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Your best immunity from the ground up

The purpose of this post is to help you maintain the natural immunity you are born with and limit the habits we as a society have accepted that have compromised our ability to deal with and fight every day common germs

Building a strong immune system is as important today in our modern times as it has ever been. Our modern lifestyle has moved us away from our natural physiological immunity. Our attitudes and fears toward germs have led us to try to control all these perceived threats by sterilizing our life and interaction with our surroundings.

But in our effort to eliminate all these perceived threats from germs we have weakened our collective immunity . We have dampened our immune response to germs by aggressively trying to avoid them in the first place..

We need a strong immune system to fight viruses and colds, to ward off infections in the air, in our food and on our skin. As the world becomes closer and germs travel further it’s never too early to start considering how to maximize our natural immune capabilities.  

Our health and longevity have benefited immensely from modern medicine. Medical discoveries including antibiotics, diagnostic tests, surgeries , and certainly sterilization techniques of surgical equipment and environment to prevent hospital infections .But by taking all these benefits out of context , by sterilizing everything in our everyday lives , we have weakened our native immunity.

When the news and social media cries wolf regularly, common diseases seem like an epidemic breeding fear in parents. We all become overprotective in order that our children avoid all germs and common infections. But there is a real danger in making our environment too sterile. We will not have the individual or community immune resources to fight emerging epidemics.

Until recently our personal habits including hygiene, diet, less exercise, poor sleep, too much screen time,  and the way we raise our children was not recognized as having a negative influence on our immunity . But we now know these are key factors in lowering our immune potential.

Key points to maintaining your natural immunity

  • Too clean– need to go back the old fashioned idea of getting your hands dirty to build a good childhood immune system
  • Getting sick is key to staying healthy- avoiding germs early in life leads to a weaker immune system and you won’t have the immune reserve when you need it the most
  • Go outdoors and bring the outdoors in- our indoor environment has become too sterile and we spend too much time in it.
  • Eat healthy organic unprocessed foods for your immediate and long term health as well as for your intestinal and immune health
  • De-stress – sleep,exercise, mindfulness. Learning how to cope in today’s world are key to a strong and healthy immune system
  • Move– exercise, physical activity, and plain movement is as important as anything else in building a sound immune system

Starting at birth-enhancing the immunity we were meant to develop

Delivery- the rampant rise of c-sections has not helped babies develop as strong of immune systems from the very beginning as they were intended. Natural vaginal deliveries are the way we were intended to be born and present the first opportunity for exposure to good bacteria and an immune enhancing environment vs the sterilized environment of the surgical suite. Studies have shown that children born vaginaly have a beter early immunity and seem to deal with early illness better.

Baby feeding

Breastfeeding is superior in every way as a source of nutrients than formula . When it comes to immune enhancing ability there is even less of a contest.  Breast milk gives direct immune protection with immunoglobulins passing through the milk to the baby. This helps them fight infections as well as protective benefit for intestinal system. In addition the act of breastfeeding is beneficial due to the direct oral contact with mom’s skin by inoculating the baby with mom’s skin flora for a developing immunity.t The warmth and social contact with mom have the benefit of close maternal bonding which is known for stress reducing and immune building.

Bottle feeding – new evidence shows that we are sterilizing the bottles and nipples too much not allowing our baby’s any opportunity to come in contact with any immune building potential from the environment.

Personal hygiene -All our sterilizing has also killed the protective bacteria from our skin, mouth, hair, intestinal system, and nasal passages.

Bathing –

Baby . Parents generally have a tendency to over wash their baby’s. Unless your baby runs a marathon they really do not need a bath every day. They benefit from a strong skin barrier, beneficial bacteria, and protective oils on the skin. These are all reduced with too frequent bathing with soap. Baby’s need this protective skin barrier to guard from rashes, irritations, and infections.

Children and adults – truth be told -we should not be constantly showering and bathing. We are removing valuable protective barriers from our skin including oils,  and bacteria. We are also drying out and breaking down intact skin with constant water, soap ,and scrubbing with abrasive agents and perfumed soaps. Our largest organ is our skin and our most important protective barrier for our body against the dangers of world.

      Compromise- during work and school days particularly sweaty dirty outdoor day’s you can’t get away without bathing . But on weekends and when spending your time primarily indoors every once in awhile it’s ok to forgo a bath.

Hand washing

Too much hand washing and hand sanitizer removes all the good bacteria from our skin. Not to mention the chemicals in the sanitizer. We do not get the opportunity to interact with the good immune enhancing environment we were meant to when we constantly wipe it away with chemicals.

There are a number of times that it is essential to wash your hands. For instance after using the bathroom, especially public restrooms or when you are near others with a cold or flu. Good hygiene habits are not synonymous with constantly sterilizing your hands, it merely means to protect yourself from dangerous germs in a reasonable and sound way. Not all germs are the enemy.

Deodorant

Antiperspirant vs deodorant. Stopping sweat is not the best idea for both health versus deodorant which hides the smell but does not change the body’s response. It is natural for us to  sweat and smell as part of a natural protection.

Too much deodorant prevents natural oil and protection of bacteria that usually forms in most warm areas. ( not to mention the danger of the aluminum in deodorant)

The sanitized house – spotless dirtless house is not always the healthiest.

Clean versus sterile- method of cleaning . Sterilizing with alcohol and bleach bringing toxic chemical to remove all sorts of useful dirt ( natural immune support) vs cleaning and making your house sanitary.

Cleaning all objects and surfaces relentlessly with harsh chemical can be couter productive. Use mild natural detergents and soap and water. Do clean well when necessary but relentless obsession of being spotless and sterile is lowering our immunity and not helping us face the outdoors

Put nature back in our immune system

Bringing the outdoors in-

Taking off your shoes- many homes  are trying to eliminate dirt both for aesthetic reasons and in an effort to keep outside dirt and germs at bay. But is this a good thing. Not according to studies that have indicated that too sterile of an environment has a negative impact for children trying to build a young immune system. Once again you need exposure to the elements and allergens earlier in life in order to build and enhance your system for the long run.

Removing shoes when you come in the house ( other than circumstances where your child was walking in mud or dirt or is allergic to the pollen they might be carrying in) – while keeping the house clean prevents needed environmental allergens and exposure to common environmental germs .

Get a dog

Your immune system is helped by having a dog . Studies have shown that a dog brings the outdoor environment in and improves a child’s immune system by slowly exposing them to all sorts of good bacteria from the outdoors.

Play outside

Going outside in mother nature especially to green places and is immune boosting .

Allow your children to play outside in the green outdoors. Run kick play with balls .

Play in the dirt and sand like children should. Sure there are some germs in dirt but building up your immune system is worth the risk. If you wash their hands appropriately with soap and water you can maintain a good balance between outdoor germs and cleanliness

You are what you eat  

Healthy local organic fruits and vegetable are the best version of food to enhance your immunity. Eat lots of organic fruit and vegetables avoiding preservatives .Washed well but do not sterilize.  Want the good bacteria that comes with it – eating nature in a way in it’s healthiest form . Processed chemically altered foods are harmful to our bodies but especially to our intestines and digestive process. Processed foods with chemicals reduce your body’s immune fighting .

Intestinal flora needs to be maintained with healthy eating and natural- probiotics, high fiber, whole foods. Try to eat a good balance of raw ( but safe not on recalled list) fruits , nuts, seed, and vegetables). We are learning that our intestinal system is integrally involved with our immune system. And a healthy intestinal system is crucial to a good immune system. Eating organic, natural , unprocessed high fiber foods is the best way to maintain intestinal health

Introduction of probiotics may be helpful if you or your children have an altered intestinal flora but you must be careful in the brand and types you introduce. Many physician’s are now recommending probiotics to enhance immune health in people who do not have optimal healthy diets.

Sleep

Having a goods night sleep is essential to maintaining a good immune system. Be sensible with the time you go to sleep. And keep your sleep patterns regular. A change of schedule and sleepless night could be the weak point in getting sick.

Exercise and movement

Stop playing video games and start using your brain while moving . Many studies show that movement improves blood flow and immunity. Exercise helps thin mucus and your ability to fight illness. It also has been shown to reduce stress.

Stress- It is important for children to learn how to deal with adversity . Teach them how to interact, respond, and resolve. Do not just distract with food and screen time. Talk things through don’t just do everything for them guide your children. It’s never too early to introduce your child to mindfulness.

Exposure to childhood illness and vaccines

In our new world, parents do not expose their child to germs and viruses from common childhood illness early enough. Diseases and illness are much worse when you first get them when you are older. Schools are making parents paranoid with all the caution regarding every common everyday virus that passes through during the cold and flu season. Childhood viruses have been around for centuries but only recently demanding unreasonable parents have forced the schools to become neurotic guardians of a germ free environment,quickly sending out a panic notice for every disease and virus . Parents feel it is a bad thing to go to school and catch the latest greatest bug. Even some schools make parents bring a note that the sibling of the ill child is free of illness before allowing them back. This approach is irrational since the viruses are the most contagious at the very beginning with the runny eyes, sneezing, and fever. Not at the end with the congestion and coughing symptoms.

A New study on childhood leukemia has indicated that if your children are not allowed to cultivate the germs and build their immunity at a young age they will not be prepared for the germs when they get older and will overreact to the point that these children have a higher risk of getting seriously ill. This is preliminary but a warning to all the parents and schools trying to eliminate every cold and viral germ from all children.

Fever is our friend ( see fever blog for information ). Not letting our children fight viruses with fever. A fever is a major way we develop our immune system and create immunity for future infections . Like training our system to fight future germs . Most parents generally do not allow their children to fight the gems with the body’s natural response including fever.

Too much anti fever medicine does not let us fight the germ with all our ability.

Vaccines do enhance your child’s immunity –  I have never had a documented legitimate experience after a child gets the vaccine that they have a sudden lowering of their immune system or get colds more frequently. This is one of the arguments from parents who want to delay the vaccines . Vaccines  are protective as well as good exposure and a challenge to the immune system to help it build stronger. When these unvaccinated children finally do get sick it is much more severe and complicated.

Socialization- interacting with others is beneficial in many ways but for the purpose of this article interacting helps develop your immunity directly by sharing germs and inoculating you with community germs.

Close relationships -sharing drinks, hugging, bonding ,and touching are beneficial on many levels to our immune growth as humans.

Homeschooled and isolated children are not exposed to the many good types of bacteria and germs at an early age to slowly build up a strong and resilient immunity. They are more likely to get complicated and severe responses to the common viruses when they are finally exposed to other school children.

Early testing like rapid tests for strep, flu, other infections leads to early treatment and although there are clear benefits to not letting us or our children suffer with a preventable illness we do not get to experience the germ and build up an immune response to fight this infection the next time.

Antibiotic overuse is a topic itself. But generally speaking antibiotics change your intestinal flora killing the good bacteria and have a negative impact on the intestines ability to respond to immune challenges.

It is important that we use common sense in approaching the fears we have in our changing world regarding treatment of illness especially viruses and infections. There is much we can do to improve our individual immunity . We are stronger than our fear tells us we are.

Approach to allergies

Allergy management

Medical care– seek medical care for any of the below symptoms particularly if it is of acute and problematic nature. Allergy symptoms have many similarities to other medical conditions.Before attempting any self treatment or holistic methods below please discuss your or your children’s symptoms with your Physician for a consult and physical exam.Things are not always what they seem and a trained physician is the best place to start when diagnosing and managing allergies.

Description of allergies

General explanation for allergies is your body’s immune overreaction to things in the environment and your diet.

Common allergic symptoms include runny nose, sneezing watery itchy irritated eyes, nasal congestion,sinus problems, skin rashes, hives and itchy skin rashes. Severe reactions could include swelling in the throat, eyes, lips, coughing with trouble breathing.

( For any symptoms call your Medical doctor, and any doubt as to the severity of your or your child’s symptoms go to the emergency room or call 911)

An example of a mild allergic reaction is when you are sensitive to someone’s perfume and start to sneeze, develop a runny nose and itchy eyes.

The sources of these irritants are many and can be from food which can also cause stomach pain, gas,bloating and diarrhea; or allergens that range from pets to the environment which tends to cause runny nose, coughing, and respiratory issues. . Allergic and commonly called atopic symptoms range from merely a little sneezing to sensitive eczema skin and asthma with wheezing.Many allergies run in families .

Managing allergies:

 

  • Elimination of the sources of your allergy in the home, outdoors, diet , and personal care products
  • Medical treatment from over the counter to emergency medical care always consult your physician first
  • Foods, herbs, teas, that help with allergic symptoms
  • Supplements that may improve allergy symptoms
  • Lifestyle change- exercise, meditation , stress reduction can moderate some of the allergy triggers

 

Elimination.

Best method in managing allergic symptoms is to avoid the causes in the first place. Below are things to consider eliminating to lower your exposure to allergens that cause your allergic reactions.

Environmental and Household allergy management and control

Pets bring us unconditional love and joy but allergies to these pets can be problematic . Your friendly family pet can help enhance a child’s immune system by exposing them to healthy bacteria and at the same time help the whole family de-stress, but many people are allergic to dogs and more so cats,( there is really no such thing as a non allergic dog, only some dogs shed less.) All dogs potentially cause allergies in the house and particularly in the child’s room. Also something to consider even if you and your children are not allergic to your dog or cat is that your pet is the perfect vector for bringing all sorts of outdoor irritants and allergens into the house including pollen, ragweed, grass, dirt, mold etc.

House

Bedroom

Mattress- buy a hypoallergenic mattress ,place a plastic cover on mattress, no curtains,no frilly blankets. No carpet. No stuffed animals or toys in the room, keep them away from contact in glass or storage containers. Keep pets out of the babies room until you know the child is not allergic to this pet. Take your shoes off when you come into the house. Any clothing with lotions , plant residue or spray remove and leave in the washroom, by the front door or the bathroom.

Dust and mite collectors-  try to eliminate clutter, curtains,  carpet , stuffed toys, mattresses, and furniture that collects dust,

Cleaning products– detergents, carpet cleaners, floor products including bleach, ammonia, and anything with a scent  are all irritants.

Exterminator and bug spray – have non toxic brands. Stay out of the house for at least 3 hours after you spray for insects or the exterminator does. Keep your child out of the room where you spray for at least an hour when you do it yourself.

Indoor plants– pay attention to any indoor plants that may have mold,bugs, seed, flowers or pollen.

Air conditioning – use an electrostatic filter to lower the dust and allergens in the air, clean vents with non toxic chemicals. Have the whole unit checked for mold and germs in the motor, pipes and fans. Set up an ultraviolet light to keep the filter clean and free of mold.

Mold is a particularly problematic in humid climates such as South Florida. It can get in the air conditioning vents, walls, floorboards, and any closet, bathroom, or moist area inside the house or outside. Be vigilant to keep the house mold free it can be one of the most irritating and toxic sources of allergies and respiratory problems.

Outdoors

including your yard and the neighborhood –

Be aware of the allergy irritation potential of the flowers, plants, trees with pollen surrounding your house or apartment.

Insects are also a common source of allergic reaction ranging from simple itchy mosquito bites to severe redness swelling and respiratory issues with bee,wasp,and red ants. If you find you or your child has a severe reaction to one of these insects you should see an allergist and make sure you have diphenhydramine and an injectable with you whenever you are outdoors or in school.

Seasonal allergies particularly mold during rainy season,pollen during the windy season, and decaying leaves on the ground during fall are things to consider.

Chemicals sprayed on the grass in your yard, the neighborhood or the park travel back in the house on your shoes with allergens from outside are additionally something to be aware of.

Pools and lakes can be a source of problems- pool chlorine tends to bother many children. Lakes can have algae and other plants that are irritants.

Personal

Hygiene – is a new area of discussion. We of course want to be clean but not too clean. Appropriate hygiene is the catchphrase- try to avoid putting allergens on your body and face by touching your face and nose with contaminated hands from touching plants, dust ,and pollen by washing regularly after coming in from the outdoors or when you know you have a substance on your hands. This can initiate an allergic reaction without even realizing you have done it yourself.

But there is much discussion regarding being too sterile with wipes, hand sanitizer, constant washing and cleaning. This leads to eliminating good bacteria from the skin as well as causing children to be more susceptible to allergens from food and the environment since they were not exposed and allowed to develop a tolerance while they were young. They subsequently do not develop a proper proportional response to allergens and overreact to anything new causing worse reactions. So use wipes and hand washing when you know there is particularly dirty little hands or your child touched something obviously irritating. But it is not necessary to constantly clean them for any reason.

Personal and household supplies that you should consider eliminating or changing.

Beauty supplies-perfume,cologne, make up, shaving cream,deodorant, body lotions, soaps. Can all be irritants and should be evaluated for possible allergic reactions. Hair supplies- shampoo and conditioner, straighteners, creams, spray, gels can also cause allergies and rashes around the hairline and neck.

Additional Things you put on your skin, moisturizer, sunscreen, insect repellent are all known to be very irritating to the skin and respiratory system.

Cleaning goods including clothes detergent, household cleaners like floor cleansers, furniture polish, dust sprays .

Other possible sources for allergies in the house. Smoke , candles. Incense, fragrance .

Food elimination when trying to uncover allergies

Keep a food diary or log to try to see if their are any foods which might be responsible for allergic symptoms. Generally food allergies are manifested more internally such as stomach upset, gas, loose stools. But often they can also be part of a wider allergic profile such as congestion, coughing, eczema and atopic skin and rashes.

First monitor your most commonly ingested foods , diary is one of the most common. Then look carefully at the known allergic food group including berries, corn, nuts, tomatoes, citrus, and eggs. Then move on to evaluating you or your child’s diet for additional foods consumed and those you may need to eliminate. Next see if eliminating them makes an improvement in your symptoms.  It can take up to a week or longer to notice improvement but often the difference can be seen in a few day’s.

If elimination and management particularly once you have consulted your physician or child a Pediatrician does not help then it may be time to  take your child to an allergist

[ Early introduction of common healthy allergic foods such as peanuts and fruits such as berries is now recommended to prevent development of these allergens in children  ]

Medical management :Always seek medical advice from your medical doctor and child’s Pediatrician before beginning any medication including over the counter meds. Even the smallest of signs of allergies can turn into big problems quickly so consult your physician for advice and a plan in the event of worsening of your symptoms.

Medications to have in your cabinet and with you when you travel if you have known allergy symptoms in the family

Benadryl or generic name diphenylhydramine, claritin, allegra, and more emergency treatment as prescribed by your physician for known serious allergies. epi-pen, and auviQ

Nasal- washes with sterile saline is often helpful in keeping your nasal passages open and clear of allergens. Cortisone sprays are now available over the counter but should be recommended by your physician prior to beginning any therapy

Non medical options to reduce allergic symptoms to try  

Foods to include  that have been known to help with allergies

Quercetin containing foods – quercetin is a  component of foods that it is known to be anti inflammatory and antioxidant particularly for the over response of our immune system to things that cause allergies

Foods high in quercetin include red apple skin, red onions, capers used in flavoring  ( try to find low salt), lovage leaves, berries including blueberries and elderberries , black plums,and red grapes.

Nettle Leaf is another anti inflammatory plant that has been commonly used to help with allergic symptoms.

Supplements

Quercetin and nettle leaf supplements are also available – please check with your physician before starting as any antioxidant may interfere with other meditation

Teas

Green tea has catechins which helps reduce histamine ( the source of allergic reaction ) production by your body in response to allergens.

Ginger tea is a good  anti inflammatory and helps calm allergies

Rooibos tea helps reduce the histamine response as well

Peppermint tea is known to help with the congestion and allergy symptoms

Nettle, yerba mate, and lemon balm tea can all also help with allergic symptoms.

Spices and herbs

Cinnamon in general helps with it’s anti inflammatory and blood stabilizing properties. Cassia cinnamon in particular helps moderate allergic symptoms with about a teaspoon a day being the recommended amount.  Cassia cinnamon mixed with spanish needles makes a reasonable anti allergy mixture that has been researched to have benefits.

Turmeric once again helps with allergy symptoms with it’s anti inflammatory benefits

Elderberry syrup has been used for centuries to help with allergy symptoms such as congestion and runny nose.

Ginger itself is useful for allergy symptoms by lowering your reaction and helping with cough.

Black pepper also has been shown to be useful to help lower allergy and other atopic symptoms including skin issues.

Probiotics- help your intestinal flora keep your immune system functioning at peak and generally maintain the appropriate response to stimulants in food.

Stress reduction is immune building and allergy reducing

Exercise always helps calm your nerves which contribute to allergies. Blood flow enhances clearance of sinuses and thinning of the mucus

Meditation and mindfulness at the very least helps with the anxiety and frustration associated with chronic allergy sufferers. But in addition there much research regarding the nature of stress and its effect on your immune system even your overreaction to allergens in the environment and the development of allergies particularly eczema .

As with all recommendations please check with your physician before beginning any regimen .

Allergies present a particular dilemma for anyone trying to avoid medications and live healthy .

Allergic symptoms can be miserable and often worth using medications to be comfortable. But if you do your homework with the help of this guide  you can reduce your dependence on some medications and use them more wisely

Warren Krantz MD

The HealthfulMD

Author of “ Start Healthy, Stay Healthy”.