Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and doing what you can to boost your immune system is never not a good idea, but it’s an especially good idea in the middle of a pandemic. Some scientific research suggests that the key to a strong immune system lies in the gut.
Gut health is about more than just digestion, and in fact, it can affect every other part of your body.
In an interview, Dr. Steven Gundry, author of “The Plant Paradox,” explains how his research indicates that poor gut health can lead to autoimmune disease, what that means, and what he suggests people do about it.
The effects of gut health
“If you have an autoimmune disease, I can guarantee you have poor gut health,” he says.
The problem, according to Gundry, comes from what is known as a “leaky gut.” He says, “Normally the lining of the gut is a solid single cell line of cells that wants to keep bacteria and the food you eat on their side of the fence and then keep us and our immune system on the other line. And there’s a very, very elegant dance in the communication system that goes on between all sides of the fence.”
Gundry says that his research and the research of others suggests the problem comes from specific particles in plants called lectins, which he says are capable of breaking down that wall barrier. “And so when the immune system picks up these foreign proteins – and lectins are proteins – the immune system gets activated and simplistically goes looking for these proteins in the rest of the body.
“It’s called molecular mimicry, first described by Loren Cordain from Colorado State,” says Gundry. “And he found plant protein lectins resemble other print genes in our body so much so that our body makes a mistake. Our immune system makes a mistake and attacks its own proteins because it looks so much like the proteins it thinks it’s looking for. It’s a case of mistaken identity.”
This, Gundry says, leads to autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus.
Where lectins lurk
And gluten isn’t the only place where lectins are found. For example, he says people who react negatively to gluten often also react to corn, another source of lectins. “Beans are probably the highest source of lectins in our diet. And peanuts and cashews are actually beans, they’re not nuts, and they both are very high in lectins. Also the nightshade family, which includes peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and even goji berries are very high in lectins. And also the squash family like cucumbers, like zucchinis, or like yellow squash are very high in lectins.”
Gundry’s theory is that a strict lectin-free diet can help improve or even reverse autoimmune diseases. Scientific evidence does support the theory that lectins affect autoimmune disease, though the medical community as a whole is divided as to how effective this diet is in treating or curing them.
Luckily, Gundry says the harmful effects of lectins can, in most cases, be eliminated by cooking these vegetables in a pressure cooker (which is why his cookbook includes so many Instant Pot recipes). Gluten, however, is an exception.
How to change your diet
The coronavirus has made making major lifestyle changes more complicated, particularly when it comes to grocery shopping, but Gundry says there has never been a better time to get a jump start. He recommends a diet rich in tubers like sweet potatoes and turnips as well as leafy vegetables. “If you can’t find them fresh, getting them frozen will do just as good. Stock up on broccoli, cauliflower, all cruciferous vegetables. Get lettuce, get leaves in your diet. There’s plenty of sweet potatoes in every grocery store, I promise.”
Gundry’s suggested shopping list for life during the pandemic also includes other items to help boost your body’s ability to withstand infection, like mushrooms. “Mushrooms are some of the best ways to increase a type of white blood cell which are called natural killer cells,” he says, “And they do just what that name says. And the more mushrooms you eat, the more natural killer cells you make.” Olive oil, he says, might also be beneficial. And he recommends everyone start taking a Vitamin D supplement, which is a powerful antiviral, and chewable Vitamin C tablets four times a day.
There’s no guarantee anything will keep the virus away for sure, and everyone should continue to follow CDC guidelines, of course. But every little bit helps.
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