A woman on social media attacked me a few weeks ago about not taking the COVID-19 crisis seriously when I stated that I wasn’t really worried about the virus.
… ughh social media is rough. I have to admit – it hurt. It triggered me and made me downright mad.
Because it wasn’t true. I don’t think this illness is a hoax and I know some people become gravely ill and that others die.
What I Learned About the Connection Between Infections & Behaviour
I’ve had my own share of worrying about illness. For several years my daughter was sick with a neuro-immune condition called PANDAS/PANS. Her immune system was attacking her brain.
… and during that time I learned a lot. I learned what nourishes the body, what heals, what builds, what are toxins and the critical role that the gut and nervous system play in immune and brain health.
After three years of seeing naturopaths and functional medicine doctors, my daughter is completely healed.
… and during that time I learned what fights bad bacteria in the gut, how to support the immune system, reduce inflammation in the body, and detoxify the cells.
Germ VS. Terrain
Strep and mold dis-regulated my daughter’s immune system and caused it to attack the brain and this taught me it wasn’t really the pathogen. I mean kids get strep all the time.
It was the terrain or the host that was the real problem. My daughter did not have a healthy immune system to begin with – her gut health was a mess as we learned from stool and urine tests.
Our immune systems and guts have taken a hit in the last few decades.
This is the same reason why so many kids are struggling today with learning, behaviour, aggression, anxiety and depression.
This is why it came as no surprise when I heard the other day that many children and adults were showing psychiatric symptoms after a COVID infection. I knew like strep and the mold, any infection can trigger an auto-immune condition where the immune system will attack the brain. This happens when the ‘right’ conditions are present.
What So Many Researchers Are Not Looking At – What Has Happened to Our Immune System
More than ever our gut and immune health is compromised. You can read all about that in my article Why Childhood Disorders are on the Rise.
I’ve seen functional medicine and naturopathic doctors address this from the start of the COVID outbreak.
But the medical community seems to largely forget about:
… the role of the immune system and how to support it.
And the ancient wisdom and all the science that supports the very valid immune supporting and healing properties of real foods, plants, herbs, spices and other botanicals.
The reason I am not afraid of this virus for my family is that I now understand the divine intelligence of the immune system. Evolution has provided millions of years of practice and I know how to nourish and support it.
As I started hearing more about the COVID virus and followed the research by functional and holistic medicine doctors, the more frustrated I felt with how powerless everyone around me to seemed to feel when they watched the news.
What We Are Not Talking About
While the news was talking about the deaths, and how immune compromised, diabetics and those with heart disease were at highest risk – one thing stood out.
Why aren’t we talking about why heart disease and diabetes is so high compared to a hundred years ago when both these conditions were practically non-existent?
I wondered how come we aren’t talking about the epidemic of auto-immune conditions?
I wondered why aren’t we talking about the critical role of a heathy diet to both prevent disease, support the immune system as well as assist in the healing of illness?
I wondered what the nutrient status was of these patients and if that was even being considered in hospitals?
I started digging and came across countless studies (see below) on the function of zinc to prevent respiratory infections, as well as vitamin C, D, A and so many other nutrients.
I dreamt of a world in which hospitals would not only put people on ventilators but would also check their nutrient status and give nutrient IV drips (it exists) and fed nutrient dense super foods to patients so that if their immune system was compromised it would be given support.
Then I got thinking about what I would put on the hospital menu if I was the nutritionist at the hospital.
… and I got thinking about the immune system and what nutrients many people are most commonly deficient in and what faux-food and anti-nutrients are compromising their immune function.
I thought about what body systems need the most support.
What to Increase – Super Foods & Key Nutrients
So here’s what I have learned from the research and what I would do if I was the nutritionist at a hospital.
There are some key nutrients that we as a society tend to be severely deficient in and it so happens that many of these same nutrients are the ones that are connected to immune health.
If I was looking at diet and nutrient deficiencies for this virus I would look at:
Vitamin C – This nutrient has been a hot topic during the COVID outbreak since the Chief Medical Doctor, Richard Z. Cheng, at Shanghai Hospital has had such successful treatment with high doses of IV vitamin C. In fact, the Shanghai Government officially declared it as an effective treatment. (Sources below)
On that note, please do not try and give yourself high dose vitamin C at home. This has not been approved in Canada or the US, but we do know that vitamin C indirectly supports health and immunity.
Stress, our toxic world and poor diet results in depleted vitamin C levels. Luckily there are lots of foods that are rich in vitamin C: citrus, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, strawberries, papaya, asparagus, kiwi, mango.
Zinc – This mineral is one of the top deficiencies in clients whether they are children or adults. Zinc is intimately connected with immunity among so many other functions. It is critical to make the immune cells that fight infections known as macrophages and neutrophils. It comes as no surprise then that zinc has been used in trials both in combination with vitamin C as well as with chloroquine.
People at risk of zinc deficiency are people who use antacids, steroids, aspirin, proton pump inhibitors and vegetarianism.
Best sources of zinc are beef, chicken, liver, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, lentils, sesame seeds and cashews.
Vitamin A – I was kind of guilty of ignoring vitamin A during cold and flu season for years until my daughter developed PANDAS/PANS and that is when I learned how important vitamin A is for immunity. A 1986 study stated that ‘no nutritional deficiency is more consistently synergistic with infectious disease than that of vitamin A”. Vitamin A helps in the production of immune T helper cells and B cells. If there is a deficiency then the antibody response is reduced by those T cells.
This is another nutrient we are deficient in because the common staples foods of the past that provided vitamin A have largely slipped out of our diet. Cod liver oil is a phenomenal source of vitamin A as well as D and omega 3’s. Liver which was a delicacy is a food that is so distasteful that I hesitate to suggest it – but I will.
You can make liver more palpable by mixing it with burger or taco meat, hiding it in soups or meat balls. Other sources of vitamin A are fatty fish. Beta carotene can be converted by some individuals into vitamin A. My daughter and I are genetically unable to convert so keep in mind not everyone can rely on the plants for vitamin A.
Foods rich in beta carotene are sweet potato, butternut squash, carrots, red peppers and kale.
Vitamin D – Sunshine – We can take vitamin D3 in capsule form or if the season is right we can get it straight from the sun. A 2017 study in the British Medical Journal found that optimal levels of vitamin D during the winter resulted in lower rates of the flu than people who opted for the flu vaccine.
In fact vitamin D deficiency makes you 11 times more vulnerable to getting a cold or flu and can reduce colds and flu up to 42%.
Folate – Other foods that we do not eat enough that support our immune system are dark leafy greens. These foods are rich in folate and so many other anti-oxidants. Folate helps to produce antibodies that kill the infections that cause illness.
Best sources of folate are kale, Brussel sprouts, mustard greens, collard greens, broccoli, bok choy, parsley, and spinach.
The Building Blocks – Fats
Omega 3 Fatty Acids – This essential fat that can only be obtained from certain foods is critical to brain and body health. It reduces inflammation, regulates the immune system, prevents and manages heart disease and so much more.
Fats provide concentrated energy and are important building blocks in hormones. Fats carry the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K
Once again our great grandparents used to consume this in the form of cod liver oil as well as oily fish. Animals were grass fed which made them higher in omega 3’s. Now that they are grain fed they are higher in omega 6’s.
Your best sources of omega 3’s are fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines as well as walnuts and ground flaxseeds or flax seed oil. I opt for a high quality omega 3 fish oil because I am not confident that I get sufficient omega 3’s from my diet on a regular basis.
The part that always gets left out … Protein!
I had a friend who had a family member who refused to eat any meat and was not practicing healthy veganism. She lived off carbohydrates and fruit for years. In her late 30’s she developed cancer and I always wondered if her not eating protein contributed to this.
Protein is critical to immunity even though fancy anti-oxidants often over shadow this macro-nutrient. Protein is necessary to make the antibodies that fight infection, for cell division, for growth, repair and thus healing. They are also the building blocks of our hormones and enzymes which are crucial for the chemical reactions in our body to happen.
Protein can be found in eggs, fish, grass-fed beef, chicken as well as combining beans and lentils with a grain.
Foods or ‘Food-Like Substances’ to Reduce or Take Out
Improving our health also means eliminating the foods or food-like substances that can deplete the very nutrients that we are trying to increase. Inflammatory substances are foods or chemicals that we do not need in our diet in order to be healthy.
Often these foods actually suppress the immune response, and even cause irritation and even destruction to certain tissues in our body. We should limit or avoid them in general and especially during times like these.
Sugar – Sugar is the number one irritant I recommend avoiding in general and especially when you are sick or trying to prevent illness. I’ve written lots before about the detrimental effects of sugar.
It only takes one tablespoon of a sugar to suppress your immune system for several hours. It robs the body of vital minerals and vitamins and other nutrients. This is because the body needs to pull those nutrients simply to be able to process this toxin.
Excess carbohydrates especially in the form of refined grains also has a similar effect on the body. I am in no way suggesting Keto, but cutting back on carbs will support your immune system immensely.
Dairy – Dairy creates mucous. Period. It is the number one food that nutritionists and naturopathic doctors will recommend eliminating from the diet if there is asthma, chronic ear and sinus infections as well as allergies.
Since COVID can significantly affect the lungs, the last thing your body needs is more mucous. If you’re worried about COVID, if someone in your family has lung, or respiratory problems to start with, I would cut the dairy at least until this is over.
Dairy is also inflammatory, can aggravate auto-immune issues and it is a common irritant or allergy for many people.
Gluten – This much talked about protein can be inflammatory for a lot of people. Now I don’t want to suggest that it falls under the same category as sugar but there is lots of research that supports the inflammatory effects of gluten (especially with the GMO grains we are eating these days).
However, if your child has an auto-immune condition, I would be wary of gluten and would consider a trial elimination diet. The above three inflammatory foods can be game changers with children who have cognitive problems as well as auto-immune conditions like PANDAS/PANS.
Support for Vulnerable Body Systems
I hate breaking the body down into systems, because we now know we can’t use the principles of Newtonian physics to understand how the body operates. It is not a machine. All of the organs, systems and cells work together.
That being said there are some systems that are especially vulnerable during stressful times like this. These same systems can also make all the difference in the world between not getting sick, getting a little sick or becoming gravely ill.
The Immune System
The first and most obvious is the immune system. Most of the immune system – about 70% – is located in the gut. And since we’re talking about the gut let me just add that there are also 100 million neurons in your gut lining.
This is why supporting gut health is the main way to improve immunity.
This is also why gut health is directly linked to brain health and function.
Supporting gut health starts with what I mentioned earlier.
- Nourishing your body with real food.
- Eliminate the inflammatory foods.
Foods like dairy and gluten wreak havoc on the gut lining which can lead to a whole host of problems from lowered immunity to auto-immunity.
Sugar notoriously feeds the bad bacteria and yeast in the gut which if you’ve read previous posts you will know are major factors in learning and behaviour disorders, depression, anxiety as well as one of the factors in the spike in auto-immune conditions.
There are specific foods that are ‘gut foods’.
Certain foods restore, repair and re-balance the gut.
The more we re-balance and repair the gut, the more we do the same for the brain, the immune system and the body.
And you can’t go wrong with that.
Once again our ancestors instinctively knew what they were doing. There are so many foods and recipes that were once staples in our diet that have now slipped out of our diets.
Top Foods to Restore Gut Health:
When your great grandma used to ‘pickle’ she wasn’t using vinegar. She was making a brine out of water and salt and this kick started the fermentation process. Fermented veggies is trendy right now but they are not new. When veggies or other foods ferment they are packed with good bacteria that nourish our gut and crowd out the bad bacteria. Ferments are also packed with enzymes and detoxification like nothing else. Our great grandparents used to eat these fermented veggies all winter – and so should we! Stock up.
Fermented foods that nourish your gut are sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, tempeh and any other fermented vegetables. There are a plethora of recipes online.
Adding in the good bacteria is the first step. Feeding the good bacteria with prebiotic rich foods is also key. Bananas, leeks, onions, garlic, plantains, asparagus and artichokes.
2)Meat stock and bone broth
Soups and stews were a weekly main recipe at one time and it didn’t come out of a can. The broth was made from meat or bones that were boiled for long periods of time. Bone broth is rich in so many critical minerals, and amino acids that reduce inflammation and that are necessary for gut healing and immunity. The best part is the nutrients are easy to absorb. Gelatin or collagen is what heals the gut lining from all those irritants like dairy and gluten and is also necessary for building up so many other structures in the body.
Other foods that support the gut are onions, garlic and ginger since they contain compounds that are anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and even immune-optimizing. Onions also contain prebiotic fibre that nourishes the good bacteria in the gut.
One of the easiest way to support gut health is with a weekly healing soup that is made from bone broth. Toss in garlic, ginger, onions, mushrooms, and some dark leafy greens.
Many varieties of mushrooms like Portobello, white and crimini contain immune modulating properties. The reishi mushroom has shown in peer reviewed evidence-based studies to have anti-viral properties.
Supporting the Immune System
Besides key nutrients certain foods, spices and herbs are:
Antioxidants are more important than ever in world where our bodies are bombarded with toxins, electro-magnetic radiation and other contaminants. The foods that tend to be immune supportive are generally the foods rich in anti-oxidants.
Anti-oxidants prevent damage to our cells which is ultimately what leads to disease and death. Vitamin C is a known anti-oxidant that reduces the inflammatory response in the body, and is even preventative and can lessen the intensity and length of a cold.
Berries are another great source of not only vitamin C but berries are also one of the highest anti-oxidant foods on the planet. They are packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals all of which optimize immune function. Add blueberries to oatmeal, sugar-free yoghurt as well as jams and salads.
Other compounds that are rich in anti-oxidants and other immune enhancing properties are herbs and spices. Some of my favourites are:
Turmeric – This baby is packed with curcumin a powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory. It was a game changer in reducing brain inflammation for my daughter when she had PANDAS/PANS.
The Nervous System
The nervous system affects every part of the body and it takes the biggest hit when we are stressed or in crisis. I am in some ways more concerned about the level of fear and how much that is increasing stress hormones and stressing the nervous system this crashing our immune system.
This puts us into fight-or-flight mode which is the sympathetic nervous system. We can’t heal or repair when we are in this mode.
In order to switch back into Rest & Repair or the parasympathetic nervous system we need to nourish our nervous system with good food, but we also need to practice good habits.
Deep Breathing – If you have never tried the Wim Hof Method or Kundalini breath work now is the time. Nothing will calm you down and those stress hormones like this.
Meditation is also a great way to calm the nervous system down. Study after study has revealed the powerful effects of 15-20 minutes of meditation for switching off troublesome genes, improving immunity, reducing inflammation and decreasing stress hormones.
Consume positive information – Turn off the news! Seriously. Limit your time on social media and get outside in the sunshine and fresh air with your kids. Do activities that truly bring you joy.
Immune Support in a Nutshell
- Lots of assorted veggies
- Bone broth
- Garlic, onion, ginger
- Spices like turmeric, cayenne, clove, oregano, thyme, rosemary
- Breathe and mediate
- Exercise and do fun activities