Chris D. Meletis, N.D.
An ever increasing number of patients are presenting to primary care practitioners with immune dysfunctions and various common infections. Of course, the challenge for a practitioner who is faced with such a patient is to intervene acutely while addressing the underlying cause of the illness to prevent a chronic pattern from developing. Proper nutrition is truly the best approach to preventing illness and supporting the immune system in order to protect the body maximally.
Indeed, foods can be “the best medicine,” if the right foods are consumed. Ingesting the proper balance of macronutrients, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates is the first step toward more optimal immune functioning. The basic dietary rule is moderation and diversification: If your patients are eating whole foods, that have had a minimum of processing, from each of the basic food groups, these patients will have a head start when it comes to fortifying their bodies against immune challenges.
Marginal deficiencies are by far the most prevalent dietary problems seen in the United States. These problems can take the form of protein or caloric deficiencies. However, the largest problem is that most patients consume a relatively limited diet that is high in repetition and is all too often lacking in whole foods, such as fresh fruit, vegetables, and unrefined grains.
America’s fascination with sugar also contributes largely to immunosuppression. The average person consumes 500 calories (125 g) directly from sucrose and an additional 200 calories (50 g) from other refined sugar sources. Research has documented that consumption of 100 g (less than the average daily intake) of sugar leads to reduced immune function. Within 30 minutes of consuming 100 g of carbohydrate, white-blood-cell activity become depressed; this lasts for approximately 5 hours. During the course of this carbohydrate-triggered immunosuppression, there is commonly a 50 percent decrease in white-blood-cell functioning.1’2
Even when patients consume relatively healthy diets, augmentation of such diets can prove to be helpful when patients are suffering from acute or chronic illnesses. Health-oriented patients often choose to engage in preventive supplementation. However, when it comes to immune modulating, nutrient selection should take into account whole-body health and not merely perceived needs. When the right nutrients are selected, not only can immune support be offered, but patients’ other health conditions may also be addressed. Many nutrients frequently support multiple biochemical pathways and assist in correcting physiologic imbalances.