Updated: Mar 19
Today is March 20th, 2020 and is the Spring Equinox here in the Northern Hemisphere meaning a promise of longer days as we edge towards summer. As I write though, the world is in the grips of a global viral pandemic and our immunity is under threat from a novel virus.
As there is Winter, there is Spring; as there is day there is night and when there is negativity, there is positivity. A firm believer that something good always emerges from something bad,I feel that we are learning so much about our own health right now and of course that of the Planet, which is seeing a respite in pollution and being given a pause to breathe again.
Our own Immune System is beautifully complex and also complicated, all the while working in the background to keep us safe and healthy. This is not a post on the science of the immune system but more a reflection on using food and lifestyle to keep it healthy.
You may have seen the term 'boost immunity' flaunted but this is actually incorrect, as there are conditions and times where we don't want it boosted.
More correct is the idea that we balance and support immunity.
There are many negative influences on our immune system, poor nutrition, pollution, genetics, poor sleep, lack of movement and stress.
As a nutritionist I focus on using food and lifestyle first, with supplements where necessary and then if needed functional testing.
Eating seasonally and organically and as diversely as we can is one of the best ways to ensure we get all the macro and micronutrients we need.
However, with the pervasive use of chemicals, pesticides and hormones in the food chain and the diminishing quality of our soil, our food now is less nutrient dense than ever before. In fact, the decline in nutrient quality has been studied since the 1940s and in a landmark study from 2004 Donald Davis and colleagues found;
“reliable declines” in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C over the past half century. Davis and his colleagues chalk up this declining nutritional content to the preponderance of agricultural practices designed to improve traits size, growth rate, pest resistance
Similar subsequent research and studies from the US and the UK concur and even amplify these results with us now needing to eat 8 oranges to our grandparents 1, in order to achieve the same amount of Vitamin A!
So in our desire, for bigger, better, more, faster, and to eat summer fruits and vegetables in winter and all year, we have made things worse for ourselves and for the planet.
In a Utopian world we could all grow our own produce and afford to eat seasonally and organically. As consumers, we have the choice though and we can change where and how we spend our pound.
There are umpteen ways in which we can play our part.
Growing veg and fruit in pots and bags and containers is so simple, rewarding and cheap. And there is simply nothing in the world like gathering from your first crop. You have grown it so know it will have no pesticides, no air miles and will taste amazing too.
I am a novice gardener but grow perpetual spinach, herbs, tomatoes, salads, beetroot, strawberries, cauliflower, courgettes, garlic ; some successfully and some less so, but I have such a sense of achievement from my efforts. As a bonus I am in the fresh air, getting exercise and with hands in the earth supplying my microbiome with extra probiotics too.
If you absolutely can't grow your own then try and shop from a local produce or farmer's market and support the local economy too. Many areas now have local veg delivery boxes too so things are getting easier and more convenient all the time.
Sprouting too is a superb way to increase micronutrient intake.
Broccoli seeds when sprouted contain incredibly high levels of nutrients including a molecule called Sulphoraphane, a sulphur rich compound found in cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbages, cauliflower kale, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, all the nutritionists' favourites.
As a powerful inducer, or up-regulator of Phase 2 detoxification in the liver , sulphoraphane is known to be anti-carcinogenic. It does this by reducing oxidative stress from toxins, and preventing tumour formation at a molecular level. In fact, the sulphoraphane in young broccoli seed sprouts occurs at 20–100 times higher amounts than in full-grown heads of the vegetable . There is new evidence from a 2019 randomised, placebo controlled trial in an industrialised area of China that taking a dose dependent broccoli sprout beverage resulted in the detoxification and urinary excretion of Benzene! Benzene is a hydrocarbon derived from petroleum and makes it's way into the environment, (and subsequently into humans) due to emissions from factories and in pollution from exhaust emissions. It is a known carcinogenic especially causing cancers of the blood.
Protecting and balancing our immunity will also mean listening to our bodies which are incredibly adept at sending us signals when something is not quite right. Have we forgotten how to listen out for these signals in our perpetual state of always being too busy and living life at full velocity? Or somehow have we got our priorities all wrong?
Now that we are being forced into social distancing and self isolation we have more time freed up to take a step back and see how we can improve our lives and lifestyle.
Simply incorporating small new daily routines such as meditation, yoga, exercise, walking in nature and less time on social media can have a profound impact on our health by keeping our nervous system in Parasympathetic mode, that is in 'rest and digest'. The flipside is to be in Sympathetic nervous system mode which was designed for 'fight or flight' in times of danger, keeping the stress hormones elevated thereby down-regulating all other hormones needed for reproduction, metabolism, sleep, digestion and so on.
Try and avoid all the negativity if you can and think positively. Negative thought patterns can depress the immune system
So let's take the positive from this very challenging and difficult time and make a promise to ourselves to take those baby steps needed to healing ourselves and the world, one veg plot at a time.
Davis, D. R., Epp, M. D., & Riordan, H. D. (2004). Changes in USDA food composition data for 43 garden crops, 1950 to 1999. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 23(6), 669–682. https://doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2004.10719409
Yagishita, Y., Fahey, J. W., Dinkova-Kostova, A. T., & Kensler, T. W. (2019). Broccoli or Sulforaphane: Is It the Source or Dose That Matters?. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 24(19), 3593. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules24193593
Written by Patricia Alexander-Bird, Registered Nutritional Therapist,B.Sc. Dip NTBANT, CNHC