Medical literature often describes the immune system as a wartime defense strategy against invaders.
“When functioning properly,” LiveScience writes, “the immune system identifies and attacks a variety of threats…while distinguishing them from the body’s own healthy tissue.”
Read: “How the Immune System Works“
Viewed metaphorically, I think, these two functions of the immune system, attack and adapt, speak to any number of current ways of thinking about our world.
In recent years, for example, even as the fear of invaders has seemingly spread across the world–in calls for border walls and Brexit-style isolationism–more and more people are beginning to see the vital importance of living in harmony not only with each other but with nature.
In his famous encyclical, Laudato si’, Pope Francis writes movingly of humans living in harmony with nature:
“There is a growing sensitivity to the environment and the need to protect nature, along with a growing concern, both genuine and distressing, for what is happening to our planet… Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.”
When thinking about immunity, I urge you to be wary of unwanted invaders, when possible.
But I also urge you to think holistically about immunity as an adaptive process What’s so empowering about this view, I believe, is that by working on your own immunity you cultivate a harmonizing power that can transform yourself and the world around you.
Whenever I think about my own connection to the environment, I remember the happiness of my early-eighties childhood, when the grass was nothing less than “the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.”
I cannot read these lines from Pope Francis without thinking about our current crisis, which in so many ways feels like a call to “discover what each of us can do.”
For those of us sheltering in place, this call is partly spiritual and partly practical: How can we live right now to help ourselves and each other emerge from this crisis stronger and more unified, equipped to battle the next crisis with equanimity and resolve?
Humanity has shown, again and again, that we can emerge from a crisis stronger and more unified–after any number of assaults, we have adapted and evolved as a people.
One of my favorite examples is the Victory Gardens of World War I and II, when the National War Garden Commission encouraged Americans to grow gardens so more food could be exported to our European allies. After the second war, especially, the Victory Gardens proved tremendously successful:
“In 1942, roughly 15 million families planted victory gardens; by 1944, an estimated 20 million victory gardens produced roughly 8 million tons of food—which was the equivalent of more than 40 percent of all the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States” (source).
Gardens feel relevant to our current crisis, too, even beyond the fear of shortages that have prompted more people to plant gardens. A garden is one way for a human to connect with the earth in a way that enhances the health of both. The key, in both cases, is the land itself–the dirt.
Immunity and the Hygiene Hypothesis
“As we make the shift from dirt to sterile…you…chang[e] the direction of your immune response. And so in the context of asthma, and…other autoimmune diseases and diseases of inflammation, it’s this imbalance from that side of our immune response that we believe evolved to protect us against things like bacteria and viruses…to the other side of our immune system that, frankly, when it’s revved up causes diseases like allergies and…other diseases of inflammation.”
The sterile environment engendered by antibiotics and antibacterial soaps, detergents, and household cleaning products, not to mention the chemicals in our food and water systems, decrease the biodiversity of our microbiomes and increase our resistance to life-saving antibiotics.
These same chemicals are a scourge to our natural systems, creating polluted waterways, which run into the ocean and exacerbating the problem of fallow farmlands in America, far worse than the original Dust Bowl.
Zach Bush, the triple board-certified doctor, speaks eloquently of these issues, specifically on several life-changing episodes of The Rich Roll Podcast. I recommend Zach’s recent appearance, in which hie discussed a “Pandemic of Possibility,” but I implore you to listen to his first two appearances on Rich Roll, in which Zach explores the GMOs, gut health, and the science of human and planetary transformation. I can truly say that these podcasts changed my life.
Listen: “Zach Bush, MD On GMO’s, Glyphosate, and Healing The Gut“
Listen: “Zach Bush, MD on the Science and Spirituality of Human and Planetary Transformation“
Elsewhere, Zach states “the problem” of our current relationship with the environment quite bluntly:
“A century of mono-crop farming and reliance on pesticides has damaged our nation’s once-fertile soils and the health of every American. The rapid increase in pesticide use over the past few decades has coincided with this explosion of chronic disease.”
The solution to this problem, as Zach and others have noted, is a return to “regenerative agriculture.” Zach has even created an organization to help farmers: Farmer’s Footprint
The scope of this problem, like the current pandemic, feels overwhelming, especially when viewed on the micro-level, from your own perspective. Yet you can make changes now to help yourself and the planet, supporting the immunity of both.
The key is engendering bacterial diversity and unity within and without. Practically speaking, this means supporting brands that offer safe alternatives to household products as well as supporting agriculture that promotes ecological diversity in the environment and your own body.
To do so, eat an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms. Tend to your inner garden with fermented foods or, if necessary, gut-supporting supplements, like Just Thrive or Zach’s mineral supplement to “support the integrity of tight junctions in the gut lining”: ION* Gut Health. Or try quality “probiotic” foods, like inner-ēco Coconut Kefir.
And FYI: You do not need to wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap right now. Source: FDA.
Changing your lifestyle by synching with nature (emotionally, spiritually, and biologically) is the best way to support immunity. Beyond engendering a diverse ecosystem within and without, pay attention to both defense against attack as well as the adaptive side of immunity.
Even at home, we have at our disposal any number of adaptive strategies to improve immune function, including cold therapy, mindfulness, exercise, and sleep, which plays a crucial role in regulating the activity of our Natural Killer T-Cells.
However, of course, in the time of COVID 19, you may feel a need to support immunity with supplementation.
First, try to ignore the apparent hype surrounding a variety of “immune-boosting” formulas, which seem to miss the concept of immunity entirely:
“The immune system is not designed to be ‘boosted’, and if it were able to work in overdrive it could actually result in us becoming more unwell by damaging our healthy cells and tissue as well, which is what can happen in ‘autoimmune’ conditions.”
Second, focus on the supplements that arrive with sound scientific evidence, including Vitamin D (1), Zinc (1), Vitamin C, Sulphorphane, and possibly others, like selenium.
Our Favorite Laundry Detergent: Molly’s Suds
Our Favorite Dishwasher Tabs: Ecover Automatic Dishwasher Tabs
Our Favorite Toothpaste: Weleda Natural Salt Toothpaste
Life Extension Zinc Lozenges
There is evidence that Vitamin C can fight the common cold, reduce respiratory symptoms, boost immunity, and alleviate the body’s response to stress.
The best form of Vitamin C (especially if you intend to take larger doses if you get sick) may be liposomal. But remember, since Vitamin C is water-soluble, you’ll likely want to take it throughout the day to maintain your levels.
NutriFlair Liposomal Vitamin C
Vitamin D3 with K2
Reasonable sun exposure (without burning) is the best way to get Vitamin D, but supplementation is likely necessary right now for most of us on the East Coast. Even then, I’m guessing all of us, if tested, would have low vitamin-D levels.
As noted in a major global study, optimized Vitamin D levels protect against “acute respiratory infections including colds and flu.”
Most experts feel that taking Vitamin D3 with K2 increases absorption.
If you’re not currently taking vitamin D3 supplement with K2, you might consider the following:
Thorne Research Vitamin D3 and K2 Liquid Drops