Is Your Immune System Support Nutrient Rich or Sugar Overloaded?

Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC

The holiday season is upon us. During this time we prepare for many things with family and friends, worship and religious events, shopping, and travel amongst regular daily activities. Holidays bring special meals, treats, and stress that can tax your immune system vitality. As you navigate through the holidays and another year of stress, be mindful about your sugar intake and be proactive about immune system support.

Mindfulness About Temptations and Risks

The aroma, sights, and tastes along with memories of holiday delicacies, beverages, and tasty treats tickle your senses, bring temptations, and provide great pleasure. Thoughts of “I’m going to have just one” rapidly disappear with the appearance of tantalizing treats. For most individuals, a small occasional treat or indulgence mixed in with a meal is fine to have. Others may not fare so well and find that they don’t feel so well after their indulgence. Making wise choices with an understanding of the risks of sugar on the immune system is vital to maintain health.

Sugar Intake

America is addicted to sugar. The average adult consumes about 150 pounds of sugar per year. To put this in perspective consider these numbers. One ounce equals 28.3 grams. One pound equals 453 grams. 150 pounds each year = 67,950 grams. That equates to 186 grams per day or 6.5 ounces of sugar every day. Imagine eating this directly from the sugar bowl, yet many Americans do this in their diet every day.

Here are some examples of sugar content in various foods and treats. One ounce of sugar equals 28 grams. One 12 ounce Lipton Brisk Iced Tea with lemon has 32 grams sugar, a 12 ounce Frappuccino Blended Coffee (Starbucks) has 29 grams sugar, a ¾ cup of Cold Stone Creamery Egg Nog flavored ice cream has 40 grams sugar, and 1/3 cup of sweetened dried cranberries has 26 grams sugar. Sugar intake can add up quickly.

Make it a habit to read your food labels or go to for in-depth information. More information about sugar and added sugar may be found in the article Your Sweet Tooth Adversely Impacts Gut and Brain Health

Sugar Handicaps Your Immune Function

Sugar is a “pure, white, and deadly” substance that handicaps your immune system in several ways. Research has shown that in healthy adults, simple carbohydrate intake of 100 grams of glucose, fructose, sucrose, honey, and orange juice suppressed neutrophil function for at least five hours after consumption. The greatest impairment came 1-2 hours after eating the sugar when blood sugar levels were at their peak.

Neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, are your first line of defense against bacteria, viruses, and other foreign organisms. Their job is to engulf or swallow germs and respond to inflammation. Sugar intake handcuffs the activity of these immune soldiers, which allows germs to gain greater access and a better chance to proliferate.

Elevated blood sugar levels also interfere with beta-defensins, which are natural antimicrobial peptides. Elevated blood sugar levels suppress your ability to manage germs. This increases your susceptibility to infection, adds to chronic inflammation, and slows healing.

High Fructose, Salt and Fat Diets Effect on the Immune System

High fructose intake is also stressful to your body. Animal studies showed that high fructose intake exacerbated salt sensitivity in the kidneys. This increased oxidative metabolic stress and raised blood pressure in the animals. Elevated blood pressure is a substantial risk factor for poorer outcomes with immune challenges.

Fructose rich foods include that with added high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), or naturally occurring sources like fruit juice, apples, grapes, watermelon, asparagus, peas, zucchini, honey, agave syrup, invert sugar, maple-flavored syrup, molasses, palm or coconut sugar, and sorghum.

High salt and animal fat diets also disrupt your gut flora and significantly worsen immune system recovery. Research showed that high salt and fat intake reduced beneficial bacteria Lactobacillus in the colon and depressed butyrate production. These imbalances promote intestinal inflammatory reactions and compromise immune activity.

Butyrate is a special short chain fatty acid (SCFA) produced when beneficial bacteria feed on fiber in your large intestine. Butyrate helps keep the gut mucosal lining intact and moist and is necessary for gut motility and natural defenses. Butyrate also helps numerous things outside the digestive tract like cholesterol and insulin management.

What’s Your Trend?

Sugar, salt, and fat are dietary pleasures and are widely available in the Western diet. The holiday season starts with Halloween candy, runs through the New Year, and is filled with sweets and treats.

Think about how many “treats” you have with each meal in a day or in a week. If your diet is predominately whole foods rich in a variety of colors, healthy fats, quality proteins, complex carbohydrates, then you are doing a great job. If you find that your trend has changed to include more treats (food and beverages), inflammation risk is higher, and your immune system will be less fit to handle challenges.

You may also notice that you have gained a few pounds, have more stomach rumbles, stinky gas or stools, more aches, pains, brain fog, fatigue, and bad breath. Yeast/candida overgrowth becomes more problematic too. Other chronic immune challenges can also reactivate when your immune system gets worn down from dietary stress and gut dysbiosis.

Total Body Burden

Be mindful about other stressors and how they impact you. Disrupted schedules and circadian rhythms from travels or staying up too late and chronic sleep deprivation and sedentary lifestyles further deplete or dysregulate your body. Societal stressors and fears of today with politics, media messages, social isolation and other factors that you perceive as threat also affect your well-being.

Additional compromise of gut-immune health vitality occurs when you have chronic diarrhea, constipation, digestive irritability, indigestion, and heartburn. Use of antibiotics, vaccines,aspirin, ibuprofen and other NSAIDs,PPIs/proton pump inhibitors/acid-blockers,chemotherapy, radiation, or steroid medications, and gluten consumption add to your immune intolerance. These factors disrupt gut flora, or gut lining integrity, which also affects immune vitality and nutrient status.

This underlying total body burden, together with holiday indulgences, contribute to the “straw that breaks the camel’s back” with your health. Your immune system is in a losing battle when your dietary choices overwhelm it. What is your immune system supported with? Nutrient rich food or sugar overload?

Immune Nutrients

Immune health and vitality requires adequate nutrient intake, preferably optimal intake. Regular physical exercise, enough quality sleep and stress management are also essential for immune health.

Vitamins A, C, D, E and B vitamins, carotenes, copper, iron, selenium, zinc and adequate glutathione are critical for immune competence. Poor diet and inadequate nutrient status at any stage in life increases susceptibility to germs and worsens vaccine effectiveness. Customer favorites for general purpose immune fortification include Daily Protector Eye & Immune,Strengthener Plus,Activator Plus,Vitamin D 2500 IU,Astaxanthin, and Glutathione Ultra.

Sweet Tooth and Blood Sugar Support

If you have a robust sweet tooth that gets the best of you, consider a few different things to tame it down. Some great choices include chromium,Gymnema sylvestre, Inula racemosa,B vitamins,glutamine, and magnesium. Additional nutrients that aid in carbohydrate/sugar cravings and/or blood sugar management include cinnamon, copper, curcumin, fenugreek, banaba leaf, manganese, milk thistle, selenium, vanadium, and zinc. Stevia has a dark side to it even though it is an alternative to sugar.

Customer favorites include LeptiSlim,Gluco Plus, and GI & Muscle Helper. Adequate dietary or supplemental fiber is also a big help for blood sugar management and buffering its effect on the gut. These can be taken before an event or meal to help reduce sugar temptation and help manage blood sugar levels from treats.

My goal is to help you understand your immune system’s needs and tolerance to dietary challenges, not to “rain on your holiday treat parade.” When your diet and lifestyle is predominantly white flour, white sugar, processed salt, low fiber, packaged foods, high amounts of plant-based oils, and animals raised in confinement systems or large feedlots with the rare vegetable or fruit added in, your health reserves are compromised. Chicken nuggets, mac ‘n’ cheese, hamburger and fries, Frappuccino’s, and fruit roll-ups with a gummy multiple vitamin simply will not provide you or your child’s body with robust health and vitality. Rather, it promotes low antioxidant reserves, high inflammation, and loss of gut-immune health and vitality.

Occasional treats are generally okay when you have a healthy diet and lifestyle. Have the treat with your meal rather than on an empty stomach to a least have a buffer against the sugar jolt. If you have other risk factors that affect immune resilience, then you will need to be more careful and restrictive about dietary challenges and overall stress.

Be mindful and support your immune system and needs. If you have a day with many treats, use fiber and nutrients to buffer the effects and support blood sugar management. Then take a break from all the treats. Make smart choices a priority to successfully navigate through holiday events and immune challenges. Enjoy this blessed time of the year while staying healthy!