Fall is officially here. As we transition deeper into the season, our “back-to-school” schedule quickly fills with projects, people and places. How can we keep pace with our work and social obligations without falling prey to long-lingering colds or the flu this fall?
By doing an autumn detox.
If you’ve been experiencing post-nasal drip, crusty eyes, a runny nose, cough, sore throat, allergies (ragweed and mold), fatigue, sluggishness, or digestive distress (bloating, gas, constipation, acid reflux), your body will benefit from a fall cleanse.
Why? Because the key to boosting immunity is to optimize digestive health.
How your immune system protects you
Your immune system is a complex system of specialized cells (including a network of white blood cells throughout your body) and organs—and their signaling patterns—that act as a your personal bodyguard. In addition to fighting off bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites and other foreign invaders, your immune system also affects many other systems in your body, from your hormones, to your nervous system.
Your skin is the first line of defense. Pathogens also commonly enter the body through mucosal surfaces—such as the lungs, upper airways and the digestive tract—which your immune system vigilantly defends.1
A healthy immune system recognizes and responds to danger cues, like unhealthy cells with danger-associated molecular patterns (DAMP).2 A weakened immune system—one that fails to activate or to respond sufficiently in the presence of pathogens—leaves the body vulnerable to infection. On the other hand, an overactive immune system that never “turns off”—even after danger has passed, or in the absence of a real threat—manifests as allergic reactions or autoimmune disease, where the immune system mistakenly identifies—then attacks—healthy cells as “foreign invaders”.3
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, famously said: “All disease begins in the gut.” This is true: approximately 70-80% of your immune system resides in your gastrointestinal tract.4 This is why the foods you eat can help or hinder your immune system. An imbalance in gut bacteria (eg, more bad bacteria than good bacteria), or an inability to properly break down and digest nutrients, can wreak havoc on your immune system.
We’re often told to add specific foods to our diet to boost immunity—for example, carrots for vitamin A or chicken soup for its mucous-clearing effects. But it is just as (if not more) important to remove foods that cause inflammation and overtax the immune system in the first place.
The following 9 autumn detox tips help strengthen immunity.
1. Detox your mouth! Tongue scrape and coconut oil pulling.
The mouth is a gateway to your gut. It makes sense, then, that oral health problems can be a symptom of digestive issues and poor immune response.
Upon awakening, check your tongue. You will likely see a white coating—a thicker coating indicates higher toxicity. Regular tongue scraping removes toxic build-up and bad bacteria that causes bad breath, plaque and poor gum health.
Using a tongue scraper or a teaspoon, scrape your tongue—from back to front—5 to 10 times, rinsing between scrapes.
In India, practitioners of Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old system of natural medicine, have used oil pulling as a classic detox therapy to boost immunity (among other remedies). By swishing a fat-soluble oil, like sesame or coconut, toxins are “pulled” from the mouth. Commercial alcohol-based mouthwashes don’t have the same effect because, like antibiotics, they kill all bacteria in the mouth—both good and bad. Studies have shown that oil pulling—done regularly and combined with brushing and flossing—can effectively remove bad bacteria, improve bad breath, and reduce plaque.5
Swish 1 tablespoon of organic, unrefined coconut oil in your mouth, ideally on an empty stomach, for 10 to 20 minutes. Spit in trash (NOT sink!). Rinse. Brush and floss.
2. Drink warm lemon water. Another Ayurvedic detox tradition is to start the morning with warm lemon water—before eating or drinking anything—to boost the immune system, cleanse the liver and flush toxins out from the digestive tract.6 Lemons (and limes) are an excellent low sugar source of Vitamin C. Since conventional lemons and limes may be coated with a petroleum-based wax, buy organic whenever possible. Simply combine the juice of half of a lemon with 8 to 12 ounces of boiled filtered water and sip. Since inadequate hydration weakens immunity, be mindful of drinking water throughout the day. In cooler weather, sipping warm water or room temperature water promotes efficient hydration.
3. Take a break from stimulants, including caffeine, sugar and processed foods. I know, I know…with cooler weather, coffee feels like a non-negotiable morning ritual, and sugary treats and brightly packaged snacks tempt in the afternoon. Using stimulants to create artificial energy, however, is like whipping a horse when it’s already down—it might rally for a few last gallops, but, eventually, that horse will collapse—no matter how hard you whip it. In addition to being addictive, stimulants increase your stress hormones, deplete your vitamin and mineral stores, and interfere with sleep—this combination sets you up for weight gain and a weakened immune system. Instead: switch to herbal tea or green tea (yes, it contains caffeine, but won’t cause the same kind of caffeine “crash”) in the morning. If you hit an energy slump mid-afternoon, try a green marathon (kale-banana) smoothie or other whole food snacks (eg, olives, avocado, coconut yogurt) or to help you cross the finish line.
4. Remove common allergenic foods. A boat with a sizeable hole in it will sink no matter how fast you’re bailing water. It’s the same with your immune system. You can eat more immune-bolstering foods, but as long as you continue eating foods that cause inflammation in the body (e.g., fast food, junk food, Chinese takeout, food truck fare, ice cream, etc.), your immune system will be too busy “putting out fires” to protect you from viruses, bacteria and other pathogens. Plug up that hole in the boat (your immune system) by eliminating common allergenic culprits—wheat, gluten, dairy, soy, sugar, alcohol—for two to three weeks.
5. Add more green. A poop a day keeps the doctor away—and prevents toxin build up in the body. To get your bowels moving, eat more greens, rich in insoluble fiber (aka “roughage”). Dark leafy greens, including kale, Swiss chard, collards, mustard greens and romaine, also contain an abundance of hard-to-get minerals, like magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron. Minerals are important basic building blocks for health. Including mineral-rich leafy greens at every meal supports healthy cell function, reduces inflammation and promotes detoxification (fiber helps move toxins and waste out of your body)—all of which bolsters immune system.
6. Swap out processed white carbs for naturally sweet orange carbs. Cooler weather often triggers cravings for starchy carbohydrates. Our favorite white carbs—bread, pasta, pizza, processed snack foods and baked goods—contain white flour and refined sugars that spike blood sugar and promote belly fat storage. A better choice: naturally sweet orange starch-carbs, like sweet potatoes, butternut squash, pumpkin and kabocha squash, are excellent sources of immunity-boosting vitamin A, vitamin C and dietary fiber. Rich in soluble fiber, winter squash is slowly digested, promoting fullness and stable blood sugar. Try roasted sweet potatoes, an easy “no cook” food, or this easy-to-make immune-boosting apple butternut squash soup.
7. Take a high-quality probiotic.
A high quality probiotic helps promote a healthy bacterial balance, helping “grow” the good bacteria in your gut. Personally, I like this one: Nutriclean Probiotics. Taking a daily probiotic supports your immune system, increasing its resilience and enabling your body to better fight infections.
8. Make quality sleep a priority. Your body cannot repair, heal or properly detoxify without adequate sleep. Your body perceives chronic sleep deprivation as an ongoing stressor. 7 According to a University of Helsinki study, sleep loss triggers an inflammatory response, causing biological changes to the immune system—some can be long-term and may contribute to heart disease and type 2 diabetes.8 The bottom line: insufficient sleep suppresses immune system function, making it difficult to fight off colds or bacterial infections. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep and be in bed no later than 11pm for optimal immune-protective benefits.
9. Get enough Vitamin D. Are you bathing in fluorescent light from 9am to 5pm (or longer)? Do you live 40 degrees north latitude (i.e. New York City), where, for at least 6 months out of the year, you can’t make sufficient vitamin D from sunshine? Then, in all likelihood, you are deficient in vitamin D. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, an estimated 1 billion people worldwide are vitamin D deficient.9
Vitamin D is both a vitamin and a hormone. Every single cell in the body requires vitamin D to function—and to detox efficiently. Vitamin D profoundly affects your immune system—it “turns on” anti-inflammatory mechanisms and anti-cancer genes. Studies have shown that an optimal level of vitamin D is associated with decreased risk of cancer and cancer mortality.10
Though foods like sardines, salmon, eggs and organ meats contain small amounts vitamin D, it is impossible to get adequate vitamin D from food alone. Sunshine is the best way to get vitamin D; but, unless you live near the equator, you will likely need to supplement, especially in the Northeastern U.S. between October and March. Before you start supplementing, however, find out your vitamin D3 level. If you don’t know…ask your doctor to run a 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test; this is specifically for vitamin D3. Depending on your health status, your optimal Vitamin D level can range from 50 ng/mL to 100 ng/mL. I personally take—and recommend to my clients—this excellent brand of Vitamin D3 with K2.
Autumn Detox Recipes that Bolster Immunity
Immune System Support
When we are chronically stressed (e.g., poor diet, too little sleep, inactivity, food sensitivities), our vitamin and mineral stores are quickly depleted, leaving our immune system vulnerable. While supplements can never replace a healthy diet and lifestyle, they can help ensure we consume a baseline of nutrients. I recommend the following: Nutriclean Probiotic (gut heath); Isotonix Activated B Complex (for stress and energy); Thorne Vitamin D3 with K2 (supports immune health and healthy bones); Heart Health Omega III Fish Oil with Vitamin E (anti-inflammatory). The Optimal Wellness Kit contains a comprehensive Isotonix multivitamin, Isotonix Activated B Complex and Heart Health Omega III with Vitamin E.
1, 2, 3 National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
4 American Journal of Physiology, Nov., 1999, Vol. 277
5 Indian Journal of Dental Research, Jan-Mar, 2009, Vol 1, 47-51
6 European Journal of Pharmaceutical and Medical Research,May 2015
7 Pflugers Archive – European Journal of Physiology, Nov. 10, 2011
8 Science Daily, Oct. 23, 2013
9 Harvard School of Public Health
10 Journal of Clinical & Translational Endocrinology, Dec., 2014, vol 1, Issue 4, pp. 179-186