Powering your immune system through diet

A poll I just read today makes sense of why Britain and the US have suffered some of the worse incidences of Covid on the planet. 

The poll, commissioned by the Asian food brand Itsu, concluded that about half of British people have no clue about their nutritional needs, two-thirds have no idea how much protein to have, one-third consume lunches with no nutritional value, and most had no idea about the vitamins, fiber or calcium they should be eating.  

Those figures are paralleled in the US, where three-quarters of all Americans believe they are eating healthily, but 80 percent don’t eat enough fruit, vegetables or whole grains, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

The idea that people don’t know how much protein to eat—or even what protein is—is frightening, when you consider how important it is. Virtually all of the biochemical reactions in our body require particular enzymes, which are protein. Proteins, made up of chains of amino acids, are involved in transporting oxygen, hormones and fats in the blood; making muscle, hair, nails, cartilage and bone; and manufacturing the hormones themselves and the fluid that lubricates our joints. 

Perhaps most important, protein has a central role in keeping our bodies healthy and safe from attack. Proteins power up our immune systems; an enzyme (protein) called lysozyme is central to our defense system.

But the major orchestrator of the complex array of processes that make up a healthy immune system is our gut, and here’s where it gets truly interesting. We now know that one of the major factors in our body’s health is our microbiome, that city of a trillion tiny beneficial organisms that inhabits  our gut.

And central to maintaining the health of that vast microscopic community residing within us are plant foods.

According to Dr Robert Verkerk and Meleni Aldridge, of the Alliance of Natural Health, in their new book Reset Eating (see page 26), we are now discovering that plants are information, whether good or bad, with a profound effect on every major system of our bodies.  

This information, in the form of phytonutrients provided by plants of the six major color groups (red, green, yellow, orange, purple/black and white/tan/brown), helps to calm inflammation, keep our hearts healthy, prevent cancer, balance our hormones, make us fertile, keep our brains sharp and more. 

A rainbow of fruits and vegetables also provides the gut bacteria with a diverse array of ‘prebiotics,’ helping the most beneficial among them to thrive. 

Although we can’t digest the fiber in fruits and vegetables, it’s a feast for our gut bacteria, and without enough of it, the good-guy bacteria die off and the bad guys resort to feeding on the mucosal lining of our gut wall—which is central to our immune system. 

According to Verkerk and Aldridge, “Our gut mucosa is the most dynamic and probably the most important immunological environment of our body. It’s the key interface of our immune system between the inside and the outside world, and is vital to our ability to discern friends from foes, be they chemicals or organisms.”

This gut lining has a system of tight junctions that act as tightly closed doors between the gut and the rest of the body, opening the doors to allow important nutrients to pass through while keeping the doors firmly shut to toxins and pathogens.  

However, when encountering a pathogen too wily to cope with, the gut lining will open the door but send out an ‘all systems alert’ to the rest of the immune system to mount a full-scale attack on
the invader.  

Of all the hero bacteria of our gut, the John Wayne of our immune system is a bacteria called Akkermansia muciniphila. It resides in this mucus layer, and its main function is scouring our mucosa and ridding it of outlaws. A nocturnal entity, it feasts on fiber by day and then rides to the rescue at night.

If you don’t eat enough plant foods or you don’t have periods when you’re not stuffing your gut (by fasting overnight), this hero bacteria gets overrun by the bad guys, which can quickly overwhelm your immune system’s ability to fight back.

So, plants are food for us and food for our gut’s occupants. But in order to thrive with the healthiest immune system, we also need to know a good deal more about what helps that two-way fence in our gut lining—as well as what doesn’t.  

The reason that gluten is bad for most of us, for instance, is because gluten contains a protein that can mimic the action of a human protein called zonulin, the gatekeeper controlling whether the gut lining’s doors are open or shut. 

This brilliant mimicry opens the doors wide, enabling all manner of toxins and pathogens through. When you eat wheat, you literally spill the contents of your guts.

So, if you want to stay safe during the pandemic, it’s not enough to rely on the vaccine or on wearing a mask.  We all need to learn a great deal more about how our gut works and all the miraculous mechanisms already in place to fight off invaders like Covid.

We also need to learn more about which foods feed the gut good guys and which, the bad guys.

If food is information, it’s time for all of us to start listening a whole lot harder.