Often times when I see patients they have been put through the ringer of the conventional medical system. Sick and tired, they have been told that the labs show that “there is nothing wrong with them.” They are fed up and at this point, despite feeling ill, have often done most research and education on their own. Many of them know more than the healthcare providers at this point.
The Case of the Patient with Recurrent Colds and Fatigue
Last week at my clinic, I saw a young 30 something girl who was very athletic and healthy for the majority of her life. In the last year, she began to feel fatigued, nauseated, run down and unable to properly function at her job. She often had bronchitis or a cold. Routine lab tests revealed nothing abnormal and she was told to drink more water and put on an antidepressant. Her sleep had even started to become affected. She was exasperated and desperately looking for answers by the time she arrived at my office. It turned out that she had had a recent Epstein Barr infection, which can lower natural immunity. On top of that, a nutrient panel revealed numerous nutrient deficiencies that were slowing down the efficiency of her immune system.
After rigorous supplementation (and even an occasional nutrient IV), diet changes and immune boosting modalities like hyperbaric oxygen, my patient was dodging every viral infection around. But how can you do that? Remember guys, you are your own best doctor.
Why Am I Always Sick?
Every one is subjective and each patient is instructed on a case to case basis, however there are a few main rules of thumb to follow when avoiding any illness. Remember, our bodies are amazing vessels that are always on the defensive when it comes to pathogens. There are unprecedented numbers of fighter cells that are always seeking and destroying any pathogens, without your conscious knowledge! We should always be self loving and grateful for our bodies. Ultimately, what this means is that you have the potential to heal if given the proper diagnostics and tools. If you are constantly ill or stuck in the house with the sniffles, make sure you investigate further and press your healthcare provider for some of the tests and treatments below.
1. Poor Diet or Absorption problems:
We all know what is “healthy” or not, or do we? In today’s age, we are told breakfast cereals are healthy and coconut oil has too much fat or its only calories that matter, not the source that they come from. Don’t believe the hype! Remember that the choices you are making are detrimental or beneficial to your immunity as 80% of all immune cells reside in the gut. Food is literally medicine or poison. So what is healthy?
Try to eliminate all white foods from the diet, especially if ill. Sugar, refined carbs like processed breads and snacks, dairy, cheese, sweeteners, sodas and sugar laden juices are a no-no. Stick with leafy greens, citrus, herbs, warm teas and liquids and lean proteins. Ensure that you are eating organic as pesticides also have been shown to decrease immunity. Processed carbohydrates and sugar are the perfect breeding ground for harmful bacteria that can reside in our guts, leading to leaky gut and lowered overall immunity. By choosing leafy greens, ample fruits, herbs, teas, and fermented root vegetables, you are choosing a fertilizer that encourages growth of healthy bacteria. A daily probiotic may also be warranted to replace beneficial bacteria.
A mini fast or decreased intake may also be warranted. This is because when you are eating, energy must be diverted in the system to aid in digestion. If you are fasting, energy may be freed up to go fight the unwanted invaders. Recovery has been expedited this way.
In fact researchers at the University of California found just that.
“It gives the ‘OK’ for stem cells to go ahead and begin proliferating and rebuild the entire system,” said Prof Valter Longo, Professor of Gerontology and the Biological Sciences at the University of California. “And the good news is that the body got rid of the parts of the system that might be damaged or old, the inefficient parts, during the fasting. Now, if you start with a system heavily damaged by chemotherapy or aging, fasting cycles can generate, literally, a new immune system.”
So you’ve cut down your calories and are avoiding sugar and carbs, but how do you know you are eating the right foods and getting proper absorption?
2. Nutritional Deficiencies
I can’t stress this enough. The majority of people who are chronically ill have multiple nutrient deficiencies. Often it isn’t the food we are eating, but it IS the foods we aren’t eating. These vitamins and minerals are used in nearly every reaction in our body. Take for example, magnesium, which is commonly lacking. It is used in over 300 reactions throughout the body and supplementing this one mineral can stop heart palpitations, resolve constipation, and lull one right to sleep!
I had a patient who kept getting recurring cold sores with any sunlight or stress. It turns out he could easily avoid the outbreaks with sufficient and clean sources of vitamin C and Lysine. Once his body was provided with the missing nutrients, his immune system was able to keep the active infections at bay. It didn’t mean that he still didn’t have the herpes virus lying dormant in his system. He still does. But now the virus is kept locked away and not able to replicate to the point of causing a visible stressor in his life, all because his immunity was functioning properly.
Supplementation is necessary here for many people. With so much of our food supply shipped days away from its destination, processed into dead food, pasteurized to denature proteins and containing food like substances that are nothing but chemical mixtures, it is very difficult to get our daily dose of essential vitamins. Even vegans have many nutritional deficiencies including B12 and zinc most commonly. No one diet is perfect across the board for everyone and a bioidentical diet based on your personal needs and labs is warranted. Attempt to remain open minded here. And if you have malabsorption issues or leaky gut, please supplement with digestive enzymes before each meal so the food is properly broken down.
Here are some of the most common nutrient deficiencies and the best sources to find them.
Vitamin C –
This is a biggie if you’re sick with any virus. Vitamin C is a known antiviral and can ward off many infections if given early enough. If you have malabsorption or leaky gut/candida issues, perhaps look into IV vitamin C when ill. This bypasses the damaged gut lining and ensures that the full dose is delivered to the bloodstream. Alternatively you can try a supplement but be sure to look for one that contains vitamin C from fruits and veggie sources like acerola, camu camu or amla.
Look for these food sources: leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits like grapefruit and oranges, capsicum, chilli, berries, parsley. ELDERBERRY
One out of 3 patients that I see is vitamin D deficient. Vegans and those patients that avoid all sunlight are particularly at risk. Vitamin D is intimately connected to sex hormones and cholesterol so skewed synthesis can affect all pathways. Vitamin D is also known to protect against cancer. increase immunity and mood.
The ADA recommends 400 units daily which in my opinion, is grossly underestimated. Ideal levels should be 50-80 for optimal immune function. If you are 30 or below, start taking 5000units per day. Be sure to get 15-25 minutes of sunshine a day.
Look for these food sources: wild caught fish like salmon and tuna; mushrooms
This trace mineral is integral in forming hydrochloric stomach acid that keeps the ph of our insides acidic. Our stomach is supposed to be acidic! Only when the pH is 3 will digestive enzymes be released so that our food is properly broken down. An acidic pH also serves as an inhospitable environment to many harmful pathogens. This is our protective barrier. Without zinc, we can’t form the acid that provides this environment. Multiple studies have shown reduction in viral cold symptoms with zinc supplementation. Don’t take over 10mg per day chronically.
If you are deficient in zinc, you may also crave salty and sweet foods.
Look for these food sources:
Pumpkin Seeds, Tahini, Dark Chocolate, Crab, Lobster, spinach, cacao, chickpeas, nuts and Beans
Omega 3 Fatty Acids-
The standard American diet consists of many more omega 6 fatty acids like processed or fried foods. Many Americans, in particular, are deficient. This is a huge risk factor for cardiovascular disease and death.
This remedy won’t halt any acute infection but over the long term, will increase immunity through decreased inflammation.
Look for these sources: fish, krill oil, cod liver oil, fish oil, sardines.
Perhaps the most deficient mineral, magnesium is soothing to the nervous system and the bowels! It regulates blood sugar handling, blood pressure and wards off migraines as well. So many reactions in our body require magnesium for proper function. Even the master antioxidant, glutathione requires magnesium to be produced!
This is another mineral that likely won’t fight off an acute infection but will increase overall immune function over time. Epsom salt baths and supplements like magnesium glycerinate are an excellent way to get proper magnesium levels.
Look for these food sources: nuts, Seaweed and green leafy vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard, avocado, beans, nuts, and seeds, like pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds.
Yep I mean all of them. B vitamin deficiencies can cause all sorts of problems from brain fog, to nerve pain and numbness to depression or nausea and muscle weakness. The most common deficiency is vitamin B12 especially in vegans as it is found mostly in animal sources. One in 3-4 Americans is now deficient due to diet and stripped soil. Be sure to supplement with sublingual drops or pills. It is also imperative to take active, or methylated, B12 in the form of methylfolate, methylB12 or methylcobalmin daily as many people have the genetic mutation, MTHFR and cannot activate the B vitamins themselves within their body.
Look for these food sources: eggs, cheese, milk, fish, and liver for vitamin B12. For B6, look for bananas, chicken, tuna, salmon, chickpeas. For B1 and B2, look for whole grains, milk, eggs, dark leafy greens. For B3 or niacin, look for chicken, fish, liver, red meat, and peanuts.
Iodine is used all over the body and is used intimately in the thyroid and for metabolism. Recent studies have shown that decreased iodine levels can predispose one to cancer. This is especially important to know since fluoride is used in the public water supply and bromide is used in enriched (brominated) breads. Both of these are halogens, in the same row of the periodic table, and can interact with iodine receptors, causing them to displace the needed iodine. Fibromyalgia is also linked to low iodine.
Look for these food sources: raw milk, eggs, iodized salt, sea vegetables, seaweed, cranberries, navy beans, strawberries, potatoes.
We all know calcium promotes healthy bones but what most of us don’t know is that calcium exists within a delicate homeostasis with vitamin K2 (often deficient as well), vitamin D, and magnesium. Calcium is also integral to heart contraction. Symptoms of low calcium levels are fatigue, irritability, pins and needles feeling and muscle cramping
Look for these food sources: dark leafy greens, raw cheese or milk, bok choy, tofu, okra, broccoli, green beans, almonds and some fish.
In my opinion, here are some other common deficiencies that should also be investigated: CoQ10 (not a vitamin but an antioxidant), vitamin A, iron, selenium, choline and vitamin E.
Whew that was a long category, but I hope you can now see how imperative nutrition and diet is to staying well and keeping a healthy immune system.
3. Too Much Stress
Stress can be a deadly killer. Nowadays, hard work and little sleep is rewarded. In fact, pushing ourselves too hard can be a lack of self love in order to please others. Please find balance between success and peace in your life. Stress is so important in fact that numerous studies have linked stress to heart disease, anxiety, strokes, insomnia, obesity and diabetes.
In fact, Takosobu Cardiomyopathy is a condition also known as broken heart syndrome. When a loved one passes away, the stress of the death can cause heart attacks or heart failure in the loved ones closest to the deceased. Physicians often see this when a mother loses a child. Lack of sleep is also detrimental as this is when the immune system regenerates. Adrenal fatigue or insufficiency can also ensue if stress and sleep are issues. Without proper stress hormones, patients feel “wired but tired” and find themselves ill if the condition continues. This is because stress hormones are needed to catch us when stress occurs. Stress hormones like cortisol, that are consistently high also lead to abdominal fat which puts patients at risk for further chronic diseases. This also accelerates the aging process, harms immunity and can cause memory deficits.
Learn to take on healthy habits when stress occurs. None of us can get away from it or change some of the stressors, but we can change how we react to it. This is a conscious choice. Upon encountering stressors you have two choices. You can adapt and go with the flow by doing something to create change or otherwise ameliorate the situation. Or you cannot adapt by withdrawing or losing your cool. Avoid alcohol, drugs, sleeping medications which can cause addictions leading to more stress. New scientific evidence has surfaced that stress reduction bolsters longevity by directly and positively impacting DNA. The study involves researching telomeres, the last portion of the chromosomes that have been proven to control the lifespan of the cell. Stress absolutely does produce oxidative stress and shorter telomeres!
Look into yoga, breath work, meditation, a meaningful hobby, get out in nature, turn off EMF, get 8-9 hours of sleep a night, look into natural calming adaptogen herbs like cordecyps and ashwaganda.
4. Not Enough Sleep
I briefly touched on this above, however its worth repeating. I know when I’m sleep deprived I have trouble making decisions and often get sick if I’m not careful. As mentioned above, the immune system mainly regenerates at night during REM sleep.
Ultimately if you are getting 6 hours or less of sleep a night chronically, you are at risk for infection or even an autoimmune condition. Sleep is crucial for hormone regulation, melatonin secretion, liver health, and immune repair. And chronic sleep deprivation leads to adrenal fatigue. The body is an intricate system and functions as a whole so every endocrine system is in perfect harmony with the other. When one system like sleep becomes askew, this pulls the other systems begin to become dysregulated as well. Research has linked insomnia to heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, obesity, congestive heart failure, diabetes and just about every autoimmune condition.
If you aren’t sleeping, be sure to diligently pursue the root cause. Don’t settle for taking prescription sleep aids like Ambien, which can cause addiction and sleep disturbances. Ask your doctor for a thyroid panel, hormone panel (low progesterone causes insomnia), sleep study, stop all caffeine, treat any pain, work on improving any mental blockages or conditions, and try a warm epsom salt bath at night.
5. Not Enough Sunlight
It is a fact that vitamin D must be activated by sunlight to be effective in the body. If you live in an area that is gloomy and does not get much sunlight, then please supplement with vitamin D. It is recommended that we spend 15-20 minutes in direct sunlight a day in order for our body to function properly, concerning vitamin D and circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycles.
We live in an age where the majority of us work indoors, under fluorescent lights and get little interaction with nature or direct sunlight. We even subject ourselves to high EMF and the blue screens of our phones that interrupt our sleep patterns at night, leading to insomnia that further compounds pain and mood disorders. Therefore depressive disorders, like Seasonal Affective Disorder are affecting a larger portion of the population.
The sun also supplies us with nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a pro oxidant, dilates the blood vessels and is imperative in regulating metabolism.
If you have tried all these tips and are still getting repetitive infections, be sure to see an immunologist who can test to see if there are any genetic mutations in the functioning of your immune system. Also press your practitioner for a parasite test, full viral panel including Epstein Barr, cytomegalovirus, lyme disease, and to review your current medications which can also lower immunity. Be sure increase good hygiene with natural soaps and hand washing and take good care of gums and inflammation in the mouth, as this is the beginning of your GI tract where immunity resides!
You are your own best doctor
Epel, ES, Blackburn EH, et al. Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stress. Proc Natl Acad Sci 2004; 101 (49):17312-15