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By Elizabeth Boham MD, MS, RDN
Do your daily lifestyle choices impact whether or not you catch a cold from the sneezing person sitting next to you on the airplane? Absolutely yes! You can’t stop every infection from invading your body, but you will be amazed at how much you can do to strengthen your immune system. Here are my top five tips for building a better immune system and keeping viruses and bacteria at bay this winter.
1. Move. You might not feel up to going outside for a walk in bad weather, but movement is proven to help your immune system. Exercise has been shown to improve the activity of Natural Killer cells, which are central to your immune system function. These cells are always present, ready to attack invading infections or gobble up abnormal cells in your body. You can influence how well they work, and regular moderate exercise improves their activity. Aim for 40 to 60 minutes of exercise daily. Remember, however, that excessive exercise, such as training for a marathon or competing in an intense sporting event, actually puts stress on your immune system, reducing its efficiency. Elite athletes must take extra care in supporting their immune system.
2. Eat a whole-foods diet rich in zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Malnutrition is the number-one cause of immune deficiency worldwide. You might think that malnutrition is a problem only in underdeveloped countries, but actually there are significant levels of malnutrition in the United States as well. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is high in calories, but often deficient in important vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that are necessary for good health and a strong immune system. For my patients who frequently get infections or have a hard time getting rid of an infection, I first make sure that they are getting certain nutrients. Zinc is an important mineral for immune system functioning; good sources are animal protein, like oysters and meat, as well as some vegetable proteins, such as beans. Vitamin A is also critical for proper immune function and is found in liver, fish, cod liver oil, chicken, eggs, and dairy. Beta-carotene (found in yellow and orange vegetables) can turn into vitamin A in your body (but not everyone makes this conversion easily). Vitamin C is another important nutrient for immune function. Eating four or five cups of fruits and vegetables every day will give you plenty of Vitamin C.
3. Protect your microbiota. Every day, we are discovering more and more about our amazing microbiota. Your microbiota creates a wall of defense that prevents infections from entering your body. When these bacteria are disrupted, our risk of getting an infection skyrockets. Probiotics have been shown to strengthen the immune system; decrease the risk of intestinal infections, asthma, and eczema; and shorten the length of the common cold. So, how can we protect the trillions of good bacteria that line the surfaces of our body? First, eat a high-fiber, whole-foods diet. Fiber-rich foods (beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds) feed these good bacteria. Second, avoid unnecessary antibiotic use. Antibiotics kill off the good bacteria along with the infections they’re treating. Don’t use antibiotics for viral infections; they are ineffective and will do more harm than good.
4. Get your eight hours. How often has this happened to you: You cut your sleep short for a few nights in a row, only to find yourself sick with a head cold. Sleep is critical for your immune system. For most of us, the goal is seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Keep your bedroom dark and cool; turn off your devices (computer, cellphones, and TV) and dim the lights an hour or two before bed, to let your body know that it’s time to get ready for sleep. This will help you get the deep, restorative sleep that is so nourishing for your immune system.
5. Give your body time to rest. This is not the same thing as getting enough sleep. Resting includes taking a break from work, giving yourself time to go outside and enjoy nature, taking a yoga class, meditating, going out with friends, or enjoying a funny show. Unfortunately, with technology, many of us are finding that we can work all of the time—resist that urge! Build rest into your schedule to help you fight infections and keep you healthy all year long.
As a child I had chronic urinary tract infections. I was treated with multiple antibiotics from the age of 5 until age 17. This chronic use of antibiotics impacted my skin and my digestive system. It may have even contributed to the breast cancer I got at age 30. Through my medical school training and further training in functional medicine, I learned the importance of avoiding antibiotics as much as possible. Recurrent use of antibiotics increases your risk of getting another infection and causes the bacteria become resistant to the antibiotics. But all too often, many people get into the cycle of continual antibiotic use. Common infections that become chronic or frequent include ear infections, sinus infections, and urinary tract infections. In the past, I found chronic urinary tract infections a difficult problem for both myself and my patients. Now I am excited when a woman comes to see me with chronic urinary tract infections, because I know that I can help her.
These are 5 important instructions I give my patients for preventing urinary tract infections:
1. Use Probiotics – We have trillions of good bacteria that line our skin, digestive system and also our genital urinary system. These good bacteria have a tremendous influence on our immune system. They are often the first line of defense that prevents unwanted bacteria or viruses from invading the body. When we kill off these good bacteria with antibiotics, we increase our risk of developing a secondary infection, sometimes in a different part of the body. For example, many times people who take an antibiotic for a sinus infection also get a urinary tract infection or vaginal yeast infection. Or they will go on to get a viral upper respiratory infection. This is all too common. When it comes to antibiotics, only take them when necessary. Also, replace the good bacteria that the antibiotics killed through fermented foods and probiotics. Multiple strains of lactobacillus probiotics taken orally or vaginally have been shown to decrease the risk of getting a bladder infection. Lactobacillus reuteri and Lactobacillus rhamnosus, taken by mouth, have been shown to colonize the vaginal tract and decrease the risk of getting urinary tract infections. Vaginally applied probiotics can prevent urinary tract infections and yeast infections.
2. Consume Cranberry – Cranberry extract prevents the bacteria that cause bladder infections from being able to bind to the bladder wall and cause an infection. I usually have people avoid cranberry juice because of the excess sugar, so cranberry extract is a great alternative. Cranberry capsules are an excellent supplement that can be used for prevention. Here are some of my favorite cranberry tablets. I often have women take 2 tablets daily for prevention of urinary tract infections and increase if they are having symptoms.
3. Add in D-mannose – D-mannose also prevents the bacteria that often cause urinary tract infections from adhering to your bladder wall and causing infections. Studies have shown that 2 grams per day works better than even antibiotics at prevention of urinary tract infections. You can get tablets that have both cranberry and d-mannose or just d-mannose as a tablet or powder.
4. Reduce Sugar – High levels of sugar in the diet can encourage the wrong bacteria and yeasts to grow in your body and increase your risk of multiple infections. Avoid added sugar in your diet. It is important to choose a whole foods diet that is low in processed foods. This will insure that you get the necessary nutrients to support your immune system and decrease your risk of many infections, including urinary tract infections.
5. Don’t Forget the Basics – Drink plenty of water, do not hold your urine, use cotton underwear, and urinate right after sexual intercourse. Whenever you urinate, the bacteria that may be in your urinary tract system are flushed out. So keeping your urine dilute and urinating frequently can help decrease your risk of getting urinary tract infections.
If you are experiencing the symptoms of urinary tract infections, burning while urinating, frequent urination, blood in your urine, fevers or back pain, make sure to see your doctor immediately and get your urine tested.
I hope these 5 tips decrease your risk of getting a urinary tract infection and break the cycle.
To Your Health,
As of March 2016 the CDC estimated that 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder. Key diagnostic criteria for ASD include repetitive patterns of behavior, interest, or activities and deficits in social interaction and language. The recommended early intensive behavior therapy can be helpful, but many times there is much more that we can do!
One of the most rewarding things I do every day at The Ultrawellness Center is work with children on the autistic spectrum. Often I am able to help many of them improve their communication and function.
The concepts of functional medicine are well suited for disorders like autism. There is a wide range of severities and a wide range of causes for children with autism, so not every child is the same. Functional medicine recognizes this and looks for the triggers that caused imbalances in the patient’s body.
When I see a child on the autistic spectrum, I always start with the following 6 steps from a functional medicine approach to help decrease the patient’s symptoms:
1. Work to decrease inflammation. Excessive inflammation in the body can impact brain development. Exploring the causes of inflammation can help to reduce the symptoms of autism. Some common causes include food allergies/sensitivities, imbalances in the gut bacteria, and infections. The following steps include more information on how to treat these causes of inflammation.
2. One of the first things I recommend that the child does a trial gluten and dairy free diet. This can be helpful for many reasons. There are components of gluten and dairy that can cross the blood-brain barrier and impact the neurological system. This causes symptoms such as confusion, fatigue, fluctuations in mood, and attention issues. Gluten and dairy can also be a cause of inflammation for some people, impacting brain development. In addition, antibodies against dairy have been found to block an important receptor in the brain of a number of autistic patients. This receptor is called the folate receptor. Folate receptor antibodies have been found in many children with autism, and is one of the reasons that many parents notice significant changes when they change their child’s diet. Changing your child’s diet can be difficult, but by implementing a strict gluten and dairy free diet, you may start to see some changes in your child’s health. I recommend that you work with a nutritionist to make sure that your child is getting adequate nutrients after eliminating gluten and dairy products. Here are a few tips to help families transition to a gluten and dairy free diet: http://www.ultrawellnesscenter.com/2017/08/21/improving-autism-spectrum-disorders-asd-does-a-gluten-and-dairy-free-diet-really-make-a-difference/.
3. Pay attention to the digestive system. Multiple studies have shown that there is a correlation between autism and gastrointestinal symptoms. Many children on the autistic spectrum have symptoms of bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. We evaluate the gut microbiota and use treatment to help improve the balance of the bacteria and yeast in the gastrointestinal system. Try using a good quality probiotic and a digestive enzyme if your child has these symptoms.
4. Try a cod liver oil supplement. This is a great supplement for many reasons. It is rich in omega 3 fats which are naturally anti-inflammatory. Essential fatty acids, also found in cod liver oil, are necessary for proper brain development. Additionally, cod liver oil is naturally rich in vitamin A and vitamin D. These fat-soluble vitamins are very important for your health. Vitamin A is critical for eye health and adequate intake may have an influence on your child’s eye contact. Vitamin D has many important functions in the body including supporting the immune system. A typical dose is 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of cod liver oil a day
5. Avoid refined and processed foods. That seems simple, but additives that can cause behavioral problems and digestive issues are found in many products. Avoid anything with added food coloring and do your best to provide your child with whole foods at every meal.
6. Put your child on a good quality multivitamin / mineral formula. Vitaspectrum by Prothera is a good multivitamin that is formulated for children on the autistic spectrum. We often see some nutritional deficiencies in children on the spectrum, either because of inadequate intake or a genetic variation that increases their individual needs. A good multivitamin is a great addition for most children.
If these changes are not enough, I recommend that you see a doctor to investigate other imbalances in the body that might be the root cause. At the UltraWellness Center, we often work to support the mitochondria (which influences the body’s energy production) with carnitine, CoQ10, and B vitamins. We test for genetic variations that influence a person’s need for certain nutrients. We test for toxins including heavy metals and work to help support the body’s natural detoxification system.
The above 6 steps are a great start and often will have a positive impact on your child’s health and development.
Do You feel like you did everything right, but still got sick? I did! In this blog I discuss how we need to dig deeper and work to create a healthy terrain in our body where cancer is less likely to develop.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30, this is exactly how I felt. My undergraduate and graduate degrees were in nutrition and exercise physiology and I practiced what I preached. I was careful with my diet and exercised regularly. My weight was in the normal range and I ate many vegetables. So why did I get cancer? What could I do to decrease my risk of having a recurrence? What can I do to help my patients decrease their risk of getting cancer?
Looking for answers to these questions sent me on a journey through my medical training and eventually to an education in Functional Medicine. Functional medicine is a different way of looking at health and disease. Instead of just naming the disease and then giving the same treatment to everyone with that disease, it looks at the individual systems in a person’s body to look for the underlying root cause. Functional medicine individualizes treatment, focusing on the patient instead of the disease. We appreciate the importance of prevention and look at the many interconnections within the body. Most importantly, functional medicine asks the question… why?
Functional medicine helped me understand that some of the systems in my body were not working as well as I had thought. I realized that my years of antibiotics as a child influenced my digestive system and therefore my detoxification system. In addition, I did not handle stress in my life in the healthiest way. This depleted my immune function. I started to look at health and disease in a different way. I began to understand that a person is not healthy one day and sick the next. The changes in someone’s body that ultimately lead to cancer take many years to develop and are very different for each individual person.
In addition, every woman with breast cancer is not the same, and the causes for an individual person’s cancer are not the same. There are many different kinds of breast cancer. We are not just talking about cancer…but cancers. We are not just talking about breast cancer… but breast cancers. Even if we take all of the women with estrogen receptor positive breast cancer, they are not all the same. Each has different causes, a different body environment, and different genetics. Because of this, it is important to treat each individual person differently and rebalance their body so that they do not get a recurrence. This concept has helped me with my own health and the health of my patients. In functional medicine, we have begun to look deeper at the various causes that can result in the growth of a cancer. This way, we can help prevent cancer from occurring and, if it does, help treat people and prevent a recurrence.
What we have learned is that the environment—or terrain—of the body influences whether or not cells can become invasive cancer. A healthy terrain will prevent the growth of cancer whereas an unhealthy terrain can feed cancer and cause it to grow. It is important that we focus on more than just the individual cells in the body, but also on the environment that these cells live in. Creating a healthy terrain in our body is as simple as removing what is causing the imbalances in our body and replacing what is needed for balance to be restored in our body.
Let’s get started! What can you do to create a healthy terrain in your body and decrease the risk of cancer? Here are some of the components that we focus on at The UltraWellness Center.
1. Eat a whole foods diet that avoids packaged and processed foods as much as possible.
2. Avoid simple sugars and refined carbohydrates that cause spikes in blood glucose and insulin.
3. Support your body’s natural detoxification system by eating cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale) every day.
4. Avoid toxins in the environment such as pesticides, parabens, BPA, and heavy metals (like mercury and lead). Get a test to see if these toxins may be suppressing your immune function.
5. Only use antibiotics if necessary and consider adding a probiotic into your regimen.
7. Consume a diet rich in phytonutrients. These can be found in colorful fruits, vegetables, and spices.
8. Work on managing your stress with methods such as meditation and yoga.
This is just a start. I talk more about creating a cancer-free terrain my free ebook that you can download at http://www.drboham.com/free-ebook.
To Your Health,
Elizabeth Boham, MD