One of the most important and extremely relevant wellness trends in our ever-changing world is about boosting immune health. You can practice the best workouts, diets, and achieve a normal weight (based on your height), but if your immunity is weak due to chronic stress, poor gut health, and other factors, then health problems such as flu, colds, skin irritation, digestive issues, cancer, and COVID-19 can harm your overall well-being easily.
In my previous article, I discussed the latest and most effective movement strategies and principles (based on the Asia Fitness Conference I recently attended) that can help you age gracefully. As a continuation of my recent conference learnings, for this week, I will share ways to strengthen the immune system by improving gut health and stress management.
80 percent of your immune system is based on your gut health
Autoimmune (lupus, type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis), immunodeficiency (AIDS and cancers like leukemia and multiple myeloma) disorders, aging, environmental toxins, excess weight, poor diet, chronic diseases, chronic mental stress and lack of sleep can all attack the immune system. But some immunity triggers can still be controlled such as your body weight and lifestyle. Aside from regular exercise and effective recovery strategies, improving your gut health should be prioritized since 70 to 80 percent of your immune system is located in the gut.
Douglas Kalman, a professor, sports nutritionist and co-founder of International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) mentioned some practical tips in his session “Nutrition to Strengthen the Immune System.”
- It is safe to just have a 300-500 calorie deficit from food intake to ensure the proper functioning of the immune system. This is why consuming less than 1,200 calories a day leads to micronutrient deficiencies which is not medically safe.
- Amino acids play a big role in immune response, so protein intake cannot be skipped upon. Consume 1.4 to 2 grams per kilogram of your body weight. If you weigh 50 kilos (110 pounds), you should aim for at least 70 grams of protein per day. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, then get 1.5 to 2x of protein in your diet to get the necessary amount of amino acids.
- Intake of carbohydrates is very important for the immune system especially for endurance athletes.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are helpful for immunity. The recommended intake per day is 1.6 grams for males and 1.1 grams per for females. You can accomplish the daily requirement by eating salmon, sardines, walnuts, chia and flax seeds.
- Include probiotics in your daily diet such as yogurt, kefir and kombucha.
- Probiotic supplementation has been shown to produce positive effects for gut health, performance and recovery of athletes.
- Consult with your health care professional regarding supplements to ensure balance in your daily nutrition.
You can eat the best food in the world, but unless they are optimally digested and absorbed, then eating in itself is ineffective
Aside from controlling your food portions, knowing the right meal timing and choosing the healthiest foods for the body, you should also give importance to how you can effectively absorb the nutrients in your body so you can ensure that you are really getting all the benefits of good food (boost immunity, muscle growth, weight control and management of health issues), so you can achieve your health goals faster.
Triggers causing intestinal damage that leads to food malabsorption include inflammation, nutrient deficiencies that are blood sugar issues, stress, menopause, pregnancy, toxins, food allergies, antibiotics and infections.
Benjamin Siong, Australia’s leading body composition specialist and renowned international wellness speaker, emphasized the importance of effective digestion and food absorption in his lecture “You Are Only as Well as Your Gut.”
- Chew your food well while staying in a relaxed environment so you can effectively break down and digest your food.
- High chronic stress lowers hydrochloric acid (HCL) production that leads to incomplete protein digestion, poor mineral absorption, increased susceptibility to intestinal infections, stomach ulcers, bloating and the development of Gastro-esophageal Reflux disease (GERD). To develop optimal HCL in the stomach, you should take bitters (peppermint, dandelion, chamomile, woodworm, giantian and rue) and supplement with HCL and Zinc.
- For better digestive health, you should consume high-quality pre-and probiotics (fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut and kvass). Avoid sugary foods like refined white sugar which is shown to negatively affect the immune system with long-term consumption leading to DNA damage. Rotate your foods regularly. Eat naturally occurring saturated fats such as egg yolk, coconut oil and butter. To nourish the mucosal lining of the digestive tract, you should take glutamine, zinc carnosine, bone broth (gelatin, glucosamine and collagen), slippery elm and aloe vera.
Have the right amount of stress at the right time, with the right recovery
You can’t fully avoid life stressors such as relationship conflicts, health issues, and daily workload. Stress is a part of life which can make you more resilient in facing life challenges as time goes by. But what you should avoid is excessive and repetitive stress occurrences (chronic stress) that can negatively affect the immune system (and your physical, mental and emotional state) that leads to serious health problems by being aware and doing something about it as early as now. In fact, a recent study published in the National Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) just last June of this year shows that stress (daily stressors, traumatic events, discrimination and job strain) can accelerate immune aging (or weaken one’s immune cells), but applying lifestyle strategies like healthy eating and undertaking active living may help offset this stress-related immune aging.
Cameron McDonald, exercise physiologist, dietician and the CEO of Personalized Health Alliance (ph360 program), the world’s leading personalized health education and corporate wellness organization, discussed in his lecture “Personalized Stress and Recovery” how people respond differently to stress. A stressful event for someone can be very pleasant for another and this depends on one’s health type. For example, an intense workout such as running that can help release the stress of an active person can be super stressful for someone who finds calmness from doing a yoga class.
Dr. Cam discussed the three major health types (activator, guardian and sensor) in his lecture and suggested ways on preventing and handling stress. As a ph360 health coach, I witnessed how my clients (who enrolled in the ph360 program) reacted differently with various stress triggers, so a unique approach should always be applied based on their health type. I also became more effective in dealing with stress ever since I discovered my own health type (activator) three years ago.
- Activators (mesomorphs) are always on the go. They are usually short, lean (small to medium frame) and love fun and exciting activities. Activators love challenges and are constantly on the move and ready to do something from the morning until the end of the day. Boredom or a sedentary lifestyle is stressful for an activator. But excessive work and action can definitely be a form of stress as well. They get irritable and angry when stressed out.
Activator’s best stress prevention/management wellness strategies: Eating small frequent meals during the day (5 to 6 times), taking some short breaks during the day like lying down for 15 minutes or practicing short breathing exercises and incorporating workout sessions, preferably in the morning since they are early birds.
- Guardians (endomorphs) have a large body frame and can easily gain weight with less physical activity and excessive food intake of carbs and protein. They always prioritize family and get true fulfillment in their lives by taking care of their loved ones. Among the health types, they are the strongest and most resistant to stress. Social instability and excessive consumption of food are their main sources of stress. When stressed out, they crave for more food and gain weight.
Guardian’s best stress prevention/management wellness strategies: Eating a light dinner, avoiding heavy food consumption of protein and carbs, scheduling heavy workout sessions in the afternoon (night owls) and spending time with family and low-maintenance friends.
- Sensors (ectomorphs) are small framed and find it difficult to gain muscles despite working out. They are sensitive, focused, organized, detailed-oriented and love to have structure in their lives. Sources of stress and imbalance include sensory overstimulation, cold environment/weather, noise and lack of information. They experience digestive issues (usually LBM or loose bowel movement), lose more weight and develop anxiety when stressed out.
Sensor’s best stress prevention/management wellness strategies: Eating enough healthy carbs and highly digestible foods several times a day, undergoing relaxing mind-body activities such as yoga and Pilates, staying in a warm place, and avoiding chaotic environments with loud people.
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