A “Way of Life” Immune System

What do I mean by a “way of life” immune system? Lifestyle choices impact your immune system waaaaay more than a magic supplement or tonic. First, a quick overview of your immune system…

Light Overview of Your Immune System

Your immune system is your body’s most important surveillance system, protecting it from outside invaders and inside damage – a constant effort. You can thank two main functions for surveying and interpreting your environment:

  1. Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA)-Axis
  2. Gastrointestinal (GI) tract

Your immune system is divided into the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system. Both of these systems depend on each other. Your innate immune system serves as the “first line of defense.” The innate immune system is made up of:

  • Mechanical barriers to pathogens – skin, mucous membranes, etc
  • Chemical barriers – stomach acid
  • Secretory barriers – enzymes, sIgA, inflammatory process

The adaptive immune system does – you guessed it: adapts to invaders over time. These cells have a “so-called” memory, allowing a second, third, etc antigen invasion to stimulate a quicker, stronger response. This system is primarily made up of:

  • T and B lymphocytes, which are able to recognize invading organisms using T-cell receptors and antibodies.

When born, the immune system is weak and vulnerable. Thanks to the body’s fast microbiome and metabolic development processes, the immune system quickly matures based on proper interactions with invaders and other environmental inputs. But if we do not take care of our vessel (or our child’s vessel), “inflammaging,” or an increased level of systematic inflammation, develops (aka chronic inflammation). Once inflammaging occurs, you become more susceptible to acute illness and chronic disease.

Why am I point this out? Your daily choices matter! What you eat matters. How you perceive stress matters. How much you sleep matters. The quality of relationships matter. Human connection matters. Hygiene matters. Exposure to nature matters. Physical activity matters.

A sense of purpose matters.

Whew! I think I just stressed you out, which is not helpful! But we need knowledge to understand how to behave.

These factors create a sphere of signals that determine your outcome (or response) from incoming invaders. We live in a modern world where we have every reason NOT to dedicate time to wellness. We don’t cook. We don’t unplug. We don’t spend time doing what we like. We don’t sleep. We don’t love beyond set parameters. We don’t play. We don’t lay under the sun daily. We just have every reason to “don’t.”

And we need to shift. Our health depends on it. Our child’s health depends on it.

Ready?

Ok well this is not an overnight thing by any stretch. It’s an ongoing journey. And I will take you through that journey in my upcoming book. But for now, let’s get your immune system strong for the winter.

1. Nutrition

SUGAR!! I recommend watching Calgary Avansino’s TED Talk. It’s an eye opener. Sugar is literally destroying our species, one immune system at a time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnvkNGc6YYM

Michael Pollan says it well. “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Ok eat food. So that means REAL FOOD. I know it’s nearly impossible to avoid all man-made foods, but PLEASE try. Make a game plan and start changing yesterday. Let’s break food down into two main parts:

  • Macronutrients for metabolic energy – I don’t mean count macros. Some people love to do that, but I find it overwhelming when trying to feed my children a whole foods diet. Limit the amount of refined carbohydrates (and omega-6 EFAs) found in processed foods. These foods directly harm the immune system, especially in large, repeated amounts. Consume plenty of dietary fibers found in plants while limiting fibers that contain lectin. Many of these fibers serve as prebiotics for your gut flora! Fiber is also important for removing toxins from the body (meaning it helps us poo!). Balance the intake of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. Eat “nose-to-tail” when you consume meat. Beyond these recommendations, do your best to follow a whole foods template with smaller amounts of meat and fruit and larger amounts (meaning daily!) of bone broth, vegetables, fermented foods, and eggs.
  • Micronutrients for co-factors and antioxidant support – Eat the rainbow! Look up food charts that list micronutrients found in food. I recommend the book, Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson. It’s a great one!

I expand more on nutrition in my private functional medicine group. If you would like more information about joining this group, please let me know. It has a small membership fee that translates to high value (I hope!!).

2. Stress

I am not sure how to write on this topic in one paragraph. All I can write is, pick your battles wisely. Be selective on what gets you worked up! Lead your children down a similar path. Negative stress and overly perceiving stressors wreaks havoc on your immune system. Read this article for more: https://thefarmlife.com/2018/01/17/howtobeabetterahole/ 

3. Sleep

Don’t skimp on sleep. Allow for 7-10 hours per night as an adult, 10-12 per night for children. To maximize sleep quality, avoid screen time (blue light) two hours before bed. Blue light ages your skin anyways! Ewwww! Avoid strenuous exercise four hours before bed. Eat a dinner higher in “paleo-friendly” carbohydrates. Go outside in the bright noon’ish light each day so your body programs properly. Avoid caffeinated beverages after 2pm (children should avoid caffeine altogether, including teens). Move plenty throughout the day to burn off all energy. Minimize stressful encounters and conversations immediately before bed.

4. Environmental Inputs

I will dive deeper into this topic in subsequent posts, but limit your exposure to EMFs. We are affected by these fields, and we don’t know how much just yet. In the meantime, let’s try not to be too much of a guinea pig. Find a healthy relationship with technology. Schedule phone time during the day and otherwise keep it away from your body. Sleep with smart devices in airplane mode. Turn your wireless network off while sleeping/regenerating cells. And please don’t allow your children to play on a wireless-enabled laptop or smart device without airplane mode on! Wire your home internet. It’s faster when cabled anyways. Allow apps that work in airplane mode and ditch the rest.

Get ALL KNOWN chemicals out of your home. What does ALL KNOWN mean? If you have learned about the dangers of Glade Plug-ins yet still have them in your home, then ????? Why would you do that? If you know about VOCs and how to limit them in your home, then ????? Why wouldn’t you do that? If you know that chemicals in body products have close links to cancer, endocrine disruption, and more, then ????? Why are you using them still? If you know that allowing stuff to consume you harms your health on the stress side, then ????? Why aren’t you purging yet? If you know that wearing your shoes inside is the #1 way to toxify your home then ????? Why are you wearing shoes inside?

Ok.

Don’t be hard on yourself on topics you don’t know about. Just keep learning. And always find grace in yourself every step of the way.

5. Nature

You know that spending time in a beautiful outdoor landscape makes you feel better. What does science say? Well, spending time outdoors reduces symptoms of ADHD, improves self-discipline, reduces aggression and stress, improves mood and self-esteem and cognitive function, and I could keep going for miles! So why aren’t we outside copiously every day?

I am asked often, “Why do you homeschool? My answer, “Because indoor school does not make sense to me.” Simple as that.

And take off your shoes from time to time when outside. Touch the earth with your body! Get some pollen in your nose when you sniff a flower!

6. Hygiene

I won’t go into this one. It’s self-explanatory. Wash up, keep your house clean, change your underwear daily…

7. Community and Purpose

Humans are wired to be social in a “greater good contribution” manner (living with purpose). Watch Dr. Lieberman’s TED Talk — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNhk3owF7RQ. This area of study is difficult to put into exact definition because your “social” is not the same as my “social.” As long as you define meaning to your life, set intentions backed by that meaning, and behave based on that  – you are implementing your “social.” Scientists use a “sense of belonging” to study and measure this topic. In these studies, people who consistency celebrate a sense of self-worth and purpose have a longer life expectancy. Marriage or lifelong partnerships increase life expectancy. Stability in relationships encourages better decision making. Study after study reveals this topic matters more than most give credit.

Family matters most. Family is our rock. To have a strong immune system, your family culture matters. What is your family culture? Have you defined it? Are you all on the same page? Are you bound in accepting love no matter what?

That topic alone encompasses the entire third part of my book!

How to make these shifts become permanent – that’s a lot of pressure to give you an answer, but I will try…

Don’t think of these changes as restrictions. “Oh no!! I cannot eat gluten EVER AGAIN!” Embrace these changes as a way to secure your future of enjoyment, purpose, and fulfillment. And for children, think about it! The earlier we instill these patterns of behavior, the better. Actually, the earlier, the more life saving!

What else? Well I do have my favorite, time-tested tips for the winter immune system. Over the last eleven years, spread out among four children, we have only use antibiotics ONE TIME. And that was when my oldest was an infant with the classic “ear infection.”When we know better, we do better. I thank God incessantly for their health and for helping me discover tools to support them.  This is just my family’s toolbox. You will have to craft your own. (Yes, I play Minecraft…lol)!

My favorite winter additions for a strong immune system:

Daily

  • Every member of our family contributes
  • LOTS and LOTS of touch in the form of hugs, tickling, kisses, play, etc
  • Forage in our winter vegetable garden
  • Eat the rainbow in vegetable form, very little fruit
  • Sweet peppers, even when not in season, for vitamin C
  • Go outside first thing each day
  • Water only (limit buy juice, including orange juice)
  • Limited screen time
  • Drink bone broth
  • Enjoy fermented foods at every meal
  • Aromatherapy at least twice a day
  • Elderberry syrup once a day
  • Herbal tea in the evening
  • Topical magnesium before bed
  • Frankincense daily on feet
  • Probiotics/prebiotics
  • Sunshine (when it’s out!!) for vitamin D
  • Fish oil because my boys don’t love fish, meaning we don’t eat enough to get our omega-3s exclusively from food.

As needed:

  • Colloidal silver
  • Garlic
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Zinc lozenges
  • Essential oil ingestion
  • Megadosing probiotics
  • Acerola cherry powder
  • Bromelain
  • CoQ10 and other cofactors depending on the issue

Cheers. I am here to help, friends. Please ask questions! Converse your successes and failures among this tribe. Let’s problem solve together!

~ Farmer Ashley 

(Reference used for this article: Supporting Immune Function by Dr. Guilliams)

 

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