatty acids (like fish oil)
Your immune system is complex and requires proper nutrition to perform as it should. Utilizing functional medicine can be instrumental in achieving a more healthful immune response.
When am working with an autoimmune condition there are 3 key factors I take into consideration:
- How can I reduce the burden and stress on the immune system?
- How can I support the immune system nutritionally, so it can communicate and therefore regulate itself in an optimal way?
- What other body systems may be functioning poorly and contributing to poor immune function? Poor detoxification? Hormone imbalances? Poor adrenal gland function? Poor gut health? Poor nervous system health?
No system in your body functions in isolation!
In Part 5 of the Women’s Autoimmune Series, we will look at the some of the other systems of your body and how they can impair immune function.
If you would like more information about autoimmunity, functional medicine or Dr. Sexton go to www.napervilleintegratedwelness.com
Do your own research, inform yourself and ask lots of questions. When collecting information, you MUST consider the source. There is no shortage of false, misleading, outdated, profit-driven and utterly biased information in healthcare today; even from the most respected sources and organizations.