Do we need to boost immunity to live healthier lives? We live in a world where technology and innovation are rampant yet so many people are sick. You can’t even get on a plane with a Snickers bar anymore because someone’s peanut allergy is so bad that the airborne particles would set them off. And, almost everyone I know has had at least one family member diagnosed with cancer.
Why are we so sick???
Chronic Disease in Canada
More than one in 5 Canadians is living with some form of chronic disease. The most prevalent are diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and chronic respiratory disease. And, mood and anxiety disorders affect one in 25 persons aged 20 years or older. Allergies affect so many young kids – do you ever wonder why there are so many peanut allergies out there?
Why are we so sick? And why are these numbers going up in this modern, industrialized world of ours? Why, when we can boost immunity with vitamins, minerals and specific nutrients, are so many people suffering?
Most people living with chronic disease take part in at least one risky lifestyle behavior. Smoking, drinking, sitting way too much and poor eating habits are the top 4 reasons why people are living with chronic illnesses. Change these behaviors and it’s thought that people will live long, healthy lives.
But, how do you explain how children are born today with more allergies than previous generations? Why are marathon runners who eat crazy healthy dropping dead from heart attacks at 45 years of age?
Children and Allergies
In the past 50-80 years, asthma, allergies, food intolerances and eczema have risen exponentially in childhood. Before that, these problems were rare. Many more children exhibit behavioral issues than ever before which leads them to rely heavily on pharmaceuticals.
Genetic changes take hundreds of years to evolve so this increase in childhood illnesses can’t be attributed to genetics. What has changed in the past 50 years is many dietary and lifestyle factors.
The rise of processed, sugar-laden foods began about 60 to 70 years ago. Children of the last two generations spent way less time outdoors playing together and way more time inside under supervision, playing video games and watching TV. Our lives and our homes have become more clean and sterile, which does the opposite to boost immunity, contrary to what so many parents believe. Without regular exposure to microorganisms, children become weak and powerless against them and their immune systems don’t get the chance to develop their defences.
You Need Exposure to Bacteria to Be Healthy
Sounds counterintuitive, right? Don’t we want to avoid bacteria so that we don’t get sick? Well, yes and no.
Your gut is ripe with billions of bacteria that help digest foods, protect the intestinal wall and ensure a healthy immune system. These gut bacteria manufacture almost 70% of the immune system cells needed to fight infection, remove malformed cells (i.e. cancer cells), and help heal wounds and injuries.
Some of these gut bacteria are good while others are bad. An overgrowth of the bad bacteria is what causes problems like gas, bloating, yeast infections, constipation and other digestive issues. Plus, an overgrowth of bad bacteria can also lead to chronic diseases and autoimmune disorders.
First Exposure to Boost Immunity
A baby’s first exposure to the microorganisms needed to boost immunity happens during birth. The mother must have a healthy gut microbiome in order to ensure that the baby receives adequate contact to bacteria during birth. Mothers who eat too much processed foods, who lead a high stress life, and who don’t understand proper eating hygiene won’t have the right gut bacteria balance. And, with so many women opting for scheduled births (aka C-sections), babies aren’t being exposed to the microorganisms they need to boost immunity and be healthy throughout life.
Our Overmedicated Society
Unhealthy gut bacteria prompt the intestinal lining to crack open and allow bacteria, proteins and foreign substances to leak through into the blood. When these substances hit organs like the brain, nervous system or even the skeletal system, health issues can arise. Problems like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, joint pain or poor bone growth, and learning issues can all stem from an unhealthy gut microbiome.
When we expose ourselves and our children to too many antibiotics, we are essentially creating an environment that is very susceptible to an overgrowth of bad bacteria.
Antibiotics kill off both bad and good bacteria in our bodies. Diarrhea, an overgrowth of candida yeast, B-vitamin deficiencies, and an overall weakened immune system are just some of the side effects of antibiotic use.
Stress and Our Microbiome
How we react to and manage stress is what dictates how our bodies respond to these types of situations. A high-stress lifestyle impacts our body’s ability to fight disease. We experience demands imposed on us by work, family, friends and lifestyle, or we impose them on ourselves through negative thought patterns or too much exercise. Moderate stress can be useful to motivate us, but long-term, extreme stress can be very harmful.
Stress causes our bodies to release glucose and cholesterol into our blood so our cells will have the energy they need to respond to the stressor. Nutrients are used up faster when we are under stress than when relaxed, and stress diverts our energy away from digestion.
Chronic stress causes free radical production and immune suppression; a positive response to stress lowers this risk. Fewer nutrients are available to nourish the rest of our bodies and our organs become damaged. The immune system can’t fight off infections or foreign cells and disease prevails.
How to Boost Immunity Naturally
People are sick because they haven’t done enough to boost immunity. In fact, many of today’s lifestyle and food choices work against our immune system (and, unfortunately, for many, it’s easier to pop a pill than to make a healthy change).
A Healthy Diet
A strong immune system starts months, if not years, before we are conceived. Ladies, if you are thinking about becoming pregnant, you should begin focusing now on improving your own gut bacteria balance. Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, miso and kombucha, should be a part of your daily diet. Try a fermented protein powder once a day, too.
Prebiotics are what feed the good bacteria generated from eating fermented foods and taking probiotics. Foods high in fibre contain probiotics; each lots of fish fruits and vegetables, plus whole grains, daily.
Avoid processed, sugary and refined foods as much as possible. Aim for at least 75% of your daily diet to include fresh, whole foods. Avoid antibiotics in food too – choose organic, grass-fed and antibiotic-free lean protein over commercially raised beef, chicken or turkey.
Improve Digestion Hygiene
As mentioned, when you’re stressed, your digestion shuts down to preserve energy. This means that any food in your digestive tract is forgotten. Food is not broken down and it sits in your intestines and stomach, fermenting and irritating the gut. Undigested food particles create toxins in the gut that kill off good bacteria and eventually lead to ‘leaky gut syndrome’ where gaps form in the intestinal lining. This leaky gut problem is the main reason that allergies form.
Eat only when you’re calm and relaxed. Sit at a table and avoid all distractions. Chew your food carefully and be mindful about how much you’re eating.
Why Are We So Sick?
Chronic diseases and childhood allergies are on the rise. The proliferation of processed, convenience foods, plus increased exposure to antibiotics and stress in one main culprit.
You can help avoid or reverse some of the damages already done by choosing whole, fresh foods while ensuring that you maintain a healthy gut microbiome. The good news is that proper lifestyle and eating habits can help reduce or eliminate many common food and environmental allergies in kids. And, with some better choices, like daily exercise and regular outdoor play, many of today’s chronic diseases don’t have to be so prominent.
Boost immunity naturally by following a holistic lifestyle: eat whole foods, exercise often, sleep well and manage your stress response appropriately! And, don’t forget to drink lots and lots of water.