It’s like Star Wars. The Evil Empire vs the Rebel Alliance (cheer for the good guys). Good vs bad. Think of a force capable of immense offensive firepower with intricate defenses (“Shields up, Scotty!”) and even has a self-destruct mode. It is so complex that some call it the “second brain.”
It scares many with its’ ability to develop weapons that the enemy doesn’t know exist yet – adapting on the fly to discover the bad guys weaknesses and destroy them. The firepower is unlimited.
This high tech can protect humans from unimaginable threats insuring we live long, healthy lives.
Or it could be hijacked by evil forces and no one would be able to stop it.
And… it’s all up for control. With that kind of power, what will happen next?
This most powerful weapon is controlled by its’ owner. Lifestyle choices, like healthy diets and exercise, allow this weapon to keep fighting off the bad guys.
This most powerful weapon in the world is the immune system. When it functions properly, health is maintained. When it misfires, the bad guys win. Sickness occurs. Inflammation happens… and chronic pain follows in its’ path.
The immune system is a sophisticated army with the innate ability to adapt and protect from a serious number of possible infectious agents. Some cells specialize in taking down foreign pathogens and remember them for future exposures. They can clean up cuts, repair destroyed tissues, kill selected targets and communicate with each other while doing it.
Not only is this incredible army ready to defeat foreign invaders – it also has the power to destroy the host’s body. Literally from the inside out. But only if is treated wrong.
HOW THE IMMUNE SYSTEM WORKS
The immune system has two branches: the Innate and Adaptive parts. These are the two main military branches of the body…ready to fight at a moments notice. Think of it like the Air Force and Marines.
Each force has its’ own specific functions. And each can be on offense or defense.
THE IMMUNE SYSTEM CONTROLS INFLAMMATION AND PAIN
The innate immune system sends mast cells and waves of blood carrying fighters (T-cells) to the site of attack. The battle begins. Fluid and byproducts from this cellular war cause tissues to become “inflamed.”
And… this inflammation stuff is not just swelling and redness. Inflammation is the body’s response to harm (trauma, pathogens, etc) by sending immune cells and antimicrobial proteins to the rescue. Either to rebuild stressed and damaged tissues or fight the threat.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE IMMUNE SYSTEM AND GUT
The human body is made up of cells. A billion cells, give or take a few hundred million.
However, there are trillions of foreign cells in the gut. Good guys (remember the Rebel Alliance?) or evil ones (the Empire). A healthy gut has many more good guys than bad guys.
Some samples of the good guys are:
* Lactobacillus (acidophilus, casei, salivarius, etc.)
* Bifidobacterium (lactis, longum, bifidum)
* Bacteroides (fragilis, melaninogenicus)
And some gut pathogens include:
* H. Pylori
* Salmonella enterica
* Campylobacter jejuni
Lactobacillus strains increase Gamma Aminobutyric Acid (GABA), which is a “happy brain” neurotransmitter that has been proven to boost learning ability, memory retention and improve mood.
H. Pylori is rather well known as the microbe that causes heartburn and sometimes ulcers.
The gut always contains a certain amount of good bacteria and a certain amount of pathogens. When the pathogens overwhelm the good guys, the condition is known as dysbiosis.
Dysbiosis is an important condition to remedy because about 80% of our immune system is in our gut. When gut bacteria is out of whack, the immune system suffers. We become ill. We become inflamed. Pain becomes worse. If neck pain is an issue, chronic neck and shoulder pain becomes overwhelming.
When the immune system is healthy, it can improve many chronic conditions such as:
* Chronic fatigue syndrome
* Chronic Pain
* Low thyroid function
* Multiple Sclerosis
Interestingly, Serotonin is made in the gut. This neurotransmitter is known to improve mood, concentration and sleep quality. Thyroid hormone is converted from the inactive form (T4) to the active form (T3) in the gut.
The point is that the gut is often thought of as “just a place to digest food.” It’s very obvious now that the gut does much, much more that just digestion.
WHAT CAUSES DYSBIOSIS?
Anything that kills the good gut bacteria or causes pathogens to enter the gut causes it. A whole host of things assault our gut daily, including:
* Highly processed junk food…avoid shopping in the center aisles of the grocery store where this stuff is located
* Fast food…all the usual outlets. The food is just LOADED with chemicals that kill good gut bacteria
* Poor sleep…often due to the lack of Serotonin made in the gut
* Drugs…few people realize just how damaging prescription drugs are to the gut, and thereby, the immune system. The list includes antibiotics, corticosteroids, antacids, acid blockers like Proton Pump Inhibitors (Prilosec, Nexium, etc), birth control pills, high blood pressure pills and NSAIDS like aspirin and ibuprofen.
* Celiac, Crohn’s and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
* Alcohol – especially hard liquors like Scotch and Bourbon
* Artificial Sweeteners like Splenda
14 FOODS THAT IMPROVE THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Diet is one way to boost the immune system. The process often works best when toxins that reduce immune system response are removed.
Foods that are great at detoxifying the body include:
* Garlic: especially Kaolic (fermented) garlic. Liver function is improved…and after all, the liver is the main organ of toxin removal.
* Tumeric: the “Swiss Army Knife” of supplements since it does so many incredibly beneficial things. It also boosts liver function.
* Cucumbers: they might be mostly water, but help to alkalize the body and flush toxins out.
* Broccoli: contains sulforaphanes, which are sulfur containing compounds that remove toxins – especially heavy metals.
* Chlorella: the chlorophyll is very potent and binds to toxins for elimination.
* Lentils: loaded with zinc…and zinc is often deficient in the diet. It is widely known just how much adequate zinc (picolinate) can boost immune system function.
* Beetroot: restores the body’s acid/base balance, known as pH, to neutral. It is high in iron, magnesium, zinc and calcium. It has a high content of betaine and pectin…both of which are effective detoxifiers.
* Avocado: a true superfood that contains saturated fats (a good thing) and boosts glutathione in the liver. Glutathione is the “master detoxifier.”
* Mung beans: similar to lentils…these powerful beans are known to remove toxins from the walls of the intestines.
* Green Tea: contains catechins as well as high amounts of antioxidants like EGCG to boost liver function.
* Watercress: a powerful diuretic (removes water from the body) and protects cells from free radical damage while increasing liver function.
* Lemon: one of the best ways to detoxify since it contains Hesperidin, a potent detoxifier. It’s easy to add to the daily diet – think lemonade with just a little organic sugar.
Another method to boost immune system function is to eat foods that contain good bacteria. Among the good choices are:
* Sauerkraut (or any other fermented food)
* Yogurt…look for active cultures on the label. Avoid flavored varieties – its much healthier to add some berries or apples that are appealing.
* Kefir: not as well known – it’s like a creamy drinkable yogurt.
* Kombucha: a fizzy, fermented tea that is stored and served chilled and contains a small amount of alcohol from the fermentation process.
* Kimchi: this Korean traditional side dish is a combination of naturally fermented vegetables with a spicy and sour taste. It is a great source of probiotics as well as vitamins and calcium.
The third way to boost the immune system is to take supplements that contain good bugs…we’re talking about probiotics.
THE BEST RATED PROBIOTICS
Be careful where probiotics are bought. Grocery stores and some health food stores may have products sitting on the shelves for long periods of time. This allows the good bugs to die…which means nothing good is left to improve the immune system.
It is a common misconception that the best quality probiotics need to be refrigerated. Many of the best quality probiotics come in capsule form and are stored at room temperature. In fact, when refrigerated, these capsules pick up moisture and rapidly degrade to junk.
Good probiotics will often contains some of these four important strains of bacteria:
* Lactobacillus acidophilus: makes Lactase – the enzyme needed to digest milk and other dairy products. Also helps make vitamin K2 which is needed for proper blood clotting.
* Bifidobacterium longum: also improves the ability to digest dairy products, helps prevent diarrhea and food allergies and is a powerful antioxidant. Some studies suggest it may help ease anxiety, maintain healthy cholesterol levels and combat cancerous growths in the colon.
* Lactobacillus plantarum: strengthens the gut lining, which helps heal leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut means that the pores in the intestines have enlarged enough to allow toxins from food to pass into the bloodstream. Also, it helps quickly digest proteins, which reduces the chance of food allergies. It also helps increase brain-healthy levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
* Lactobacillus brevis: enhances the ability of natural killer cells (T-cells) to fight invaders, and increase the level of BDNF… which is a growth hormone in the brain.
* Bifidobacterium lactis: improves digestion and kills pathogens that cause diarrhea such as Salmonella. Also boosts immune function.
Good probiotics also contain Prebiotics. Prebiotics are food ingredients that travel undigested to the colon to be fermented, where they are converted to short chain fatty acids (SCTA’s). SCTA’s inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, act as a source of energy to feed the probiotics (making them work better), and preserves electrolyte and fluid balance.
A common prebiotic is fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Other good sources of prebiotics include beet pulp, raw garlic and dandelion greens. So, if any of these ingredients are appealing, try taking them with the probiotic.
Incidentally, it is up for debate as to the best time to take probiotics. Personally, I believe it to be most effective if taken 30 minutes prior to a meal – but never with coffee or anything hot as it kills the good bugs. Other practitioners advise clients to take them at the start of a meal because it is easier.
So, let’s get real for a second now. When neck and shoulder pain causes throbbing and hurts big time, the last thing that comes to mind is “Hmmm…I guess it’s time for my probiotics.” Maybe it should be the first thought??
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