September is often the time of year when people start to consider precautions for the upcoming cold and flu season. In the midst of an ongoing pandemic, many people are preoccupied with boosting their immunity; a better question might be how to optimize the immune system for peak performance.
What’s the difference, you might ask? “Boosting” immunity can send things into overdrive, while optimizing the immune system is a matter of supplying your system with the things it needs to function at its best - think whole foods, rest, and sunlight. Learn the four pillars that will keep the whole family well through cold and flu season and beyond.
Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.
Full Episode Transcript
Agatha Luczo: Hi, I'm Agatha Luczo mother of four,
[00:00:08] Dr. Greene: and I'm Allen Greene, Pediatrician.
[00:00:10] Agatha Luczo: Welcome to Bambini Furtuna's podcast, Mom Driven.
[00:00:14] Dr. Greene: Dr. Aligned. Oh hi! It's great to be with you.
[00:00:17] Agatha Luczo: Hey, Dr. Greene. So nice to see you again. I'm excited about our conversation about “don't boost your immunity”.
[00:00:24] Dr. Greene: That's gonna surprise some people.
[00:00:26] Agatha Luczo: Yeah. It's really surprising. It's surprising to me. So everyone is looking for ways to be as healthy as possible, especially right now during COVID and our times. But you say don't boost your immunity and that sounds a little, you know, backwards. Why do you say we shouldn't boost our immunity?
[00:00:43] Dr. Greene: So we are headed right now into what would normally be cold and flu season in the middle of a pandemic. And by far the most common question I'm getting is, you know, apart from staying distant, getting good ventilation, and avoiding exposure. How do you boost your immunity for parents themselves, for the kids? And my answer is don't boost your immunity, and here's why. And what people really want to know by the way is how do I be the most resilient against infections?
[00:01:09] And I will talk about how to do that. But the reason I say not boost your immunity -- if you think about it, the immune system is kind of like an orchestra, it's all in harmony together. And if you just raise the volume too loud, that's a problem. After all, boosted immunity, that's what we call autoimmune disease, where your immune system's out of control, then attacking things that shouldn't be.
[00:01:30] Or allergies. What allergies are, is a hyperactive immune system.
[00:01:34] Agatha Luczo: Right.
[00:01:34] Dr. Greene: Or inflammation is part of the immune system. And if you have your immune system revved up all the time, then you get chronic inflammation, which isn't good for health. And even when it comes to COVID, the thing that people are most concerned about right now. There's two phases of that. The first phase is people get sick from the infection, but the second phase, the serious one, the one that can be lethal [the one] people are dying from, [is] their immune system being overactive, being boosted. So it's not what we want. What we want this to be resilient
[00:02:06] Agatha Luczo: And healthier
[00:02:07] Dr. Greene: And healthier.
[00:02:08] Agatha Luczo: Okay. So how would you suggest people to protect themselves and their kids? How do we do that? How do we become healthier?
[00:02:15] Dr. Greene: Okay. So there's four things I want to share with folks. Four, sort of pillars, of how to be most resilient against infection, if you happen to get exposed. Of course, you do want to avoid exposures if you can. But if you get exposed, there's four things I'll share. Plus one bonus one.
[00:02:30] And the first one is actually the opposite of booster immunity and that's dialing back your immune system. Because right now our immune system is responding to all kinds of threats that are in the environment. It's a little bit like crying wolf where the chemicals are off in all different directions, things that trigger inflammation. And if we can turn down the volume on those, we can be more ready to respond to the real threats when they come.
[00:02:55] Agatha Luczo: So how do we dial back our immune system?
[00:02:57] Dr. Greene: So the way we can do that, there's only three ways, basically, that these triggers the immune system get into our bodies. Things that you'd rather not have to be wasting your immune system's attention and energy to fight. And that's through what we eat or drink. Through the air that we breathe and through things that go on our skin. So when it comes to what we eat or drink, this is the time where you want to be eating or drinking things that your grandparents would recognize as real food. You want to eat real and avoid the recently invented chemicals and additives, artificial colors, and artificial flavors, ultra-processed snack foods and added sugars and high fructose corn syrup in the things you're eating and drinking. So all of those could trigger inflammation that makes you less well ready to respond. So that's what we eat or drink.
In terms of what we're breathing in probably the biggest thing is to avoid smoke as much as we can. So you avoid smoke for sure. Second hand, third hand smoke. This is a good time to avoid vaping. Where you don't want your immune system to have to be dealing with that. And of course, where we live, it's wildfire smoke. Right? And so that means staying indoors when the air quality is really bad. And this is a great time for air filters, both to reduce viral load and to reduce the irritants that can distract our lungs in our immune system.
[00:04:14] Agatha Luczo: Yeah. I've been checking the air quality every day to see if it's safe enough for our children to go play outside a little bit. I love using Purpleair.com just to quickly check the air quality.
[00:04:25] Dr. Greene: Yeah, I love Purpleair too. It's a really great way to see what's going on. And I am a big fan of HEPA filters to keep it clean indoors. Even in good times, indoor air is often five times more polluted than outdoor air, just because of the off-gassing of various things. So it's really nice to have clean air inside.
[00:04:44] Agatha Luczo: Yeah, but not only do we have the fires to deal with, it's allergy season right now too. The grasses and the trees and weeds will help as well.
[00:04:51] Dr. Greene: And weeds, yeah. Right, which can also calm the immune system so that it can be more ready to respond to the real problems.
[00:04:58] Agatha Luczo: Right.
[00:04:58] Dr. Greene: So, the first is what we eat or drink. The second is the air that we breathe. The third one...
[00:05:04] Agatha Luczo: My favorite.
[00:05:05]Dr. Greene: Is one of your hot buttons. Yeah. It's what goes on the skin and people don't often think about it, but what goes on our skin is often absorbed into the body
[00:05:13] Agatha Luczo: And is just as important as what you eat. I always say what you put on your skin is equally as important as what you eat. I really believe in that.
[00:05:20] Dr. Greene: Yeah. And we've done studies looking at that. We talked before with the environmental working group, we did this study where we took teenage girls and put just their typical personal care products on their skin.
[00:05:30] And then I drew their blood and we looked in their bloodstream and found all the ingredients in their personal care products in their bloodstream.
[00:05:36] Agatha Luczo: Yeah.
[00:05:36] Dr. Greene: We read ingredient labels on food, but people hardly look at the things that are under personal care products.
[00:05:41] Agatha Luczo: Right. But what's really, really scary is that they found all those toxic ingredients in their bloodstream. It really shows that not only for kids, but even for us adults, we should be careful of what we're putting on our skin.
[00:05:53] Dr. Greene: Right. And especially right now. There's both the long term effects, but we don't want to be distracting our immune system of having to deal with chemicals that [it] doesn't recognize right now.
[00:06:02] Agatha Luczo: That's a good point. All right. So what we put on our skin is really important.
[00:06:06] Dr. Greene: Right. So number one of the pillars is to dial back the immune system. Number two is to provision the system, to provide the nutrients and ingredients we need for our immune system to be functioning optimally. And again, the way that that happens most is everything gets through our body through what we eat or drink through the air that we breathe and what goes on our skin.
[00:06:29] And when it comes to what we eat or drink, one of the most important things to do is just eat real food cause it's loaded with what we need for our immune system to be functioning well, and particularly to pay attention, to getting, if possible, at least five servings a day of colorful produce cause it's really loaded with the things that boost the immune system in good ways.
[00:06:49] If you're not doing it, supplements may be helpful, but it's best to get that from food. And then when it comes to the air that we breathe, that makes a difference too. And we've talked before on our podcasts about when you are breathing in clean air, in nature, you're breathing in compounds from the trees and plants around us or the salt air that can also help our immune system function better.
[00:07:13] Agatha Luczo: Right.
[00:07:14] Dr. Greene: And as far as the skin, what are the obvious things? There's just been more data showing that vitamin D is really powerful for helping our immune system be well provisioned. And we get that the primary way is by being outdoors and getting there. And then recently we've learned that unless obviously that you also make CoQ10 when you're outside in the sun, after eating green leafy vegetables in the last couple of hours before that. And we've talked about that before, too. Another powerful way to use what's going into our skin to provision the system.
[00:07:48] Agatha Luczo: Right? I mean, that's what makes me so excited about Bambini Furtuna in what we're doing is that we're using real organic ingredients that have been used in foods to promote our health and to make us healthier through our products.
[00:08:02] Dr. Greene: And absolutely beautiful. Yeah. Bringing the farm to the skin.
[00:08:05] Agatha Luczo: Yeah, farm to the skin. It's so important.
[00:08:07] Dr. Greene: So number one is dialing back the immune system. Number two is provisioning the system. Number three is to cultivate and nourish the beneficial bacteria that live in and on our bodies. And the microbiome, it's this really amazing ecosystem that in many ways is the front lines of our immune system. And when they are healthy and varied and numerous, they do an amazing job at protecting us from getting infected. And you've heard that old adage when you're on an airplane how important it is to put the mask on yourself first, if it falls so that you have enough oxygen to help the people around you. That's good for lots of parts of life. But this is a situation where...
[00:08:46] Agatha Luczo: It's really hard for moms to do that.
[00:08:48] Dr. Greene: Right. Right. It's really hard for moms to do that.
[00:08:51] Agatha Luczo: And dads.
[00:08:52]Dr. Greene: But you want to not pass out so that you're there for the kids. But this is a situation where taking care of those bacteria can actually help stop us from getting sick. So, it's a really high priority to take care of it.
[00:09:05] Agatha Luczo: So, how do you do that?
[00:09:06] Dr. Greene: So how do you do that? Well, the nice thing is it comes down again to what we eat or drink. That's how things get in the body of the air. We breathe, what goes on the skin, and we want to eat things that feed our microbes, the microbes that we want and it turns out that's primarily real produce especially stuff with lots of fiber in it. Fermented foods, live-cultured foods are great, herbs, and spices.
[00:09:32] I should mention back on that provisional system, herbs and spices are some of the most potent at being filled with things that are health provision immune system, whether the things we're putting on our skin or the things that they're going in our food. They're loaded with protective compounds and also help our microbiome.
[00:09:51] And then we want to avoid things that kill the bacteria that we want, like unnecessary antibiotics, cigarettes smoke, too much alcohol, and any kind of toxin that's not going to help these bacteria thrive.
[00:10:02] Agatha Luczo: So it sounds like all these things work together. And when you were avoiding smoke and paying attention to what you put in your body and on your body, that's dialing back the immune system, is that right?
[00:10:14] And that's helping to provision and helping boost up the immune system, or actually nourishing it...
[00:10:20] Dr. Greene: nourishing your immune system, optimize your immune system.
[00:10:22] Agatha Luczo: Right. Optimizing it. We have to avoid...
[00:10:25] Dr. Greene: getting out of that golden mean. So I was reading recently a little excerpt from Aristotle's, Virtues, this week. He talked about the golden mean being the key for everything and that all the virtues, why in the middle, between everything.
[00:10:38] So for instance, courage, which is a really important virtue is when you are able to act in spite of your fear. And if you have too much fear and you're frozen, that's cowardice. But if you don't respond to your fear and you don't really feel it, that's recklessness and courage is right between cowardice and recklessness.
[00:10:58] You don't want to be all the way in the reckless sense. You want courage. And it's like that with the immune system, we want to be right there in the middle where it's subtle and resilient and calms down.
[00:11:07] Agatha Luczo: Yeah, I like that. Alright. So you mentioned that there are four things, so what's the fourth?
[00:11:11] Dr. Greene: Yes. And the fourth one is sleep. Sleep is incredibly powerful for preventing infection and for getting you well more quickly, it resets, refocuses, optimizes the immune system. Really dramatic the impact that it can make.
[00:11:27] Agatha Luczo: Yeah, you know how important sleep is for me and for my kids. I'm a big believer in getting lots of sleep and putting the kids down to bed early. We actually did a podcast all about sleep. I love that episode.
[00:11:39] Dr. Greene: Yeah, me too. And the impact of the immune system is incredibly foundationally profound. And I did mention, I have a bonus one. So in addition to dialing back the immune system, provisioning the system, culturing our microbes, and sleep, the bonus is exercise.
Physical activity, getting really active every day. And the reason is that exercise actually helps all four of the others. So when you exercise, it helps calm inflammation and calm the immune system and allows it to focus. And when you exercise, it helps provision the system, in part by moving our lymph fluid around.
[00:12:13] They don't have a pump like the heart, like our blood system does, [lymph fluid] moves from our muscle contractions. So it helps get the immune system components where they need to be. And exercise helps our microbiome. It thrives more when we're active and vice versa, the microbiome helps us exercise better.
[00:12:28] And finally, exercise is one of the best things that we can do. They have better, deeper, higher quality sleep. So it all works together.
[00:12:36] Agatha Luczo: It all works together. That's amazing; all the important things.
All right. So what are four takeaways for today? Would you say? One, you don't want to boost your immune system, but you want to optimize it.
[00:12:48] Dr. Greene: That's right. And I would say, if you do have an autoimmune illness or allergies or chronic inflammation, you want to work with someone to get those under control, as best as possible. But as far as things that falsely alert your immune system, you want to avoid the triggers that get into your body, which is primarily three ways.
[00:13:05]Agatha Luczo: Yeah, through what we eat or drink.
[00:13:07] Dr. Greene: Yup.
[00:13:07]Agatha Luczo: The air that we breathe and through what goes on our skin.
[00:13:11] Dr. Greene: Absolutely.
[00:13:12] Agatha Luczo: Yeah. So back to our takeaways. So, one, don't boost the immune system, you want to optimize it. Two, provision the system. Three, cultivate and nourish the beneficial bacteria and [four] sleep. And, of course, our bonus -- exercise.
[00:13:30] Dr. Greene: There you go. So hope you all have a great weekend. Be well.
[00:13:34] Agatha Luczo: Yes. Thank you so much for joining us on Mom Driven, Dr. Aligned. And we'll see you on our next podcast.
[00:13:42] Dr. Greene: See you then.