photo (2)What an amazing learning experience I had in Arizona during the immune module. Prior to leaving, I discussed the important role this vital system plays in our ability to defend and repair our body to maintain wellness. Our immune system is not simply a group of cells that attacks bug-a-boo bacteria, viruses, and fungus, but it interplays and communicates with every other major system of the body through various chemical signals. This means that an inflammatory process or infection in one area of your body has the potential to travel through your bloodstream and create havoc in another distant location. Let me explain how this works in a story (names have been withheld to protect the innocent and geeky lovers of biochemistry).

For over simplification sake, think of your immune system as a game of telephone that has two scenarios.  For our first example, let’s say your friendly naturopathic doctor had a scheduled flight to leave from Albany for Arizona on Thursday. This was in order to get to her conference on Thursday night and arrive refreshed and eager to learn for her first day of the conference on Friday. If all goes well, no one is called and there’s no down-stream chaos of frantic phone calls to airports, loved ones, and the hotel. The process is considered safe and the proper response of getting to the airport and arriving in Phoenix pursues in an ordinary fashion. When friendly doc arrives, she is able to mediate the few stressors that occurred, such as turbulence in the airplane or a late taxi, with a gentle yoga session at night, a cup of chamomile tea, and a dab of lavender essential oil. This is in order to “cleanse out the catecholamines” (stress hormones) and reset her immune response to recognize her own happy, harmonious signals. In return, it sends safe and cozy feedback that allows her to sleep soundly, rejuvenate, and wake up without “jet lag”.

However, let’s say in scenario two, said doctor wakes up in the morning to check her Delta app and finds out that her flight has been cancelled and she is in danger of missing her training. Furthermore, she imagines missing the “rock star functional medicine doctors’” presentations and being absent from the biochemical soup and clinical scenarios. With this horrifying thought, friendly doctor turns on her flight-and-fight danger signals. The telephone fiasco begins with rescheduling the trip, being routed to a different flight, making it to the airport within one hour, and waking her loved one to drive her to a flight she has to make 3 hours ahead of schedule.  Pause here.

A critical point of interaction is now about to unravel from this strange-danger scenario. If said doc has a well-balanced immune response and has powerful reserves to pull from, she may be able to shift the response from the full-out-chaos of a blood sugar spike, anxiety-heart-pumping effect, inflamed achy muscles, and an upset stomach. These determining factors include a balanced and healthy diet that positively impacts her genetic signaling, stress modulating techniques like mindfulness, no active latent infections, and plenty of rest. However, if the scenario is too much for a depleted body, her nervous and immune system may signal the start of a biochemical cascade that could set her up for a lousy trip.

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. The doc practices mindfulness, uses her supplements, essential oils, eats a healthy dinner, and does yoga. She is then able to enjoy her conference and actually see the magic in the unexpected turn of events.

Now, here’s the lesson from our little doctor adventure story…

Our immune system is our first point of contact between us and the outside world. With one horrified thought, stressful scenario, trauma, environmental toxin, or sticky bun feast, it starts the erratic dialing (bursting forth cytokine or chemical messengers) that leads to a chaotic telephone game.  So, how do we modulate this response that can cause our body to over respond, under respond, or act inappropriately?

If the body doesn’t have appropriate cues or support to turn the volume to the proper level, our vitality is threatened. As the result of my training, I have a new appreciation for the fact that, as complex and intricate as the biochemical pathways are for modulating these defense and repair signals, the simplicity of how to accomplish this through lifestyle modifications is surprisingly profound.

I’ve already spoken about the main components, such as stress management, proper diet, exercise and movement, rest and sleep, proper supplementation, and fun learning time to modulate if an infectious bug gonna get ya’, environmental chemicals gonna hijack ya’, stress gonna take over ya’, or inflammation gonna run havoc.

Dr. Rountree calls a functional immune system “DIRT”.

D-proper Detection

I-Internally Regulated

R-Restorative of any damage that may occur

T-Tolerant (not over or under responding to threats or its own tissues)

Now, view the continuation of my blog highlighting some recent evidence of how food modulates the immune response, including:

1. How flavonoids (plant constituents) can modulate insulin levels and inflammation

2. Evidence from a population study in Finland demonstrating the benefits of the dietary components of fish oil, folate, low glycemic diets, and fiber on heart health and diabetes.

3. 5 reasons to use oregano for wellness. (It has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-cancer, and respiratory supportive properties).


Rountree, R, Fitzgerald, K, Hannaway, P, Sult, P, Lukaczar, D, & Hughs, K. Immune Advanced Practice Module 2014. Phoenix, AZ. January 30th-February 2nd 2014. Institute for Functional Medicine.

Jennings, A, Welch, A, Spector, T, Macgregor, A, & Cassidey, A. Intakes of Anthocyanins and Flavones Are Associated with Biomarkers of Insulin Resistance and Inflammation in Women. J. Nutr. February 1, 2014; 144 (2):202-208. doi: 10.3945/?jn.113.184358

Gulland, J. Preventing Diabetes with Food: Flavonoid-Rich Fruits Cut Risk. Holistic Primary Care: UpShots. January 30, 2014; 21:35.

West, August. High Omega-3 Intake Cuts Diabetes Risk By One-Third. Holistic Primary Care: UpShots. January 30, 2014; 21:25.

University of Eastern Finland. The Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor (KIHD) Study. Accessed January 31, 2014.

Vanharanta M, Voutilainen S, Rissanen TH, Adlercreutz H, Salonen JT. Risk of Cardiovascular and All-Cause Death According to Serum Concentrations of Enterolactone: Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Archives of Internal Medicine 2003;163:1099-1104.

Vanharanta M, Voutilainen S, Lakka TA, van der Lee M, Adlercreutz H, Salonen JT. Reduced risk of acute coronary events at high levels of mammalian lignan, enterolactone: a prospective population-based cohort study. Lancet 1999;354:2112-2115.

Voutilainen S, Rissanen T, Virtanen J, Lakka TA, Salonen JTS. Low folate intakes are associated with an excess risk of acute coronary events: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Circulation 2001;103:2674-2680.

Rissanen T, Voutilainen S, Nyyssönen K, Lakka TA, Salonen JT. Fish oil derived fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid and docosapentaenoic acid and the risk of acute coronary events: the Kuopio Ischaemic Risk Factor Study. Circulation 2000;102 2677-2679.

Mursu J, Virtanen JK, Rissanen TH, Tuomainen T-P, Nykänen I, Laukkanen JA, Kortelainen R, Voutilainen S. Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load, and the Risk of Acute Myocardial Infarction in Middle-Aged Finnish Men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk factor Study. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 2011;21:144-9.

Mercola, J. What Are the Health Benefits of Oregano? 01, 2014.

Nordqvist, J. What Are the Health Benefits of Oregano? Medpage Today. October 15, 2013.

Zhaopig, Li, et al. Antioxidant-rich spice added to hamburger meat during cooking results in reduced meat, plasma, and urine malondialdehyde concentrations. Am J Clin Nutr. May 2010. doi: 10.3945/?ajcn.2009.28526.