Balancing the Immune System

Author: Cory Hankins

Quick, if I were to ask you what’s the most important system in your body in regards to having a healthy immune system, what would you say? If you said anything other than your digestive system/tract you’d be wrong. All of us know that it is important to have a healthy immune system so that we can fight infection and other traumas to our bodies. Yet having a healthy immune system also means having a balanced immune system. One way our immune system can be out of balance is by being overactive. When the immune system is overactive, it’s called autoimmunity—the immune system reacts against our own body tissues. Instead of our immune system fighting the bad guys, it turns its attention on your own tissues and starts attacking your own cells. Depending on where that attack happens in the body, that’s how you get that particular disease. Examples of such conditions include: Type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and Hashimoto’s disease. 

So you might be wondering what does a food and nutrition blog have to do with an overactive immune system? The simple answer is everything. Food is medicine. It is central to everything that happens in the body. The food we eat is capable of triggering positive or negative cascading events within ourselves and our immune system is so tightly interconnected with our gut/digestive system. In fact, most experts agree that 70% of our immune system actually resides in our gut. Between the immune cells clustered within the small and large intestines and the trillions of bacteria that line our intestines, our immune system is modulated. Therefore, in order to have a strong and balanced immune system, paying attention to the gut and more specifically our diet, is essential. For one to be healthy, the other must be healthy.  

The good news is that we have a solid foundational understanding about the foods that make for a healthy and happy gut. No matter what type of diet you subscribe to, at the end of the day, the medical world agrees that a healthy gut requires a diet rich in plants, vegetables and fiber. These foods keep the good bacteria happy and in the right ratios. My broken record advice when it comes to eating vegetables is to try to eat at least 5 servings daily. We also want to follow a more plant-based diet in general and lighten up on the animal proteins. Another dietary recommendation is to go easy on so many simple carbohydrates. We need a fair amount of carbohydrates, but we can lighten up on the empty ones and scale back a bit on how many we are consuming overall. Finally, cultured and fermented foods are true powerhouse foods when it comes to our gut flora. Try to incorporate foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, kombucha tea and miso.

The bottom line is that our immune system is under our control and is influenced significantly by our food choices. Our food and dietary choices matter tremendously. Again, food is medicine. To learn more, a favorite resource of mine is a book by Dr. Susan Blum called The Immune System Recovery Plan. As always, buon appetito!