Up Your Immune Defence

Words: Dr Ryan N HARRISON 

When most people think of the term ‘health,’ they relate it to how well they are feeling, whether or not they are sick, or how quickly they recover from the ‘bugs’ that get passed around between friends, family, and co-workers. Each of these aspects is connected, of course, to the condition of a person’s immune system. That is, if your immune system is weak or compromised, you’re more likely to feel badly, get sick more often, and take longer to recover each time you come down with a new infection.

There has been a lot of interest in immune health, and research has made some responses to illness ubiquitous: who hasn’t heard of taking vitamin C and zinc at the first sign of a cold? One link, however, that is often overlooked in its relation to the vitality of the immune system is digestive health: how the state of your digestive system affects your ability to stay well, fight off illness, and respond quickly to bacterial and viral infections. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense: since your digestive system is responsible for making use of the health-promoting nutrients that you get through food and drink. If it is compromised, all the systems of the body — including the immune system — can become compromised, as well.

Put another way, if your digestive system isn’t functioning optimally, you could be eating the healthiest foods in the world and still not fully benefitting from them. Sadly, most people do not eat a balanced and varied diet, full of organic whole foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, legumes, and organic lean meats. The average American diet, for instance, leaves much to be desired: high in fat, sugar, and refined flour, the digestive system can quickly become sluggish and unable to do its best work for your body. 

‘Up’ Your Digestive Health & Immunity 

So, what can you do to turn the tide? Fortunately, there are some easy ways to increase your digestive and immune health at the same time. For one thing, you can start replacing those less-nutritive foods with healthier choices. Getting plenty of dietary fibre [upwards of 25gm/day] and sufficient water to move it through your system helps sweep the intestines clean, ensuring that they can optimally interact with and get the most out of the food that passes through them.

Once your intestines are in good shape, you can boost your immunity by supplementing with antioxidants and probiotics. Antioxidants include some vitamins [such as A, C, and E], minerals [especially, selenium], and phytochemicals [healthful compounds found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and spices]. When you consume foods and supplements with antioxidants in them, you effectively increase your body’s ability to deal with inflammation-causing free radicals, unstable molecules that damage cells and tissues in the body, compromising health and leading to any number of diseases and health complaints. Increasing your intake of antioxidants effectively supercharges your immune system, allowing it to keep you healthy longer and more easily, and also helping you heal faster when you do get sick.

Probiotics are another important factor in both digestive and immune health. Most people don’t realise it, but as much as 80 per cent of your immune health is actually related to your gut. More specifically, the billions of bacteria that live in your digestive system play a large role in immunity. When ‘unfriendly’ bacteria outnumber the ‘friendly,’ you can suffer from lowered immunity, digestive disorders such as diarrhoea and gas, and a number of other health concerns.

Boosting levels of friendly bacteria such as the well-known Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum can effectively supercharge your immune system, encourage digestive health, and reduce the risk for certain infections and intestinal viruses. It’s pretty clear that just about everyone gets sick at some point.

The difference between ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ people is revealed by how quickly they get well. Beyond taking vitamin C and zinc lozenges, you can give your immune system the upper hand by eating a varied, colourful diet consisting of organic whole foods and by supplementing with antioxidants and probiotics. In this way, you’ll not only improve your health when you’re feeling down and out, but increase your odds of staying well once you are.

Açaí: Berry, Berry Good 

Not long ago, natives of the Amazon were the only people who knew and regularly enjoyed the many health benefits of a small, dark, and exotic berry. In time, this berry — the açaí [pronounced ‘ah-sigh-EE’] — found itself the focus of many research studies. The result? Açaí has become something of a super-food superstar, boasting a nutrient-dense profile packed with phytonutrients, fibre, amino acids, and more.

In today’s world, rife with toxins in the air, earth, and water, the name of the game is avoiding inflammation and undue stress on the body and its systems. These problems are often the result of the introduction of toxins into the body, a problem that is far more widespread than most people realise.

Scientists have known for years that we are at a point in human history in which we are simply unable to live a toxin-free life. In fact, a study conducted by the Environmental Working Group found 287 chemicals in the blood of only 10 Americans… all of whom were new-borns. If even babies come into the world bearing such a toxic burden in their bodies, it should be obvious that all of us alive today are in a similar — if not worse — situation.

And, what’s the result of living in bodies that are beset by illness-inducing chemicals and toxins? There is a long list of possibilities including cancer, hormonal imbalances, immune system dysfunction, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders, asthma, diabetes, arthritis, eczema, and many more.

If you’re reading this article, chances are you know enough about well-being to understand that what you eat plays an enormous role in your overall health. In recent years, studies have confirmed — and, continue to do so — that a diet rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals, other nutrients and phytochemicals, can improve and enrich a person’s life, largely by helping the body detoxify and heal the damage caused by the various pollutants with which we come into contact.

This little berry packs quite a powerful punch. It boasts one of the highest — if not the highest — ORAC rating known in connection with other antioxidant-rich foods. ORAC [Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity] scores are used to express a food’s antioxidant power. When properly prepared, açaí berries rank with an ORAC score many times higher than other well-known ‘good-for-you’ foods, such as blueberries, oranges, broccoli, and tomatoes. And, the higher the ORAC value, the more potent the food is as a defence against damaging free radicals, infamous for their part in causing inflammation all throughout the body — from head to toe.

Açaí is naturally low in fat, sodium and calories, but is teeming with other health-promoting nutrients. Indeed, the açaí berry has been called the most nutritious berry on earth. When properly grown, harvested, and prepared, it contains 19 essential and non-essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein. It’s also the leading source of anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that help reduce heart disease and high cholesterol. You may have heard that drinking a glass of red wine each day is ‘healthy,’ because of its potential beneficial effects on the heart and blood vessels. Açaí certainly surpasses wine in this respect, having up to 30 times the anthocyanins in red wine.

One problem with berries tends to be that they are so high in natural sugar. For people who need to watch their glycaemic load, this can be a bother. How can they get the nutrients found naturally in berries without throwing their blood sugar out of healthy bounds? Fortunately, açaí is low on the glycaemic index, due to its high concentration of fibre. Not only does this help moderate how much of its natural sugar makes it into the bloodstream, it also can help normalise blood sugar levels and, therefore, reduce the risk of diabetes.

But, the berry’s goodness doesn’t stop there. Açaí is naturally packed with vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C and E; and, minerals such as calcium, chromium, potassium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, and zinc. Together, these essential micronutrients give the immune system a boost, improve cellular function, help reduce inflammation, increase energy production, and make many processes in the body run more smoothly.

Additionally, açaí berries contain a host of phytonutrients — active, health-protective compounds found naturally in plants. Some of these, called phytosterols, help lower cholesterol and high blood pressure and combat cancer. Others, known as polyphenolic flavonoids, are determined to have anti-tumour properties, guarding against certain cancers. They are also anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic in nature.

Probably, the only thing that açaí has going against it is that it doesn’t grow in your backyard. Fortunately, several companies have answered the challenge to help make these precious little berries available to the general public. In the process, the strong interest in these Amazon-grown fruits actually helps protect the endangered forest and, as locals are employed to harvest the berries, the local economy is stimulated, as well.

Not all açaí berry products are equal, however. The best will actually have been freeze-dried. While this may seem like an unnecessary or less-than-optimal step, in reality açaí fruit deteriorates quickly after harvest; freeze-drying the berries immediately after they are picked ensures that a minimum of nutrients are lost.

In addition, it’s good to remember that — just like most nutrients — açaí’s active constituents work best in tandem with other super-foods. So, look for a product that contains a blend of fruits and berries, in addition to açaí. This way, you’re guaranteed a product that will energise, revitalise and revolutionise your health and well-being.

Dr RYAN HARRISON, PsyD, MA, BCIH, EFT-ADV, HHP, NC, MH, QTP, LWM, HSM, is a holistic health educator and consultant in private practice. He also holds a post-graduate degree in transpersonal psychology and certifications as a nutritional consultant, holistic health practitioner, spiritual counsellor, and quantum-touch. Aside from being an advanced practitioner of EFT [Emotional Freedom Techniques], Harrison teaches and lectures in conventional and online forums. He lives in California, US. 

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