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Viruses and Autoimmunity

If you are a human, living and breathing on this planet, then you have already discovered that viruses are everywhere.  

Sometimes you get sick from them and sometimes you don’t. Have you ever wondered why?  

Some people can clear these viruses out of the body easily after their cold or flu, while in other’s the virus can persist and run amok causing problems like autoimmune disease. How does that happen?  

This issue is important whether or not you have an autoimmune condition because persisting, active viruses can cause ongoing symptoms like fatigue, too.  

Let me explain.  

We are all exposed to viruses.  

A healthy immune system should be able to respond to the infection and take care of business, clearing out the virus after a self-limited short illness. I think of a robust and well functioning immune system as the product of good “soil” within your body.  

Another name for the inner soil that grows your immune system is your terrain, which is part of a larger ecosystem that determines the functioning of, well, every system in your body..  (note the gardening metaphors).

If you have good inner terrain, you will “grow” normal functioning immune cells that can clear out the viruses. If you don’t, then they can persist. We believe there is a genetic predisposition that allows viruses to persist and trigger autoimmunity.  

But that’s not all that’s going on. Twin studies have shown us that two people with the same genetics and the same triggering virus, can have two completely different responses, all because of their terrain.

By the way, you can repair your immune system terrain with me LIVE beginning Tuesday, October 16th → The Immune Recovery Challenge Begins!

How do Viruses Trigger Autoimmunity?

When viruses linger in the body (again, most often because of terrain issues), it is called “chronic persistence.” This leads to an ongoing antiviral immune response, which can trigger autoimmunity in a few ways.

First, the chronic antiviral immune response at some point moves from being focused on the virus to targeting your own tissue. This can be because the immune response becomes less specific and it spreads to other tissues.

Second, autoimmunity happens because the virus is inside your cells or damaging them and your immune system appropriately is attacking the cells to get at the virus.

And finally, as the virus continues to spread its “proteins” around your body, there is mistaken identity as these proteins can look like your own tissue. We call this molecular mimicry.  

But you can see, no matter the mechanism, to prevent and treat autoimmunity that has been triggered by viruses, you want to make sure your immune terrain is functioning well so that the viruses are cleared out and not allowed to become chronic persisters.

Here is how to improve your terrain to create a robust and healthy immune system to clear out viruses:

  1. Nutrition:  
    1. Anti-inflammatory diet: whole foods rich in antioxidants, low in sugar, animal and processed fats;  elimination of foods that trigger inflammation including gluten and gmo foods. Less animal, more vegetable.
  2. Balanced hormones:  
    1. Stress system and adrenals are balanced and resilient
    2. Sex hormones:  good estrogen metabolism; adequate androgens to balance estrogens
  3. Healthy Gut:  
    1. Intestinal ecosystem:  adequate beneficial bacteria, good barrier function
    2. Digestion:  stomach acid, bile acids, pancreatic enzymes
  4. Well functioning liver:
    1. Maintain a low toxic load
    2. Clean up environment and make sure biotransformation pathways through liver are working well
    3. Support Estrogen detox pathways

Remember, you can’t avoid viruses! They are everywhere. Instead we work on creating resilience in the immune system so that the viruses don’t become chronic. To do this, we focus on the terrain of the immune system, which leads to the 4-step Immune System Recovery Plan, the focus of my first book on autoimmunity.

How You Can Repair Your Immune System with Me

I am teaching the Immune Recovery Challenge online beginning next week. It is the step-by-step companion to my book, The Immune System Recovery Plan. During the course, you will follow the 4-Step Immune System Recovery Plan together with me LIVE, using video and live coaching. It is a wonderful opportunity, and I hope you’ll join me!  

>>Yes, I Want to Repair My Immune System LIVE With Dr. Blum<<

If you haven’t read The Immune System Recovery Plan, you can find it HERE. In print around the world, it has transformed the lives of tens of thousands of people including my patients in my private practice.

 

References:  

Vieira et al.  Diet, microbiotia, and autoimmune diseases.  Lupus 2014 23: 518

Getts, D, et al.  Virus, infection, antiviral immunity, and autoimmunity.  Immunol Rev. 2013 September; 224 (1): 197-209.

Vanderlugt, C, and Miller, S.  Epitope spreading in immune-mediated diseases: implications for immunotherapy. Nature Reviews Immunology 2, 85–95 (1 February 2002)

 

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5 Truths and 5 Myths about the Common Cold

Ready or not, cold and flu season is on its way!

Take this quiz with Blum Center for Health’s resident Integrative ENT, Dr Sezelle Gereau, and test your knowledge about the health of your nose and sinuses.

True or False:

  1. Allergies, colds and sinusitis are all manifestations of immune dysfunction.
  2. If you have a cold for more than 7 days, it’s a sinus infection.
  3. 3 sinus infections in a year, which last 1 month each, means you have chronic sinusitis.
  4. Green or brown nasal secretions means it’s time for antibiotics.
  5. True immune deficiencies are rare.
  6. Saline spray in a can or squeeze bottle is inferior to a neti pot.
  7. Food allergies can give you nasal symptoms.
  8. Taking Vitamin D on a regular basis can help prevent recurrent colds.
  9. Viruses cause most recurrent colds or sinus infections.
  10. Your gut is responsible for recurrent colds.

By the way, if you are constantly dealing with colds, flu, sinus infections or allergies, you’ll want to check out Dr. Blum’s new LIVE course, The Immune Recovery Challenge! It’s a group program specifically designed to help you heal your immune system. Check it out

Answers:

  1. Allergies, colds and sinusitis are all manifestations of immune dysfunction.

TRUE

Upper respiratory infections and sinusitis are not the only ways the body demonstrates that the immune system is not working well.  Allergies are in and of themselves a way that your body is telling you that something is awry with the immune system. One way to think about this is that instead of being “weak”, and not mounting enough of a response to pathogens, your immune system is “too strong” and fires to all the wrong triggers.  Techniques for getting the immune system in better balance work for all 3 issues.

  1. If you have a cold for more than 7 days, it’s a sinus infection.

FALSE

Colds usually resolve in seven to 10 days, but some can last for up to three weeks. The average duration of cough is 18 days¹, and in some cases, people develop a post-viral cough which can linger after the infection is gone.

  1. Three sinus infections in a year, which last 1 month each means you have chronic sinusitis.

FALSE

Chronic sinusitis is defined as chronic sinus infections that last 8 weeks or longer, and/or occur 4 or more times a year.² The Center for Disease Control actually advises patients to see their practitioner for symptoms that continue to worsen or do not improve within 10 days.

  1. Green or brown nasal secretions means it’s time for antibiotics.

FALSE

Hmmmmm….not necessarily!  But the following signs are common with sinusitis vs the common cold:

  • Headache
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Loss of the sense of smell
  • Facial pain or pressure, especially only on one side
  • Postnasal drip (mucus drips down the throat from the nose)
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue (being tired)
  • Bad breath

Remember, even if it is sinusitis, you might not require antibiotics.  In my office I often perform a nasal endoscopy and a nasal culture to help differentiate a simple cold from allergies or a sinus infection.  

  1.  True immune deficiencies are rare.

FALSE

Immune deficiencies are more common than previously thought – almost 1% of people have them.  If you are suspected of having an immune deficiency, and referred to a specialist for a work up, your chances of having one are more than 64%. ³ But for many doctors, it’s much easier to give you yet another prescription for antibiotics for your sinus infection than to take a hard, long look at what might be causing the issue in the first place.

  1. Saline spray in a can or squeeze bottle is inferior to a Neti pot

FALSE

Patients should use whichever method of delivery they prefer.  There’s lots of data to show that nasal washing is important to shorten the course of a cold or sinus infection.

  1. Food allergies can give you nasal symptoms.

TRUE

Food allergies and sensitivities can sometimes cause nasal congestion and post nasal drip. But more commonly those symptoms come from environmental allergies.  Furthermore, less than 10% of the general population have food allergies, but up to 40% of the general population have environmental allergies – dust being the most common.  So, start first with allergy testing for things in the environment – then discuss with your doctor if foods might be causing the issue.

  1. Taking Vitamin D on a regular basis can help prevent recurrent colds.

TRUE

Even if your Vitamin D levels are in the low normal range, they might not be high enough to help ward off infections.  For anyone who is experiencing recurrent infections, I recommend supplementation with Vitamin D in the winter months. Taking Vitamin K2 along with this can help with the absorption of the Vitamin D.

  1.  Viruses cause most recurrent colds or sinus infections.

TRUE

Nine out of 10 cases of sinusitis and upper respiratory infection in adults and 5/7 cases in children are caused by viruses.² So antibiotics won’t work.  What does work are techniques such as good hand washing, staying home when sick and keeping your immune system at its best with proper diet and supplements.

      10.Your gut is responsible for recurrent colds.  

TRUE

The vast majority of the immune system lies in the gut. So, directly or  indirectly it plays a key role in all immune issues. Nearly everyone who struggles with recurrent colds has a gut microbiome that is out of balance. A leaky gut, also called increased intestinal permeability, is associated with chronic illness,, and research has made it clear that to repair the immune system and reduce inflammation, you must heal the leaky gut. We repair the gut through food, proven, scientifically-supported antimicrobial supplements and building resilience to life’s stressors.

How We Can Help You Improve Your Immune System

“Do It With Us” with Dr. Blum! Yes, that’s right! Dr. Blum’s new LIVE course, The Immune Recovery Challenge is open! The Immune Recovery Challenge is the step-by-step companion to Dr. Blum’s bestselling book, The Immune System Recovery Plan. During the course, you will follow the 4-Step Immune System Recovery Plan together with Dr. Blum, using video and live coaching. It’s devoted to your HEALTH TRANSFORMATION! Get the Info

If you want personal one-to-one treatment, come to Blum Center for Health. People travel from around the world to meet with our practitioners. You’ll meet with your practitioner for an hour and a half, meet with our Functional Medicine Nutritionist, and receive your first treatment plan. Get More Info

 

Meet Dr. Gereau: Sezelle Gereau, MD, is an integrative ENT/Allergist with more than 20 years of experience. She uses an integrative and functional medicine approach to conditions such as allergies, chronic sinusitis, sleep apnea and headaches. She is one of the few physicians in the New York City metro area certified to prescribe sublingual immunotherapy drops (SLIT) instead of allergy shots.

 

Resources:
  1. Ebell, M. H.; Lundgren, J.; Youngpairoj, S. (Jan–Feb 2013). “How long does a cough last? Comparing patients’ expectations with data from a systematic review of the literature”. Annals of Family Medicine. 11 (1): 5–13.
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/community/for-patients/common-illnesses/sinus-infection.html
  3. https://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(12)00274-4/pdf

 

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6 Reasons You Always Get Sick

Ever notice how some people get sick all the time – colds, flus, stomach viruses, and so on?  Those people who seem to pick up every bug they come into contact with?

And then there are others who are always healthy and seem to never have an encounter with a germ?

Sometimes there is a simple explanation – an immune deficiency, or other genetic predisposition that leads to a less-than-robust immune system.

Or, it has to do with something else we can’t change now – such as how much time we spent outside in childhood.  A popular theory as to why some people may be more prone to illness is the hygiene hypothesis – the more bacteria and viruses you come into contact with as a kid, the “smarter” your immune system becomes.  

As for the present moment, another reason might be that you’re just coming into contact with more germs – you’re a parent of a young child, or a teacher, or working with sick people.

(By the way, if this sounds like you, you’ll want to check out Dr. Blum’s new LIVE course, The Immune Recovery Challenge! It’s a group program specifically designed to help you heal your immune system. Check it out)

But if none of the above are the case, why else might you be getting sick all the time?

6 Reasons You Get Sick All the Time

      You’re too stressed out.

Studies have shown that the amount of stress hormone you are producing directly correlates your likelihood of getting a cold.

How to de-stress?

  • Sometimes, changing how you schedule your time is the best way to decrease anxiety.  Making and keeping a schedule for your busy life can be freeing – especially if you are sure to schedule in (and keep) some time just to be.
  • Meditation, too, is one of my favorite ways to lessen that stress – just 5-10 minutes of seated breathing exercises a day can bring down your stress hormones and keep those bugs from making you sick.

    You’re not getting enough sleep.

Studies show that sleeping more than 7 hours nightly is protective – and less than 5 is VERY detrimental.  I consider a goal of between 8 and 9 hours for adults best.

How to make the zzz’s happen?

  • Give yourself a bedtime ritual – and a regular bedtime.  A calming tea, a Epsom salt bath, or that 10 minute meditation sounds good to me.
  • Banish the screens 2 hours before your scheduled bedtime.  It’s not just that they are often stress-inducing (see above), but the light from our devices can be what is keeping us from our restful sleep.

    You’re not eating right.

Certain nutrients are home-runs when it comes to keeping us away from the tissue box. The big ones are Vitamins A, D, and of course, C – and Omega fatty acids (fish oil) – and the miracle mineral Zinc.

Where to find those super-nutrients?

  • Healthy, whole foods and a variety of them.  Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit.
  • Supplementation can be helpful during the cold season too. Those zinc lozenges with vitamin C can work wonders if you notice you are starting to feel run down.

    You’re not active enough.

Activity boosts the immune system. It’s well-studied that people who exercise regularly have a reduced chance of becoming ill – and that being a couch potato lowers the cells in your immune system that fight infection

How to make the move?

  • Pick activities you actually enjoy doing.  Play around with exercise until you find something you like. This will make you 100x more likely to get it done.  
  • Mix it up – variety will help you stick with a program. Walk one day, go to an exercise class another, swim another.

    You don’t wash your hands.

You have germs on your hands, and touch your face frequently, often without realizing it. The CDC recommends improved hand hygiene to avoid spreading germs – and it’s been shown over and over again to work.

How to do it?

  • Wash hands frequently throughout the day with soap and warm water.  Carry a hand lotion with you if this dries your skin.
  • If there’s nowhere to wash and you’ve been touching lots of stuff, antimicrobial are an acceptable (but imperfect) alternative.

    Your gut is a mess.   

Gut microbiota that are out of balance can lead to so many distressing things, including getting sick more often. A healthy, thriving ecology in the colon is protective against the germs looking to take up residence in our throat and lungs and sinuses.

How to rebalance the microbiome?

  • An easy (and well studied for boosting immunity) step is to just take a daily broad spectrum probiotic.
  • Eat healthy whole foods, including lots of fiber to feed the microbes, and probiotic foods like yogurt to support a robust environment.  

How We Can Help You Improve Your Immune System

Do it with Dr. Blum! Yes, that’s right! Dr. Blum’s new LIVE course, The Immune Recovery Challenge is open! The Immune Recovery Challenge is the step-by-step companion to Dr. Blum’s bestselling book, The Immune System Recovery Plan. During the course, you will follow the 4-Step Immune System Recovery Plan together with Dr. Blum, using video and live coaching. It’s devoted to your HEALTH TRANSFORMATION! Get the Info

If you want personal one-to-one treatment, come to Blum Center for Health. People travel from around the world to meet with our practitioners. You’ll meet with your practitioner for an hour and a half, meet with our Functional Medicine Nutritionist, and receive your first treatment plan. Get More Info

Meet Darcy McConnell, M.D.:  Dr. McConnell brings her broad expertise in prevention, mind-body medicine, and women’s health to Blum Center for Health, in Rye Brook, NY. She is board certified in Family Medicine and Integrative Medicine, with postgraduate training from the Institute for Functional Medicine. Darcy lives with her husband and three sons and enjoys the outdoors, cooking healthy meals for her family and friends and is an enthusiastic yogi.

 

Resources:

 

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What You Need to Know if You’re Diagnosed with an Autoimmune Disease

Donna is a 35-year old woman who had her second child a year ago, but she just hasn’t been able to recover her energy. She kept chalking it up to having a toddler and a newborn. But, when the baby turned one-year old and she was still exhausted, she decided to get a thorough check-up.

Her lab work showed she had the most common of autoimmune diseases: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.  

On the one hand she was relieved to have an answer, but on the other she was saying a big, “Now What!?”

Autoimmune diseases are on the rise, and many people are asking the same question as Donna, “Now What?”

The approach to repairing the immune system involves a few essential lifestyle changes and evaluation of some basic body functions to begin the road to healing.  

Here are the 4 Pillars of a Healthy Immune System

  • Having healthy digestion with balanced gut microbiome
  • Practicing ways to prevent stress from entering the body and changing your body chemistry
  • Cleaning up and avoiding environmental toxicants in your home and workplace, and improving the body’s ability to detoxify
  • Enjoying an anti-inflammatory diet that is high in whole foods, vegetables, healthy fats, lean protein, fruits, nuts and seeds and low in processed foods, sugar and alcohol

By the way, these four pillars are the basis of Dr. Blum’s book, the The Immune System Recovery Plan. And right now she is diving deep to create a new LIVE course: The Immune Recovery Challenge, a group program specifically designed to help relieve the suffering of people with autoimmune diseases!  

Healing Your Gut

Everything begins with healing the gut. Nearly everyone who has an autoimmune disease has a gut microbiome that is out of balance. A leaky gut, also called increased intestinal permeability, is associated with autoimmunity, and research has made it clear that to repair the immune system and reduce inflammation, you must heal the leaky gut. We repair the gut through food, proven, scientifically-supported antimicrobial supplements and building resilience to life’s stressors.

Understanding Digestive Symptoms

If you have digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn or reflux, it’s important to get to the bottom of why you are having these, and not just cover them over with a medication, such as an antacid or laxative. You can try food-based approaches first, such as eliminating dairy and alcohol triggers if you have heartburn or reflux, increasing vegetable intake for more fiber if you have constipation, and adding a probiotic to balance gut bacteria if you have diarrhea. If these steps don’t work, then consider getting a functional stool test to look more closely at gut imbalances that can then be specifically addressed.

How Stress Fuels Autoimmunity

Stress is almost always about how we perceive our world—what is very stressful for one person can be completely neutral for someone else because of how each person views that same situation.  

The key is to figure out what your personal stress response is—for example, trouble sleeping, anxiety, slow digestion—and then finding and using tools to turn it around. A recorded guided relaxation at bedtime can help with sleep, learning a measured breathing technique can help with anxiety, and just chewing your food 15-20 times per bite can change your digestion for the better.  Having a daily practice such as meditation, prayer, or a walk in Nature without your phone, can begin to remind your body about how to relax and let go of stress. There are some great free meditation apps with Learn to Meditate courses and guided meditations, and I encourage you to try them out, too. My favorite is Insight Timer; it has lots of free guided options that are wonderful.

How Toxicants are Related to Autoimmunity

We are all exposed to multiple toxicants in our environment every day, some of which we can control through our buying and eating habits and some, like air pollution, we can’t.

Take control of the ones you can control—substitute glass food storage containers for plastic ones, use wax paper instead of plastic, use refillable stainless steel or glass water bottles instead of disposable single-use plastic ones. Visit the Environmental Working Group’s website, www.ewg.org, for more ways to reduce your exposures.

To support your liver’s ability to detoxify what’s coming into your body, eat lots of leafy greens, onions, garlic, leeks, and as many different colors of vegetables as you can every day. These have antioxidants which put out the fire of inflammatory free radicals and help stop the damage of toxins in the body. If you had significant workplace or home exposures to chemicals or molds, then you may need additional professional help to support healthy detoxification.

Food is Medicine … Especially When You Have an Autoimmune Condition

As we say everyday at Blum Center for Health, food is medicine. It’s not the only medicine, but it is an important part of anyone’s medicine who is trying to get healthy or healthier. Dietary regimens need to be tailored to each individual’s unique needs, traditions, and preferences. But some basic principles for choosing food that applies to almost everybody who isn’t vegetarian:

  •     the more vegetables, the better—a minimum of 5 half cup servings a day
  •     the more colorful vegetables, the better
  •     healthy fats such as avocados, nuts and seeds, olive oil
  •     whole grains
  •     small amounts of animal proteins without hormones, antibiotics
  •     fish that are low in mercury
  •     no ingredients that you can’t pronounce
  •     the fewer foods out of a box, carton or plastic container, the better
  •     fruit for dessert

These are the basics of what is known as the Mediterranean diet which has been shown in scientific studies to reduce heart disease and inflammation in the body.

The Importance of Discovering Your Trigger Foods

If you have an autoimmune disease it is important to identify foods that trigger your symptoms. We typically suggest starting with  a short-term elimination diet, where we take out the most inflammatory foods, and then add back each food in a methodical way, to identify exactly which foods cause problems.  In essence, you walk away with a personalized nutrition plan!

How We Can Help You Reverse Your Autoimmune Disease

If you want personal one-to-one treatment, come to Blum Center for Health. People travel from around the world to meet with our practitioners. You’ll meet with your practitioner for an hour and a half, meet with our Functional Medicine Nutritionist, and receive your first treatment plan. Get More Info

If you want a do-it-yourself approach, follow the 4-step plan outlined in Dr. Blum’s bestselling book, The Immune System Recovery Plan. Written specifically for people with autoimmune conditions, this book will put you on the road to recovery.

And if you want to do-it-with us, keep your eyes peeled for Dr. Blum’s new LIVE course: The Immune Recovery Challenge!  We begin in October (it will be here before you know it!) The Immune Recovery Challenge is the step-by-step companion to The Immune System Recovery Plan. During the course, you will follow the 4-Step Immune System Recovery Plan protocol together with Dr. Blum, using video and live coaching. It’s devoted to your HEALTH TRANSFORMATION! I hope you’ll join us!

Meet Elizabeth Greig, FNP:  In her dual role as our Functional Medicine Nurse Practitioner and a teacher in our Mind.Body.Spirit programs at Blum Center for Health, Elizabeth Greig, MSN, FNP, helps treat and heal patients with complex chronic health conditions. Whether she’s treating a medical condition or leading a class in meditation, Elizabeth helps people understand that when it comes to healing, it’s more about nourishing life, than it is about battling illness. Learn more about Elizabeth’s practice.

 

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How to Help Your Immune System Perform at its Best

The body is indeed your castle – and your immune system is the army of warriors that is here to protect you from invaders.  The word “immune” derives from the Latin word immunis, which means “free” or “untouched”, and the immune system attempts to do just that – keep the body free from harmful influences, bacteria, viruses, and from the body’s own predators – cancer cells.

According to the National Institute of Health, the 3 main tasks of the immune system are to:

  • “Neutralize pathogens like bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi that have entered the body, and remove them from the body
  • Recognize and neutralize harmful substances from the environment
  • Fight against the body’s own cells that have changed due to an illness, for example cancerous cells”1

This may seem like a simple task – recognize invaders and eliminate them. But doing so requires an intricate set of interactions, so many that the immune system has been called the most complex organ in the body.

The proper functioning of the system is essential to every organ system.  At each step along the way, there is the potential for the process to go awry and for the body to either not mount an adequate response, or to mount too much of one.  There is also the situation where cells either go inappropriately on high alert and begin to attack for unusual reasons, or to attack self. This can lead to autoimmunity – the mistaken recognition of self as non-self.

As health care professionals, we are continually learning more about the intricacies of how the immune system works, why it works, and how best to keep it running properly.  Here’s a simple version of it:

A “non-self” substance comes into contact with the body. These substances are called antigens. Some of the proteins on the surfaces of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and foods for example, serve as antigens. These antigens bind to special receptors on the body’s defense cells, and a series of cell processes begin.

The older part of the immune system (aka innate) makes a choice – is this a friend or a foe?

If it’s thought of as a friend, there are signals that allow the antigen to pass through and not be attacked – as in foods that you are NOT allergic to. If the antigen is perceived as a foe, as in the flu virus, there is a different set of signals that the body utilizes to call in cells to attack and contain the threat.

Ultimately, once that decision is made and executed, the newer or “adaptive” immune system stores information about the enemy. This stored information allows for faster decision-making the next time such an enemy presents. Thus defenses can be mobilized more swiftly.

As long as our body’s immune system is running smoothly, we do not notice it. And yet, it is constantly performing its surveillance. Illness can occur if the system is compromised, if the pathogen is especially aggressive, or sometimes if the body is confronted with a pathogen it has not come into contact with before.

The signals we send the immune system, the way we treat it daily, nurture it when we are sick, and even the amount of stress we experience, all impact its functioning.

Often patients come in and tell me that “their immune system is weak.” They believe this because they have frequent infections, lots of allergies, or simply because when they do become ill, they are not instantly better with an antibiotic.

But, the immune system does not have to run full throttle all the time. It is the balance in the immune system that is most important – for it to be robust when necessary and to stand down when it is not. There is an inherent intelligence to the immune system that knows what to do. Our job, as its caretaker, is to provide the environment in which it can do just that.                      

The Immune System Best Practices

So what are best practices that we should institute on a regular basis to keep immunity functioning best?

Many of them are as simple as a good diet, adequate rest and having healthy resources for keeping stress at bay. The same adages of less sugar, eating an array of fruits and vegetables, and establishing a daily time to be in contemplation, hold true here as they do for every organ in the body. Some interventions specifically directed at the immune system that have proven benefits are:

4 Additional Ways To Support Your Immune System

Vitamins: D, A, B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid) and C – have been shown to have a beneficial immune impact in studies both in animals and humans. The same is true for the micronutrients: zinc, selenium, iron, copper. Adequate amounts of these in the diet are important for warding off infections and keeping immune function in balance. Vitamin D levels, in particular, contribute to fewer infections in winter months. A large study performed on nursing home residents showed that even low normal levels of D were associated with higher rates of infection. I recommend either monitoring your blood levels of D, or routinely supplementing during the cooler months of the year

Probiotics – our latest superhero of the immune system, good bacteria are helpful in so many of the processes that keep the body running well.  In the gut, where the majority of the immune system resides, these bacteria present antigens to the innate immune system – signaling whether they are friend or foe. Specific strains, such as lactobacillus rhamnosis and reuteri have been shown to lower the frequency of recurrent upper respiratory tract infections in children. Here’s the Probiotic we use at the Blum Center.

Adequate sleep – The body counts on 7-8 hours of sleep nightly, and while you rest, many active processes are going on to restore resources depleted during the day. Studies have shown that less than this amount of sleep reduces the number of natural killer cells – a part of the immune system that is critical for eliminating invaders

Stress – it is a well-known fact that stressful lifestyles can contribute to an imbalanced immune system. Caregivers of the chronically ill, for example have higher rates of cancer and other illnesses.

 

Live in the Neighborhood?  Dive deeper into the immune system with Dr. Gereau at her free community talk, “How Does the Immune System Work?” on May 18th at 7pm.  Sign up here.  

Can’t come to Dr. Gereau’s talk? Check out Dr. Blum’s bestselling book, The Immune System Recovery Plan. It features her 4-step program that includes using food as medicine, understanding the stress connection, healing the gut and optimizing liver function. Learn More

Meet Dr. Gereau: Sezelle Gereau, MD, is an integrative ENT/Allergist with more than 20 years of experience. She uses an integrative and functional medicine approach to conditions such as sleep apnea, headaches, allergies and chronic sinusitis.  

Resources
  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072548/
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Flu Season Isn’t Over Yet: Keep Your Immune System Strong Through the Spring!

At this time of the year many patients ask me how can they enhance their immune system.  The truth is that our immune systems are designed to work just fine if we eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get enough rest.  However, if you find yourself getting sick with an upper respiratory infection (URI) there are some herbs and supplements that can shorten the duration of symptoms.  They work best if taken at the very first sign of a URI, and stopping them when those symptoms clear.

7 Supplements for Immune Health

Elderberry : Elderberry has both antiviral and antibacterial effects. Research suggests its efficacy — even against the H1N1 virus. Four tablespoons of the elderberry fruit syrup Sambucol daily for three days, has been shown to reduce symptoms of fever and muscle ache by about 50 percent. For kids, reduce the dosage to one tablespoon twice a day.

Medicinal Mushrooms: Mushrooms have been shown to work against bacteria, viruses and some forms of detrimental mold. They contain polysaccharides, a component of cells that can prevent bacterial growth in the laboratory setting. I have my patients keep on hand a product known as Mycommunity, which is a blend of 17 fungi types.

Zinc: You want to make sure you’re taking a good multivitamin with zinc – 15 milligrams is generally thought to be a good amount for maintenance, but you can go up to 30 daily.  Zinc glycinate and zinc gluconate are usually well tolerated, and start with 10 milligrams as these are least likely to give you stomach upset. Otherwise, take as directed on the package.

Andrographis:  Andrographis — sold under the name Kold Kare — is an herb widely used in Ayurveda, the traditional form of medicine in India. When started within 72 hours of the onset of symptoms, it can improve symptoms of the common cold.

American Ginseng: There are various forms of ginseng and some may be beneficial if used early in the onset of cold symptoms. Some evidence suggests that taking 200 milligrams twice daily of the American ginseng extract CVT-E002 (brand Cold-fX) during influenza season may decrease the risk of developing URIs, and seems to reduce both the severity and the duration of symptoms. Another combination ginseng product called Kan Jang, which contains Siberian ginseng and Andrographis, may also prove effective.

South African Geranium: A number of studies have shown that extracts of the South African geranium can be helpful in reducing symptoms of bronchitis, sore throat, sinusitis and the common cold. Both children and adults tolerate it well. These products are usually readily available in your local health food store, marketed under the brand name Umcka.

N-Acetylcysteine (NAC): One of my favorites for preventing cold and flu.  NAC is widely used in the medical community for a number of conditions, and has terrific clinical data that shows it to be helpful for patients with chronic respiratory illnesses.  It also helps to keep the immune system in its best condition for warding off illness. It can be helpful with coughs, cold, runny noses – it also converts to Glutathione, the body’s most powerful antioxidant.  I usually recommend 900 milligram tablets – start with one twice daily and increase to two twice daily as needed. Pharmanac, a Canadian brand that comes in an effervescent form is easy to take as a fizzy drink – even for children!

My thoughts on immune enhancement:

If you wanted to take something throughout season that will help to keep you healthy, I’d recommend Vitamin D.  It is essential for immune health, and our levels often drop during the winter months because we get less sun exposure. A large study performed in elderly adults at Yale University suggests that even patients with low-normal levels of Vitamin D are more prone to URI’s than patients with higher levels. Many of us are deficient in Vitamin D, so try at least 2000 iu of vitamin D3 – and include a good quality fish oil, as it will give you an additional D boost but will also serve as  a great antioxidant. One that has at least 1,400mg EFA/925 DHA is a good dose to be used twice daily in patients with underlying asthma and allergies as well.

As in with any supplement, be cautious in taking with medicines, or other herbs or supplements.  Ginseng can interact with medicines for diabetes. Fish oils can cause blood thinning. And if you have allergies or are on medications, please check with your doctor first before adding any new her or supplement.  All of these products must be avoided if you are on medications or other herbal supplements that thin the blood.

I’m here on Thursdays if you need more advice or have chronic sinus or ENT issues – happy to see you for a consultation!

Live in our neighborhood and need help with chronic sinus or ENT issues?  Make an appointment with Dr. Gereau. She will address your concerns and develop an integrative plan that focuses on holistic, high-impact treatments. To make an appointment, call 914-652-7800.

Meet Dr. Gereau: Sezelle Gereau, MD, is an integrative ENT/Allergist with more than 20 years of experience. She uses an integrative and functional medicine approach to conditions such as sleep apnea, headaches, allergies and chronic sinusitis.  

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Conventional Medicine Gets the Autoimmune Wrong

Here’s a common scenario in my practice:  A patient comes in with a prior diagnosis of autoimmune disease. Sometimes it is a new diagnosis, and the patient is worried about how to proceed. Sometimes it is a longstanding illness they have lived with for much of their life. In most cases, they are looking for help where the conventional approach to autoimmunity has failed them.

There are many different types of autoimmune disease. All have in common the curious fact that the person’s immune system has become misdirected. The immune system is meant to provide protection against infection and foreign invaders to the body – like bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. When one has autoimmune activity, it means that the person’s own body is under attack.  

Falling under the umbrella of autoimmune disease is a variety of ailments, which vary widely in prevalence, symptomatology and severity. Some autoimmune diseases are very common, like Hashimoto’s thyroid disease. Others are rare, like Scleroderma. Some attack a single part of the body, like Hashimoto’s, while others, like lupus, can be more systemic, attacking multiple organ systems. Other examples of autoimmune disease are rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Grave’s disease, Type I diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, and alopecia.

The Typical Conventional Response to Autoimmune Disease

Patients routinely describe that their physician — be it primary care or specialist — has diagnosed a condition or worse, a disease. Sometimes the patient is already on prescribed medications as treatment, but other times they are not.

Invariably, what they have been told is that there is nothing to be done:

  • “We will wait and see.”  
  • “You will probably need to be on medication at some point.”
  • “Let’s continue to watch your blood testing yearly and wait and see when symptoms develop.”  

Few, if any of these doctors, offer advice on how to potentially keep the disease from progressing. Or, if already in the throes of symptomatic disease, offer suggestions how to lessen the symptoms with anything but anti-inflammatory medications, replacement hormones or immune-modulating drugs.

This is a very serious problem, and a failing of conventional medicine. It’s exactly why I chose to continue my training with the Institute for Functional Medicine.

A Functional vs Conventional Approach to Autoimmune Disease

Let’s take the case of early autoimmune thyroid disease:

With Hashimoto’s, for instance, the patient will often be told that they have autoantibodies – which means there are immune markers in the bloodstream directed not against invaders, like bacteria or viruses, but actively attacking the body’s own tissues of the thyroid or its receptors. This is the basis of autoimmune thyroiditis, or Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, which often leads to low functioning thyroid and the need to take thyroid hormone medication.  

The conventional doctor will let the patient know that these antibodies are there, and that most likely the thyroid will begin to malfunction, causing too little hormone to be released into the blood and causing the symptoms of hypothyroidism – low energy, weight gain, constipation, dry skin …  When that occurs, treatment with thyroid hormone replacement will begin.  

This leaves many people wondering – what can I do now?  Is there anything I can do to stop this from happening?  Am I going down a road I can’t switch out of?  

How can one reverse the damage – or halt the progression of the autoimmune disease ravaging the body?

The Functional Medicine Approach

I like to think of a Functional Medicine approach to treatment as two-fold:

  • Doing everything we can to improve the immune system’s ability to rebalance while …
  • Lessening the odds of the immune system continuing to rebel — and, quite possibly, beginning another attack on another system in the body — which could then lead to another autoimmune disease.

How do we do this? First, we work to support whatever system or systems in the body are under attack – replacing nutrients or hormones that are lacking due to the autoimmunity. We frequently use B-complex, D3 and multivitamin supplementation; and, of course, hormone replacement, as needed in hypothyroidism.

Then, we work to build resilience and decrease inflammation in the body by using good old detective work to find the root cause, or triggers, of the immune dysfunction, and treat that. We look at food, stress, gut health, toxin exposure and infections.

5 Steps to Decrease Inflammation & Rebalance Your Immune System

  • Practice improving your emotional and physical response to stress. Getting good sleep and exercising is imperative. Mindfulness meditation and other mind/body techniques are helpful for reducing stress hormones.
  • Experiment with your food – discover sensitivities, triggers, and intolerances. We usually recommend an allergy elimination diet – taking out gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and eggs, along with other common allergens depending on your specific medical condition- for a short time and reintroducing to see if symptoms are affected by food.
  • Support your microbiome and heal your leaky gut.  Eat healthy whole foods and lots of vegetables and fiber. Start taking a probiotic. Our go-to is Dr. Blum’s formula, created for our patients. Learn More
  • Decrease your exposure to toxins and improve your body’s ability to manage exposures. Watch out for common toxins in food (herbicides and pesticides), cleaning supplies, and even in personal care products.  We recommend looking at the Environmental Working Group and following their suggestions for cleaning up toxins in the home.

    If you are concerned about the toxin build-up in your body, you might want to consider our 21-Day Simply Detox. It’s the exact program we use with our patients at the Blum Center for Health. Learn More
  • Be assessed with functional testing for nutritional needs and to rule out any chronic or acute infectious disease processes.  We will often request stool testing for microbial balance, in depth blood testing for nutritional needs, and more extensive saliva and urine testing for hormone balance.

If you live near the New York City metro area, come see me, or one of my colleagues. We would be happy to help. People travel from all over the world to work with us. Come join our family!

If traveling to us is not possible, you can work with our Director of Nutrition or Health Coach by phone or Skype. Call 914-652-7800 for more information.

Or, you can also find a functional medicine practitioner through the search feature on the Institute of Functional Medicine’s website

Meet Darcy McConnell, M.D.:  Dr. McConnell brings her broad expertise in prevention, mind-body medicine, and women’s health to Blum Center for Health, in Rye Brook, NY. She is board certified in Family Medicine and Integrative Medicine, with postgraduate training from the Institute for Functional Medicine. Darcy lives with her husband and three sons and enjoys the outdoors, cooking healthy meals for her family and friends and is an enthusiastic yogi.

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Leaky Gut and Food Sensitivities

Did you know that your biggest exposure to the outside world every day is through your mouth?  That’s why 70% of your immune system lives in your gut, lying in wait to protect you from anything that seems foreign to the body (called antigens because they stimulate the immune system), which believe it or not includes food and the toxins and microbes that ride along with the food that you ingest while eating.

Your gut, which starts in your mouth, travels through your stomach, small intestine, colon or large intestine, and ends in your rectum, is supposed to be a closed tube – with the intestinal lining creating a barrier that separates the inside of your body and immune system from these outside exposures.  When you digest your food, the intestinal lining can then selectively choose what can enter your body by opening and closing special gates called tight junctions.

In functional medicine, an intestinal barrier with damaged tight junctions that isn’t keeping antigens out of the body is known as a leaky gut.  Studies have increasingly found that a leaky gut is associated with arthritis, autoimmune disease, allergies, and food sensitivities.

Causes of leaky gut vary, but the most important is dysbiosis, which is an imbalance in the bacteria in the gut, also called the gut microbiome.  Dysbiosis can be an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, yeast or parasites, or not enough good bacteria, and is commonly caused by a poor diet, a course of antibiotics, frequent use of antacids, and stress. These gut bacteria are important because not only do they interact with your immune system to keep it healthy, they also turn the food we eat into healthy compounds, especially something called short chain fatty acids which heal the tight junctions between your cells and protect the integrity of the gut barrier.  This is why food is so important, too, because the food you eat determines which bacteria will thrive and what kinds of compounds they will make when they digest your food.  

But why is leaky gut associated with inflammatory disease like arthritis? When the contents of your gut, which includes pieces of food and gut bacteria, “leak” into your body, your immune system is activated creating inflammatory chemicals that travel throughout your body and cause system-wide inflammation, especially in the joints. And this happens non-stop until your gut microbiome and lining are repaired.  

The good news is that you can rebuild your microbiome and repair your gut. Food has the most influence on the diversity of the microbiome, and that’s why you should always start with changing your diet by increasing fruits and veggies, especially those rich in polyphenols, bioflavonoids, and fiber because these tend to increase the good bacteria that make short-chain fatty acids and heal the gut. Also, you need to remove foods from your diet that feed the bad bacteria like sugar, processed flour products, alcohol, and too many animal products.  You also need to test yourself for food sensitivities and remove sensitive foods such as gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs and the nightshade vegetables. Our elimination diet explainer shows how to do this.

The next step is to treat your dysbiosis. At Blum Center for Health we start with cleansing herbs like berberine, grape seed extract, black walnut, and oregano that can clear out bad bacteria and yeast. In fact, we created our own custom herbal antibiotic mix called Gut Cleanse. Once you have eliminated the bad bacteria and yeast, probiotics and the right food can help you rebuild the good stuff, repair the gut lining, reduce inflammation, and eliminate food sensitivities.

For more, please review the video above.

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How to Effectively Navigate an Elimination Diet

Perform an Elimination Diet

Elimination diets are the cheapest, most effective way of identifying the foods that trigger inflammation and disease in your body. For many, elimination diets hold the key to conquering chronic pain and I use one with arthritis patients as outlined in my book Healing Arthritis.

The great news, is that elimination diets are generally short and easy to follow. My elimination diet requires just two main steps.

Step 1:  Remove Gluten, Dairy, Corn, Soy, Eggs and Sugar From Your Diet For 3 Weeks

Gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and eggs represent the most common culprits for food sensitivities. Eliminating them makes it likely you’ll be cutting your problem foods from your diet. Sugar is also removed because it is a trigger for inflammation and removing it will help you learn to avoid processed foods, which usually include the common culprits, too.

A lot of times my patients ask me why we are removing all five foods at once, and whether it would be better or just as good to remove one at a time.  However, first you have to remove the foods and feel better, and then you can reintroduce each food one at a time to see if you feel worse.  If you only removed one food, you might not feel better because you are still eating another problem food.  It would be hard to complete the experiment because you might not notice you feel worse when you reintroduce the food, because you never felt better in the first place!

Continuing the diet for three weeks will give your immune system a chance to quiet down without the food triggers around.  More importantly,  it should reduce your symptoms and help you feel better.

Step 2:  Reintroduce Each Food One at a Time

Good job on making it three weeks without eating gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs and sugar! Now, you begin the second, and final, step, which is the reintroduction of each food, one at a time.

This is when you will gather all the information about whether the food is good for you or not and you’ll uncover some food sensitivities.  Use this symptom chart to help you keep track.

Symptom Chart - Blum

For each food that you reintroduce, think about the symptoms on your list and use none, mild, moderate, or severe to describe your reaction to it in the boxes provided. This will help you remember later when you look back.

After the three weeks on the elimination program, do the following. Introduce one food at a time:  It doesn’t matter which order you choose to reintroduce the foods.  I usually tell my patients to choose the food you miss most to go first. Eat that food at least twice each day, for two days, noticing how you feel.  On day three, don’t eat the food, but continue to observe how you feel. If you have no reaction to the food, you are ready to move on to the next food on day four.

If you do have a reaction – such as headache, rash, brain fog, fatigue, digestive reaction, or other symptoms – stop eating it, and write it down in the above table so you don’t forget later.  [Once you know a particular food isn’t good for you, remove it again.]  The food reaction should go away within a day or two, but for some people it can take longer.  Try the next food: Once that reaction goes away, it is time to try the next food.

Finding out if you are having a noticeable reaction to gluten is important. If you don’t have a reaction and don’t have an autoimmune disease, you can add it back into your diet.  However, keep in mind that gluten is known to damage the gut, and so we still recommend eating it in limited amounts.

Be patient, because it will take you another two weeks or so to reintroduce all the foods you have eliminated. At the end of those weeks, you should now know whether gluten, dairy, corn, soy, or eggs are creating an immune reaction in your body.

Once you’ve identified your triggers you can successfully avoid them. But the better news is that it may not be permanent. Some people, after an additional period of healing, can reintroduce the foods and be symptom-free. In my own experience, I have been eating a diet 95% free of these foods for more than ten years, my reactions when I do eat them are minor compared to what they once were. They are still there, but it’s much more pleasant than it used to be!

Looking to make your elimination diet successful? Sign up for the email list (on the bottom right of this page) to stay up to date on our next article “5 Things To Know Before Starting an Elimination Diet”!

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What’s the Difference between a Food Allergy and a Food Sensitivity? An Interview with Sezelle Gereau, MD

There’s a lot of buzz these days about food allergies and sensitivities. There’s a lot of confusion too. We spoke with our resident expert, Sezelle Gereau, MD, to learn the difference between the two and why it matters.

What is the difference between a food allergy and a food sensitivity?
When one is allergic to a food the body recognizes it as a pathogen, and goes through a set of immunologic responses to attack and contain it.  They can be life threatening, as we recognize with children and peanut allergy.  While sensitivities can be uncomfortable, they do not trigger the immune system in the same way.  So, one can be either allergic or sensitive to a food, although the two are often confused.  For example, one can have a true allergy to milk, or a lactose intolerance, which is more of a sensitivity and not a true allergy.

If a food sensitivity does not trigger the immune system in the same way as a food allergy then why are they so uncomfortable?
Sensitivities are different, both in their symptoms and their underlying mechanisms. Most commonly one will present with gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, cramps, bloating, heartburn, headaches, or irritability. Some will complain of brain fog and fatigue. The most common food sensitivity is lactose.  Sulfites and alcohol are other frequent offenders.

What about gluten?
Common, but not as much as generally thought by the public, is gluten sensitivity – you can be allergic to wheat, or have a sensitivity to gluten. A gluten sensitivity is not a true allergy, but can trigger a set of responses that feel like an allergy.  Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease also related to sensitivity to gluten, but again, not an allergy. It is important to know if one has gluten sensitivity, as it can lead to issues in other parts of the body, such as your thyroid gland.

Do we outgrow allergies and sensitivities?
One can outgrow food allergies. Many children have food allergies early in life, and they commonly outgrow them by about age 8.  Food sensitivities are idiosyncratic, and there is no specific pattern.  The best way to train your body to outgrow both allergies and sensitivities is to eliminate the food completely.  Sometimes foods can be re-introduced on occasion without adverse effect, but if one has a severe reaction it is recommended that you completely eliminate these foods from your diet for good.

How do I know if I have an allergy or a sensitivity?
There are a number of ways to test for food allergies, including blood tests such as IgE or IgG.  You may have heard of the ALCAT or MRT testing.  Your doctor may choose to do any one of a number of these, and each has its pros and cons – but the best way to understand if one is allergic or sensitive is to eliminate the food strictly for 3-6 weeks and then reintroduce it in small amounts, one by one over a series of days and observe for reactivity.

When should I call a doctor?
Many times a functional medicine doctor, such as one of our doctors at Blum Digital, LLC, can help you sort out these issues.  They can help you start to grapple with your reactions and relationship to foods.  A comprehensive history with some additional testing can help one to understand if this is truly reactivity to foods, or if something else is out of balance in the body.

What’s new and exciting?
An exciting new treatment available for food allergy is allergy drops – which offers a way to eliminate the allergy entirely, not just control symptoms.  It is safe and effective for both adults and children. Come in for a visit if you’d like to learn more.