How to Regenerate Your Immune System Pt. 2
In part 1 of this series we talked about the role of inflammation in immune function, defined the difference between immune system boosting vs. renewal and looked at how functional medicine approaches gut/immune health and how to treat chronic illness and dysfunction. In keeping with the same idea of system renewal rather than enhancement – In this part of the series I would like to touch upon the benefits of prolonged fasting.
There is a lot of research being done on fasting these days. A lot of which is really dense and complicated and as this pandemic surges on, we are all getting a bit over stimulated with information on health, so I will keep this short and accessible as possible.
Prolonged water fasts (only drinking water) have been performed for centuries as parts of religious ceremony or ritual but beyond that, the ebb and flow of feast and famine has been a struggle common to every species since the very beginning of life. So fasting may seem like a fad right now, but that is only because some of us are privileged enough to live in a time of plenty where fasting is a choice. In this long history of periodic starvation, our genes have developed systems to differentiate between which functions can take advantage of feeding periods and which can take over during dry spells. These are very basic systems that have integrated themselves into every, or theoretically, every living organism on the planet.
At its most basic principle, during times of plenty – when specific proteins and sugars are abundant – certain genes are turned on and the organism goes into “growth” mode, which is important for obvious reasons. While during times of scarcity, the lack of these compounds triggers these genes to “turn off” and the organism goes into clean-up or renewal mode. As you can guess, these systems have survived for billions of years for good reason and both play important roles in survival. It is super interesting stuff but I am no expert and like I said, I want to keep this as succinct as possible. So if you are interested in this subject and how it effects longevity I highly recommend you check out Lifespan by David Sinclair.
When we fast for prolonged periods of time we can trigger the renewal phase. When this happens our body hones in on sick cells and either fixes them or clears them out. At the same time, new cells begin to form to replace old ones. This happens all throughout the body including in the brain and the immune system! Stem cells that have been kept on standby while we have been in “growth” mode are now stimulated to make new cells and literally regenerate old systems. While we can still “thrive”, heal and reproduce during a growth phase, the other side of the coin is that feedback loops are happening, systems can get clogged up and dysfunction and mutations are continuing unchecked by the renewal process that needs the starvation trigger to begin its process.
We (the privileged) have virtually eliminated this really cool ability that our bodies have to regenerate by applying a constant feeding state, or more precisely a constant over-feeding state (I am currently snacking on a block of old cheddar and cashew nuts, purely out of pandemic boredom).
intermittent fasting, time restricted eating and calorie restriction does not trigger the renewal system. There seems to be some benefits of all of those eating patterns, some of which I have mentioned in previous blog posts but we need actual starvation for a few days in order to achieve regeneration mode. Some studies suggest 48-72 hours of a water fast to be sufficient, others have used much longer fasts to treat and reverse type 2 diabetes as well as all kinds of chronic illnesses. To the rescue for our gluttonous selves, A prominent researcher named Valter Longo has designed a fasting mimicking protocol that triggers the renewal system while maintaining a minimal calorie intake.
The long list of health benefits this fasting mimicking diet (FMD) allows for is really impressive. Before I list them, it is important to note that the majority of the research has been done on mice but some human studies have show equally impressive results. Here is part of a growing list..
- reduction in cancer cells
- protects against bone mineral loss
- increases lifespan & health span
- triggers stem cell production
- promotes neurogenisis
- regenerates beta cells in type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- protects against chemotoxicity
- remyelintaes neuron sheaths
- lowers blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides
- normalizes several different inflammation markers
- lowers visceral fat stores
In animal studies, FMD has been shown to reverse certain autoimmune diseases , such as MS and type 1 diabetes. This is huge. By limiting their calorie intake for just a few days per month, they are able to mimick fasting enough to stimulate the removal of damaged cell and regeneration of new immune cells. The FMD protocol as used by Longo is a 5 day per month calorie restriction. Depending on the study, the protocol is repeated for 3 months, or once every 3 months or once every 6 months.
Another interesting effect is that fasting increases sensitization of the immune system towards cancerous cells while simultaneously increasing stress resistance of healthy cells. This is what I was talking about in the part 1 – the difference between immune system boosting and renewal is that boosting a broken system would just enhance the body’s tendency to attack healthy cells while feeding broken (cancerous) ones.
Metabolic rates are also increased during the fasting period, which leads to increased fat loss. Studies have also shown that metabolic rate remains increased even after the fasting period has stopped. So even if the mouse returns to the eating pattern (or over-eating pattern) it had prior to the fast, it can still lose more weight. This won’t last forever but it is interesting how quickly the body has begun working to restore healthy body weight and energy transfer.
There is so much more cool information out there on the effects of water fasting and the fasting mimicking diet but I want to get right to what this protocol might look for you if you want to implement it into your life. As suggested by Valter Longo – a 5 day fasting mimicking diet plan could look like this..
- 5 days total per month
- Once every 6 months for the average person
- Once every 3 months for someone who may need more of an effect
- Once per month for someone with metabolic disorder or a serious autoimmune disease – this advice comes from another source.
- 1st day – 1100 calories or 4.5-7 calories per lb. of body weight – 10% protein / 34 % carbohydrates / 56% fats
- day 2-5 – 800 calories or 3-5 calories per lb. of body weight – 9% protein / 47% carbohydrate / 44% fats
The Macronutrient content is very important for this model to be effective so it does take some care in planning the right meals. High protein and high sugar interfere with how those genes we discussed earlier are turned off and on.
It is also important to note that if you tend to eat a diet that is very high in protein, the “growth” system may be over stimulated and prone to mutations. We don’t think of high protein diets as being dangerous but it turns out they just may be. Igf-1 is a growth hormone important in tissue and muscle growth but if over stimulated it can cause inflammation all over the body, specifically in the immune system. We don’t need that much protein (unless you are an athlete or over the age of 60-65) in order to maintain or grow muscle, so it is in our best interest to figure out how much your body needs to maintain a healthy muscle mass and keep it there or below.
It is a pain in the arse to figure out the right macro ratios for a days worth of food when it needs to be so specific AND while wanting to maintain nutrient quality and density. So I have done the work for you and come up with a 5 day plan – though day 2-5 is the same thing. It is really the only way to keep things under control.
DAY 1 – 1100 calories – good for anyone between the weight of 150-340 lbs. Breakfast – black coffee (has to be black) and a Smoothie
- 8 ounces of unsweetened almond milk
- 1 cup of frozen blueberries
- 2 cups of spinach
- 3 tbsp of greens powder – I use Genuine Health original greens
- 1/2 cup of carrots
- 1 cup of chopped kale
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
Lunch – 1 avocado and 1 yellow bell pepper – you can mash the avocado or make “guacamole” and use it like a dip for the chopped yellow bell pepper.
Dinner – Salad
- 3 cups arugula or spinach
- 1/4 cup chopped almonds
- 1 cup chopped cucumber
- 3/4 cup halved strawberries
- 1/4 of an avocado
- season with lemon or balsamic vinegar and salt/pepper
DAY 2-5 800 calories
Breakfast – black coffee and Smoothie – same as day 1 minus the kale and coconut oil
Lunch – cold pressed juice by DOSE – Yogi – it has to be this particular one – low in sugar // 1 tbsp coconut oil // 1/2 cup of whole almonds
Dinner – 1 cup roasted sweet potato // 1 cup roasted broccoli // 1 tbsp coconut oil. You can spice the vegetables however you like.
That’s it! Before you complain about how small the portions are, remember that you still get to reap the rewards of what would normally take a 3 day water fast. But I do highly recommend trying a long water fast at some point in your life. The 5 day fasting mimicking diet will leave you hungry and there are some good psychological lessons in being hungry and appreciating the food that you do get throughout the day. But I can attest to the spiritual connection with life, food and your surroundings when you go for 72 hours with just water. It is a tough but very rewarding experience.
I wish you all the best in health as we proceed through this covid-19 pandemic. For all of us but especially for those of you with compromised immune systems, it is so important to try and find ways to optimize your health. Autoimmune disease used to be a life sentence but more and more studies are showing that this is not the case. Trying a regular routine of fasting may just be the thing you need to get you on a new path of improved immunity. I hope this helps and please let me know if you have any questions!
For information on online nutrition / fitness consultations please contact Joey at firstname.lastname@example.org
How to Regenerate Your Immune System Pt. 1
Currently, 5 % of the population in Western countries suffer from autoimmune disease. More than ever, as the coronavirus pandemic surges, many of us are looking for ways to maintain a strong immune system. Improving immune function might not keep you from contracting the virus but it very well may be what saves you from suffering from its most sever symtoms. You don’t have to have an autoimmune disease to have a compromised immune system. But those who do are at severe risk from all sorts of infections and illnesses outside of the “one” they are already diagnosed with.
At the core of most chronic illness, specifically those of the autoimmune type, is systemic inflammation. At some point within the intertwining systems of our body, a kink in the chain started a cascading effect miscommunication and misinformtaion which leads the body to attack itself. This usually materialzes in inflammation, pain and disirder of function pretty much anywhee in the body. These diseases can be completely debilitating and may turn into multiple diagnoses as things progress. But, with updated, holistic approaches, people are recovering and reversing many of these disease that were previosuly thought of as a life sentence. The functional medicine approach has been a leading part of this change towards recovery.
Functional medicine seeks to find the root cause of the inflammation rather than just diagnose the symptoms and medicate to decrease those symptoms. This is the problem with our current system – symptoms don’t point to root cause. This misguided correlation of symptom-to-cause also happens with physical ailments. Most of the time, when one of my clients comes in with pain in their knees, ankles, neck, etc., we often have to look at the entire body through different movement patterns to understand what the source of the issue is. If we just treat to source of the NOW obvious symptom of dysfunction then we may blur the pain but another problem will often arise further down the chain. If you have pain in your neck and all your physio or trainer suggests are neck stretches – that is the equivalent of western medicine’s diagnosis and treatment protocol for chronic illness.
For the intended purpose of this series of blog posts, I just want to be clear, we’re not talking about ways to “boost” your immune system. Some supplements and medications are know for suppressing or boosting immune response. These have their uses but when treating root cause autoimmune illness and many other chronic illnesses, cardiovascular disease and even cancers, we are seeking ways to regenrate, renew our immune response to ia healthy functioning capacity, Boosting a broken system leads to disaster. So, I just want to point out a couple approaches in this blog post on how to renew the system without danger of boosting the wrong signals.
The major problem with immuno-suppressive therapy – which is the cornestone of western medicines approach to autoimmune disease – is that by lowering the immune response you lay the ground work for other invaders like viruses, bacterial infection, cancers, mental illness or muscle wasting to barge in and cause havoc.
Even with people who have a genetic predisposition for autoimmunity, a trigger is usually required for it to start.
In functional medicine, the idea is to figure out the Why, Where and How.
There is a protocol comonly used to treat chronic illness by healing the gut and immune response . It is called the 5 R’s. –
Even before starting with the 5 Rs, extensive testing is usually done to look for markers of inflamation, unwanted metabolites, hormone imbalances, parasite or yeast overgrowth, muscle enzymes, microbiome diversity/profile, heavy metal toxicity, etc.. Again, you need to know the where and the why, not just the what. In keeping with our focus on immune function and renewal, lets pass over the other areas and look at what the 5 Rs mean for healing the gut.
Remove – might mean starting an elimination diet to take out any underlying alergens like gluten, dairy, soy, as well as any potential parasite or yeast overgrowth.
Replace – would be a program to begin adding nutrients, fiber, enzymes, prebiotics, etc., that may have been missing from your diet that will help optimize function. This is often done in phases or cycles. Overloading a system, even if it is with “good” compounds can have a negative effect. Yams, sweet potatoes and greens are a good source of easy to digest fibrous and nutritious foods. Tonights dinner is a sweet potato and organic, grass fed beef shepherds pie with garlic onion, dandeion root and artichoke hearts (all of which are great prebiotic foods)!
Re-inoculate – this involves introducing a probiotic regimen, predominently through fermented foods but also with supplementation. Now is a good time to learn how to make your own kimchi or sauerkraut! It will take up some time and help you repopultae your gut with good bacteria!
Repair – could also be a second phase of “replace” now implementing a program including nutrients that are anti-inflammatory and other compounds that are missing from the diet such as glutamine, fish oil, polyphenols, and certain vitamins. In the next parts I will get into details about other healing foods and supplements you can look for. Berries, beans, nuts and many spices are chalk full of polyphenols. As is coffee!
Restore – when your immune system has been all wonky for months or years, other systems have also been taxed, incuding the nervous system. In fact the nervouse systems original reaction to things like stress, anxiety or trauma may have been the original trigger. We need to find new ways to restore balance to a system that has been working over time and now may be fatigued or just not working at all. This is where, meditation, sleep optimization, exercise, self love and finding purpose play a deep role in healing.
Our microbiome is regulated by what we eat. If we disrupt the balance for long enough then issues arise, inflammation occurs and the permeability of our intestines can lead to an invasion on the rest of our body’s systems by compounds that should never have entered it. If you think about the sheer quantities of processed foods that do damage to our guts you can see why 6 out of 10 Americans have chronic illness. Then on top of the processed foods and sugar, if you add all the antibiotics, acid blockers, anti-inflammatory medications and other toxins we have a catastrophic amount of disruption of the gut microbiome.
We can follow the 5 Rs without the testing, though I highly recommend finding a functional health practicioner to guide you through some of them. You can also start your own investigation by ordering your own microbiome testing and genetic testing kits. Both of which will give you some ideas as to what foods to avoid and what to add. It is pertinent to note that you don’t need to follow a spceific order of the Rs. Just remember that too much change all at once won’t lend much insight into what is working, nor will it make things easier to maintain. For longevity sake, do a couple things at a time. take note, then add some more. Any change in lifestyle should be done at a pace that is sustainable.
An interesting thing to keep in mind though is that studies in brain chemistry have shown that diets high in processed foods (sugar) interfere with the brains ability for decision making. It has been shown that the communication between the prefrontal cortex (decision making, consequences of behaviour) and the amygdala (impulsive behaviour, fight or flight) is basically shutdown. So the “grown up” in the room has little to no control over the impulsive reactions our “candy fiendish child” has towards foods. So,hopefully, when balance is restored we will have more control over our decisions when it comes to foodas our brain chemisty normalizes.
By optimizing your biome and healing your gut you can literally renew your body’s ability to process foods safely and respond to any compounds without throwing the whole system out of balance. Instead of sa ystemic inflammaotry response, your body will do what it was designed to do, whcih is to deal with one small problem at a time, with efficiency and ease.
In Part 2 I will go into some more detail on some information I have recently posted about fasting and Immune system renewal. Then I hope to get into the very potent role that mushrooms can play in the regeneration process as well.
Stay Home, Stay Stay Strong!