October is breast cancer month. The newsletter for October is always dedicated to the prevention thereof. This year, the purpose of the letter is to look as immunity as your first defense against breast cancer as well as autoimmune disease in general. Our grandmothers told us that prevention is better than cure, and it could just be proven true once again.
Autoimmune disease comes in many shapes and forms. More and more illnesses are classified today as autoimmune diseases. The most feared one is cancer, and the other common ones are arthritis, psoriasis, lupus, celiac, and Alzheimer’s Disease, to only name a few. Once diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, one often finds oneself with little hope and at the mercy of pharmaceutical companies to solve the problem.
While every individual one of these diseases has its own characteristics and treatment, they all have one underlying cause. They all are mostly symptoms of inflammation in response to a toxic environment which overwhelms the liver and immune system. The immune system then becomes so active that it could not any longer distinguish which cells in the body to attack. Consequently, it starts attacking healthy body cells indiscriminately as well as the diseased ones. The manifestation of a specific disease then depends on other factors such as genes, age, gender, etc.
While the medical community goes to great lengths to test for the early onset of these diseases, it remains a significant challenge to fight it once it has manifested in our bodies. Once diagnosed, if it is not considered deadly, it remains as a chronic disease which we must deal with for the rest of our lives. Treatment, whether it is natural, allopathic or both, is costly in terms of money, time and wellness.
So, the question becomes: what could we do to protect us from these life-altering conditions? The simple answer is to avoid all toxins. This, we know, is not possible in the modern world where we are exposed to toxins of all kinds such as electromagnetic toxins, toxins in our food, the air that we breathe, the medications that we take and many more. However, although we could not avoid all of these toxins, we could do things to strengthen our immune systems to deal with it.
According to Ayurvedic medicine, immunity is more than a system, as it is present in every cell, and should instead be thought of as a concept. Immunity cells are made in the bone marrow and originate from white blood cells. Both the thymus gland and the spleen play a vital role in the specialization of these cells to deal with the specific needs of a body. We also know today that the bacteria in our gut, as well as our gut health, play a significant role in our defense against illness.
Because of the complexity of the immune system, there is no one line answer to the question stated above. The purpose of this letter is to explain immunity and the role it plays in our defense against autoimmune disease as well as suggestions of what we could do to optimize this defense. The focus is going to be on food that we could incorporate in our diets daily to serve as meals as well as support for the immune system. Reference will also be made about supplements and other lifestyle habits.
- Eating Habits: I would like to again quote Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Food could be effective as prevention and integrated in the management of an illness. Medicine on the other hand, could only be used as treatment. While medicine has side effects which negatively affect our health, food has side benefits. Also, medicine interacts negatively with other medicine, while foods from a wide spectrum, support each other and enhances the effectiveness in many instances. For all these reasons it makes sense that food should be our primary defense against illness.
§ Here are the guidelines for using food as prevention. Consumption of mainly plants add a whole array of defense to our immune system. Try to include one of each of the following four groups daily:
1. Anti-oxidants, found in all the colorful food, help prevent oxidative stress in cells. This is believed to be the origin of autoimmune disease and is very typical of the development of cancer. Examples of these foods are:
· Dark red fruits and vegetables rich in resveratrol such as beets, berries and cherries
· Yellow and orange plants such as carrots, squashes and peppers
· All foods containing zinc such as brewer’s yeast, egg yolks, fish, lamb, legumes, mushrooms, pumpkin seeds to only name a few
· Vitamin C is known not only to fight the common cold, but also strengthen the immune system. This vitamin is especially abundant in colorful vegetables and citrus fruit.
2. It is commonly accepted that auto-immune disease starts as inflammation. Therefore, it makes sense that anti-inflammatory food will stop the disease process at its beginning. Eat the following foods daily:
· Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oils, flax seeds and chia seeds
3. Sulphur containing amino acids strengthen the immune system as it turns on liver enzymes to help detoxify the body. It also interrupts the development of cancer in every stage of the development. It is found in:
· Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale
· Dried beans
4. Adaptogens belong to a group of nutrients which is new in the western cuture, but a key concept in Ayurvedic medicine. These nutrients, mainly found in herbs, tone and strengthen our body on all levels. It is particularly good at supporting the immune system in the long term. Therefore, adaptogens are not as helpful in acute conditions but crucial in building a strong immunity for general immunity against illness. To include them in your diet, you have to experiment to use them in dishes, steep it as teas or take them as supplements. Examples of these powerful herbs are:
· Holy Basil
· Medicinal mushrooms
§ The mitochondria are the powerhouses of all cells and therefore also our immune cells. To support them to do their job well, we could include the following in our diets:
· D-Ribose, a sugar, which will not convert to fat, but will help build ATP, the unit of energy in our bodies as well as DNA for new cells.
· Dark chocolate to help support the process of ATP formation.
· Co-enzyme Q10, a critical factor in this process and a potent anti-oxidant. It is made in our bodies, but production decreases as we age. Because it is not commonly found in food, it is best to take it as a supplement.
· Magnesium and manganese speed up the rate of energy production. Magnesium is found in green leafy vegetables, figs and nuts while mussels, Lima beans and pineapples are sources of manganese.
· Creatine, is a compound abundant in animal products. However, vegans could consider taking this as a supplement if they are physically very active.
§ It is widely accepted that the gut also plays a crucial role in immunity. To support gut health, we have to nourish the:
1. Lining of the gut with the consumption of gelatin and collagen found in:
· Soaked flax seeds and chia seeds
2. Bacteria in the gut with the consumption of:
· Live cultures (probiotics) such as apple cider vinegar, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, miso, sour kraut, tempeh, and yogurt
· Prebiotics, which feed the bacteria in the gut. This is simply the fiber found in the plants in our diets
- Other lifestyle habits which would support the immune system:
§ Stress is an important factor which could impair your immunity. Reduce stress through yoga, meditation, or relaxing walks on a beach or in nature. Find stress-reducing techniques to help you cope with specific stresses in your life.
§ The liver is a heavily tasked organ and needs good nutrition to function well. It gets rid of toxins before it causes problems in your body saving your immune system having to act on it. Following a detoxification protocol once or twice a year will help your liver and immune system to function optimally. Make sure to include a parasite as well as a fungal cleanse too.
§ The body gets rid of toxins through the kidneys, lungs, and skin. To support the body in this regard:
1. Drink plenty of water to help the excretion through urine, sweat and even the breath
2. Exercise, hot yoga, steam baths and saunas will promote sweating and consequently detoxification of the body
3. Do deep breathing exercises to speed up detoxification through the lungs. Singing lessons, physical exercise, and deep breathing techniques are examples of these
§ Apart from the foods you consume, supplements are also valuable to support the immune system. Everyone should take a good multi-vitamin and multi-mineral at the least. Speak to a health care provider who could direct you regarding the ones you require for your specific needs.
§ Avoid habits which will add toxins to your environment such as smoking, alcohol abuse and the consumption of food grown with hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides.