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Mikki Williden

What is Mikkipedia?

Mikkipedia is an exploration in all things health, well being, fitness, food and nutrition. I sit down with scientists, doctors, professors, practitioners and people who have a wealth of experience and have a conversation that takes a deep dive into their area of expertise. I love translating science into a language that people understand, so while some of the conversations will be pretty in-depth, you will come away with some practical tips that can be instigated into your everyday life. I hope you enjoy the show!

Hey team, Mikki here. You're listening to another mini-mikkipedia on a Monday. And today I want to talk all about immunity. Well, not all about immunity, or about all immunity, because it's only about a 20 minute episode. But I was at the long COVID conference in Melbourne last weekend, and that was put on by the Australian College of Environmental and Nutrition Medicine.

and a lot of really great gems there actually around long COVID, which I will do another mini Wikipedia on, but also it just got me thinking about immunity in general. So obviously this time of year it is August, we are sort of still, well some of us are still in the depths of winter, but spring is on the horizon, still a lot of colds and flus and bugs going around. In addition of course

we're hearing, or at least I'm hearing a lot on the radio, encouragement to go get a flu jab, go get a fourth or fifth or sixth booster, or however many have been sort of approved here in New Zealand, and not a whole lot on what to do personally to help improve immunity. And hey, I know there's not a ton of money in that space, unless you are a company or person sort of promoting it, probably a bit like me, still not a ton of money in it.

Um, but it's an important aspect of health and it's easy to get complacent, particularly this time of year when we just sort of, you know, we ended up spending a lot of time getting cozy. And for a lot of people, it's not a time necessarily to focus on health. This may not be you, you're listening to this podcast, obviously. And right now I've got an alumni plan going, um, ahead with a bunch of my Monday's matter crew. We're focusing obviously on diet,

activity and steps. And then of course I've got my Mondays to Mastery nutrition coaching program going on as well and we're discussing all things diet. So I just thought I would address some of the major diet, lifestyle and exercise components that impact on the immune system and why. And then also just mention briefly some additional supplemental support which some people might

COVID or anything like that that they are dealing with right now. First and foremost, metabolic health and metabolic health is key to the function and responsiveness of the immune system. And when I'm talking about metabolic health, I'm talking about our ability to regulate our blood sugar levels and to keep it within a normal range, if you like. Now, if you were

measuring this on a continuous glucose monitor, this might look like anywhere from four to eight millimoles per liter, which is the units that they use here in New Zealand, or some people like to be a little bit more aggressive and like it to be around three to seven millimoles per liter. But of course you don't need to use a continuous glucose monitor to know if you're regulating your blood sugar. Qualitative measures like

how hungry you are after meals, whether your energy crashes during the day, whether you go from feeling completely satisfied to ravenous within 30 seconds, whether you get hangry. These are all sort of indicators of whether or not you've got good blood sugar control. In addition to obviously blood sugar, I also think in terms of metabolic health, I think about waist circumference. Like one of the...

key indicators of good metabolic health is having a waist circumference that is half your height in centimeters. So that is an easy enough marker to figure out yourself and you would measure your waist circumference around your belly button. Another thing which is important for metabolic health is blood pressure, whether or not you've got normal blood pressure or whether it's your hypertensive, you've got higher blood pressure. This is another indicator of metabolic health.

And of course dyslipidemia. Now all of these things could be little mini micropedias or massive micropedias within themselves, but importantly with your cholesterol panel, having your triglycerides below one would be ideal. And having your cholesterol to HDL ratio below 3.5. And these are markers which if you were to get your fasted cholesterol panel measured at a laboratory.

These are markers that they give you on that panel. Metabolic health, as I said, is a key determinant of functioning and responsiveness of the immune system. So immune responses require significant energy. And when an immune response is initiated, as it is when we have an infection or an illness, these immune cells proliferate rapidly and become metabolically active. Having

Good metabolic health ensures that these cells have the energy they need to function effectively. Your metabolic health and metabolism directly affects the function of immune cells. For example, different types of T cells, which are a type of white blood cell, use different metabolic pathways, and disruption to these pathways can affect how well these cells work. Poor metabolic health can lead to conditions like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease which are associated with chronic inflammation.

This chronic inflammation can disrupt normal immune function and make the body more susceptible to infections. Nutrient availability is impacted by poor metabolic health and this impacts how effective these nutrients are utilized and waste products are removed. Many nutrients play crucial roles in the immune system and waste products can be harmful if they're not properly managed.

processes interact with the immune system and they communicate with each other. So for example insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar, also affects the function of immune cells. So if you've got poor metabolic health, you can't handle glucose effectively, that affects the ability of insulin to signal appropriately and also affects the immune cells. And there's a growing body of evidence that links metabolic health and disorders to

autoimmune diseases. So dysregulated metabolic pathways may promote autoreactivity where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own cells. And this is also sort of known as molecular mimicry as well. In summary, good metabolic health plays a vital role in maintaining a balanced and responsive immune system. Metabolic disorders can disrupt immune function, which does lead to that increased susceptibility to infections and diseases. So if you are interested in

remaining well across this time of year or any time of year, your metabolic health matters. And that should have been sort of a frontline message from the powers that be over the last few years, but it still hasn't got a look in. But hey, you're listening now, so that's awesome. Now part of maintaining all of these metabolic parameters, which I mentioned earlier, does require a good protein intake. And protein is of course intricately involved with the immune system.

So firstly, it's involved with antibody production. Antibodies are proteins that the immune system uses to neutralize pathogens like viruses and bacteria. And each antibody that our bodies produce is unique and designed to target a specific pathogen. Without adequate protein and amino acids, our bodies can't produce the necessary antibodies to ward off infection. So people with a low protein diet are actually often also have

poor immunity and poor immune response. Proteins are also involved in producing cytokines, which are the molecules facilitating communication between cells in our immune system, and these signaling molecules help coordinate the body's response to infection and inflammation. Many cells of the immune system, such as the T cells I previously mentioned, B cells, and natural killer cells, require protein for their formation, function, and regulation.

Proteins also help form the receptors found on the surface of these cells, which are essential for recognizing foreign substances and mounting an immune response. Obviously, protein is well known for the ability to repair and rebuild muscle, and following an immune response, tissues are damaged or can be damaged through processes such as inflammation, and proteins play a critical role in tissue repair and healing.

Certain proteins also function as transport molecules, carrying essential nutrients like iron, which is needed for proper functioning of immune cells. And of course, certain amino acids derived from proteins such as arginine and glutamine have been found to modulate immune responses. They influence functions like the activation of T cells, B cells and natural killer cells. So protein is essential for the immune system. And I've talked a lot about how much protein

we should be having in a day in terms of grams per kg body weight. I would say anyone that suffers with immunity, like as a minimum threshold, you'd want to be looking at 1.6 grams per kg body weight per day, but you're probably going to need to go higher. 1.8, two grams per kg body weight per day. And you'd want it to be distributed across your day. So not just targeting meal times.

such as dinner, which is where the majority of our protein intake sort of goes in, but also look to breakfast and lunch meals as well. Ideally having a minimum of 30 grams of quality protein in that meal. Now, if you're unsure of how to measure protein, because 30 grams of protein is not 30 grams of meat, then use a food tracking app such as chronometer, easy diet diary, carbon,

macro factor to determine how much protein is in the food that you're eating. Now sleep is critically important for maintaining a healthy immune system as well and sometimes when the days are really short then the mornings are really dark we can get a bit of a disrupted circadian rhythm particularly when it's a bit gross outside and we're cozying up on the couch watching something on Netflix but

It is still important to keep that regular sleep-wake cycle. You need adequate sleep and you don't wanna be staying up all hours of the night. Sleep is important for restoration and repair because when we sleep, the body undergoes a variety of these restorative processes. So the immune system also uses this time to repair and regenerate immune cells, which are essential for fighting off pathogens.

Sleep is important for the cytokine production, which I talked about earlier, and they're produced and released during sleep. During sleep, particularly those deep stages of sleep, the immune system can remember pathogens it has encountered. This helps to enhance the response to future infections. And there is that sort of consolidation of memory that occurs, and that does include our immune system's memory.

And of course, lack of sleep can increase stress hormones like cortisol, which can suppress the immune system and make us more susceptible to infections. So sleep and maintaining that sleep-wake cycle is super important, but just as important as sleep. And I'm thinking, you know, at least seven hours a night. Of course, if you know you need more, get more. But it's actually exposure as well to sunlight.

Basically, it's not the opposite of sleep, obviously, but we often think about getting a good night's sleep. It only involves that nighttime environment, but a lot of it actually is also to do with sunlight. Sunlight is essential for the regulation of the sleep cycle. And exposure to natural sunlight helps regulate our circadian rhythm, which is essentially our internal biological clock. This helps better sleep quality, and that's...

as I said, crucial for maintaining your robust immune system. Sunlight is also important for nitric oxide production, and when skin is exposed to sunlight, it can produce nitric oxide, which is a compound that can lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health. And there's also evidence to suggest that better cardiovascular health might be linked to improved immune function, which is really no surprise, is it? And I talked a lot to Dr. Mike Twyman about

nitric oxide production and our circadian rhythm and biology. Sun is important for mood enhancement and it increases the brain's release of that hormone called serotonin. This helps boost our mood and helps us feel more calm and focused. And who doesn't feel better after seeing and being out in the sun? Lower levels of serotonin are associated with higher risk of major depression with seasonal effect disorder.

or seasonal pattern. Depression can impair the immune response so by improving mood, sunlight could indirectly improve immune function. Sunlight helps regulate melatonin. Melatonin is known as our sleep hormone and exposure to morning sunlight inhibits melatonin which therefore this is going to promote alertness and performance during the day.

Conversely, lower light exposure in the evening allows melatonin to rise and promote good sleep. However, that melatonin regulation kicks off in the morning. So everything is set right from the get-go. So unless you get that early exposure to sunlight, it just makes it more difficult for you to regulate that melatonin production and get that good sleep that you need. And some studies suggest that UV radiation can suppress the excessive immune responses associated with autoimmune diseases.

So obviously there is a balance, you don't want too much sun on your skin and you don't want to get sunburned, but potentially this can help with our immune response as well. Obviously there's also that relationship that we get an increased production of vitamin D when we're exposed to sunlight, except this time of year there isn't the strength of those UVB rays that allows for that production to occur.

Sunlight during winter is less about vitamin D production and more about these other benefits here. And of course this time of year we don't get a lot of sun. Exposure to that natural light though is still really important and a lot of these benefits can exist just being out in that natural light. And ideally it would be out and not just looking at the light because obviously UVB rays can be locked by, can be shut out by glass for example.

Now if you are someone who is gets excessively stressed, that's a super important factor when thinking about your immune response in your immune system. Chronic stress can have a significant negative impact on the immune system. Increased cortisol is just one thing and this can inhibit the function of the immune system by suppressing some of the immune responses and promoting others, leading to this imbalance. So cortisol can reduce the production of white blood cells,

impair the function of T cells and prolong that inflammatory response. And chronic stress, obviously, as I just mentioned, it can promote an overactive inflammatory response which leads to that low-grade chronic inflammation which negatively impacts overall health and the immune system. We get decreased lymphocytes, so chronic stress decreases the body's lymphocytes which are those white blood cells that fight off infection.

The lower the lymphocyte count, the more at risk you are of viruses and illnesses. And chronic stress does impact our behaviour. It impacts our exercise patterns, our diet, the amount of sleep we get, the increased sort of use of alcohol and other substances, which can further impact negatively on the immune system. There is also, of course, that psycho-neuro-immunological link. So

the link between our nervous system and the immune system. Stress can impair that, leading to an impaired immune function. And chronically stressed people have a reduced immune response to vaccines as well. So if you are intending on getting any sort of vaccine, it's not a good idea to go if you're in this stressed state. And this time of year as well, some people like to box on through without any holidays, which, you know, if you can,

get away and just have a few days out of the sort of hamster wheel of life, then that can also help reduce just that overall stress response. And so you can feel a little bit refreshed. Like I know people who go all year round without a holiday and then have a massive holiday in summer, which is pretty awesome to get that holiday in summer, but it does mean that they are grinding it about this time of year.

Sort of putting into practice some stress management techniques that resonate with you could be really helpful. And that might be sauna if you have it. I would say cold water therapy, but it is true that, you know, that can for some people be too much of a stress in an already stressed state. So I would sort of do that cautionarily. Journaling, getting out in nature, meditation, obviously, yoga.

These are all things which can be super helpful with your immune system. Just finding something that resonates with you. Because in short, managing stress, it's an important part of maintaining that healthy immune system. And the last thing I will say about our behavior around with our immune system is of course activity. And you guys know that being physically active is just so important for your immune system.

It helps build our muscle mass and muscles act as a reserve of those proteins that can be used during periods of illness when our body needs additional resources to support immune function. Obviously, a higher muscle mass is associated with improved metabolic health because muscle mass is a reservoir for glucose. So it helps take out that excessive glucose in the bloodstream and it's like a little glucose sink that's somewhere for it to go.

so it can reduce chronic inflammation and support immune function. And regular exercise helps build and maintain muscle mass and enhances good circulation, which allows immune systems and substances to move through the body more efficiently. And in fact, skeletal muscle produces cytokines and other molecules that influence immune function in an adaptive way. So muscles produce interleukin 6 during exercise, which has both

pro and anti-inflammatory effects, but overall it gives you an adaptive response which allows you to be more resilient. So you know, we cannot overstate how important it is to be active, but of course you don't want to be overly active. So this really is a message not necessarily for my triathletes who are listening, but for people who have yet to sort of embark on a regular schedule of exercise. And really

This is the best time of year to do it, isn't it? Because it is a bit cold, it is a bit miserable. If you start the habit now, even if it's just making sure that you are getting a minimum of, I mean, I would say 10,000 steps, but ideally just any amount of steps and then building on that. And then having a think about what you can do to help build your muscle mass and build up that reservoir with which you can store those nutrients in to help support your immune system.

And I will just run through really quickly some supplements which are important in the COVID story, which are just important overall for immune system. So one of the first ones I would say is magnesium. So there is a good association that people with poorer outcomes from COVID have lower magnesium levels and lower magnesium levels in their bloodstream is related to chronic inflammation.

There has been mixed sort of results to show that providing magnesium helps the sort of COVID recovery, but because there is that relationship between magnesium levels and overall sort of COVID severity, I think it would be wise to supplement magnesium because we're not getting a lot of it in our food supply. And general doses of magnesium are around 250 to sort of 300 milligrams.

of magnesium glycinate, magnesium threonate, magnesium citrate or chelate amino acid. These are all types of magnesiums which are typically well digested. Omega-3s help reduce inflammation and these are the types of essential fatty acids that you find in fish oils, salmon, sardines, mackerel and also algae for people who do not eat fish. And

In particular, interestingly, there has been research to show that for COVID in particular, it can help someone who might be struggling with a loss of smell. So a recommendation has been made at about four grams a day if you are sort of in the throes of recovering from COVID. However, if you adjust from a preventative measure, one to two grams a day, if you don't have at least sort of four serves of those fatty fish would be the recommendation.

Curcumin is an active compound found in turmeric and it works as a potent anti-inflammatory. You have to be mindful though, if you're on any sort of blood thinners, not to be taking curcumin as well. And there have been some studies to show that recovery of taste and smell is a little bit quicker when you have a turmeric supplement. And in New Zealand, we've got the Good Health Turmeric Complex. We've also, but of course there is

There are a bunch actually. There's Theracurmin, there is Meriva, which is a type of curcumin supplement. And I was chatting to my mate Cliff, who you know is a friend of Micopedia, and he was saying that even dietary turmeric, of which as I said curcumin is the active compound of, has some immune modulating role that happens.

pre-digestion, so it affects your gut in a way that helps your immune system. So I've been meaning to do a little bit of digging on that to find out more information, but if Cliff says it, then I'm almost going to certainly think that it's a thing. So even including turmeric in your diet by way of adding it to your porridge, having a curry, putting it in your smoothie, that kind of thing would certainly do no harm. Now

There is a compound called sulforaphane, and this has been potentially used for the treatment of post-COVID symptoms. And it is an immune system modulator, and it's something that Rhonda Patrick was very big on, certainly five to seven years ago, and I'm sure she still uses it now. And I have seen anecdotal evidence of people who take sulforaphane have really improved response

after being infected with COVID. So this is something which you can get either off the shelf or you can get as a practitioner only product. Now, it's also been found in preclinical literature that sulforaphane does inhibit viral replication on different strains of certain viruses, including the SARS-CoV virus strain, and it does reduce the inflammatory response that can cause many of the issues that are associated with any virus, but particularly COVID as well.

However, a lot of those preclinical trials have been using dosages which are a lot higher than what you would sort of find in the products that are available out there. So, sulforaphane can also be found in broccoli sprouts. And broccoli sprouts, which are very easy to buy from your garden center, they contain both the compound glucoraphanin and an enzyme called marinase, which together make that sulforaphane. So if you were looking at a supplement,

for sulforaphane, then ensure that it's got both of those two things in it, that it's got the glucoraphanin and the mirinase. Selenium is another one, it's an essential micronutrient, it's low in New Zealand soil, and it does help form the backbone of selenoproteins which play a role in reducing inflammation and oxidative stress and changing the immune response. Now look, people sort of look to Brazil nuts to get their selenium, but

It's, you know, even New Zealand research has shown that it's not a very reliable source actually of selenium, like it's very variable as to how much selenium a Brazil nut actually sort of contains. Um, fish is a good source of dietary selenium. Uh, you can get selenium in a multivitamin. And there is just a note, there is research that people with COVID

and other infections have depleted micronutrients because of this increased oxidative stress and the scavenging of free radicals, which is what selenium does in the body. So having a mind on selenium and a dose of 150 micrograms might also be helpful. And of course it does come in a multivitamin as well. I've done a lot on vitamin D before, and I will just say you definitely wanna make sure you're on a good vitamin D supplement that also has a K2 added.

The clinicians vitamin D is one in New Zealand. B Pure has a dropper, a D slash K2 dropper that would also be really good. And the dose though is small at 1000 international units. Whereas if I'm looking at research around immunity and recovering from something like COVID, then the dosage amount you want it to be sort of far higher than that. And there are like.

There are treatment protocols which suggest sort of 10,000 IU a day. And look, anything like that, you'd obviously want to be doing under the sort of help of a health practitioner. But it is definitely worth noting that if you are in the Southern hemisphere in New Zealand, you really want to be taking a vitamin D supplement, three to 4,000 IU a day. So three to four of those clinicians sunshine tablets a day.

And then finally broad spectrum multivit. And you know, you know, Cliff and I have talked before about the green, the good green vitality as a sort of avenue to get those increased micronutrients in. There is life extension to a day. There is a thorn multivitamin. There are also Go Healthy have a pretty good I'm sort of pro series now that has a very good multivitamin is a little bit more expensive than their usual products.

but the forms of those vitamins are really good. So that's another one to sort of consider. And it goes without saying that, you know, a diet that is anti-inflammatory, that has an abundance of vegetables, if you can tolerate them, and good healthy fats. And of course I mentioned those fish oils before, it's also really important. But I just, you know, do what you want around boosters and all the rest of it, but don't ignore the resounding evidence

the importance of diet and lifestyle for your immunity. So look, hey, hopefully this is all just stuff you knew already and this is just a good reminder for you. Anyway, if you've got any questions, any comments, any other topics you want me to investigate or talk about, hit me up. I'm @mikkiwilliden on Instagram, threads and Twitter. @mikkiwillidennutrition on Facebook.

or mikkiwilliden.com is my website where you can book a one-on-one call with me or sign up to one of my programs. Awesome. All right, team, you have a great week.