“Whatever is going around the office, I’m almost certain to get,” my 42-year-old patient Melinda told me during our first consultation.
Along with digestive issues such as bloating and constipation, Melinda struggled with allergies and chronic sinus inflammation. And now with NYC as the U.S. epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was particularly worried.
Especially in the afternoon, she often felt tired. She relied on a large hazelnut coffee from a nearby donut shop to pull her through, flavoring that takeout coffee with skim milk and a few packets of Splenda ® . (“I use stevia at home, but I forget to bring it to my office,” she told me.) Melinda’s situation is very common among my patients.
When the gut becomes compromised by poor diet choices, the immune system suffers.
After all, the gut is the gateway to your immune system . If you want to keep your immune system strong, you’ve got to start with your gut.
One of the five key roles of your gut is to maintain an immune barrier to the outside world. In fact, the gut is also the largest stronghold of your immune system .
A healthy gut keeps the immune system strong. When working properly, it creates a semi-permeable barrier that keeps out bad bugs and other threats that can result in illness. In fact, almost 70 percent of the entire immune system resides along the gut wall 1 .
When gut health deteriorates, the immune system follows.
The wrong foods, chronic stress, environmental toxins , and antibiotics all wage war with the gut and your gut microbiome.
By her own account, Melinda was doing everything correctly. She did Barre classes three times a week, closely monitored her caloric intake, and ate healthy foods. Regardless, Melinda couldn’t lose those last 15 pounds.
Along with describing her symptoms, Melinda’s food journal revealed what was causing these problems. Many of the foods she thought were healthy , including her skim milk and whole wheat bread, were resulting in food sensitivity reactions .
Even though she had restricted calories (for example, with an artificial sweetener) and was watching her carb intake, certain foods that she considered healthy had made it very difficult for Melinda to lose weight. In fact,
artificial sweeteners have been shown to increase the risk for metabolic syndrome
(a problem with processing sugar) and weight gain. To worsen matters, her former doctor had put her on several rounds of an antibiotic called Augmentin for her chronic sinus infection.
What resulted was a dysbiosis, an imbalance between the favorable and unfavorable bacteria in her gut. Over time, dysbiosis can damage the gut wall, resulting in a leaky gut .
This leakiness or “hyperpermeability” means that partially-digested protein molecules from food can easily slip through the gut wall . The immune system does not recognize these so it mounts an attack by producing antibodies, which results in food sensitivities. When your immune system is distracted by these over-reactions to foods, it is not as well equipped to fight infections.
Melinda was shocked when I told her a food she commonly ate and considered to be healthy may be at the root of their problems. I explained to her that unlike food allergies, the response is not immediate: The symptoms and characteristics of
food sensitivities manifest between several hours up to 48 hours
after exposure to a problematic food like gluten. When the immune system becomes activated by these foods , it sends out messages that tell your body to create inflammation in distant regions as a response to an onslaught of food proteins that have been classified as enemies of the body.
When you continuously eat these foods, you may register only a general feeling of malaise and not be able to pinpoint any specific body symptom. The immune response those foods can trigger can last up to six month s.
Leaky gut syndrome is at the root of many of the gut-associated diseases we are working to reverse. The symptoms of a leaky gut overlap with those caused by food sensitivity reactions , and they may include seemingly unrelated symptoms like: allergies, asthma, migraines, hives, eczema, psoriasis, acne, headaches, mental fog, chronic fatigue, body aches, autoimmune disease, and even depression at its worst.
Underlying how well the immune system functions is the gut microbiome.
It is composed of about a hundred trillion microbes — which include up to a thousand different species of bacteria — living in balance between good and bad. It also includes a few dozen types of yeasts and fungi, an unknown number of viruses, and an occasional worm — which may actually help prevent autoimmune disease.
Your lifestyle , what you eat , and your exposures to antibiotics can all change the balance of your gut microbiome for the worse. The state of this internal microbial milieu literally dictates how your body feels, how well your immune system behaves, and how you digest as well as assimilate foods.
A diet rich in the foods that you are sensitive to, in combination with a leaky gut, leads to fluid retention and inflammation — and, as a result, WEIGHT GAIN.
So, when we talk about building immuno-resilience and preventing yourself from contracting a virus, first we want to remove that which is bogging down your immune system . It’s like when your computer gets stuck running too many processes, you need to clean out the drive and any temporary files that are slowing it down. For your gut, this means removing food sensitivities.
The good news is that when you remove the foods that trigger these reactions because they activate your immune response, weight loss happens more easily and naturally . In as little as one week, you can start to feel better and your symptoms disappear as the fog your chronic immune activation had over you lifts.
For Melinda, the first step was removing the foods and beverages that contributed to the immune weakening she was experiencing. Many of the foods that she considered healthy were making Melinda sick, tired, weight loss resistant, and immune repressed.
In my book Happy Gut and many of my blogs, I explain why many of these are a problem. For Melinda, we pinpointed how these five were taking their toll on her gut and immune health. Understanding this really helped her commit to the HAPPY GUT ® REBOOT: 28-Day Cleanse .
1-SUGAR . Strictly monitoring calories and reading labels helped Melinda eliminate many sources of added sugars . She rarely ate cookies, cake, donuts, and other foods high in sugar. However, added sugars were slipping into places she didn’t suspect, such as marinara sauce and a bottled green tea she reached for some afternoons. The gluten-free, high-fiber cookies she was buying at her favorite health food store were sweetened with agave, a sweetener more likely to lead to fatty liver and pre-diabetes. Even the flavored mineral water she was sipping on contained sugar; almost as much, in fact, as a sugar-sweetened cola!
2-DAIRY . Melinda told me that she wasn’t a fan of cow’s milk, and that she rarely ate yogurt or ice cream. She didn’t consider that “splash” of skim milk in her coffee to be a big deal. Dairy can also slip into unsuspecting places, such as the stevia she put in her coffee. (Lactose or milk sugar is sometimes used as a bulking agent in these products.) I explained that even a little dairy could be damaging to the intestinal lining and cause the wrong types of bacteria to overgrow .
3-GLUTEN . The health glow of wheat bread and other foods Melinda regularly consumed distracted her from the symptoms that gluten can create. Every time that Melinda ate gluten, she was activating her immune response. A word of caution, though: Packaged gluten-free foods, which are often sweetened and contain other potential food sensitivities , are not any better.
4-ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS . I’ve heard countless stories from patients who struggled with problems like achy joints for years. They never associated these problems with artificial sweeteners. Once they gave up diet colas, though, these problems disappeared. Artificial sweeteners can be inflammatory and compromise your immune system . Studies show that sucralose, marketed as Splenda ® , can disrupt healthy gut flora and increase the number of inflammatory gut flora that lead to weight gain and pre-diabetes 2 .
5-ALCOHOL . Melinda confessed that especially after stressful days at the office, she would reach for a second and even third glass of red wine to unwind. She wisely noticed, though, that her sinus pressure would flare up a day or two after too much alcohol. It’s no coincidence: Researchers find a higher risk of infections, including acute respiratory distress syndromes (ARDS) after consuming alcohol. If you do get sick, alcohol slows down how quickly and how well you recover. Studies show that alcohol disrupts immune pathways, impairing the body’s ability to defend against infection and more 3 .
To support the gut and immune system, I asked Melinda to increase her intake of organic leafy and cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli and spinach. We also upgraded her intake of animal foods to include more wild-caught seafood , which contains anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids along with immune-boosting protein .
She also included more cultured and fermented foods , such as kimchi and coconut kefir, into her meals. The probiotics in these foods help reduce the “leakiness” of the gut and bolster our immune system in ways that help protect us.
Food is medicine — it can be the source of your greatest woes, but also the fountain for your greatest healing.
To develop a strong gut and immune system, here are the Happy Gut principles to live by:
- Focus on getting healthy, omega-3-rich fats in nuts, seeds, avocados and fatty fish like wild-caught salmon.
- Look for organic, non-GMO vegetables .
- Eat clean proteins that are hormone-free, grass fed, wild-caught, or from wild game.
- Promote friendly flora with pro- and prebiotic-rich foods .
- Speaking of, incorporate plenty of fiber , which is your immune system’s best friend, because it builds a strong, friendly gut microbiome that will work overtime to keep your gut lining healthy and fit.
To further fortify the immune system , you want to add these to your weekly diet:
1-Shiitake mushrooms : These mushrooms, which have a rich, savory flavor, can help strengthen the immune system and lower inflammation. They are rich in immune-supporting nutrients including zinc and manganese. One study found that eating shiitake mushrooms for four weeks helped improve gut immunity 4 .
2-Ginger : This pungent spice provides a variety of immune-supporting benefits. Ginger is anti-inflammatory to help the body manage inflammation that can contribute to illness and disease. As an antioxidant, ginger can help support the body fight free radicals that contribute to disease. Ginger is also an antimicrobial, which helps fight a variety of viruses and other pathogens 5 .
3-Turmeric : Among the compounds in this bold spice, which you often find in curry powders, is curcumin. The anti-inflammatory support that curcumin provides can help the body manage a variety of immune cells, including T cells, B cells, macrophages, neutrophils, and natural killer cells. Curcumin can also help support the immune system by enhancing antibody responses 6 .
4-Alkalizing Greens : leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables provide a variety of nutrients that help support the immune system, including vitamins C, K, and folate. They also contain immune-supporting compounds such as sulforaphane.
5-Camu Camu : the Peruvian superfood high in Vitamin C, which has been shown to protect the body from oxidative damage .
When your gut has been in disarray, your immune system weakened, and your gut lining compromised, the only and best way to reboot it is to do a full-on cleanse. For Melinda, that meant going through the HAPPY GUT ® REBOOT: 28-Day Cleanse .
As part of the Gut C.A.R.E. Program ® , I developed a series of complementary supplements to fast-track her along the path to wellness. For the morning breakfast smoothies, Melinda used the HAPPY GUT ® Cleanse Shake , a gut-healing, fructose-free, hypoallergenic, vegan protein powder designed to support gut health and promote balanced detoxification.
In addition, I carefully selected a series of easy-to-swallow encapsulated supplements to support digestive wellness, along with a high-potency probiotic to promote healthy gut microflora.
You can access this same 28-Day Gut C.A.R.E. ® Program that I’ve successfully used for hundreds of patients such as Melinda. This comprehensive program gives the gut all the nutrients it needs to heal . These nutrients also create a strong immune foundation.
During her follow-up consultation three weeks later, Melinda told me that her sinus condition had improved and she had only one minor allergy flareup during that time. She no longer needed that midafternoon caffeine pick-me-up. And during the first week alone, she had lost four pounds.
Most importantly, Melinda began to see how the foods she ate regularly impacted her gut and immune system. She was shocked that so many of these “ healthy” foods were creating problems, such as fatigue, weight loss resistance, and weakening her immune system .
I’ve seen great results like these when patients remove food sensitivities, eat plenty of whole, unprocessed foods, and get the nutrients they need to fix the gut and make the immune system strong and resilient. This is what everyone needs to be doing now as we get through the next phase of this worldwide pandemic. This is how you build your immune armor for the long-haul .
A Strong Immune System Starts In The Gut!
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