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Protect Yourself from the Next Superbug, Part 2

The white blood cells known as neutrophils are your body’s first line of defense against bacteria and fungi. Neutrophils are the most abundant white blood cells. Through an effective process known as phagocytosis, these white blood cells capture and ingest foreign bacteria and then destroy them.

You might think, “The more neutrophils, the better!” That’s not exactly true. Neutrophils release pro-inflammatory compounds to help limit the spread of infection. Unfortunately, as inflammation often becomes uncontrolled, it fuels chronic illnesses. Unregulated neutrophils can make the persistent inflammation in atherosclerosis, diabetes, autoimmune, and other chronic diseases worse.

Think of it like this: Your white neutrophils should act as well-trained guard dogs that recognize friends, but speedily limit the spread of infection and destroy only bacteria that are genuine threats to your body. Immune efficiency is what we generally need more than supersized immunity! So, how can we improve neutrophil efficiency and protect ourselves from bacterial invaders besides using good hygiene, drinking pure water, and washing our produce? In our previous article, we focused on avoiding the negative risk factors that increase the potential for superbug exposure.(See Protect Yourself from the Next Superbug! Part 1). In this article, we will focus on the positive steps you can take to protect yourself from bacterial terrorists.

Improve Your Antioxidant Status

A diet rich in vitamins C and E improves the capacity of the neutrophils to capture and destroy harmful bacteria.1,2 Eating a well balanced, whole plant food diet is the very best way to get antioxidants because these foods contain antioxidant phytochemicals that work in synergy with other antioxidants. For example, compounds in tomato powder enhance your body’s response to both undesirable bacterial and viral invaders, and increase the ability of the neutrophils to move toward the infection site and capture the bacterial villains. At the same time, tomato compounds improve the production of three classes of antibodies.3

(Read Seven Delicious Ways to Boost Your Antioxidant Level for ideas).

Aging can disrupt the body’s ability to regulate neutrophils efficiently. Aging can also reduce our body’s level of antioxidants needed to create an effective immune defense.4,5,6 Vitamin E is especially important for immune efficiency in the lungs. Extra vitamin E may help to protect us from the strep bacterial infection that commonly causes pneumonia. In one recent study older rodents, who were given the human equivalent of 200 IU of vitamin E, were far more resistant to the strep bacteria than the older mice that had a normal amount of dietary vitamin E. In fact, compared to the mice that had normal amounts of vitamin E in their diet, the mice fed extra vitamin E had 1,000 times fewer strep bacteria in their lungs and two times fewer the number of white blood cells (neutrophils). The reduced numbers of bacteria and white blood cells resulted in less lung damage. These mice were able to control the infection as efficiently as young mice.7 When choosing a vitamin E supplement, get the one with mixed tocopherol and be sure it does not interfere with the medicine you are taking.

If supplements are used, balance the intake of vitamin C and E. Too much of one antioxidant vitamin with a marginal intake of another antioxidant vitamin can actually generate free radical production in the blood.8 The body seems to absorb only 200 milligrams of vitamin C at one time, so smaller, multiple doses of vitamin C are better than larger ones. Mega doses of vitamins E and C may impair the bactericidal functions of neutrophils. As a general guideline, do not take more than 400 I.U. (international units) of vitamin E or more than two grams of vitamin C a day.9 When taking a vitamin E supplement, be sure it contains mixed tocopherols and it does not interact with your medication.

Eat Your Dark Green Leafy Veggies

Low total blood calcium has been linked to reduced neutrophil function. Unfortunately, calcium supplementation does not necessarily boost neutrophil efficiency. Good plant sources of calcium include dark green leafy veggies like collards, kale, broccoli, organic non-GMO soybeans, and tofu. Excessive intake of sodium and protein promote urinary calcium loss.

Folic acid deficiency contributes to the decreased ability of the neutrophils to capture dangerous germs.10 Greens are rich in folic acid. Taking folic acid supplements help, but do not fully correct the immune deficiency caused by deficiency of this vitamin.

Keep Your Vitamin D Level in Good Range

Vitamin D hormones improves calcium absorption and act as an anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-balancing compound. Some studies show that vitamin D helps to recruit other neutrophils to the site of the infection. Don’t overdo it on the vitamin D supplementation as in vitro studies suggest it could have a negative effect on other immune cells known as macrophages.11 Because vitamin D deficiency is so common, especially in the elderly and dark-skinned individuals, it is important to get your blood level checked in the winter. Sun exposure during the summer does not generate enough vitamin D to keep us through autumn and winter.

Engage in a Short Fast

Short-term fasting increases phagocytosis (the ability of the phagocytes to capture and eat bacteria) in young, otherwise healthy adults, and significantly improves their ability to destroy harmful microorganisms.12 In contrast long-term fasting decreases the chemical attraction between phagocytes and germs, thus reducing their ability to kill bacteria. Fasting impairs neutrophils’ efficiency in elderly individuals.13

Typically, a fast should not last more than two days because prolonged fasting causes the adrenal glands to produce excess cortisol. This extra amount of cortisol decreases antibody production and the efficiency of other white blood cells called lymphocytes. After 42 to 72 hours of fasting, the body uses ketones produced from fatty acids as a fuel instead of the usual glucose. The ketones show up in the urine. In individuals who have ketones in their urine, chemotaxis is reduced. Although phagocytosis remains normal, the killing of bacteria is suppressed.14 (A high protein/low carbohydrate diet also increases ketones in the urine).

(Editor’s note: There are some cases where prolonged fasting for 72 hours seems to help the immune system. White blood cells are made in the bone marrow. Chemotherapy is used to destroy tumors, but unfortunately it suppresses the production of white blood cells. Fasting periodically for a little over 72 hours prior to chemotherapy treatments, over the course of six months, helps to protect the immune system from damage caused by chemotherapy. Fasting induces immune system regeneration, shifting stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal.15 It is important to keep well hydrated during a fast because dehydration seriously increases the risk for blood clots especially in cancer patients.)

Move to Live

Neutrophils love to cling to the walls of blood vessels. Moderate exercise propels them into active duty in the blood stream for the duration of the exercise.16 Strenuous endurance exercise, especially to the point of shortness of breath, typically depresses neutrophils.17 Even mild to moderate exercise increases free radical production to help in the generation of new mitochondria and improved blood flow. Unfortunately, strenuous exercise, either of extreme duration or extreme intensity, stimulates neutrophils to generate and release much higher levels of free radicals. This excessive production of free radicals overwhelms cellular antioxidant defenses and causes tissue damage.18

Get Adequate Sleep

Although partial sleep deprivation increases the number of circulating neutrophils, it decreases their efficiency. Deep sleep, in addition to a good diet, increases growth hormone production in the pituitary gland. This hormone increases the effectiveness of neutrophils. On the contrary though, sleep deprivation does encourage neutrophils to release pro-inflammatory chemicals.19,20

Control Your Blood Sugar

A diet rich in sugar or fruit juices, and elevated blood glucose levels, impair your body’s ability to defend from pathogens.

Hydrotherapy to the Rescue

Certain hydrotherapy treatments, such as alternate hot and cold applications, improve neutrophil mobility. A short, hot bath—long enough to increase the body’s temperature—with cold applied to the head, also improves their mobility, as well as their capturing, eating, and killing abilities.21 If you have any medical problems though, it is always wise to check with your physician before administering any water treatments.

Conclusion

There is a lot we can do to prevent bacterial infections and superbugs. Both avoiding the bad and taking the right steps are important. Avoiding the bad, but not engaging in the positive lifestyle factors, is not sufficient to protect us from superbugs. Adopting positive lifestyle measures, while still practicing harmful ones, leave us vulnerable.

© 2019, Wildwood Sanitarium. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is educational and general in nature. Neither Wildwood Lifestyle Center, its entities, nor author intend this article as a substitute for medical diagnosis, counsel, or treatment by a qualified health professional.

Sources

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  13. Walrand, S. et al. Specific and nonspecific immune responses to fasting and refeeding differ in healthy young adult and elderly persons. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 74(5):670-678, 2001.
  14. McMurray RW. Effect of prolonged modified fasting in obese persons on in vitro markers of immunity: lymphocyte function and serum effects on normal neutrophils. Am J Med Sci. 1990 Jun; 299(6):379-85.
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