For many years, and way before I found cultured foods, we would travel to my mom's house in Virginia for Christmas. It was a twenty-hour car ride from my home in Kansas City, and we would often drive all night to get there so the kids would sleep. We would always be exhausted by the time we arrived at my mom's home. In anticipation of our arrival, my family would make buckets - and I mean buckets! - of sugar cookies. It was my grandma's sugar cookie recipe and it was a Christmas tradition. We would eat them the whole time we were there. Inevitably, someone in the house would get sick and then it would spread through the grandkids and adults.
It happened every year, and so much so that we would always say, "Well, we always get sick at Christmas," and we just thought it was because we were all in close proximity to each other and spreading germs. Those cookies were so addictive that we couldn’t stop eating them. My husband told me that one night he was tired and sleepy and not hungry, but he still dragged himself to the kitchen and had another sugar cookie. These cookies were covered in sprinkles and they would fall off, so he ate them over the trash can so he would not get them on the carpet. Good lord, it was crazy.
The Immune System Connection
Sugar, Microbes, And Vitamin C
Fast forward many years later, and I now know so much more about the immune system and how it works. As humans, we naturally crave a sweet taste. It is an essential part of balancing the other tastes found in nature such as salty, bitter, and sour flavors. But it felt like we were crazy addicts at Christmas time. So, what happens when we consume a lot of sugar? First and foremost, our bacteria shift dramatically and make more sugar-loving microbes that make us crave sugar like crazy. This, along with the key player in the reward system of our brain, sets us up for control problems. That feeling of pleasure we get from food and other substances is made by dopamine. Dopamine receptors are all over our brain, and indulging in any addictive substance, such as sugar, brings on a deluge of dopamine. Guess what happens when we eat a lot of sugar? Yep, those levels also surge and then we need more to stay satisfied. Neurotransmitters - namely epinephrine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine - have been shown to play a major role in controlling and maintaining homeostasis within the gut system in terms of nutrient absorption, blood flow, gut microbiome, local immune system, and overall gut motility and cravings. Hang on — I'm not saying you have to give it all up, but I'm going to tell you what to do to help yourself and bring the balance back. But first, let me tell you what goes on inside of your body.
Sugar drops your immune system by 75%
One of the things that can affect your immune system is eating sugar. This is one of the reasons my family always got sick at Christmas. We had way too much sugar during the holidays and it lowered our immune system’s ability to keep us well. Let’s talk about this in regards to vitamin C. In the 1970’s, Dr. Linus Pauling (one of the greatest researchers in the field of microbiology) discovered that vitamin C helps the body combat the common cold. But what he also found was how sugar can do the opposite.
Your cells think sugar is vitamin C
Vitamin C is used by white blood cells to engulf and absorb viruses and harmful bacteria. White blood cells need to contain 50 times the concentration of vitamin C as would normally be found in the blood around it. Sugar, or glucose, has a very similar chemical structure to vitamin C; so when you eat sugar, your cells hungrily take in the sugar thinking it is vitamin C. The 50% concentration of vitamin C in your cells starts to drop and your immune system’s ability to fight a virus is reduced by 75%. It can take four to six hours for the vitamin C concentration in the white blood cells to go back to the normal concentration and to be able to function at the highest level again. So it’s not a great idea, and especially if you’re sick, to eat any kind of sugar, because the white blood cells can’t get past the sugar to do their job. This is why we all got sick every Christmas. Our bodies lost their superpower strength to keep us healthy because we were eating so much sugar and crashing our immune system again and again.
Inner Ecosystem Help
Here’s another thing - too much sugar or a high-stress lifestyle can create an environment inside you that encourages the growth of disease-causing bacteria and Candida yeast. Candida takes up a very small portion in your body, doing an important job of helping you digest things like heavy metals that your normal digestion cannot handle. If your gut flora is killed by antibiotics or an unhealthy diet, this leaves more room for Candida to spread out and take over larger areas when you don’t have enough good microbes to keep it in check. Then you get a slew of other problems to deal with.
Inside your body is a thriving inner ecosystem of microflora (good bacteria and yeasts) that keeps you healthy and strong. These healthy bacteria and yeasts help you digest food, absorb nutrients, regulate your blood sugar, control food cravings, and manufacture vitamins and minerals. The secret to helping them is feeding them with probiotic-rich foods and lots of prebiotics in the form of fruits and veggies as well as lots of soluble fiber. I'm not saying you can never have sugar again, but you won’t be craving it like before and your body will balance this for you. I have so many recipes that you can make on my site and in my books that not only satisfy your sweet craving but replenish your microbes. Then if you do eat sugar, those busy microbes will help reduce the effect on your immune system and you won’t be like an addict craving sugar. It took a little bit of time to grow into this new lifestyle, but now it feels effortless. Let me give you a few things that will really help you.
What You Can Do
I consume kefir for breakfast! Kefir is the number one thing I consume every day. It sets my day off right by balancing hormones and blood sugar and, goodness, I don’t know what I would do without it.
There are over fifty bacteria in kefir. It will be a mighty force in your life and slowly change this whole world inside of you. Lately, I've been making Easy Kefir in little pots and we are all enjoying it so much. You just make a jar of Easy Kefir, which only takes 24 hours to make. Then when it's done, add a few spoonfuls of this to small jars and fill them with milk. Let this ferment for 24 hours or until it's thick and creamy, and then place in the fridge. You can even make chocolate milk kefir and boy, is it yummy. It's such an easy way to make kefir and since it's made from actual kefir grains, you get all the benefits of kefir without worrying about straining out the grains. Kefir is so nutrient-dense that it will give your gut and brain what it needs and calm your body down while strengthening your immune system too! Have it every day and just watch how you'll change and sail through cold and flu season.
Bifidobacteria have long been regarded as one of the most beneficial members of the human gut microbiome. These beneficial bacteria digest dietary fiber, help prevent infection, activate your immune system to fight pathogens, and produce vitamins and other essential chemicals. Having lots of Bifido feeds your other bacteria, too. Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), are specific carbohydrates and super prebiotics. Consuming HMOs is one of the best ways to make more Bifidobacteria. And no, you're not drinking human milk, but rather a prebiotic (produced explicitly by fermentation) that creates more Bifidobacteria.
The gut microbiome can change extremely quickly. We suggest putting them in a kefir smoothie; check out our recipe!
L. Reuteri Yogurt
L. reuteri yogurt is another excellent probiotic food for building up the immune system and shortening the duration of a cold or flu. L. reuteri is a well-studied probiotic bacterium. Since antibiotics can kill L. reuteri, replenishing this microbe is a great advantage in helping you stay healthy. L. reuteri superfood yogurt is one of the best ways to get high counts of L. reuteri. L. reuteri can produce antimicrobial molecules that can inhibit the colonization of pathogenic microbes and reestablish a healthy microflora. L. reuteri can benefit your immune system and can reduce the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines while promoting regulatory T-cell development and function. Having lots of T-cells that go after and alert the body to potential viruses and infections is controlled by the number of good bacteria you have. The more good bacteria, the more T cells you have. It can also help to strengthen the intestinal barrier, which keeps leaky gut and IBS at bay. Inflammatory diseases, including those located in the gut as well as in remote tissues, may be helped by increasing the colonization of L. reuteri. It also helps control appetite, blood sugar, and unhealthy food cravings.
If you do overindulge in sugary treats, drink some kombucha! Kombucha is a powerful detoxifier and will stop those sugar cravings quite effectively. Sugar is hard on your liver, and kombucha will help support liver function. Kombucha will also supply you with a potent probiotic yeast that fights Candida and keeps not only the good bacteria in your body healthy but the good yeasts, too! When I have overwhelming food cravings I know won't be good for me, I always drink a kombucha first, and then if I still want it, I can have it, but I never do. Kombucha works and it's super delicious, too. Try my Candy Cane Kombucha and let the microbes eat the sugar from the tea. Then you'll receive a holiday treat with tons of Christmas flavor and lots of bubbliness, too!
Veggies — just a spoonful is such a big deal, and I’m not kidding about this. It's time everyone knows about these wonderful veggies, and let me tell you about one that can really help you. Researchers in Missouri found fermented veggies can decrease anxiety and stress-related behavior in people who consume them. It works on boosting the adrenals and strengthening the immune system due to the high vitamin C content. Fermented veggies can protect against food poisoning and toxicity and help you digest all the foods you eat with these powerful veggies. One of my favorite ways to help reduce sugar cravings and keep my immune system strong is to eat fermented Fruity Cinnamon Kraut. Now, please don't knock it till you've tried it. This kraut is delicious and fruity with a touch of cinnamon. Even the juice is excellent and effective. It will rapidly cure your sweet cravings.
An interesting thing about garlic is it works incredibly well with probiotics. Since garlic is a prebiotic, that is no surprise. A British research team looked at using garlic (an-antifungal) and probiotics together to respond to the increasing resistance of Candida to prescription medication. The researchers found that when garlic and the probiotic were used together, “a synergistic effect on the inhibition of candidal attachment occurred.” They concluded that “the combination of Lactobacillus and garlic should provide a preventative/treatment regime to address the growing problem with candidal infections.” Honey is a prebiotic that feeds good bacteria, and garlic is an antifungal and also a prebiotic, so it's a wonderful bonus for your microbiome.
Kefir soda is a great way to bring healthy microbes into your gut. Replacing the harmful sugary and alcoholic drinks that most people drink around the holidays with beneficial bacteria and yeasts loaded with probiotics is the way to go. I hear stories that those who included kefir soda in their diets have received so many health benefits. Kefir soda is loaded with Bifido bacterium and S. boulardii, a probiotic yeast also found in kombucha. The benefits are billions of probiotics in a delicious drink that everybody seems to love. People are saying that they'll never go back to unhealthy sodas that wreak havoc on their bodies and especially their liver. It's just so delicious and easy to make. It will reset those cravings and help your body detox, and you will feel it!
Listen To My Podcast
The immune system's connection to your gut microbiome is enormous. If you indulge in many holiday treats, your immune system can suffer. We have lots of tips and tricks with the help of microbes to help your immune system stay strong, even if you do have some holiday treats. Tune in to learn more.
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