How to Support Both Mind and Body to Boost Your Immune System
March 30, 2020 at 17:15 by Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS
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When it comes to immunity, forget everything you ever heard about “mind” vs. “body." There’s really no “mind-body” duality when it comes to the immune system. It’s exquisitely responsive to what you put into your body and what you “put into” your mind, i.e., your thoughts, feelings and emotions.
Let me explain.
Stress and the Immune System
In 1975, two professors at the University of Rochester—Drs. Robert Adler and Nicholas Cohen—demonstrated that you could “condition” the immune system in the same way Pavlov conditioned his dogs. They christened this field of study “psychoneuroimmunology,” and in 1981, Adler published a textbook, appropriately named Psychoneuroimmunology, that detailed all the research supporting the notion that the brain and the immune system are an integrated system.1
In plain English, they had demonstrated that your thoughts and emotions can have a profound effect on your immunity. Stress isn’t just something that’s “all in your head”. Stress has a powerful effect on illness, recovery and susceptibility to illness in general. Research has shown that stressful experiences—whether physical or mental—cause the release of powerful inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. Usually, your body will release these nasty cytokines when it’s trying to repair an injury or destroy germs and microbes. But when you’re emotionally stressed, you release certain hormones that down the road, cause inflammatory cytokines to be released.2,3,4,5 “A period of stress will disrupt a wide variety of immune functions,” says the internationally known Stanford University biologist and stress physiologist Robert Sapolsky, Ph.D.
The Mind Talks To The Body… and the Body Listens!
Make no mistake about it: state-of-mind matters to your physical health. Happiness and feeling good actually help multiply your Natural Killer (NK) cells, important players in mounting an immune system attack on invading microbes. In fact, research demonstrates a positive correlation between sense of humor/positive outlook and immune system cell activity.6,7
We can support our immune system with certain nutrients (stay tuned for the list), but it’s equally important that we support our immune system by working on stress reduction and attitude adjustment.
Here are my favorite things to do to help you feel happier and better and more relaxed—all of which, make no mistake, will make your immune system very happy. Think of these as “dance music” for your immune cells.
So What Should I Do?
To get your immune system cells “dancing," try these immune-boosting techniques:
Be on the lookout for cynical thoughts.
Examine situations reasonably, from all angles.
Put yourself in other people’s shoes.
Learn to laugh at yourself. Seriously.
Learn to relax. Practice often.
Learn to trust.
Learn to listen, and practice daily.
Practice forgiveness and gratitude.
But don’t neglect the physical essence of the immune system, and make sure to support it with the immune-protecting nutrients listed below.
So What Should I Take?
The two products I would never be without during cold and flu season are black elderberry extract and olive leaf extract.
Black Elderberries contain powerful immune-supporting antioxidants and are considered a superfood.
Even if you wanted to, you can’t find them in the U.S., and even if you could, you wouldn’t want to—they taste absolutely awful. However, you can buy an over-the-counter black elderberry syrup or powdered extract, which is terrific as a daily tonic during this season. It’s been shown in research to cut the number of days lost to flu by about half.8,9
Then there’s my personal favorite, olive leaf extract.
Olive leaf extract contains various trace elements vital to good health, such as selenium, chromium, iron, zinc, vitamin C, beta-carotene and a wide range of amino acids. The powerful antioxidant effect produced by high-quality olive leaf complex may be due to the synergy of flavonoids, phenols and a high oleuropein content.
I actually once wrote a small book on olive leaf extract, listing all the research in which various components in the olive leaf—such as oleuropein—have been shown to have powerful effects on a wide number of bacteria and other pesky microbes.
In addition to olive leaf extract and black elderberry syrup, I recommend the following nutrients, all of which have been shown to have a strong effect on immunity and resiliency:
Vitamin C: 1,000-2,000 mg daily (You can go much higher during an episode of a cold or flu or virus)
Zinc: The RDA for this important antioxidant mineral is only 8-11 mg a day, which most health professionals think is too low. Regardless, at the first sign of a cold or flu, up it to 50mg a day for the duration.
Ashwagahnda: Ashwagahnda is an adaptogen, which means it helps the body deal with stress, which, as mentioned, seriously compromises the immune system. It’s used in Ayurvedic medicine to help relieve fatigue, pain and stress and may help your body fight off the cold and flu. It’s best used over time, so start slowly, and increase dose during times of stress.
Vitamin A: Vitamin A is one of the best-kept secrets when it comes to supporting your immune system. I go with a very high dose (like 50,000 IUs) for about three days during times of immune system challenge. Highly recommended: the mycelized (liquid) form.
Probiotics: Your gut is home to trillions of cells of microbes—some health supporting, some not. The good ones help you digest and absorb important nutrients while helping to alleviate intestinal inflammation. Examples of “bad” microbes would be Candida albicans, which cause yeast infections. Probiotics are the good guys in this turf war in your gut. And they’re very supportive to the immune system. “Probiotics may help the immune system become strong enough to fight off viral infection,” says Allison Tannis, M.Sc., R.H.N, author of Probiotic Rescue. Look for a probiotics supplement that contains the following five strains:
Bifidobacterium lactis (or B. animalis)
Remember, your immune system is like an orchestra; to perform at its best every instrument needs to be tuned and ready to rock 'n' roll!
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