Constantly Sick in CO, What Can We Do, Part III: An Acupuncturist's Approach to Supercharging Your Immunity
Welcome back to our discussion of the immune system, and how we can increase it using the wisdom of both acuncture and modern western medicine. If you’re just tuning in, please update yourself by checking out my last two blog on this topic, starting with the first one.
Last week, I encouraged people to start thinking about how well they’re doing with following the dietary guidelines that have already been laid out for them during their nutrition consultations. Following your individual food needs is the most important foundation for good strength and immunity, or what we call Defensive Qi.
This week, I’m going to start addressing immunity from a western approach, listing some of the most important foods we can eat to supercharge our immunity.
A scientific approach to boosting immunity through food
An acupuncturist’s approach to nutrition is much more broad and somewhat vague to the uninitiated, using terms like “builds Qi, clears out dampness, stimulates the liver” to describe the functions of foods in the body.
A western approach gives us the benefit of knowing exactly what foods do on a molecular level. Today we are going to talk about the cruciferous vegetables, bridging the gap between Chinese and western knowledge on these foods.
Greens! and cruciferous vegetables
You knew I was gonna say it. :-) If you’re my patient, you’ve probably had me tell you to eat more Kale.
Kale is a cruciferous vegetable, and the vegetables in this category have been shown to be among the most powerful for boosting the immune system.
Western science says that this is due to their sulfer-containing compounds which give them both pungent and bitter flavors. What is interesting about this is that these are the exact flavors, which according to Chinese medicine, are also the most important for clearing out “excess” conditions from the body.
Anything that is in the body which shouldn’t be, is considered in Chinese medicine to be an excess condition. Pathogens like viruses, bacterium, yeasts and parasites, which cause the most common illnesses and inflammatory conditions, are excess pathogens which are cleared out by these same flavors in both herbs and the foods we recommend from a Chinese perspective. Mucous conditions and buildup, as well as tissue buildup like tumors which can be cancerous, are also improved by eating these flavors.
Greens keep your liver happy!
Another big reason I’m constantly recommending kale, is because dark leafy greens are so important for keeping your liver happy, and a happy liver means a happy person (and stress is a number one cause of illness), as well as Qi that moves really well.
Since we think of cancers and any form of tumor as arising from blocked or stagnant Qi, it’s very important to keep your liver nourished and balanced to not only decrease stress and ward off illness, but to prevent cancer.
Eating greens is one of the easiest and most powerful ways to accomplish this, and imagine my delight when I discovered that Kale, along with only three other vegetables, is at the top of the ANDI scores, meaning it is one of the most nutrient dense foods available, just loaded with the micronutrients necessary for strong immune function.
ITCs-Your Immune Boosting Friends!
Now put on your thinking caps because I’m about to go all science nerd with you. :-)
In researching these foods, I have learned that part of what makes the cruciferous veggies so powerful is that those sulfur-containing compounds in them are converted to compounds called Isothiocyanates (ITCs), which are now known to be the key players in powerfully boosting our immune system.
There are over 120 known ITCs, all having their own particular jobs, in various locations of our cells, and their combined effect results in removing carcinogens, killing cancer cells, as well as having the immunologic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects which help us not get sick.
When you start to understand the actual mechanisms that happen with these little guys, you’ll want to do everything you can to get as much of them in your system!
- Some of these compounds prevent carcinogens from binding to our cell’s DNA, which means that their cancerous changes can’t take effect, while others protect cells from damage that has already occurred by activating enzymes.
- Still other ITCs form a protective shield around cells, creating a barrier between the inside of cells where changes must happen in order for there to be problems, and the outside where the bad guys are located.
- Other ITCs can actually stop growth of cancer cells. Viruses are now believed to be the cause of not only most common colds and stomach bugs, but of some auto-immune and other inflammatory conditions.
- ITCs have also been shown to have powerful anti-viral affects, increasing our ability to fight of the very buggers that are causing most of these colds which prompted this article series.
- Lastly, ITCs from greens are also anti-microbial, meaning that they can help fight infections like the common strep, which is the culprit in many cases of pneumonia and ear infections.
Imagine all these powerful defenses built right into our bodies by nature, yet we do not activate or harness them when we don’t eat the foods which contain these important compounds!
How many greens do we need to eat?
The good news is, studies are showing that even a moderate amount of these vegetables in our diets has a huge impact on our immune system.
However, because of the increased stress on us living where the weather constantly changes so rapidly, I think it’s important to not get complacent and feel satisfied with just a few servings of these veggies each week. Otherwise, we run the risk of ending up right back where we started, which is getting sick all the time.
Chop, chew, or blend your cruciferous friends!
In order to get the most of these vegetables, they must be chopped or blended first before being cooked; or alternatively, eaten raw. (Careful with the raw thing, as most people do not benefit from eating too much raw, especially when the weather is still cold).
This is because when the cell walls of these vegetables are broken through chopping or blending, enzymes that live in the cell wall are released and able to come into contact and interact with compounds inside the cell wall, catalyzing their formation into the disease fighting ITCs.
The ITCs can withstand the heat of cooking, but the delicate enzymes within the cell wall cannot, so as long as they’ve done their magic before coming into contact with heat, you will still get the immune boosting benefit.
|Broccoli (and broccoli rabe and broccolini)||Brussel Sprouts|
|Red Cabbage||Turnip Greens|
Greens and Seasonal Eating
Because in Chinese medicine we believe it is best and most balancing to eat with the seasons, as we head into spring when all the greens start appearing at the farmers market, that would be a great time to really dose up and go to town with eating greens every day!
Eating lots of fresh foods consistently and over time when they are in season is the best way to build up a strong immune system, rather than waiting until you’re sick to eat large doses of garlic or hope that Vit. C and zinc lozenges will cure you.
With that said, with our short growing season and volatile weather patterns, I am suggesting adding supplements in to help us make it through the winter months. These are NOT a substitute for, but an addition to, a healthy diet.
Stay tuned for the next episodes of Supercharging your Immune System, where we’ll go into the powerful effects of mushrooms, onions, and berries, as well as the supplements that I’m recommending for boosting your immune system before the growing season begins.
And as always, remember that staying healthy and balanced in general is as important as the food we eat, for warding off infections. If you need some assistance from acupuncture to get your health back on track, you can schedule now by using the button below.