Posted on

Your Autoimmune Disease and COVID-19

It’s September!  I don’t know about you, but this is usually this time of year I am preparing to buckle back down to work after a summer spent outdoors, with some of it on vacation. If you are raising school age or college kids, and this is usually back-to-school time.  

But, as we are in the midst of an infectious disease pandemic, these are not usual times. In fact, as we are preparing to move into fall, you might be struggling through and muddling along, coping with coronavirus and hoping not to get COVID-19, the illness that is caused by this virus.

But some of us worry more than others about what would happen if we get this virus.  I am thinking about all of my autoimmune patients, who have been writing and asking me very specific questions about how their autoimmunity might change their risk, and what to do about the supplements they should take to prevent the virus from making them very sick were they to be exposed.  I decided to write this blog to answer these questions all in one place.  For all of my autoimmune patients, clients, friends and family, this is dedicated to you!

Does my Autoimmune condition put me at a higher risk for getting very sick if I get COVID-19?

The most important thing to understand is that there are over 100 different autoimmune conditions and they are all different.  Thus, it is hard to answer this with a quick answer.  But there are some guidelines that you can follow:

FIRST: There is no evidence that your Autoimmune disease itself puts you at a higher risk for getting very sick with COVID-19.  The underlying imbalance in Autoimmunity, where the immune system is mis-directed and attacks your own body, hasn’t been identified as a risk factor. 

However, in studying the underlying mechanisms of autoimmunity in people with systemic rheumatological diseases like Lupus (SLE), Sjogren’s Syndrome, Scleroderma, Polymyositis among others, researchers have found that while part of the immune system is overactive, the lymphocytes that fight viruses might be underactive.  

Therefore, if you have one of these conditions, you might be at a higher risk of getting COVID if you are exposed.  But there are supplements you can take to boost this part of your immune system, and I will share that below. 

SECOND: If you have an Autoimmune condition, is that you might have secondary issues like weight gain, high blood pressure, or disease-specific issues, like increased risk for making blood clots, and other possible problems that would influence your risk.  To determine if your specific Autoimmune issue could be putting you at risk, you need to check with your doctor.

THIRD: If you are taking immunosuppressant medications to treat your condition, you are definitely at increased risk for getting sick because these medications can reduce your ability to fight the virus, and you should follow the strictest social distancing and mask wearing guidelines.  

That being said, never stop your medication on your own.  But it’s good to set out a goal for being able to stop.  First, meet with your doctor and see if you have any other options.  Second, from my perspective, using a Functional Medicine approach and treating the underlying issues like repairing the gut microbiome and reducing toxic load, it is possible to taper off medication as you feel better and your condition improves.  

If I get COVID-19, will my Autoimmune Disease get worse?

There is no information that I have read about people with Autoimmunity and what happens to their illness when they have COVID-19.  But based on medical logic and experience, my guess is that your current health issues are likely to flare and get worse if you were to get sick.  This might be triggered by the virus itself, but more likely from the widespread immune and inflammatory reaction the body mounts against the virus. If your Autoimmune disease is very active and you still have symptoms and are still struggling, consider yourself at high risk and practice stricter social distancing and mask wearing.

Which immune-boosting supplements are good for me and which one’s should I avoid?

I have a great Blog on supplements for boosting immunity to fight coronavirus.  You can read it HERE.  For this discussion, I want to zero in on the concerns of my patients with Autoimmunity.

GOOD FOR EVERYONE: First, here are the categories of supplements that are all completely safe for all of you, and my previous blog reviews the dosing:

  1. Antioxidants:  Vitamins A, C, Glutathione, NAC, Quercetin, EGCG
  2. Antiviral and Immunomodulators:  Zinc, Vitamin D
  3. Anti-inflammatory:  Fish oil, Curcumin.

See dosing  HERE.

IF YOU HAVE AN AUTOIMMUNE CONDITION: You need to choose supplements carefully.  The concern is that these are immune boosting, which means they stimulate an increase in your natural killer cells.  On one hand, this is a great thing for fighting viruses.  However, for some people with autoimmunity, this could conceivably make your condition worse, although this is a theoretical concern because there haven’t been any studies on this.  Therefore, I recommend you check with your health practitioner before taking these.

Immune Boosting Supplements:  take with caution

  1. Mushrooms:  maitake, reishi, shitake, beta glucan
  2. Astragalus and echinacea
  3. Elderberry and Andrographis

If you’d like to learn more about how to use supplements to protect yourself from viruses, like COVID-19, consider joining my new LIVE course, Immune System Strong, led personally by me! Learn More 

What can I do to reduce my risk of getting very sick with COVID-19?  

Let’s end this blog on a high note!  There is plenty you can do to improve your immune function and reduce your risk of getting sick with COVID.  These same steps will also help repair your immune system and reverse your Autoimmune condition.  My main focus as a Functional Medicine physician is on the foundations of a healthy immune system:  food, stress, gut health, toxin load, oxidative stress and inflammation. 

The popularity of these questions is exactly why I designed a new just-in-time, 8-week program called Immune System Strong to teach you in real time with verified, no-nonsense information on how to fortify your immune system to fight viruses, like COVID-19, as we move into winter flu season!  We begin soon! Learn More

Posted on

The #1 Thing You Can Do For Your Immune System Starting Today

So, let’s be real … with COVID still sweeping through communities, you might be wondering what you can do to protect yourself as we move into the flu and cold season. Yes, very soon, we will be moving indoors with closed windows and that begs the question, “How will I keep myself safe?”

With over 70% of your immune system living in your digestive tract (yes, that’s true!), it makes sense that the food you eat is the first stop in empowering your immune system to fight infections and keep you healthy. 

There are foods that are particularly good at boosting immunity, but the reality is the first order of business is to use “food as medicine” to reduce inflammation. Often when I talk with people about “reducing inflammation” their eyes glass over. It’s not easy to grasp.

Inflammation. When it’s on the outside, like arthritis, we can see it.  When it’s on the inside we can’t see it. And often we can’t even feel it. (Although I’ve heard so many times, “I didn’t realize I wasn’t supposed to feel that way.”) But if you get sick often, if you’ve taken lots of antibiotics in your life, if you’ve had stress or trauma, or if you eat inflammatory foods (like sugar) or the Modern American Diet, you’ve likely experienced inflammation. In fact, you’re likely inflamed right now.

Inflammation is when your immune system or other cells in your body release irritating chemicals that cause irritation on the inside.  Remember this is a normal process because this is how your body fights infections or an injury, and the inflammation resolves once the infection or injury is over.  

However, if high levels of these inflammatory chemicals are released continuously (which can happen if you are eating a lot of SUGAR), the normal functioning of your cells can be interrupted, and healthy tissue gets damaged, including your immune system. This is not so good-especially since more and more studies link inflammation in the body to many serious illnesses and conditions.

To make sure your immune system is in tip top shape, which will protect you from foreign invaders like COVID-19, influenza and the common cold, it’s important to avoid processed foods and eat an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich diet, full of vegetables, fruits, cultured foods, healthy fats, planted-based proteins and minimal animal protein.  

If there’s only one diet change you choose to make it’s this: 

GET RID OF SUGAR TO REDUCE INFLAMMATION!

Sugar is inflammatory and suppresses your immune system. Sugar stimulates your immune cells to actively release inflammatory molecules that travel throughout your body causing damage and irritation. 

Avoid high glycemic foods like soda, white flour and processed sugar. When it comes to sugar, you always want to choose low-glycemic vs. high-glycemic foods. The glycemic index determines how quickly a particular food raises your blood sugar level. High blood sugar causes inflammation and damages your immune system, and puts you at risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. Any food processed with white sugar or white flour is high-glycemic and should be eliminated. That means bagels, breads, breakfast cereals, cakes, cookies, crackers, candy, and soda.

Avoid an over-focus on carbohydrates as the main source of calories for the day. Make your plate for lunch and dinner half vegetables — that’s a great start. Natural, unprocessed foods, like fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains provide health-promoting vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals — all good for your immune system. Use rice and other grains like condiments.

Read the labels of everything that comes in a package. Food manufacturers are sneaky. They often add sugar (and a lot of sugar) to foods that need very little sugar. Yeah, I know our panels are in grams. Definitely annoying, but here’s what you need to know: We recommend keeping your added sugars at about 24 grams. And, 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon. So, if that granola bar you love has 24 grams of sugar — that’s six teaspoons (and your allotment for the day).

Here are some substitution suggestions for common high glycemic foods: 

Do you like soda, fruit juice, sweetened drinks? Drink filtered water, herbal teas, mineral water, fruit-infused water.

Do you consume products with corn syrup, cane sugar, or any other added sugar (check your condiments!)? Try paleo ketchup, mustard, fancy vinegars, and herbs and spices, such as basil, cinnamon, cumin, dill, garlic, ginger, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, turmeric.

Do you eat dried fruit, frozen yogurt, ice cream, sorbet, cookies, candy or other sweets? Try coconut milk yogurt with your own fruit, dark chocolate covered almonds and carob.

Do you typically eat pretzels, potato chips, corn chips, cookies and crackers made from white flour, muffins, waffles, pancakes, popcorn or bagels? Switch to gluten-free whole grain cookies, gluten-free almond meal crackers with hummus or guacamole, nuts, seeds, fresh fruit. 

P.S. If you’re as concerned as I am about shoring up your immune system to protect yourself from infections like COVID-19, influenza and the common cold as we begin to move indoors, consider joining Dr. Blum and I for our new course — Immune System Strong. Four LIVE classes with Dr. Blum, 8 coaching calls with me, you’ll learn exactly what you need to do to fortify your immune system. We begin soon!

Meet Melissa: Melissa Rapoport is the Manager of Health Coaching and Lifestyle Programming at Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, NY. She combines her graduate work in Developmental Psychology with her education in nutrition, health and coaching to create highly individualized programs that result in lifetime change. A contributing author to three international bestselling books, Melissa’s greatest joy is her relationship with her two daughters. To learn more about Melissa’s coaching practice at Blum Center for Health, click here.

 

Posted on

The Never Ending COVID-19 Summer and What to Expect This Fall

It’s been a while since I wrote or spoke on the Public Health issues with COVID-19 swirling around us.  When the pandemic started I held open live office hours every Friday for about 8 weeks to answer your questions, and to share my Public Health expertise to make sense out of what we were going through collectively. 

As our long summer days at home (and hopefully outside, too) come to an end, I feel the need once again to provide information and to offer my view of where we are and what to expect as we are now moving into the fall.

THE GREAT MASK DEBATE

Public health is the understanding that decisions need to be made by the government to protect the health of the public — with the known understanding, and acceptance, that these laws or rules can infringe on someone’s personal liberties. The idea is that individual people need to sacrifice some personal liberties for the sake of the community.  

Public health has always been the place where there has historically been tension between individual rights and the collective.  And nowhere has this been on grand display but in the United States for the past few months and the great debate over whether it’s ok to make people wear masks. 

While in many places in our Country you are seeing a shift toward individual sacrifice for the greater good, not everyone feels this way. I am not saying this to make a political statement, but to point out this has always been understood as a classic public health dilemma, and we are seeing it play out right before our eyes.  

Evidence continues to mount every day proving that wearing a mask slows the virus spread, and my hope is that this battle will finally end.  We seem to be moving in the right direction.  But the battle lines have already been drawn, and I expect other public health initiatives (like vaccines) to be met with resistance in many parts of the country.  Our country’s internal war has added to the stress and burden that we all carry during the pandemic.

WHEN WILL COVID-19 END?

I am not terribly optimistic. Get used to your current living situation, or make plans for the winter now, because I predict we will be living like this until Spring 2021.  Here are the various ways we will get out of the pandemic, with my rating of the likelihood of each one:

COVID-19 VACCINE

We still don’t know how long immunity lasts, which means that even if we get a vaccine, we don’t know how long it will protect you. Any early vaccines will be fought over between all the countries of the world, and in our country, it will be doled out, based on who-knows-what formula. Which means that I wouldn’t expect the general public to have anything until next spring. Which suits me just fine, because I wouldn’t recommend being the first guinea pigs to get the vaccine for the first few months anyway!  

Bottom line: Don’t count on the vaccine to save you this winter.  Hopefully there will be available vaccines that work by the spring. And…be prepared for the possibility that no vaccines will work.

BETTER COVID-19 TREATMENT 

Some promising drugs are out there, but there hasn’t been a centralized effort to get enough doses produced to distribute to everyone. Remdesivir is a good example of a drug that has been shown to work in hospitalized people to reduce virus load and decrease hospital stay.  It has been distributed to only some hospitals, and even those hospitals are now running out. Everyone is fighting for a share of the limited supply.  Without a national response, treatment is hodge-podge depending on what hospital you go to, and which state you are in.  And there is the issue of affordability now that the drug company is charging full cost going forward. This in my opinion has been a disaster.  I think we won’t get this organized until there is national leadership on this issue.  

There are some interesting new treatments in the pipeline, but I don’t expect we will see them before the winter if they even prove effective.

Here’s one:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/costa-rica-readies-horse-antibodies-for-trials-as-an-inexpensive-covid-19-therapy/

And this one I think is really interesting:

https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2020/08/418241/aeronabs-promise-powerful-inhalable-protection-against-covid-19

Bottom line: Don’t count on life going back to normal again this winter based on the treatments that we have so far.

HERD IMMUNITY 

Think of herd immunity as something that happens when the virus runs its course through a population.  It keeps going until it infects enough people and then fizzles out because there aren’t enough uninfected people to keep it burning.  Public health dogma has always been that at least 50% of people need to be infected for this to happen, and we are far away from this number.  Unless there is a drastic change in our approach or some big medical breakthrough (which would be GREAT), this virus will continue like a forest fire that will keep burning until it’s done.  If this is the scenario, then we will all be home perhaps longer than next spring.  

HOWEVER, cases have started leveling off in our country (probably due to more widespread mask wearing and social distancing) and some areas are doing well, like here in NY.  I am wondering if the virus might also be slowing down in some areas (like NY) because there is more immunity in the community then we think, and/or that herd immunity is being reached sooner than we expected in areas that saw the worst outbreaks. These are intriguing ideas and I am hoping these are true!  

Bottom line:  Even if there are pockets of immunity to the virus, most areas are still very susceptible and this fire will continue to burn well through the winter.

BEST CASE COVID-19 SCENARIOS

OK, now that I’ve been a real downer, I will end this blog by sharing what I hope will happen.  This is the information you should be looking for in the news to give you some optimism.  

Here is what to pray for every day:

  1. Antibodies to the Coronavirus last at least 1 year after infection or vaccine, and protects you from reinfection.  This is a requirement for almost everything else to work!  
  2. A mutation in the virus makes it less deadly (this is the one that I pray for the hardest because it doesn’t rely on humans to figure out the solution).  I think there is a fairly good chance this might happen.
  3. Herd immunity happens much sooner than anyone thinks.  Some new mathematical models suggest for this virus, it could be 20-30% of the population instead of 50-60%.  This would mean the forest fire would still rage unchecked for months, but self-extinguish sooner.  There are signs this might be happening!
  4. The people in our country unify around best public health practices to slow the spread and save lives. I pray that our internal war on Public Health will end.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO BOOST YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM

It is frustrating to have such little control over the world around us. But you can feel more empowered if you take control over your own health. Making sure your immune system is primed and ready to go, just in case it encounters the coronavirus, should be your number one job during the pandemic.  

I have written before in previous blogs about supplements, but my main focus as a Functional Medicine physician is on the foundations of a healthy immune system:  food, stress, gut health, toxin load, oxidative stress and inflammation.   If you haven’t read my book on this topic, The Immune System Recovery Plan, what are you waiting for?!  

I have a lot more great info coming out in the next weeks and months on this topic.  To start, check out my FREE 3-part video series!  How To Boost Your Immunity and Resiliency to Viruses: DOWNLOAD FREE NOW

Keep your eyes peeled for my new LIVE course: Immune System Strong!  Slated to start late September (it will be here before you know it!) Immune System Strong will feature 4 LIVE classes with me that feature tangible next steps that you will be able to implement immediately, as well as community, accountability, group coaching and access to the answers you need on a daily basis.

Details will be available soon! Get On The First-To-Know List (even if you’re only a little bit interested), because we’ll be rewarding with an offer that won’t be available to anyone else.) I want the special reward!

Posted on

Tips for Boosting Your Immunity

My anti-viral approach is to help you build a strong immune foundation so that you boost your immunity and don’t get sick from any virus. A strong immune system is the basis for staying healthy in general and should be a year-round strategy…not just during flu season or when there is a threat of a novel previously unknown virus. This is, by far, the best prevention and protection!

Good gut health: which means lots of beneficial bacteria. Take a probiotic every day with at least 20 billion cfu of mixed strains lactobacillus and bifidus species. If you are taking antacids or proton pump inhibitors -stop- because this alters your gut flora in a negative way.

Balanced stress hormones: Get a good night’s sleep to boost your immunity and don’t overwork yourself during flu season. Stress harms your ability to fight viruses.

Eat foods that are good for your immune system: Avoid processed foods and focus on fruits and veggies that are rich in antioxidants and vitamins. Support the removal of toxins by eating lots of cruciferous veggies, which boost the detox system in your liver.

Take your vitamins! Here are some important ones you will need:

a. Vitamin D 2000 iu/day minimum. The dose is based on your blood levels, so if you havelow vitamin D you will need more.

b. Vitamin A retinyl palmitate 5000 iu/day. If you are pregnant or nursing, do not take morethan 5000 iu/day of this kind of Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate).

c. Zinc 30 mg/day.

d. Vitamin C 3-4000 mg/day as an immune booster. 1-2000 mg/day is good for general prevention.

Additional supplements to consider to boost your immunity:

a. 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 ( and so it is very useful for support treating respiratory viral illnesses). It also converts to Glutathione, the body’s most powerful antioxidant.  I usually recommend 900 milligram capsules or tablets – start with one twice daily and increase to two twice daily if needed. Pharmanac, a Canadian brand that comes in an effervescent form is easy to take as a fizzy drink – even for children!

b. Whey Protein Powder is high in immunoglobulins that boost your immune system. For a non-dairy alternative, try SBI Protect powder from Orthomolecular, packed with immunoglobulins

c. Herbs like Elderberry, Echinacea, Astragalus, and Beta Glucan (mushroom extracts). We love Immunoberry Liquid from Designs for Health, which is a potent and convenient blend of these. 1 dropper each day in your shake, or in a little water, is all you need for ongoing protection. We also love Immune Builder from Mushroom Science: 2 daily for prevention. Both of these supplement doses can be doubled or tripled if you are concerned that you had exposure or feel you have early symptoms of a viral illness.

Lastly, make sure to wash your hands multiple times a day — especially before you eat, and after exposure to public transportation like riding the subway.

 

Check out my FREE 3-part video series! Last month I led live classes on the immune system and I’m happy to share with you the three videos:  How To Boost Your Immunity and Resiliency to Viruses: DOWNLOAD FREE NOW

The items listed are available for purchase from our office, or from our online store:

https://us.fullscript.com/welcome/blumcenter

 

Susan Blum, MD, MPH an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, has been treating, healing and preventing chronic diseases for nearly two decades. A Preventive Medicine and Chronic Disease Specialist, Dr. Blum is the Founder and Director of Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, New York, where she leads a multi-specialty team of physicians, nurse practitioners, nutritionists and health coaches, all providing cutting edge Functional and Integrative Medicine services.

Posted on

6 Signs You Found the Right Detox!

Truth #1: The beauty industry and its celebrity trendsetters have corrupted “detox.”  They’ve led you to believe that you must starve yourself, advocating extreme, medically-unsound programs that promise weight loss, beautiful skin and liver detoxification. They’ve built a $5 billion industry through marketing, Instagram and bad nutrition.

Truth #2: A real detox — a medically-sound, healthy, safe detox — reduces your body’s toxic load with targeted nutrients to help your liver effectively do its job. A proper detox includes real food. Detoxification does not include starvation.

Why You Need to Detox

Clearing toxins out of your body is critical for preventing illness and reversing chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and cancer.

We live in a world filled with toxins: With over 8,000 chemicals in circulation in the environment, we need to detox. Otherwise, your liver pathways get jammed, become overburdened, and toxins can accumulate in tissues and fat cells. You may not realize that this accumulation is making you feel crappy!

It does not matter how vigilant you are, you are exposed to chemicals in your food, your water, your home, your clothes, your furniture, your cosmetics, your personal care products, and even the gas you put in your car.

Signs You Are Carrying a Toxic Load:

  • You have difficulty losing weight.
  • You constantly feel tired.
  • You experience achiness in your joints.
  • You experience brain fog.
  • You suffer with headaches.
  • You experience mood swings.
  • You feel heavy in your body and in your mind.

A good detox program can lead to a reversal of these symptoms, and protect you against disease.

That is why we offer our 14-Day Whole Life Detox at Blum Center for Health every spring! In-person only (don’t worry we will be offering an online class in June!) I will be co-teaching with Dr. Blum! That’s right, Dr. Blum is leading our first session. Live in the neighborhood? Get more info here >>> https://clients.mindbodyonline.com/asp/main_enroll.asp?fl=true&tabID=103.

Top 6 Reasons You Need to Detox

Remove toxins from the body — Toxins are stored throughout your body — in your fat, bones, tissues, cells and even your brain. Long-term exposure can affect your immune system (autoimmune disease, anyone?), metabolism (trouble losing weight, anyone?), behavior and mood (depression and anxiety, anyone?) and can lead to disease (hello, cancer).  

Improve immune system function — When your immune system is compromised, you are vulnerable to colds and flus, and perhaps most importantly, toxins can trigger autoimmune disease. A healthy immune system helps protect you from autoimmune conditions, and fortifies you against viral and bacterial infections.

Improve your health — Depression, anxiety, joint pain, sluggishness, sleep disorders, brain fog and the inability to lose weight can bring you down. You must reduce your toxic load to help your body function at its best.

Increase energy and promote mental clarity — You will experience an increase in energy, and an uplift in mental clarity. Many people report clearer thinking and the ability to deal with stressors more easily.

Lose weight — Detoxing helps rid the body of toxins stored in fat cells, and revs your metabolism to jumpstart weight loss.

Improve skin quality — This is one of the benefits the beauty industry has hung its hat on. But, beyond reducing acne, and giving skin a natural glow, detoxing with antioxidant rich foods reduces the toxins that promote premature aging. It can also help clear psoriasis and eczema.

 

If you live near Blum Center, consider joining Dr. Blum and me for our 14-Day Whole Life Detox Group Program, a healthy, safe jumpstart to reduce your toxic load, promote weight loss and bring balance back to your body. Dr. Blum kicks us off on Monday, April 29th at 6:30pm. Space is limited. Join Now

Meet Melissa: Melissa Rapoport is the Manager of Health Coaching and Lifestyle Programming at Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, NY. She combines her graduate work in Developmental Psychology with her education in nutrition, health and coaching to create highly individualized programs that result in lifetime change. A contributing author to three international bestselling books, Melissa’s greatest joy is her relationship with her two daughters.

Posted on

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

 

Posted on

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.

 

Posted on

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.  

Posted on

The 5 Most Common Food Sensitivities And How to Avoid Them

Trigger Foods

Food sensitivities result when undigested food slips through gaps in an unhealthy (leaky) gut and triggers an immune response, which can cause inflammation, pain, and swelling in the joints. Food sensitivities are extremely common, though little known, in those with arthritis, autoimmune disease, and chronic ailments.

Since food sensitivities activate the immune system they can aggravate and even cause symptoms in chronic conditions. Thus, eliminating certain foods prevents a great opportunity to reclaim wellness.

In My Practice, I’ve Identified 5 Major Culprits

Gluten

You need to read food labels and look at the ingredient lists for the words wheat, barley, kamut, rye, or spelt. For example, did you know that soy sauce is made from wheat?  Or that beer is made from barley?  Probably not and you’re certainly not alone. Because it is not possible to list all the foods that contain gluten here, reading food labels is key. Oats are only okay if the label says “gluten free oats.”

What to Eat Instead: Look for grains made from quinoa, millet, buckwheat, and rice.

Dairy

This includes any milk product made from cow, goat, or sheep such as yogurt, cheese, milk, kefir, and butter. Often after doing an elimination diet test, many patients realize that milk is causing other symptoms that go beyond their stomachs. These include chronic congestion and sinusitis, post nasal drip, ear infections, and more.

What to Eat Instead: almond, rice, hemp, or coconut milk.  These milk substitutes are also made into yogurt, kefir, and cheese so you can get your fill, without having to settle for dairy.

Corn

When I say corn I don’t just mean corn on the cob. It is used for other purposes, like making an ingredient called high fructose corn syrup that is used in many, many foods because it tastes sweeter and is cheaper than sugar!  Remember, you need to remove whole corn whether on the cob, in a can, or frozen, and popcorn, too. You also need to be careful about reading labels, look for the word corn, which can often be found as corn starch, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, and high fructose corn syrup.

What to Eat Instead: Look for natural sweeteners or stevia (though, keeping sugar consumption down is a good idea too!).

Soy

Soy is on the list here because it causes digestive upset and inflammation for many people, something I’ve seen in my practice over and over. Soy is also used as an additive in many foods, especially packaged processed foods so you must read labels and avoid anything that lists soy protein, soy lecithin, or soy oil in its ingredient list.  When you start reading labels looking for these words, you will be shocked at how many foods contain them!

Eggs

Eggs are usually the food that people are the most upset that they have to give up!  Unfortunately, eggs have proteins that are common allergies and that’s why they are also common triggers for food sensitivities, too. Eggs are often found as ingredients in other foods, and again, you must read labels to make sure you eliminate it completely.

To read more about how to do an elimination diet see my article on conducting an elimination diet.  

 

Check out my FREE 3-part video series! How To Boost Your Immunity and Resiliency to Viruses: DOWNLOAD FREE NOW

Posted on

Turn Off the Effects of Stress on Your Immune System

Stress is really about the degree of change you experience and how much it throws you out of balance.  Studies show that when stress pulls you too far off center, it affects your immune system in a negative way.  The body has a built in stress response for emergencies, which is often called “fight-or-flight.” In general, this is a good thing because it supports you when you need an adrenaline rush and cortisol boost from your adrenal glands to help you run, fight, or face an intense stressor, be it emotional or physical.

But when you think too much, you can get stuck in your thoughts, worrying about the future and replaying the past. At the same time, your adrenal stress hormones get stuck in the “on” position, producing those stress chemicals that have a negative impact on your immune system. It is this chronic stress that is the problem and the type of stress that makes you sick.

When you practice mind-body skills such as meditation, walking in nature, turning off the nightly news, knitting, or singing, to name just a few, you will learn to “turn the switch off” and your system will find balance again. Then you can easily move in and out of stress mode, benefiting from the adrenal boost when you need it and letting your system relax when you don’t.  But remember, learning to relax takes practice!