Do I have a weak immune system?

In this new world that we find ourselves, it goes without saying that it is more important than ever to support our immune systems in any way we can, and to take active steps to stay healthy.

While we must all, of course, take the very necessary precautions of wearing our masks, washing our hands and practising social distancing, it is equally important to bolster our bodies’ natural defences, should those “invaders” still find a way in.

If you have noticed that you are prone to feeling tired without an obvious cause, or perhaps you regularly feel under the weather, it may mean that your immune system is under strain or has been weakened.

What are the signs of a weak immune system?

Everybody is different and, if you have concerns about your health you should always consult a qualified doctor. However, here are just a few of the main warning signs that your immune system may be compromised, as well as top tips on what you can do to give it a boost.

1. You regularly suffer from “colds” and infections

If it feels like you always have a cold, it is a good sign that your immune system is struggling. While it is completely normal for adults to have the sniffles from time to time throughout the year, the average is two or three infections. If you are experiencing cold symptoms more often than that, or it takes you longer than around a week to bounce back, your immune system could be described as weakened.

During an active cold, it usually takes a fully-functioning immune system approximately 3 to 4 days to develop the required antibodies to fight off the illness. However, if you are constantly catching colds (or have chronic colds that just won’t budge), that is a very clear sign that your immune system is struggling.

Similarly, if you seem to be beleaguered with other types of infections on a regular basis, such as Candida albicans, your immune system might be sending you signals that it needs help. A compromised immune system in the gut, specifically, can have consquences for our ability to fend off opporunitistic pathogens of this type, that are just waiting for a dip in gut flora to spread and take hold.

Other common infections that might flag a weakened immune system when experienced on a regular basis include:

  • ear infections
  • pneumonia
  • and chronic sinusitis.

2. You have digestive issues

The gut comprises a major part of the body’s immune system (as much as 70%). If you find that you regularly experience digestive complaints (such as stomach pain, constipation, diarrhoea, wind or bloating), it could be a sign that your immune system is compromised.

This is because levels of friendly bacteria and microorganisms that naturally occur in the gut, which help to defend your body from viruses, bacteria and other pathogens, can be lowered during times of illness, use of medication, times of stress etc. If your microbiome is compromised, so too will be your immune system. And you experience the symptoms mentioned above, because lower numbers of good bacteria can directly impact other aspects such as digestion, inflammation and vulnerability to attack – thereby creating a viscious circle.

3. Your wounds are slow to heal

If your immune system is weakened, it can affect a number of other processes and systems around the body, as vital energy and nutrients are diverted to work harder to protect you. For example, your skin goes into damage control mode after you have a cut or scrape. Your body works to protect the wound by sending nutrient-rich blood to the injury to help regenerate new skin. This healing essential healing process depends on healthy immune cells, but if your immune system is weakened, your skin can’t regenerate as it should. Instead, it takes longer and (once again) leaves you more vulnerable to infection.

4. Your stress levels are high

You will no doubt be aware, and will have experienced first hand, that high levels of stress can run you down. Continuous stress then has the unfortunate effect of compromising your immune system further, creating a cycle of compromised immunity. You feel stressed, you get run down, which then leads to heightened stress as you find it harder to cope with your day, and so on.

Put simply, long-term stress weakens the natural responses of your immune system by lowering lymphocyte levels (the white blood cells that help fight off infection). The lower your lymphocyte levels, the more you are at risk of infection.

5. You feel tired all the time

If you feel chronically fatigued, without obvious cause, your body is definitely trying to tell you something. A compromised immune system can directly impact energy levels, as your body attempts to conserve energy to ensure it can fuel your defence against invaders.

So you’ve worked out that you have a weak immune system. Now what can you do about it?

How can I boost my immune system?

There are a number of simple steps that you can take to boost your immune system naturally and effectively:

  • Eat a nutrient-rich diet – eating a diet that is rich in a wide variety of natural, seasonal (preferably organic) whole foods, is a key way to protect and strengthen your immune system. This is because it will give your body all the nutrients that are essential for a optimally functioning immune system, such as vitamin C, vitamin D, essential fatty acids, antioxidants etc. Where necessary, perhaps supplement your diet with additional vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients that you may be concerned are lacking in your diet.
  • Get enough sleep – allowing your body to rest and repair is a very obvious, yet easy and effective, way to support a weakened immune system.
  • Exercise regularly – the other side of the coin is getting regular exercise. Not only does the strengthen the body, it also offers a highly effective means of body detoxification, through the movement of lymph around the body (the fluid that flows through the lymphatic system, that contains white blood cells).
  • Maintain a healthy weight – it seems very likely that obesity is a key factor in adverse response to COVID-19 infections. But aside from COVID, maintaining a healthy weight is a key aspect in maintaining a healthy body generally, with a strong immune system that is fit and able to fight off infections of all kinds.
  • Don’t smoke or over-indulge – try to make good choices on a daily basis and don’t make it harder for your body to function at it’s best. Indulging in smoking, drinking in excess, unhealthy foods etc is only going to compromise your immune system if done on a regular basis.
  • Try to minimise stress – perhaps easier said than done, try to avoid stressful situations wherever possible and increase activities that make you feel good. Exercise will help to release endorphins, and activities like yoga and Tai Chi have been shown to actively increase T-cell counts.

A strong immune system is the key to good health and longevity, so the more you can do to protect it, the better.

For more information, visit our main website

What am I eating?

Do you eat “clean”?

In this modern age of processed foods, farming on a massive scale and the widespread use of artificial chemicals to enhance everything from taste and appearance to shelf life, you can no longer take it for granted that you know what is in your food just by looking at it.

Unfortunately, food is no longer a simple concept. Can you honestly say you know what you are eating and what is going into your body with every bite?

You might ask yourself, “why is this even important”? Well, the answer is your health. Chemicals, contaminants and pollutants can all contribute to illness and disease, and can even affect processes within your body ranging from weight loss, cognitive function and digestion, to hormonal balance and immunity.

With this in mind, can you afford to ignore the makeup of your meals?

Food additives

A prime example of “hidden” ingredients is food additives. Almost everyone has heard of them, but how many of us actually take the time to find out what they are, which ones appear in our food and how they might affect our health?

Actually more and more of us, particularly as the health benefits of natural living, healthy eating (and, more specifically, an organic diet) become better understood, versus the health risks associated with poor eating habits.

As a result, health-conscious individuals who are seeking to minimise their daily exposure to toxins and pollutants take the trouble to educate themselves about the different types of food additives out there. Over the years, there has been quite a bit of controversy about these chemicals and below are some of the “need to know” basics.  

The basics

As their name implies, food additives are substances that manufacturers add to foods for any number of reasons (usually to increase profits). For example, to preserve flavour, keep the food fresher for longer and to enhance taste, texture and appearance.

However, not all food additives are bad, despite the negative connotations with the phrase. Some are actually natural compounds – for example, vinegar used for pickling and salt used to preserve meat. These additives have been used for centuries and are natural methods. Similarly, there is a common misconception that processed foods automatically contain food additives, but this is not always the case. For example, long-life milk is processed, yet it doesn’t actually require added chemicals to prolong its shelf life.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of additives now used are synthetic or man-made and have, to a large extent, come about as a result of the increasing time constraints of modern living and the changing palates of modern consumers. For instance, the average person is looking for a snack that is either highly salted or sweetened. Similarly, in this age of competitive advertising and saturated food markets, the brighter, highly coloured food items are normally the ones that get selected. Food needs to be fun to eat, nice to look at and tasty.

The nature of the modern diet and lifestyle has resulted in fewer and fewer home-grown and natural whole foods, and an increase in the number and type of processed / refined foods. In turn, this has led to an increase in the number of additives used in foods – both natural and synthetic. While we are, thankfully, starting to see a reversal of this trend, it remains important to inform yourself about the ingredients in your food, to help protect the health of you and your family.

If you are unsure whether or not a food product contains additives, check the label. If there are ingredients that sound like a chemistry experiment, they are probably best avoided. It is also important to note that some listed ingredients may contain food additives themselves, without those necessarily being specified. For example, a product may contain margarine, which in turn contains additives, but only “margarine” will be listed as an ingredient on the label.

It is good practice to familiarise yourself with some of the more common food additive names, ready to identify them when out and about shopping. Below we will take a look at some of the most notorious additives – E-numbers.

E-numbers

E-numbers get a lot of media attention but, once again, the reality is a little different to what is often portrayed. The phrase itself conjures up images of “food nasties”, but are they really as bad as we are led to believe? The answer is probably “yes”, but it is worth taking a closer look to get the full picture.

After an additive has been tested and approved for use in foods in Europe, it is given a classification known as an “E-number” (a number with an “E” prefix, e.g. E100), for the purposes of regulation and to inform consumers. In other words, it is simply a systematic way of identifying different food additives. Countries outside Europe use only the number (no ‘E’), whether the additive is approved in Europe or not.

The important (and perhaps surprising) point to bear in mind, is that even natural additives will be labelled with an “E” prefix – so don’t automatically discount a food which otherwise looks healthy. Knowledge is power, so know your E-numbers!

Are food additives safe?

This is a controversial question and one that has not been answered satisfactorily as yet. However, common sense dictates that filling our bodies with synthetic chemicals cannot be as healthy as eating a diet rich in natural whole foods and is likely to be detrimental to health in the long term, for instance by adding to our toxic load.

Since the second half of the 20th century, there has been a significant increase in the use of food additives of varying levels of safety and for the reasons described above. This has necessarily led to the introduction of a wide range of laws worldwide, regulating their use.

The long-term effects on the body of regularly consuming a combination of different food additives are, unfortunately, currently unknown – hence the need for regulation. This is largely due to the fact that most additives are tested in isolation, rather than in combination with other additives. However, what is clear is that some people are sensitive to them and suffer reactions as a result of their consumption. These reactions include:

  • headaches
  • skin irritations (itching, rashes, hives etc)
  • digestive disorders (including diarrhoea and abdominal pains)
  • respiratory problems (like asthma, rhinitis and sinusitis)
  • allergic reactions and anaphylactic shock
  • behavioural changes (such as mood changes, anxiety and hyperactivity).

Research undertaken in 2007 by Britain’s Food Standards Agency and later published by the British medical journal “The Lancet”, provided evidence that a mix of additives commonly found in children’s foods serves to increase the mean level of hyperactivity. Similarly, in 2008, AAP Grand Rounds (the American Academy of Pediatrics) published a study that concluded that a low-additive diet is a valid intervention for children with ADHD.

Bearing all this in mind, it is important to remember that all foods are made up of chemicals, many of which are not always “safer” than those found in food additives. For example, people with food allergies and intolerances are also often sensitive to chemicals found naturally in certain foods, such as dairy, nuts or shellfish. However, it is always a good rule of thumb to opt for natural ingredients over synthetic ones and to adopt an organic lifestyle wherever possible.

Additives to watch out for… 

Some of the additives most likely to cause reactions include:

  • Flavour enhancers: A well-known example is monosodium glutamate (MSG E621). They are commonly found in crisps, instant noodles and microwave and takeaway foods.
  • Aspartame: This is an artificial sweetener, which is made of phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol (a type of alcohol). When broken down in the body, methanol forms formaldehyde, formic acid (found in the venom of ants and bees) and diketopiperazine – all quite nasty substances. Aspartame is found in diet drinks, yoghurts and sugar-free items (like chewing gum).
  • Sulphites: This group of additives is often found in dried fruit, desiccated coconut, cordial and wine. They have been known to trigger asthma attacks in sensitive individuals.
  • Propionates: This type of additive can occur naturally in foods (e.g. certain types of cheese). They are also common in bread. The effects are dose-related and may range from migraines, bed-wetting, nasal congestion and racing heart to memory loss, eczema and stomach ache.
  • Antioxidants: Don’t get confused with the naturally-occurring antioxidants found in whole foods like fruit and vegetables and which are widely used to support good health and immunity. Antioxidants in the context of food additives refer to those that are synthetic chemicals which are added to food, and may therefore have a harmful effect on the body. Examples include Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), which are added to prevent fat spoilage. They are commonly found in margarine, biscuits, crisps and muesli bars. They have been linked to health conditions such as insomnia, tiredness, asthma and even learning difficulties.
  • Colours: The most common offenders in this category of additives are tartrazine (E102) and annatto (E160b). Synthetic colourings have been linked to allergic reactions, as well as learning and behavioural problems in children.

Categories of additives

Preservatives, colourings and flavourings are some of the best known additives. However, there are actually a number of other categories, each of which is tailored to a specific purpose. These include:

  • acids
  • acidity regulators
  • anti-caking agents
  • antifoaming agents
  • antioxidants
  • bulking agents
  • colour retention agents
  • emulsifiers
  • flavours
  • flavour enhancers
  • flour treatment agents
  • glazing agents
  • humectants
  • tracer gas
  • stabilizers
  • sweeteners
  • and thickeners

In fact, there are currently over 3000 additives used in food across the world, most of which are synthetic.

For more information, visit our main website

Enzymes for digestion

The process of digestion

Digestion is a vital process in the body, during which food that is eaten is broken down into a simple form that can be absorbed by the body.

The mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum and anus are the organs that make up our digestive system.

The process of digestion starts in the mouth with the chewing of food, continues in the stomach and small intestine where the food is broken down by the digestive juices and enzymes and finally gets completed in the large intestine. The  digestive tract comprises these digestive organs that take in food, digest it to extract essential nutrients and energy and finally expel the remaining waste.

What are digestive enzymes?

Digestive enzymes are complex proteins that stimulate chemical changes in other substances. They are secreted by different glands in the body, including the salivary glands, the stomach and pancreas glands and the glands in the small intestines.

These enzymes also have specific sites of action, including the oral cavity, the stomach, the duodenum and the jejunum. They work optimally at a specific temperature and pH in the body.

They are used by the body to break food down into nutrients, which are then digested. The human body produces around 22 different digestive enzymes, each of which acts on a different type of food. Fruit, vegetables, meat and other natural foods also often contain enzymes that assist in their own digestion.

Without digestive enzymes, we could not exist. Our body’s reactions would be too slow for life to be possible, because they are involved in almost every biological process.

How do digestive enzymes work?

The human body makes more than 3,000 kinds of enzymes, all of which speed up chemical reactions and save energy. Digestive enzymes, which are only a few of the thousands of known enzymes, break down the foods we eat into basic building blocks that our body can then absorb and reassemble to build cells, tissues, organs, glands and body systems.

These enzymes are produced by the body to help break down food into nutrients and waste. The nutrient molecules must be digested into molecules that are small enough to be absorbed through the lining of the small intestines. When we don’t produce enough digestive enzymes to complete this process efficiently – wind, bloating and more serious digestive and other health issues may occur.

As mentioned above, digestive enzymes come from 2 sources: internal and external. Internally, the digestive system secretes the enzymes found in saliva, the stomach, pancreas and intestines. Externally, raw food is the primary source.

Food digestive enzymes are found in raw foods. Unprocessed whole foods contain most of the enzymes needed for digesting that particular food. This is one reason why it’s important to include many raw foods in our diets. It relieves the stress on the body, having to produce all the digestive system enzymes needed for continuous food digestion (particularly where the food items are hard to process, such as foods high in saturated fat, dairy, red meat etc). Chewing raw food releases these enzymes and digestion begins. Our own enzymes assist in this process.

What are some of the benefits of digestive enzymes?

Caffeine, alcohol, illness, pregnancy, stress, severe weather and exercise all take their toll on our enzyme reserves. Our bodies also produce less as we age. But the main reason we don’t digest food well, is poor diet.

Our diets don’t contain as much raw food as they once did, and modern food processing techniques and cooking destroy nearly 100% of the enzymes naturally present in food. Even raw food doesn’t contain as many enzymes as it once did due to environmental factors, depleted soil, and preservation techniques.

The body tries to compensate by producing more internal digestive enzymes to make up for the lack of external plant enzymes. Enzyme-deficient food puts a burden on the digestive system that it isn’t always able to handle. Incomplete digestion can lead to poor nutrient absorption, fatigue, digestive upset, food allergies and other health conditions and digestive complaints. Partially digested food particles escaping from the gut can cause an immune response (such as Leaky Gut Syndrome), affecting the immune system. The body may also “steal” enzymes from the immune system, compromising it even further.

As a result, many health conscious individuals choose to support their daily diet and digestion with plant-derived digestive enzyme supplements.

For more information, visit our main website

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