December 7, 2009
The following is a letter from Ben Greenfield about another way to fight the flu and boost your immune system:
Over the past few months, there has been amplified desperation to escape being struck by the swine flu. Nobody likes to get sick, but the swine flu seems to present a particularly nasty set of symptoms, including more extreme aches, higher fevers and even the potential of death.
Like many people, at the beginning of this winter I was anxious for an answer to protect myself and my family against this deadly virus.
There was certainly the option of vaccination, but the slightly murky research on the true side effects made me wary. There was also the option of stocking up on anti-bacterials and anti-biotics and simply living “inside a bubble”, only venturing into the public when absolutely necessary, but this was an unlikely prospect for my job as a nutritionist and fitness coach and for my family's happiness and social life.
The alternative choice was to simply begin building as big a barrier as possible to the flu. In other words, if the body's natural immune system were strong enough to be able to withstand the onslaught of dangerous microbes, pathogens and viruses, then perhaps a vaccination or social isolation would not even be necessary. This is an idea that seems to make pretty good sense, since each of us was born with an immune system.
The immune system is actually quite amazing, and acts like a finely tuned orchestra with many different instruments. But like an orchestra, all the instruments of your immune system must be present and playing their parts properly in order for the system to work correctly. These instruments include lymphocytes, or T-cells, which directly attack invading molecules; B-cells, which form antibodies that can quickly identify and respond to future threats; phagocytic cells, such as macrophages and neutrophils, which clean the debris at the battle sites; and factors like cytokines, which are signaling molecules that can recognize a foreign invader or toxin and alert other immune system factors to rapidly heal the area of damage and remove the invader from your body. Each of these instruments circulate through your bloodstream and are spread throughout your tissues at potential entry sites of infection.
In addition to signaling immune cells to act quickly, the cytokines mentioned above can also promote an inflammatory response at the site of infection. Think of this inflammatory response as one way your body secludes, or builds a protective wall around, an infected area. For example, if you have ever had poison ivy, or gotten a rash from eating a food to which you are allergic, you may have noticed redness and swelling surrounding the affected area. This redness and swelling is protective inflammation to keep the infection from spreading to surrounding tissue. So your immune system receives crucial assistance from your inflammatory response.
In addition to the importance of inflammation in supporting the proper function of the immune system, your gastrointestinal tract is another very important component of immunity. Of all the potential entry sites between the inside of your body and the outside environment, your gastrointestinal tract is the largest, and must somehow keep out damaging molecules and pathogenic organisms, while still letting in the nutrients and food components your body needs to survive. If the cells of the gastrointestinal tract have healthy and properly functioning membranes, then the body is perfectly primed to allow this process to occur.
Now, what if you were to discover that a natural family of compounds actually exist that A) supply your body with the necessary immune system instruments to mount an inflammatory response and B) provide the building blocks for a healthy gastrointestinal cell membrane?
If you're anything like me, you'll try to get those compounds into your body as quickly and effectively as possible so that you can naturally build up your immune system barriers. Fortunately, these compounds not only exist, but are affordable and easy to find. They are known as Essential Fatty Acids (EFA's), and are readily available to you in healthy, dense and highly absorbable forms like flax oil.
As a matter of fact, a study found that children taking just a half teaspoon of flax oil a day experienced fewer and less severe respiratory infections and fewer days of being absent from school. This is because one of the fatty acids in flax oil called an “omega 3” actually increases the activity of phagocytes, those cellular instruments of the immune system that eat up bacteria, and cytokines, the promoters of healthy inflammation. At the same time, other essential fatty acids in flax oil, such as the “omega 6” can cool down too much inflammation and protect the body against damage from over-reactions to infection.
But you can't just randomly consume omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids and expect your immune system to automatically become stronger.
The ratio of the omega 3 to the omega 6 is very important and clinical studies have shown that maintaining a healthy balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is a very good way to support balance in your immune and inflammation response system. This research indicates a ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats of 1:4 is most beneficial to the human body (the typical American diet has a ratio of around 1:20 omega-3's to 1 omega-6's)!
This is why flax oil, which is derived from the seeds of the flax plant, actually promotes good health and a well-functioning immune system. It naturally contains appropriate ratios of omega 3's and omega 6's. In addition, flaxseed oil is rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential fatty acid that is beneficial for heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis and a variety of other health conditions. Your body can also use this ALA to form other important compounds called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are other crucial forms of omega 3's.
Armed with this valuable information about essential fatty acids, I personally include 2-4 daily capsules of Essential Fatty Acids in the dietary protocol of both myself and my wife. In addition, we break open 1 capsule and put it into our children's food (believe it or not, kids have immune systems just like adults!).
With an emphasis on holistic herbal support for the immune system, we also supplement the Essential Fatty Acids we take with the very important green superfood compound. Our children also take the green supplement. Finally, during this flu season, we include higher than usual intake of the readily available compounds Vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin A.
So are you doing everything that you can to protect yourself and your family this winter?
Not only is essential fatty acid supplementation simple and straightforward, but imagine how much money you would spend on doctor's visits and hospital bills if your or a loved one were to fall ill with the flu. I am proud to proclaim that despite daily trips to gyms, malls, stores and social events, none of my family members has been compromised by any form of the flu this winter. Thanks to smart nutrition, our immune systems are strong and well-equipped to handle the constant barrage upon our bodies, and your immune system can operate with the same efficiency.
My #1 recommendation for EFAs is Kion Omega. When it comes to omega-3 fatty acids, not all fish oils are created equal. The best quality Omega-3 fats like those in Kion Omega come from small fish like sardines and anchovies that thrive in cold waters. Unfortunately, many of the supplements lining the aisles of health food stores contain inexpensive fish oils from large fish that swim in suspect waters. Plus, they often contain fillers and synthetic materials that can rob the body of nutrition.