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Immunity and Mussels of Choice

My belly is full. Its late afternoon Sunday and I just ate. Yes, it is Mother’s Day, but my spouse is taking an online course right now. She has enjoyed her celebration at home with me, our son, and her brunch online with her sisters and mother and their families. We had three states represented at our virtual brunch (Georgia, Maine, and New Jersey) but that is not why my belly is full right now.

 

Scientific journals were not all created equal. Some are more scrutinizing than others. In the prestigious journal, Nature, May 4, 2020 (Nature 581, 22-26 (2020)), David Cyranoski reports about the history of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (Our current corona virus, causing pandemic). This elegant article shows how much of what science currently understands about this virus is still theory and how concrete information is evolving daily. “…it could be a problem with the immune system that lets the virus sneak down into the lungs.” The article goes on to discuss the possibility that having healthy cilia (hair cells) in the throat and a robust mucous layer (reflecting a healthy person) in the throat may prevent the virus from getting to the lungs. This might explain why some people experience the virus only as a cold or mild flu or have only minimal symptoms. A healthy immune system might keep the infection higher up in the body. This might help us understand why children (with young healthy immune systems) do not seem to get it as easily and why the aged, who often have reduced immunity, seem to succumb to more aggressive illness. This may also help explain why those with chronic illness like heart disease and diabetes are more likely to have more severe illness with this virus. (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01315-7)

 

I must keep a strong immune system! Amidst all the politics and fear mongering of our current virus pandemic, we all need to maintain well prepared immune systems. Everything I read and all data I observe suggest this is the single best strategy to thrive. Not just to survive; to thrive. In fighting viruses, there is no iron clad medical treatment guaranteed to fix the problem. This fact is the focus of much of the media’s discussion of our global virus pandemic. If there is currently no guaranteed medical solution, then what should we do? The answer many have pointed to is we all need to nurture and support our immune systems. How do we do that?

 

Stress

Unfortunately, stress (psychological distress or mental stress) is a great way to reduce and or suppress the immune system. Rather than give strategies for stress management here, I will advocate a feeling of accomplishment in nurturing strong immunity is likely to help allay fear related stress when it comes to this virus. Additional stress relieving behaviors may include participating in yoga, learning to perform meditations, scheduling time to relax etc.

 

Nervous System

To have a strong immune system requires a strong nervous system. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroimmune_system) We don’t understand much of, even most of how our nervous systems work. They are so complex, science is still figuring out their mysteries (https://nobaproject.com/modules/the-brain-and-nervous-system). Chiropractors represent the most utilized alternative health providers in the USA. The profession was founded on the concept that stress to the spine causes stress to the nervous system which has a profound effect on health. Because the nervous system is so complex, it is very difficult to research. Many chiropractors believe the reason chiropractic research over the years can show improvement from a list of over 300 named medical conditions is because the chiropractic treatment helps the nervous system function more normally. (http://icabestpractices.org/) If the nervous system is functioning, it can regulate and choreograph the dance of human physiology necessary for health. The vast majority of the chiropractors I know make regular chiropractic treatment part of their health regimen to strengthen their nervous system which in turn allows a healthier body.

 

Sleep

In his excellent book, “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams”, Matthew Walker, Ph.D. explains the powerful role sleep plays in our health. Dr. Walker explains in an ideal world we would all go to sleep around 9PM and allow ourselves about eight hours of sleep opportunity. He explains how in the later stages of the sleep cycle, there is an aggressive washing of amyloid proteins from the brain. These are some of the proteins which seem to accumulate in Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, if memory serves correct, Dr. Walker shows evidence sleep is so important to health that for every hour we sleep less than the ideal eight (or nine) hours per night, we increase our chances of developing problems like heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, etc. by 15% per hour. This means, if a person sleeps on average six hours per night, they might show a 30% increased risk of developing one or more of the above-mentioned conditions. Dr. Walker also suggests a 30-60-minute nap in the middle of the day would not be a bad idea. (https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Why-We-Sleep/Matthew-Walker/9781501144325)

 

Exercise

One of the most frustrating things about our current situation is the gyms are all closed! With gyms closed, it is up to each of us to make it our jobs to provide our body with adequate exercise. Ideally, this would include both conditioning exercise (bicycle riding, running, etc.) where we increase our heart rate appropriately for our age and health status for a minimum of 20 minutes per day, and a diverse routine of strength training exercise. Muscles are organs and play an essential role in body balance and maintenance. Reasonable exercise increases immune system function, balances certain hormones, and increases the efficiency of ridding the body of toxins. Resources: (https://hms.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/assets/Sites/Longwood_Seminars/Exercise3.14.pdf) (https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/01.CIR.94.4.857) (https://medlineplus.gov/benefitsofexercise.html) (https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-benefits-of-exercise#section10) (https://www.diabetes.org/fitness/get-and-stay-fit/getting-started-safely/blood-glucose-and-exercise) (https://www.crossfit.com/)

 

Vitamins

If you want a diverse set of opinions about vitamin supplementation, ask several people their opinion and you will most likely become quickly confused. Specific to immunity and the anti-viral response the experts seem to agree on some specific things. It is important to maintain sufficient levels of vitamins D, C, and zinc. There are tons of resources on this. This reference is only one of many. (https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/immune-boosting-supplements#2.-Zinc)

 

Zinc is essential for immune system function.

C is essential for immune protection against infection. Dr. Steven Gundry in his March 6, 2020 podcast (https://drgundry.com/dr-gundry-talks-coronavirus/) explains he takes 500mg vitamin C, chew-able, 4 times per day. He explains he does this because C is water soluble and is out of the system about four hours after ingestion.

D is Essential to immune system function. Dosage of this vitamin is complicated and depends on skin tone, body size (skin surface area), annual sun exposure etc. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuWC2d0mTbo)

 

Nutrition

The best I can do here is say I believe our food choices are largely cultural and are very influenced by our peers and the marketing efforts of big business making typically unhealthy but addictive food sound healthy. For this one I have done a lot of reading and audiobook listening. My beliefs are harsh as compared to mainstream American diet perspectives. Feel free to research anything I say but be careful about your resource. Make sure the source of information you choose to trust does not stand to profit from the advice they give.

 

60-80%. This is the percentage of food I believe should come from non-starchy vegetables. Particularly, there should be a high percentage of cruciferous vegetables. I suggest if the chef of the house has time on their hands, they find a handful of delicious vegetable recipes they can create addictive, or at least enjoyable meals out of. Simplicity can sometimes produce the most delicious results. Recent discoveries about the role of the good bacteria in our digestive system shows the bacteria can eat the woody/fibrous parts of vegetables we can not digest. The byproducts they create are essential for brain and immune function.

 

2 ounces per day. That is how much animal protein might be alright to eat. Consider banking the portion by being vegetarian for, let us say, eight days, and then eat a 16-ounce steak. Throughout history, animal meat has come at a cost. Our industrious society has found ways to make meat taste great while fattening animals for slaughter quickly. Many of the animals we eat are fed corn and soy. They are grain fed. Some are given hormones and antibiotics which may find their way into our bodies. Unfortunately, cows were really designed to eat grass and not grains. Their meat is far healthier when they eat grass. The same is true for sheep and Lamb. Chickens were designed to eat insects, worms, grubs, and some vegetables. Fish were never designed to eat corn and soy, but farmed fish are fed fish meal which, I understand, is largely made of corn and soy. Even organic animals are often fed organic corn and soy. This is simply not the diet they were designed to eat and because of it they produce a greater proportion of unhealthy fats. Even worse is the food the animals eat is often (at least in the USA) treated with herbicide (like glyphosate/Roundup) and pesticide. The animals eat these chemicals and concentrate them, and we eat the animals. Information on these concepts can be found in:

The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in “Healthy” Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain By: Steven R. Gundry MD

How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease By: Michael Greger MD , Gene Stone

The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health By: Emeran Mayer MD

Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers By: David Perlmutter , Kristin Loberg

The Human Superorganism: How the Microbiome Is Revolutionizing the Pursuit of a Healthy Life By: Rodney Dietert PhD

Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ By: Giulia Enders

Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain – for Life By: David Perlmutter , Kristin Loberg

The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer By: Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn , Dr. Elissa Epel

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us By: Michael Moss

The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long Term Health By: Justin Sonnenburg , Erica Sonnenburg

 

Why is my belly so full? Navigating through all this complexity in maintaining a healthy body and immune system can be rough. I do my best to be largely plant-based in my eating, but I was raised a meat and potatoes American. My now teenage son is looking for food to entertain him in his distance learning homebound existence. I must figure out how to entice him with foods that will not break the bank but are healthy and entertaining enough for him to eat and not find him seeking junk food. I was steaming my glasses wearing masked face through our local wholesale warehouse Friday afternoon shopping for the week when I saw a giant bag of live wild-caught mussels for about $13. Sold. Live shellfish is different and entertaining. I came home and showed him the shelled animals which piqued his curiosity. We sliced an obscene amount of garlic and sautéed it gently before deglazing with white wine and dumping in two large cans of organic stewed tomatoes. My son is on a spicy kick. He wanted chili flakes in his food. You know, the ones found in a shaker at a pizza parlor? Anyway, we ground the chili flakes in a spice grinder and put them in. When it was all boiling, in went the mussels. The lid was on and the suspense kicked in. We had to time it right so the mussels were cooked but the steam would not be released too soon…

 

I had just purchased a bunch of organic leeks and another bunch of organic fennel (anise). I washed and cut them into ¼ inch pieces and cooked them down in some organic olive oil and some vegetable broth for about 90 minutes. As soon as the mussels were cooked, in went the leeks and fennel and some pre-cooked Indian basmati rice. Everything was quickly mixed, and dinner was served. That pot of deliciousness cost about $23 total. My son and I can eat an embarrassing amount of food. We had a great dinner. The next day we both had a great lunch. The next day we had another great lunch and finally finished the thing up. In all it made 6 meals. Three for each of us.

 

The mussels were wild caught so they were not fed grain. The vegetables and oil were organic so it should have been without herbicide and pesticide. At 6 meals it means I spent less than $4 per meal per person. Not bad for spicy shellfish dinner. You may ask, did my wife enjoy it? I made her other healthy food as she is not a spicy shellfish girl. Often, understanding the path to success turns out to be the most important part of the journey. (http://rocknchange.com/the-elephant-and-the-rider-change-when-change-is-hard/)

 

Leonard Siskin

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