Join us for a Q & A session with our Senior Resident Acupuncturist, Kyleen Lee, talking about why we get sick and how to build up your immune system.
Kim: It is that time of the year again – cold & flu season. I wanted to talk to you today about why we get sick. What is the best way to prevent getting sick? What are the best options for treatment when you do get sick? Why would someone choose to take Chinese herbs rather than an over the counter medication?
Kyleen Lee: So the main thing to remember about over the counter medications when you get sick is that it is still only controlling the symptoms. Is that all you think you should do is try to control the fever? You can use a decongestant, and you will decongest things, but are you actually getting better? Are you actually getting over it? No. You are keeping yourself comfortable. The difference between a Chinese herbal formula and an over the counter medication is that the herbal formula is actually helping your body, strengthening the immune system, and then kicking it out much faster. You are still going to be sick but you are getting it out much quicker than just using over the counter stuff. You know, when you are sick, your body’s defenses are down and the body needs to replenish to get back to where it should be. You take the over the counter stuff and you control your symptoms, and you will think “Oh! I’m good, I’m good”. You are not good, and you need to replenish your body’s energy resources
Kim: That is how many people feel, that if they can feel more comfortable they are getting better. It seems we have been taught in the West that if we get a fever, we need to take a fever reducer, like Tylenol. But a fever is your immune system doing its job. When you have a fever it is your body’s immune system kicking up to burn out whatever pathogen is in your body. But advertising tells us we should reduce our fever. When you do take a fever reducer, well now your body isn’t burning out that pathogen. If you do not let your immune system do its job and deal with that pathogen like it is meant to, unfortunately over time your immune system will start to become weaker and weaker. You are not giving your immune system the ability to do what it is supposed to do, to fight that stuff. All you are doing is making yourself a little more comfortable, but you are also weakening your body’s disease fighting ability in the process. I know one of the things Bob tells people when they get sick is to take the hottest bath you can stand, get out, wrap yourself in a robe, then wrap yourself in a blanket and you sweat it out. You are going to get it out of your body that much faster if you use your body’s own healing mechanism. It is a little bit of discomfort for a short time period versus a cold or flu that lingers for weeks or a month. The best thing to do is make your body as strong as possible. So another question: what are the best foods to build a strong immune system? Most of the immune system comes from the gut, right?
Kyleen: The best way to build a strong immune system is to eat your green vegetables. There are actually a number of components that make up your immune system, therefore you want to make sure that the fuel you are putting into your body will actually fuel your immune system. That is something you build up over time. Too many people think “Oh I’m sick so I’m going to take some Vitamin C pills and that will make my body really strong”. That thinking is so wrong. Your immune system builds up over a longer period of time, and so the best thing you can do is eat your green vegetables. If you want to create an environment full of good minerals and enzymes and vitamins, well that comes from eating green vegetables
Kim: Isn’t that what the experts say, that a huge part of your immune system comes from your gut?
Kyleen: Yes, I believe it is close to 60%.
Kim: So when it comes to what you are eating, things like sugar and the things that turn to sugar more quickly, like crackers and cereals, even those things that you think aren’t sweet but are in fact carbs, those foods are turning into sugar very quickly. That has a very negative impact on your immune system, right? Every time you eat sugar you basically paralyze your immune system for up to 4 hours. Again, people are eating things like yogurt and thinking “This is great for me, its protein”. But it is actually a double whammy, yogurt is full of sugar and it turns to phlegm very quickly in your body. When you are sick, the foods you want to avoid are:
Kyleen: Definitely milk, you want to stay away from all dairy like milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream, but also breads, cereals, sweets.
Kim: Because they turn to sugar more quickly? The carbs inflame your gut and the dairy is phlegm producing, right?
Kyleen: It is not so much the inflammation of the gut, but the impact of sugar, or something that turns to sugar quickly, going into your bloodstream. How do you think you are going to get better? You get better because of the immunoglobulins your immune system is making to attack all these pathogens and your blood vessels are the freeway in which they travel. When you take a look at the cross section of a blood vessel and here comes the blood flow, but now you go and eat a big sugary meal, you’re going to put a lot of traffic in that bloodstream. So now your blood becomes a bit thicker with the sugar. Maybe your immune system was doing its job, but you have now created a congested, traffic blocked area making it harder for the immune system to respond. Not only that, but sugar in the blood glycates, or makes stuff sticky, so maybe you have this great attacker of the pathogen running around and it bumps into this sugar molecule and it gets glycated. Its now completely ineffective. You just single-handedly killed that portion of your immune system because of what you ate. It makes for inefficiency in the immune system delivery.
Kim: Why do we want to avoid dairy?
Kyleen: Dairy causes phlegm. It thickens things. It is mucking things up, if you will. All the secretions in the body get thicker when you eat dairy. When you have that nasty cough, do not drink milk! That is the last thing you want to do. That is the Chinese way of looking at it. If you take a look at the Western side of it, pasteurized milk basically becomes carbohydrate chains. That milk becomes a bunch of sugar once they pasteurize it. The only effective milk to drink would be raw milk because it still has all the enzymes in it. Unfortunately, the milk in this country is degraded; the quality of it is degraded. The milk that you are getting from poorly raised cows and then with the pasteurization of it, you are killing off the good stuff
Kim: What about drinking cold things when you have a cold?
Kyleen: Yeah, don’t do it. You want to keep things hot in your body. The body’s temperature is 98.6 on average, so anytime you eat something lower than that temperature it takes your gut longer to bring it back up in temperature so that it can be absorbed. Digesting things is really exhausting for the body. It is exhausting to break down the food, absorb the nutrients, move it through your intestines, form the stool and then out the shoot. If you are sick, your body is already down, don’t make it even harder to get your nutrients from your food.
Kim: So what are the best foods to eat when you are sick?
Kyleen: Chicken broth is great. If you are sick, you are going to want to do easy digesting. Also, it is important to know the difference between alive food vs. dead food. For example, something out of the microwave is dead food. When you are trying to stimulate and support your immune system and trying to fight off an invasion, you better believe you want live troops in there. You want to add some fresh oregano, some fresh thyme, fresh rosemary into the chicken stock that you made from boiling your own chicken carcass.
Kim: Anything else you want to add?
Kyleen: As a general rule, no processed foods, no chemicals in the foods and that right there will help build a strong immune system. If you do get sick, then absolutely none of that junk; you do not need to be challenging your body anymore when it is already down. Eat fresh, eat food that is alive, and eat warm foods.
The only time I will tell someone to eat rice is if they are having intestinal upset or diarrhea. Go on a chicken, broccoli, rice diet. Have some fresh broccoli, cooked chicken, and the rice to help bulk up the stool. I recommend congee, a chicken and rice soup that is 9 parts water to 1 part rice. They use a chicken stock or fish stock, but then they will add in some freshly cut ginger and fresh cut scallions and that’s it, and you take it in hot to help heat up your whole body. It helps your immune system because your body knows how to take it in and digest it right away, so there is no challenge for your body take in those calories.
As you move through your everyday life, you unfortunately will be exposed to germs, but your best defense against those germs making you sick is a supremely strong immune system. I hope this information has helped you!
By Kim Pedersen & Kyleen Lee