Autumn and your immune system
I love autumn. Especially crisp, sunny days spent crunching red and orange leaves underfoot, watching squirrels squirrelling acorns away.
I don’t love colds, flu, tummy bugs, chesty coughs, lingering viruses and sinus infections. Neither, I suspect, do you.
Which is why we are focussing on your immune system right now, and how you can make it stronger.
What exactly is your immune system?
We’ve all heard of it, but do you actually know what it is? It’s actually an integrated network of different services, activities, cells and tissue that work together to protect you from illness. It includes:
- white blood cells
- chemicals that trigger inflammation – and calm it down again
- lymph nodes, vessels and fluid
- your blood-brain-barrier
- your skin and other membranes that sit between you and the outside world – like your stomach and intestinal walls, for example
- the bacteria and other microbes that hang around and line all of these external and internal surfaces
These parts of you are continually assessing the situation, communicating to each other and responding to what’s going on. It’s a truly amazing system that requires an incredible amount of energy and nutrients.
Why does your immune system need a boost?
Our bodies face a lot of extra challenges these days. Pollution in the air, water and food chain require a lot of extra resources to deal with, for example. In addition, this is a particularly busy time of year, and your immune system may need all the help it can get. If you feel run down, or are finding it hard to shift a virus, there are healthier alternatives to just heading to the chemist. In fact, why not start strengthening your immune system before it gets that far.
Shi-itake, reishi, maitake, chaga… such exotic names, and well deserved considering how much good these mushrooms can do you. The research on medicinal mushrooms is impressive, and they have been used in the Orient for thousands of years. Compounds from these super-mushrooms have been studied for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer properties, as well as their effect on your white blood cells and ability to deal with disease.
A 2015 study on actual human beings (rather than lab rats) showed that eating shiitake mushrooms every day increased the production and effectiveness of at least 2 different types of white blood cell, as well as improving gut immunity and reducing inflammation. You can buy dried shiitake mushrooms in most supermarkets and health food shops, and some even sell fresh shiitake.
Recent research has also shown mushrooms to be a prebiotic food, which means they help feed your beneficial bacteria. Which brings us to…
There is a mountain of ever-growing research on the role of your microbiome – i.e. the bacteria, yeasts, viruses and other microbes that lively mostly in your gut. As described above, however, you’ll find them on al your inner and outer surfaces, forming part of your protective barrier. Beneficial microbes keep the disease-forming ones in check, by outnumbering them and even actively killing them off. They also help vet new, unidentified things that try to enter your body: if they come across anything suspect, they take it to your white blood cells for assessment.
Bacteria and other microbes influence processes of inflammation and your general immune function in a number of ways. To do this, you need a really healthy balance of the more beneficial ones. This is why eating fermented foods can be so helpful: they boost supplies of your helpful bacteria.
Such fermented foods include natural yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kim chi and kombucha. If you’ve ever tried these and they gave you a tummy ache, bloating or other symptoms, you probably took too much too quickly. It pays to be gentle with these and with probiotic supplements for best effect.
So we often include fermented foods on our courses, but we also discuss how to use them, what happens when you take too much, as well as how to get/make the best quality.
So to find out more, come along to our next course:
Also check out Love Your Lymph: Immune System Part 2
Dai, Xiaoshuang, et al. “Consuming Lentinula edodes (Shiitake) mushrooms daily improves human immunity: A randomized dietary intervention in healthy young adults.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 34.6 (2015): 478-487.
Jayachandran, Muthukumaran, Jianbo Xiao, and Baojun Xu. “A Critical Review on Health Promoting Benefits of Edible Mushrooms through Gut Microbiota.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences 18.9 (2017): 1934.