Medical Nutrition Therapy for Immune Health

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Food can make a significant difference in the way a person feels and the health of their immune system, but if other lifestyle strategies aren’t implemented, people may not experience complete healing. For those patients, Kelly tries to look beyond food and exercise, and address sleep, stress, and social aspects of their health as well. The focus is on all the pieces of the health and wellness puzzle to make the patient feel better and improve their immune system function.

During the initial visit, Kellie maps out a custom care plan to be adopted over four weeks. After four weeks, she has her patients come back to identify what worked, what didn’t work, and where tweaks might be needed to move forward. The eight-point care plan tailored for her patients struggling with immune health includes:

  1. Meal Plan: Kellie often recommends a meal plan designed to target gut health. The complexity of the meal plan is based on the patient’s motivation, so there are different levels of commitment based on what they are willing to do up front. If a full elimination diet is too much for the patient, Kellie would provide them with a plan to eliminate gluten, dairy, processed foods, and alcohol. She will have them focus on adding five servings of vegetables per day to boost phytonutrient intake. Additionally, she gives them a detailed meal plan including sample menus and recipes that would be easy to incorporate.
  2. Movement: Patients who are very sedentary may find that their lack of activity contributes to several health issues. Kellie often emphasizes simple strategies to encourage more movement throughout the day. She might recommend walking for 10 minutes after every meal and adding a 20-minute total body strength training session on the weekends. Additionally, Kellie might suggest using a standing or treadmill desk to increase activity during the day.
  3. Stress Management: Kellie works with patients to create a solid routine to help manage stress. She suggests including a five-minute meditation upon waking and another in the middle of the day to help get the stress response under control. Kellie emphasizes that stress hinders immune function, and she aims to help patients understand how their lifestyle contributes to their stress levels.
  4. Sleep: Additionally, Kellie wants to help patients establish a relaxing bedtime routine. She often suggests taking an Epsom salt bath 30 minutes before bed, avoiding blue light for an hour before bedtime, refraining from alcohol or eating within three hours of going to sleep, and being in bed by 10 p.m. to start the process of unwinding and relaxing for more restful sleep. This routine can be challenging for patients who are accustomed to going to bed late and getting up early, but Kellie emphasizes the importance of focusing on sleep. According to her, if sleep is not under control, it makes improving other areas of health and wellbeing very difficult.
  5. Social Life: For patients with many social obligations, Kellie might advise them to decrease these commitments in the first four weeks to prioritize rest. Kellie recommends engaging in relaxing and enjoyable activities, such as reading a book or listening to a non-work-related podcast, for at least 30 minutes per day. This strategy is aimed at setting aside dedicated time to unwind and rejuvenate.
  6. Lab Work: Some patients might need to undergo various tests to identify potential health issues, such as insulin resistance. For these patients, Kellie coordinates with their primary care provider to order comprehensive assessments, including stool testing, hormone testing, fasting insulin, triglycerides, vitamin D, omega-3 index, a full thyroid panel with antibodies, and an ApoA1 and APOB baseline. This thorough approach helps in pinpointing underlying health concerns that need attention.
  7. Supplementation: While Kellie typically does not recommend adding supplements during the first visit, preferring first to eliminate inflammatory components, foundational supplements may be beneficial in certain cases to help patients feel better. For these patients she often suggests taking a good quality multivitamin every other day, and adding in vitamin D3 with K2, magnesium before bed, a B vitamin complex, and vitamin C. These nutrients are particularly in demand during periods of high stress and can help fill dietary gaps. Later on, Kellie might also recommend incorporating a multi-strain probiotic, omega-3 fatty acids, and supplements like L-theanine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) to further manage anxiety and stress.
  8. Counseling: Kellie often suggests that patients dealing with stress and anxiety meet with a counselor to discuss these issues. This step helps to uncover if there are other aspects of their lifestyle that may need to be addressed. This approach facilitates a comprehensive understanding and management of the factors contributing to their stress and anxiety.

Editor’s Note: This text was originally published in the e-book, Medical Nutrition Therapy for Immune Health: An Integrative Medicine Case Study. To access the full text, click here