It’s that time of year again. All around, you hear a symphony of…Sniffle. Cough. Sneeze. Ugh, you think to yourself, can you pleeease cover your mouth or stay home from work so you don’t infect the rest of us? Get away!

But the truth is, it’s not about the germs “getting you.” As you go about your daily life, you come in contact with all sorts of things that could make you sick. Germs are everywhere, as are carcinogens and other toxins that could be detrimental to your health. You can’t control those things, but what you can control is your own immunity.

My boyfriend had a serious fever last week. He was sniffling and coughing away, going through copious amounts of what I affectionately call “snot rags,” ie contaminated tissues, that ended up being strewn all over the bed at night. TMI? Sorry but want to prove a point! I made him Immunity Tea a few times a day and made sure he was eating Probiotic & Enzyme Salad and taking probiotics to help him get better as soon as possible. He was run down from traveling a lot and working late. But I never for a second worried about myself getting sick. No siree. I nestled my head into his chest every night like usual- instead of treating him like a direct import from a leper colony- and even mistakenly drank out of his water bottle a bunch of times, because I wasn’t that concerned. I didn’t get so much as a little sniffle.

No I’m not super woman. But I keep my immunity super strong at all times with my lifestyle choices. And you can do the same.

Innate Immunity

Have you ever pondered why two people can encounter the same germs and only one gets sick (and if you’re the one getting sick it’s annoying as heck isn’t it)? Have you ever eaten the same meal as someone else at a restaurant, and only one of you winds up with food poisoning? The answer to these puzzling situations is immune function. When your immune system is healthy, your body responds to events that could cause illness or injury, seeking to restore you to healthy function as quickly as possible. So instead of being paranoid about the outside, which you can never really have control over, focus on strengthening the inside.

How Immunity Works 

Your immune system works on multiple levels. Here’s the technical stuff:

  1. Initially, it strives to protect you from toxins or pathogens entering your body by forming a physical barrier. In fact, all of the surfaces of your body are bacteria and virus resistant, and mucous membranes contain enzymes that further break down the cell walls of substances that shouldn’t be in your body. This occurs on the parts of your body you can see, such as your eyes and skin, as well as internally, such as in the mucous membranes of your intestines.
  2. Next, your immune system seeks to detect and eliminate those pathogens that make it through your body’s barrier system before they have a chance to proliferate. It does this with a variety of substances designed to fight disease, including antibodies, interferon, and lymphocites (white blood cells). T-cells, which are a type of white blood cell, come in two forms to fight immunity. On this level of immunity, “helper” T-cells detect invaders and send out an alarm to the rest of your body to come in and fight.
  3. If pathogens have managed to proliferate, then your body next attempts to eliminate the illness by getting rid of them on a massive scale. In this stage, you will most likely notice common reactions that manifest as “illness,” which is your body’s attempt to eliminate the invaders. Here “killer” T-cells fight the pathogens in a massive attempt to eliminate them from your body.
  4. The final level on which your immune system operates is slightly different than germ-based illnesses. Instead, this stage is your body’s attempt to find cancerous cells and eliminate them before they proliferate. Your body’s tumor necrosis factor (TNF) fights off tumor formation by stopping cell proliferation. Unfortunately, TNF can get out of balance in your body, leading to increased inflammation, which can cause heart disease and other autoimmune disorders.

Immune System Reactions 

If your immune system is unable to fight off whatever pathogen or toxin you come across and you do get sick, your body does whatever it can to rid you of the germs in your system. Below are examples of immune system reactions.

  1. Inflammation: In the presence of foreign invaders, your body produces large numbers of white blood cells in your bone marrow. This is known as inflammation, and it is important in fighting off disease. However, the body’s inflammatory response can get out of control and lead to inflammatory autoimmune disorders including arthritis, lupus, and fibromyalgia. Chronic inflammation may also negatively impact all of the body’s organs, including the heart.
  2. Fevers: When you spike a fever, it is your body’s attempt to become inhospitable to the germs that are making you sick. In fact, spiking a high temperature is actually a sign of a healthy immune system. Your body is doing what it needs to in order to return to health. If you suppress the fever, then you are creating a body temperature that is more hospitable to the germs that are making you sick, and you are teaching your body its natural responses are incorrect.
  3. Vomiting and diarrhea: When you ingest something that is not healthy for your body, your digestive system works to expel it in the most expedient and efficient way possible. The result – your body rapidly evacuates everything you put in it in order to expel whatever it finds to be toxic.

Intestines and Immunity

The intestines are among the organs I am most fascinated by- because I think optimal digestion and the efficient and continual removal of internal waste is one of the major keys to health and beauty. So yay for me, I get to talk about them here again:

Many pathogens may enter your body through your intestines, which break down the foods you eat into usable parts and waste. They then absorb nutrients and, in some cases, pathogens. To protect you from this, your bowel contains plicae circulares, large flaps of mucous membranes that serve as an internal physical barrier to fight off pathogens. This barrier is especially important in the intestines, which contains millions of naturally occurring microbes. Your gut also contains healthy flora, which keeps potentially harmful microbes in balance and at bay, further protecting you from illness. In fact, about 70 to 80 percent of the battle for your body’s health via the immune system occurs in the gut resultant of this beneficial flora. When it gets out of balance, illness often results.

Studies also show that gut flora is instrumental in the development of immune system components. Intestinal dysbiosis occurs when good and bad bacteria get out of balance in the gut, which can lead to many immune damaging conditions such as leaky gut syndrome and other autoimmune disorders.

Keeping a Healthy Gut

Since your intestines play such a key role in maintaining your body’s overall immunity, maintaining gut health is essential. Toxins can build up on intestinal walls, overflowing into the rest of your body and keeping you from enjoying vibrant health. Fortunately, your lifestyle habits can help you maintain gut health. I outline my full plan for gut health in The Beauty Detox Solution. Here, I will briefly outline steps you can take to protect your immunity via gut health.

  1. Keep food moving through your intestines. Always eat heavier foods later in the day (rather than first thing or at lunch) so those foods have adequate time to digest, and backup and inhibited digestion is avoided in general.
  2. Avoid gluten grains (wheat, rye, spelt, and barley), which can harm intestinal villi. New breeds of wheat may contain way less minerals and much more gluten than what was consumed by prior generations, which may be a reason that so many people’s bodies seem to be so sensitive to this type of protein. Avoid dairy products, as well, which very hard for the body to digest for many reasons (one being that it is not actually people food).
  3. Eat mostly organic plant foods including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Fresh produce contains enzymes that help break down foods and digest them easily. They contain many of the essential vitamins and nutrients our body needs to stay healthy.
  4. Ensure you have plenty of beneficial gut flora by taking a probiotic supplement twice a day. I really like Dr. Ohhira’s probiotics.
  5. Eat my Probiotic and Enzyme salad several times a day in this season (!) to maintain healthy gut flora. I recommend half a cup at dinner for sure, and some also with your lunch, if possible. Many of my clients keep it stocked in their trailer and add it to their lunches, as I instruct them to.  You can also buy raw kraut in the refrigerated section of health stores if you are scared of culturing/fermenting vegetables, or until you get more comfortable with the process.
  6. Avoid taking antibiotics unless absolutely necessary, because they kill off all types of bacteria, not just the “bad” stuff. If you have a healthy immune system, chances are in most instances you will not need antibiotics to fight off illness anyway (of course there are some instances where it is authentically warranted), since your body will do it for you, if you fortify it and its natural power.

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New York Times Bestseller and Nutritionist