Nutrients to boost the immune system

vitamin-c

Feeding your body with right foods may help activate proper function of the immune system. If you’re looking for easy ways to reduce the risk or even prevent illnesses such as the common cold and other flu-like illnesses, your first step should be a visit to the local grocery store.

Some foods are better than others when it comes to priming the immune system. Here is a quick look at a few key nutrients that are critical for proper immune function and which foods you can find them.

Vitamin A
A fat soluble vitamin, vitamin A promotes good vision, gene replication, healthy immune function and proper skin health.

There are two ways in which vitamin A is available to humans:

  • preformed vitamin A;
  • carotenoids.

Preformed vitamin A is found predominantly in animal sources like liver and butter, while carotenoids are found in plant sources.

Vitamin A is essential for healthy mucous membranes, respiratory, urinary, and intestinal tracts, which all help the body to protect against infections. It regulates the immune system and plays a key role in producing white blood cells which fight off infections within the body.

Top foods for vitamin A

  • Lamb’s liver (735% RDA per 3oz)
  • Sweet potato (214% RDA per cup)
  • Carrot (148%)
  • Tuna (143% DV per 6oz)
  • Pumpkin (127% DV per cup)

Vitamin C
An essential nutrient, meaning that the body is unable to synthesize it on its own, humans must on rely on their diet for an adequate source of vitamin C.

Vitamin C performs a variety of functions  throughout the body. Primarily by donating electrons in biochemical reactions. It is required by the body for the development and maintenance of scar tissue, blood vessels, collagen synthesis and proper iron absorption. It’s also an antioxidant. Antioxidants help fight free radicals, a type of molecule known to damage and disrupt the immune system.

Studies have shown that high doses of vitamin C can boost immune function, and in turn reducing the severity and duration of cold and flu like symptoms.

Top foods for vitamin C:

  • Guava (419% DV per cup)
  • Red and green peppers (211%)
  • Kiwi fruit (185%)
  • Strawberries (108%)
  • Oranges (106%)

Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning it is required to be consumed with fatty acids to be absorbed by the body. Similar to vitamin C, vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and is also important in proper heart function, protection against heart disease and a reduction in chronic inflammation.

Top foods for vitamin E:

  • Almonds & sunflower seeds (49% DV per oz)
  • Avocado (28% DV per avocado)
  • Spinach (25% DV per cup)
  • Pumpkin (18%)
  • Kiwi fruit (18%)

Zinc
Zinc is an extremely versatile mineral required as a cofactor by more than 300 enzymes. Virtually all cells contain zinc, with the highest concentrations being found in muscle and bone.

Zinc supports many functions including the production of certain immune cells, building proteins, wound healing, reproduction and creating DNA. Zinc is also essential for creation and activation of T-lymphocytes, which are the core of adaptive immunity, the system that tailors the body’s immune response to specific pathogens.

Several studies have shown that supplementing with zinc can protect against respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold. Similar to vitamin C, Zinc may also reduce the severity and duration of cold and flu like symptoms.

Top foods for zinc:

  • Oysters (327% DV per half dozen)
  • Beef chuck steak (140% DV per 5oz)
  • Chicken leg (49% DV per leg)
  • Tofu (36% DV per cup)
  • Pork chop (32% DV per 6oz)

 

Olive Leaf Extract

Olive-Leaf-Extract-1

Olive leaf extract has had a long history in traditional medicine, being used to prevent, treat or manage inflammation and infections (such as the common cold or influenza), diarrhoea, cardiovascular system function and osteoarthritis.

Produced from the leaves of the olive plant, research shows that the major active ingredient Oleuropein, has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and immune-stimulating properties.

The benefits
Olive leaf extract has been used traditionally in western herbal medicine for:

  • Coughs, colds and influenza. Relieves symptoms of coughs, colds and influenza, sore throats and upper respiratory tract infections;
  • Immune support and general wellbeing. Supports the immune system and when taken daily, it also helps maintain general wellbeing;
  • Natural antioxidants. Olive leaf extract has powerful antioxidant properties to fight free radical damage;
  • Insulin sensitivity. Olive leaf extract may improve insulin sensitivity and overall blood glucose response, reducing the risk of developing diabetes and improving overall weight management;
  • Cardiovascular system function. Olive leaf extract can also be used to help regulate blood pressure, maintain normal heart and overall cardiovascular system function.

How to supplement with olive leaf extract
You can purchase olive leaf extract in capsule and liquid form. There is no actual recommended dosage, however the standard dose ranges from 500mg to 1500mg daily.

Doses can be divided into several smaller doses if required.

Are there risks or side effects
If you are currently taking blood pressure or blood thinning medication, or have diabetes it is recommended that you consult with a medical professional prior to trying olive leaf extract.

In extreme cases, it is possible to develop a respiratory allergic response.

My two cents
Olive leaf extract is just about the only supplement that I have personally found to noticeably reduce the severity and duration of colds and flu-like illnesses. On occasion, I’ve noticed a difference within 24 hours of supplementation. As a result, I’ll keep a bottle in the fridge and supplement daily throughout the cold and flu season.

Anecdotal and n=1 yes, but this stuff works for me.

Finally, this isn’t a cure-all supplement, but it may help with the reduction of the severity of colds, improved blood glucose response, leading to improved weight management, overall health and performance, along with some boosted immunity.

The protein leverage hypothesis

steak-carnivore-diet

The protein leverage hypothesis states that homo sapiens, or modern humans will prioritise the protein content in food over all other dietary components, and will continue to eat until the body’s protein needs have been met, regardless of the energy content, leading to the over-consumption of food when the protein content is low.

Simply put, when there’s not enough protein in the diet, the body will crave more food until it has satisfied this requirement, regardless of the caloric content. This is likely an evolutionary adaption over millions of years, where getting enough dietary protein meant a greater chance of survival.

What does this actually mean?

Well, if you consider that if you eat 100g of steak, you will consume approx. 25g of protein. Similarly, 100g of lentils contain approx. 25g of protein.

In contrast, if you eat 100g of bread, you will only consume approx. 12g of protein, while 100g of potato chips provides approx. 7g of protein.

This would mean that you would have to eat two or three times the amount of bread or potato chips to acquire the same amount of protein, due to the lower protein content in those foods. Both items also have a much higher carbohydrate and unhealthy fat content, leading to a much higher caloric content without adding any real nutritional value.

If you don’t prioritise your protein intake, you’ll need to consume a greater amount of calories to reach your body’s protein and mineral requirements, ultimately leading to excessive or unwanted weight gain.

With so many hyper-palatable foods readily available today, this may not exactly be the ideal scenario for the large portion of society who are currently overweight or obese and constantly trying to lose excess body fat. This can incredibly confusing, especially with so many debates on what exactly is healthy or sustainable nutrition.

Currently, in Australia and New Zealand, the accepted range for dietary protein and other micronutrients is 15-25% of total energy consumed. If you’re eating mostly whole foods and are meeting these requirements, your body will be better equipped to self regulate its individual energy requirement.

This hypothesis has been studied in 2005 and again 2019 as a possible contributor to the obesity epidemic.

Fasted cardio workouts

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For the most part, there are two types of active people. Those who enjoy an early morning workout, and those who don’t.

If you’re a person who trains first thing then you’ve probably spoken to somebody about fasted cardio or strength workouts. Basically, the conduct of physical activity and elevating your heart rate without eating anything in the last 8-16 hours. Hence the term fasted training.

Whilst most people who train very early may be already be doing this, many people will eat something before a workout, mainly because humans are creatures of habit and have been conditioned to believe that breakfast (or breaking the fast) is to be consumed first thing in the morning.

Intermittent fasting does take a little getting used to, whilst the adaptations are taking place to condition the body not to expect food at regular intervals.

Defining a fasted state
A true fasted state will generally begin in the vicinity of 8-10 hours without the consumption of any calories. However, the body can actually be in a fasted state as early as 5 or 6 hours after a meal.

The idea is that exercising in a fasted state forces the body to tap into its own energy reserves (stored body fat and muscle glycogen), as opposed to energy that has just been consumed, usually in the form of carbohydrates.

Fasted training
Now before you go and run off to the next sunrise there are a few things to consider prior to trialing fasted workouts.

Whilst fasted training is safe and actually a natural process, it will take time for the body to adjust to the idea that it will be conducting physical activity without any fuel. So start off by keeping the intensity relatively low so that the body doesn’t jump straight into an anaerobic state where is it chasing glucose for a quick energy source.

By the keeping a lower intensity, you will be allowing the body the appropriate time to access stored body fat and convert it into the energy it requires. Over time the body will become more efficient at these conversions, allowing you to workout at higher intensities, more quickly and for longer durations.

A point to note. The conduct of fasted workouts not only converts stored body fat and uses it as energy but can also break down stored proteins in the form of lean muscle. For most people exercising, this is not an ideal scenario.

This can be mitigated by drinking some branched chain amino acids (BCAA), before or during the workout. For most people, a serve of approx. 10g pre-workout should be enough to preserve lean muscle mass. Whilst technically not fully fasted, the total calories consumed in 10g serve of BCAA is approx. 50g, which would have a negligible effect on breaking a fasted state.

Bottom line
Fasted training is not for everybody. It does take time for the body to adjust, depending on how dependant you are on consuming sugars. This discomfort usually will pass in time, but if fasting in general isn’t for you, there is no need to keep it up.

Remember, the human body has evolved over millions of years in an environment where it has been forced to exert itself physically and mentally in times of both food scarcity and surplus. This is a totally natural process.

Once the body re-learns to operate and exert itself without any food, it will get better at performing when it does have fuel in the tank.

Cod liver oil and optimal health

Fish oil and fresh fish on light background

Cod liver oil is a fish oil supplement. It has a long history in medicine, dating back to the late 1700’s where is was first used to treat rheumatism and then rickets and a variety of other infections.

Similar to other fish oils, cod liver oil is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to a variety of health benefits including reduced overall inflammation, improved brain function, heart health and lower blood pressure.

Cod liver oil also contains bioavailable forms of vitamins A and D, often deficient in the modern diet, provide many other health benefits contributing to optimal health and performance.

Typical nutritional profile of a 5 ml serving:

  • Calories: 45
  • Fat: 5g
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: 1000mg
  • Cholesterol: 25mg
  • Vitamin A: approx. 90% of RDI
  • Vitamin D: approx. 110% of RDI

Below are just some of the scientifically back health benefits of supplementing with cod liver oil:

Great source of vitamins A and D
Cod liver oil is incredibly nutritious food, providing approx. 90% of the daily requirement for vitamin A and over 100% of the daily vitamin D requirements.

Traditionally cod liver oil was given to children to support proper growth and brain development, stronger bones and a general protection from infection. It was also taken by mothers during pregnancy and breast-feeding to support the optimal development of their infant.

Vitamin A has many roles in the human body, including maintaining eye health, the immune system, brain function and healthy skin.

It is also one of the best food sources of vitamin D, which has many important roles in the body including brain health and maintaining bone homeostasis by regulating calcium absorption.

Reduced inflammation
Inflammation is a natural process that helps the body fight infections and heal injuries.

In some cases however, this inflammation may continue at low levels for extended periods of time. This is known as chronic inflammation, which is harmful and may increase the risk high blood pressure and several other health conditions.

The omega-3 fatty acids in cod liver oil may help suppress chronic inflammation.

Improved bone health
Having strong bones is incredibly important, especially as you enter advanced age. It is common for people to begin to have a reduction in bone density levels from about the age of 30 years. This can lead to fractures and breaks later in life, especially in women after menopause.

Cod liver oil is a great dietary source of vitamin D and may reduce age-related bone loss. That’s because it helps your body absorb and regulate calcium, which is a necessary mineral for strong and healthy bones.

Reduced joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that is characterized by damage to the joints.

There is currently no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. This study however, suggests that cod liver oil may reduce joint pain and improve some of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis like joint stiffness and swelling.

In fact, cod liver oil has been used to treat patients with rheumatism since the late 1700’s.

Supports eye health
Cod liver oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, in particular DHA and vitamin A, both of which may protect against vision loss from age related and inflammatory eye diseases.

To summarise
Cod liver oil is an incredibly nutritious food supplement. It is convent and contains high amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids, along with bioavailable forms of vitamins A and D which are important to optimal health and performance.

Traditionally used to support the proper growth and development of young children, it also has many other health promoting benefits.

Adding cod liver oil to your diet may provide health benefits such as improved bone density, an increased protection against general illness and a reduction in joint pain for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

In general, dosing is usually between 1 and 2 teaspoons (5-10ml) per day. For those who can’t handle the taste it also comes in capsule form.

Alternatively, you can add your daily dose to a small glass of fresh juice or water.

A simple look at optimal human health

Running-At-Sunset

Homo sapiens, or modern day humans are basically hairless sweaty apes with large brains and small stomachs. This is how we evolved:

  • Wake up with the first light of the day;
  • Eat one (maybe two) meals of local seasonal foods including a large amount of seafood and marrow from bones of other animals;
  • Be naked in the sun all day;
  • Swim in the ocean;
  • Be moderately active collecting food and fresh drinking water;
  • Watch the sunset;
  • Go to sleep on the earth in darkness.

Humans lived every day like this on the East African rift for 300,000 years in perfect synchrony with the daily and seasonal rhythms of the sun, the earth, the moon and stars.

Lets expand a little all of the points mentioned above:

Wake up with the first light of the day
Humans have detectors for light in the skin (melanopsin) that detect the first rays of morning light before sunrise and wake you up by releasing cortisol.

Watching the sunrise and the all the varying frequencies of the morning sunlight are absorbed by the eyes and skin to build hormones, neurotransmitters and set the circadian rhythms of every cell in the body.

Eat one (maybe two) meal of local seasonal foods including a large amount of seafood and marrow from the bones of other animals
One meal consumed during the day allows for beneficial intermittent fasting for the rest of the day and ketosis at night during sleep.

Humans evolved larger brains and immune systems than our primate ancestors by accessing the fatty acids and other key nutrients such as DHA & iodine from the marine food chain, along with the marrow from the bones of other animals.

Fruits and vegetables traditionally varied geographically throughout the seasons, so make the most of a the variety of these foods available to you.

Be naked in the sun all day
Humans are basically hairless primates that can run around on two feet. This adaptation allows for several evolutionary advantages, such as the increase of the amount of sunlight that the skin is able to absorb.

Visible sunlight is absorbed into the skin to convert or produce hormones, such as Vitamin D, which is critically important to optimal human function.

Other benefits include an improved circadian rhythm, increased blood flow, brain function, dental health, mitochondrial function and sex hormone production.

Swim in the ocean
Humans have traditionally lived near the oceans and river ways and have evolved over time to eat seafood. Swimming in the ocean provides another source of electrolytes, salts, and other micro nutrients that may be difficult to obtain through the modern diet.

Be moderately active collecting food and fresh drinking water
Humans have always been moderately active animal. Nomadic by nature, they had to walk or run everywhere, and had to carry their belongings with them as they moved from location to location.

Humans also have a great need for a daily supply of fresh clean drinking water. The human body is roughly 60% water, with the brain and heart being composed of approx. 73% water. Additionally, plasma (the liquid portion of your blood) is approx. 90% water. Plasma helps carry blood cells, nutrients and hormones throughout the body.

It’s possible for the body to survive several weeks without food, but the body can only survive a few days without water.

Watch the sunset
The eyes and skin pay attention to the waning frequencies of light at sunset to prepare the hormones of the body for sleep. The absence of light at night is a signal to release the hormone melatonin to facilitate regenerative sleep at night.

Go to sleep in darkness
The absence of light is a very important signal for cellular circadian rhythms and metabolism. Proper circadian rhythm promotes quality sleep, helps keep the cells healthy and contributes to optimal performance.

Concluding
A very simple look into a template for optimal human health. Remember, there is no one size fits all. However, by applying these practices to the modern environment of generally poor nutrition, constant over stimulation, inadequate time in the sun and disrupted circadian rhythms, we may be able to prevent and even reverse many of the chronic diseases that affect so many people today.

Humans need to relearn what is a species appropriate diet and lifestyle. The diet and lifestyle that previous generations have lived which shaped our evolution throughout history. The closer you can emulate this natural lifestyle, the less likely you will develop one of chronic diseases of life.

Characteristics of traditional diets

Delicious  portion of  fresh salmon fillet  with aromatic herbs,

From the Weston A. Price foundation.

Characteristics of traditional diets

  1. The diets of healthy, non-industrialized peoples contain no refined or denatured foods or ingredients, such as refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup; white flour; canned foods; pasteurized, homogenized, skim or lowfat milk; refined or hydrogenated vegetable oils; protein powders; synthetic vitamins; or toxic additives and artificial colorings;
  2. All traditional cultures consume some sort of animal food, such as fish and shellfish; land and water fowl; land and sea mammals; eggs; milk and milk products; reptiles; and insects. The whole animal is consumed; muscle meat, organs, bones and fat, with the organ meats and fats preferred;
  3. The diets of healthy, non-industrialized peoples contain at least four times the minerals and water-soluble vitamins, and TEN times the fat-soluble vitamins found in animal fats (vitamin A, vitamin D and Activator X, now thought to be vitamin K2) as the average American diet;
  4. All traditional cultures cooked some of their food but all consumed a portion of their animal foods raw;
  5. Primitive and traditional diets have a high content of food enzymes and beneficial bacteria from lactofermented vegetables, fruits, beverages, dairy products, meats and condiments;
  6. Seeds, grains and nuts are soaked, sprouted, fermented or naturally leavened to neutralize naturally occurring anti-nutrients such as enzyme inhibitors, tannins and phytic acid;
  7. Total fat content of traditional diets varies from 30 percent to 80 percent of calories but only about 4 percent of calories come from polyunsaturated oils naturally occurring in grains, legumes, nuts, fish, animal fats and vegetables. The balance of fat calories is in the form of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids;
  8. Traditional diets contain nearly equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids;
  9. All traditional diets contain some salt;
  10. All traditional cultures make use of animal bones, usually in the form of gelatin-rich bone broths;
  11. Traditional cultures make provisions for the health of future generations by providing special nutrient-rich animal foods for parents-to-be, pregnant women and growing children; by proper spacing of children; and by teaching the principles of right diet to the young.