The Immunity Reboot
Who has time—or the inclination—to get sick? The primary culprits that suppress our immune systems are well worth knowing, not just for warding off colds and flu, but for soothing the chronic inflammation in our bodies that causes both accelerated aging and most diseases. We asked Austin functional medicine and women’s health expert Amy Myers, M.D. to break down the causes of stealth immune suppression and inflammation, her clean diet tweaks, why supplementing with a multivitamin and glutathione building blocks (see Balls in the Air, the regimen she developed) can make a difference, along with her other lifestyle hacks that we’d all benefit from implementing.
(See more from Dr. Myers, our go-to source on all matters of immunity, re: how to get rid of the yeast infection Candida, heal from thyroid dysfunction, avoid early autoimmunity, and pick a probiotic.)
A Q&A with Dr. Amy Myers
What are the indicators of inflammation in the body?
Symptoms can include anything from digestive issues, gas, and bloating; to skin issues, rashes, eczema; allergies and asthma; swelling and pain; even brain fog. Diagnoses that end in -itis also indicate there is inflammation going on, so: pancreatitis of the pancreas, gastritis in the stomach, uveitis in the eyes, cystitis in the bladder, gastritis in the stomach, arthritis in the joints.
Inflammation lab tests are not perfect, but there are some inflammatory markers that can be tested for, like C-reactive protein (CRP), which is produced by the liver when there is inflammation in the body. Another testing option is erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR). I also consider the antinuclear antibody (ANA) an indicator of inflammation, as well as autoimmunity. The ANA test is used as a primary test to help evaluate a person for autoimmune disorders that affect many tissues and organs throughout the body (systemic) and is most often used as one of the tests to help diagnose systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). ANA are a group of autoantibodies produced by a person’s immune system when it fails to adequately distinguish between “self” and “non-self.” They target substances found in the nucleus of a cell and cause organ and tissue damage. Depending on a person’s signs and symptoms and the suspected disorder, ANA testing may be used along with, or followed by other autoantibody tests.
What’s the connection between inflammation and immunity?
Inflammation can lead to varied outcomes but the big picture is that we know that chronic inflammation, like chronic stress, can ultimately suppress the immune system and lead to autoimmunity, where your body attacks itself.
Can you explain the role glutathione plays in getting rid of toxins, and its impact on our overall health?
It’s extremely important to support your body’s production of glutathione. Glutathione is the number one detoxifying molecule, or master antioxidant, in our body. Our body naturally generates this protein molecule, which helps us metabolize and get rid of toxins like alcohol and heavy metals. Glutathione serves many other regenerative functions in the body, and even helps to balance hormones. Further, for example, thyroid hormone and sex hormones help to regulate the glutathione S-transferase (GST enzymes), which helps to recycle glutathione and supports detoxification.
Glutathione is also thought to be able to help boost the immune system and ward off colds and viruses. (Specifically, our T-cells need a large amount of cysteine, which is a precursor to glutathione. When there’s not enough cysteine, you can’t make glutathione, and your T-cells, which help regulate your immune system, can’t work as well.) There are many studies showing that both people with cancer and those with autoimmunity have low glutathione levels.
How can we increase our glutathione stores?
It’s difficult to get enough of the building blocks of glutathione in our diet. Look to add cruciferous vegetables—like broccoli, turnips, arugula, watercress, wasabi—and sulfur-rich vegetables, like onions and garlic. Another issue I’ve discussed on goop before is that even those foods now contain less nutrients (including the building blocks of glutathione) because of soil depletion, a problem that is compounded by the additional toxins in the world that our bodies have to process.
Beyond diet, I recommend supplementing to boost your body’s production of glutathione:
Glutathione itself as a supplement is typically not well absorbed orally, because it is broken down in the gut, unless you take the acetylated form of glutathione. (In the latter, an acetyl group is added onto the glutathione molecule to prevent it from getting broken down in the gut, and many of my autoimmune patients notice a big difference when taking this form.)
You can also take the building blocks of glutathione: Vitamin C, broccoli extract, and N-Acetyl cysteine (NAC) are some of my favorites because they’re readily and efficiently used by the body, so you’ll find them in goop’s Balls in the Air regimen, which I consulted on.
Glutathione can be used topically (many in the autism community do) but I haven’t found find topical glutathione to be very effective in my patients.
The most direct way to take glutathione is via IV—some people do this when they feel like they’re coming down with something and are trying to prevent getting sick. You can also take it nebulized—where you breathe it in—and there are ways to do glutathione suppositories rectally (which seem to be better than the cream). These can all be effective, especially the nebulized form for lung conditions.
Is there a particular diet protocol that you find to be effective for getting rid of inflammation?
Yes. For at least thirty days, I recommend taking all toxic foods and the most common inflammatory foods out of your diet to heal the gut. So, that’s removing:
Additives and preservatives
At the end of the thirty-day program, I have people add some of these foods back in slowly, one at a time, to see how they respond to each food, so they can determine what is inflammatory for them. For some people, for instance, eggs or nightshades are not a problem, and they go back to eating them.
What else do you recommend for reversing inflammation and boosting immunity?
In a nutshell, you want to work on all five of the factors above that contribute to inflammation. The program in my book, The Autoimmune Solution, has been helpful to many patients, as it looks at healing the body on what I call the autoimmune spectrum:
No Inflammation Inflammation More Inflammation Ultimately Autoimmunity
Anything you can do to reduce your body’s toxic load and support it in getting rid of toxins helps optimize the immune system and keep infections at bay—particularly important if you have had Epstein Barr (mono), herpes, or other viruses.
To underscore—I think diet is huge for everyone. Eating a really healthy, organic diet helps, with lean, grass-fed animal protein, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats.
In addition to the acetylated form of glutathione or its building blocks, I advise that people take a really high quality multivitamin, so that you’re getting other critical nutrients like zinc, vitamin C, and vitamin D (all also included in Balls in the Air).
Some people might need additional supplementation depending on their deficiencies (which a doctor can see via blood work). For instance, most of the autoimmunity patients at my clinic take about 5,000 IU of vitamin D daily, although I’d recommend closer to 2-4,000 if you’re not working very closely with a doctor and having your levels checked frequently.
A high quality probiotic is beneficial—60 to 80 percent of your immune system is in your gut, so you want to make sure it’s working well.
Some of my patients also take an Immune Booster Powder, made of bovine colostrol whey peptides, that contains 40 percent IgG immunoglobulins to supports immune function.
Healing a leaky gut significantly decreases inflammation for a lot of people. Part of this is cleaning up the diet, and for some, it also involves taking care of infections like Candida or SIBO [stay tuned for an interview with Myers on small intestinal bacterial overgrowth] or parasites. In addition to re-inoculating the gut with probiotics, repairing it with L-glutamine or collagen; you might also need to restore other elements that might be missing in your microbiome, like bile salts, hydrochloric (stomach) acid or HCL, and digestive enzymes.
When we’re talking about getting rid of toxins: You want to make sure you’re peeing, pooping, and sweating every day. Stay very well hydrated, drink lots of filtered water (not out of a plastic bottle). If you’re not having a bowel movement every day, I recommend taking magnesium citrate. For sweat, infrared saunas and exercise are great.
For cleaning, I make my own products using castle soap, essential oils, and filtered water (or otherwise use non-toxic cleaning products); and also use clean beauty products.
If someone is inflamed because they are working 70 hours a week, in a toxic relationship with their spouse, or whatever the (toxic) case may be—they need to work on healing those components of their lives as well. Practicing stress relieving techniques (whether meditation or anything else you enjoy) is a good idea for everyone. I love the Muse meditation headband, and am also a fan of HeartMath.
Amy Myers, M.D. specializes in women’s health issues, particularly autoimmunity, thyroid dysfunction, and gut health. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Autoimmune Solution and The Thyroid Connection. She sees patients from around the world in her functional medicine clinic Austin UltraHealth, based in Austin, Texas. Dr. Myers developed the goop vitamin/supplement protocol, Balls in the Air, designed to keep us on our A game. You can get Dr. Myers’ complimentary 35 Gut Recovery Recipes eBook here.
The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of goop, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.