The holiday season is upon again, which is a great time of year to spend with family and friends. However, it can be a stressful time of year as well. Not to mention, it is also the cold and flu season.
Most of us are too busy and don’t have time to get sick, but that is part of the problem. We push ourselves too hard. Sleep is often never enough, so we open ourselves to illness.
In this episode of the podcast, we discuss the connection between stress, your adrenals, and immune function. Over the years, we have seen it many times with our patients. They are very busy with work, family and just life in general. If an unexpected stressor comes along, they don’t have enough reserves to keep them well. Inevitably, they are laid up in bed with a cold or the flu.
PYHP 071 Full Transcript:
Dr. Maki: Hi everyone. Thank you for joining us for another episode of Progress Your Health Podcast. I’m Dr. Maki–
Dr. Davidson: –and I’m Dr. Davidson.
Dr. Maki: So have you noticed the weather’s changing a little bit? It’s getting a little cold.
Dr. Davidson: Oh, absolutely.
Dr. Maki: I think it was like in the 20’s these last couple of days in the morning.
Dr. Davidson: Yeah. I think 30’s because it didn’t completely freeze but when it’s cold here, it usually means that the sun is out which is really pretty. Then with the fall leaves being orange and read, it’s actually been a really beautiful Fall here in Washington.
Dr. Maki: Yeah, you and I went for a hike the other day, we have this called the inner urban trail right behind our house and when we went up to this hike that’s in Bellingham called Fragrance Lake which is a really popular hike. You are telling me about when you went down the trail and all the leaves were on the path and it looks like, kind of, like the yellow brick road from Wizard of Oz.
Dr. Davidson: Yeah, there was a big– kind of like a windy time like a windy night and then the next day when it was really beautiful I went for a walk by myself on that inner ravine trail and nobody had been on there yet. No bikers, no walkers and it was just all these yellow leaves all over and just me that did it. I was like, “I feel like I’m on a brick trail.”
Dr. Maki: Yeah, that’s great.
Dr. Davidson: A yellow brick road.
Dr. Maki: Yeah, yellow brick road. I’m originally from the Midwest Minnesota and there’s a scenic tour, scenic drive you go from Duluth, Minnesota up the, what they call North Shore which is the North Shore of Lake Superior and everyone takes this kind of– I won’t say everyone– but a lot of people take this annual trip to be able to see the change of the leaves and certainly, we never really got a sense of that in Las Vegas when we lived there for so long. But surely, back here in Washington, you can appreciate it cause it’s really–the temperature is dropping which isn’t great. We certainly like warmer temperatures but to see the color of the leaves and everything changing, it’s pretty nice.
Dr. Davidson: Well, I’m not feeling sorry for anybody in Las Vegas ’cause they have great weather right now. I remember October, November were like my favorite months.
Dr. Maki: Yeah. Yeah. I remember when we first moved there, 2004, I actually got a sunburn on Thanksgiving when we’re actually at some park with some friends that you’d met and it was like 75 degrees. I’ve never been– I never had a thanksgiving where it was like 75 degrees and I got a sunburn. That was pretty nice. So having said that, you’re talking about fall and the dropping temperatures, winter is going to be coming fairly soon for a lot of the country. We have the last several episodes, we’ve been talking about adrenal functions so we figured out a really good segue and plus because of the time of the year, we would segue from talking about adrenals into kind of a little bit of a bridge between stress and immune function. Then, of course, the next episode, we’re going to talk about some actual specific things you can do when you are sick or maybe around some people that are sick, how you can protect yourself.
Dr. Davidson: Hey, it’s November, so we’re in the heart of a cold and flu season and this is going to last us ’till probably about January or February. Last year, all the patients I’ve pretty much talked to, they knew somebody or maybe it was themselves that had, you know, there are a lot of viruses coming around. So that’s why we thought we would kind of get a head start on this so we could give you, guys, some good ideas on how to work on your immune system. Keep it nice and strong to prevent actual flu or virus or cold but then at the same time, if you are sick, we can talk a little bit about what you can do acutely to reduce down the symptom, reduce down the severity and reduce down the duration.
Dr. Maki: Yeah, right. Now, I think there’s a kind of a movement in the country to prevent people from getting sick, right? We’re too busy. We’re going, go, go, go all the time. We have a million things to do. People don’t have time to be sick but in some ways, the lack of time to be sick is why people become sick because they’re just stressed all the time. They maybe they don’t sleep that well. They’re pushing themselves to the brink all the time and they kind of allow themselves to get sick. The harder they push, eventually, that is going to catch up with them. I think even from a media standpoint, there’s kind of a push to prevent illness. Now, we talked with patients, patients have, I mean our practices mostly around adults. We don’t do it with a lot of children. Usually, the children that we deal with are the children of the patients that we have, so those situations come up quite a bit. So this episode is kind of really about keeping yourself well as a person, as an adult, as a parent but also things that you can do for your children at the same time. Now, we could probably separate those into two separate things but at the same time, children under the age of 10– kids are meant to be sick. That’s what strengthens their immune systems. We don’t really want to try to prevent them from being sick because I think that over time especially when they really need protection, I think that actually weakens their immune system. So now, when they really need protection, they don’t really have any protection.
Dr. Davidson: Exactly. When you’re little, you’re supposed to get sick. I mean you’re not supposed to get deathly ill but you’re supposed to get a cold, flu here and there. Maybe your fever spikes but then it comes back down really fast. That’s okay. It’s good for their immune system but the take-home part or the flip side of it is those kids come home to us or grandkids come home to us and then we end up catching what they have. That’s what I would run into a lot with patients is, hey, they can take time off of work. They can’t take time and then to be sick so, of course, they’re looking for the quickest, fastest, easiest route to not be sick. So it’s a little bit about, “Hey, your kids are going to bring home some things, what can we do to help prevent that for you?” Then on the flip side, like Dr. Maki was talking about, it really does come down into those adrenals. Those adrenals have a complete correlation or relationship with the immune system. When you’re stressed, your immune system drops, that’s why people get shingles. That’s why people get shingles which would have been if you had chickenpox. That’s why people get Epstein-Barr reactivations is because that immune system is following what’s going on with the adrenal glands.
Dr. Maki: Yeah and you always see those things. You see shingles, you see a herpes outbreak. You see all those kinds of things when people have a major acute stressor. They’re stressed all the time anyway, right? They’re having stress, that just everyday stressors, but then something big comes along and they don’t have enough adrenal reserves in the tank so to speak and now they get some kind of a major infection like that, all still viral related. Those are all still viral infections but the immune system doesn’t have necessarily enough to go around to be able to protect them in the way that is supposed to.
Dr. Davidson: Yeah. So one of the most important things you can do for your adrenal glands, I mean you can’t go run off and live on club med not have or have any stress in your life. You’re going to have some adrenal stress but what you can do is definitely sleep. It’s improving that sleep and making sure you’re getting good quality sleep.
Dr. Maki: Yeah. I am now sure how sensitive microphones are but we’re in our a little studio at our house and our dog is right under our feet. We have an Australian shepherd mix. So, any of you that actually have an Australian shepherd you know that they’d never leave your feet. They’re at your feet all the time and he is actually chewing on a bone. We have this big rug in here trying to help to take down some of the echo. So if you hear a weird noise in the background, it’s our dog chewing on a bone trying to keep him occupied.
Dr. Davidson: Yeah, he is definitely obsessed with bones and chewing. Thank goodness, he only chews on his bones and not anything else in our home or office. But yeah, if you hear kind of like a weird strange noise that’s the dog having a great time with his bone.
Dr. Maki: Yeah. He’s never, even as a– now he’s only a little over 11 months, but even as a puppy, a young puppy, he never chewed up any shoes. I think one pair of my shoes, he chewed off a shoelace and that was it. We got pretty lucky as far as that goes. So back to the immune system, that’s what we thought this was a really good segue talking about adrenals and a little story. When actually, when you and I met at Bastyr, it was pretty intense. It was medical school, right? So it’s a really intense program and I was on the four-year track, you’re on the five-year track. That’s just the way that they do their scheduling and how long it takes to finish. The first two years of the four-year track was pretty intense. You had a huge course load. I was actually working at that time so it was really stressful. In almost every quarter for four years, I would get– we would have finals for an entire week. Finals would be done on a Friday. By Sunday, almost for four years straight, I was sick every time. So then I would spend my short little break before the next quarter started, I’d spent the whole, the first three or four days of it recovering from some kind of a cold. That’s what we see in our patients. We see the same thing. We see a stressor come along. They are fine in the stress of the situation because your cortisol goes up in the short-term so it keeps you surviving, so to speak, but the minute that stressor alleviates, maybe a big deadline at work, you’re doing something and all of a sudden finish the project, you finish the deadline you finish whatever it is, you get that proverbial kind of sigh of relief, that’s when people tend to get sick. You don’t get sick at the moment necessarily, but the longer that stressor goes along, usually on the back end into that is when people really kind of collapse.
Dr. Davidson: Probably for you, which I completely admire you for having taken that course load and working at the number of levels– the number of hours you’re actually working per week but, needless to say, you probably didn’t get much sleep before those finals.
Dr. Maki: Well, you were the good student, right? You were the one that sat in front of the class and took really good notes. So you probably didn’t have to study as hard as I did where I would not take those good notes. I maybe didn’t show up the classes as much as I should and then I will cram before a couple of days before the test. So I was trying to make up for lost time where you are actually, you had better time management than I did. I procrastinated too much. So I made it, I had in some ways, I kind of induced my own stress where you actually had better habits about it than I or you had better study habits than I. I didn’t have very good study habits but nonetheless, from an immune system perspective, every time it was almost like clockwork, I knew it took me a while to make the connection but seriously we would, you know, Friday would come and I’m new by Sunday, I was going to get a cold or something and almost invariably I did. It was too predictable to be a coincidence. It just happened every time.
Dr. Davidson: Yeah. So do not allow yourself– don’t, if you’re going to skimp on anything, don’t skimp on sleep. That’s the most important take-home thing is don’t skimp on the sleep because then as you can see it will create that stress on those adrenals. Then when every stressor over, you crash, and then of course, when you’re under a lot of stress or like Dr. Maki was saying, studying for finals, you might not be eating as well. And probably more shoving in some sugar and caffeine rather than maybe some healthier foods.
Dr. Maki: 100% right. When you’re up all night, the last thing want to do is be eating broccoli and chicken breast, right? You’re eating junk food. You’re pounding caffeine. Nowadays, with the energy drinks, they didn’t have energy drinks back then but now you got Red Bulls and Monsters and all these crazy things that there’s going to have a payback at some point. You’re going to pay for that in some way or some form. Now, it was interesting that when we are preparing for this episode, you said that you were never were really much of a crammer. Like you couldn’t, you put a priority on sleep you could never stay up on doing, quote-unquote, all-nighter like some students do.
Dr. Davidson: Well, you have an amazing memory that you can cram at night and remember it for the test the next day. Not me. I got to read it right. I’d say it out loud, so I know my pattern so I would study early and always spend– you know that’s my personality too.
Dr. Maki: Yeah, sure, right. And the way that I did it is certainly mine as well where I kind of like I said, I kind of induced my own stress or I made it more significant than it needed to be. So again, the point of that little story there is that we do, in some sense, we allow ourselves to get sick and we push, we push, we push. We have a million things to do on a regular basis and we, kind of, run ourselves down. We don’t have enough recuperation on a regular basis and now we have this kind of suppressed immune system. So then we are susceptible to things around us ’cause the things that are around us always around us, right? It’s not a matter of, “Oh, I came in contact with this person that was sick or that person that was sick or in the office or something like that.” It’s whether or not the host, the person or the individual if they are susceptible to what’s around them ’cause those threats are, from an infectious perspective, are always there.
Dr. Davidson: Yeah. So you have to, like, you’re saying, not that we’re trying to blame the human or blame you but at the same time people, it’s okay to get sick here and there. Maybe you might get a sniffle once a year, maybe it’ll last two days but I think the culprit too, is hey, you might be a little bit of a host. You might catch a little bit of this little virus but because you don’t slow down and you push it through and you go to work and you keep doing what you’re doing, that’s when people say, “Yeah, turned into pneumonia or went into my lungs,” because you have to slow down. Granted, nobody likes that person who’s sick come into work.
Dr. Maki: Yeah.
Dr. Davidson: Like come in the office there like, “Why did you come to work?” But of course, we have things to get done and if you don’t get it done that day you’re going to have three times more to do the next day. But really, truly, pushing yourself is going to make it worse.
Dr. Maki: Yeah, right and I think that your body is trying to tell you something. When you’re getting under the weather, you do have to– now granted that we’re not trying to preach here and tell people what to do. We understand that people have a million, even ourselves, we have a thousand things too. You and I can’t afford to be sick but from and immune system perspective especially when we’re young healthy and vital, getting sick is normal. Getting sick is a way that it keeps your immune system primed and ready. That’s why kids when they get under the age of 10, when they get a fever, they get a big fever. But a child can have a fever of 102, 103 and they’re still playing with their blocks and their toys and nowadays is probably their little iPads or their little, the video devices. But they’re still relatively fine.
If an adult has a fever of 102, they are practically bedridden in the fetal position because they feel so horrible. But that child’s immune system is really so vital and so strong. In naturopathic medicine, we call that the Vis; for Latin, it’s called the Vis medicatrix naturae which is, in some ways, it sounds kind of hokey but it’s really a real thing. That healing power of nature and children, their vital force is so strong that, that’s why they respond so well. Their immune system seems like it’s really aggressive but it’s aggressive in the right way. I still, I know that this is a kind of a touchy subject when it comes to fevers but I– and you and I don’t have children, that’s the first disclaimer and the first thing we’ll say. So take our opinion or my opinion with the grain of salt but children that have a fever, leave the fever alone. Don’t necessarily try to suppress that fever but try to convince the parent of that of leaving the fever alone, they think that you should give them children’s Tylenol. Bring the fever down. Bring the fever down. The body, typically, will never– almost in every case– will never go febrile on its own. It’s usually when you intervene with children’s Tylenol or something that actually brings the fever down when the body then overreacts. The fever is a very necessary inflammatory process there to not necessarily kill the virus but to immobilized the immune system. So now the immune system can go attack the virus. So the body has to raise the internal temperature in order to rally the troops, so to speak.
Dr. Maki: Yeah, exactly and then, of course, if you did– granted antibiotics are used for bacteria, bacterial infections intervening with the antibiotics, the immune system doesn’t get to really fight and get rid of that virus. So that’s why you might see adults that get sick a little bit more frequently because they weren’t allowed to get sick as kids. Now, granted like you said when a parent sees her kids sick, that’s breaking their heart and twisting their inside. They want to do something so I totally understand that. So that’s where there is that level of balance.
Dr. Maki: Yeah, right and now, granted and we don’t want to go on to diet tribe or anything like that, again, we don’t have children but there’s always this push for antibiotics and 90% of illness that human beings come down with, most of the time, especially for healthy people is going to be a viral-related problem. Antibiotics do no good for a viral-related issue. They only are intended for bacterial infections and most healthy people are very rarely going to get some kind of a bacterial-related illness. It’s just not going to happen. So taking the antibiotic– now, some things they will prescribe an antibiotic prophylactically as a way to prevent a bacterial infection. But you and I were kind of discussing this before too, taking an antibiotic for a bacterial infection that’s not there, really doesn’t do any good. All it is going to do is wreak havoc on your normal flora and where big talk these days about the microbiome, you want to be very careful. You want to protect that microbiome. The bacteria that’s in your colon and antibiotics given for the kind of the wrong reasons is going to disrupt that flora every single time.
Dr. Davidson: Yeah. Like we had talked about to start with those adrenals. Let’s say you do catch a virus and you keep pushing yourself and you don’t stop, then sometimes that’s when the bacterial infection can piggyback on that viral infection because the host’s immune system is suppressed ’cause they won’t stop. Then there’s a perfect environment for that bacteria to grow in, so that’s were really does come back to that immune system. Of course, I’m sure all of you know, eating broccoli is a lot healthier for you than eating a candy bar. But just try to be mindful about- “What can I do to reduce down those inflammatory foods?” Like the sugar, the alcohol, the caffeine, the coffee and then, of course, the sleeping part. But there are your kids or your grandkids are going to bring home little sniffles and viruses and little bugs. So there are some supplements that you can do to prevent ’cause there’s a little bit of a misnomer there ’cause a lot of people think, “Oh, I’m going to take some echinacea. I want to take these immune-stimulating herbs and vitamins.” You don’t necessarily want to take those things if you’re not sick because if you’re not sick and you’re taking something to stimulate your immune system, that really isn’t a good idea healthwise. Now, if you are sick stimulating the immune system is a great idea. So that’s where I think that preventative part in terms of taking supplements gets lost.
Dr. Maki: Yeah, right. I think that’s where the adrenal connections come in as you don’t want to drain your adrenal tanks too low. You want to keep them, kind of, in some ways thriving so that way, like you said, the host is protected that way. You’re able to keep your guard up so to speak, quote-unquote, and it never gets to that susceptible level and taking something that does enhance immune function. If you take that over a long term basis when you really need it, it doesn’t work. Those types of things which we’ll get into in the next episode, but those things are intended to be used in a short-term fashion. Kind of an acutely in that early window when you just noticed you’re getting– you’re coming down with something or you been around somewhere or if you’ve been really stressed or you have been really burning the midnight oil or something. Then you can target that by taking something for the entire cold and flu season is not really the best approach when you’re trying to, quote-unquote, stimulate immune function.
Dr. Davidson: Exactly. The next podcast after this one, we’re going to talk a little bit more about vitamins and nutrients and herbs and minerals and things that you can take to help prevent but not necessarily stimulate the immune system. So I have kind of the idea on the preventive and then we’re going to talk a little bit more acutely like, “Darn it, I got a sore throat. I’m going to get sick. It’s going to get worse, what can I do right now to reduce the duration?” So we’ll talk a little bit about supplementation in the next podcast but for this one, it’s definitely about sleep, diet, and lifestyle.
Dr. Maki: Yeah. So diet, of course, is always an ongoing evolving thing. The big thing when it comes to– as we are just talking about– studying for finals or working and when your stress level goes up, usually your dietary choices go down, right? Your brain is trying to survive. Your body’s looking for easy sources of sugar, fat, and salt. You’re maybe are not able to– literally– not able to make the healthiest choices at a time when you probably need to make the healthy choices but your brain doesn’t allow you to do that because again, it’s trying to protect you, in a way, but that ultimately a kind of diminishes the health in the long run. So certainly, sugar and I know they’ve done stem studies, in vitro, in vivo so somebody’s research types of terms where sugar actually has a dramatic impact at decreasing white blood cell functions. So white blood cells are, there’s what, five or six different types of white blood cells, macrophages and basophils, and eosinophils all those things of your white blood cells. Their ability to do their work, so to speak, is actually decreased by consuming sugar. So the more sugar you consume, the lower your immune system is.
Dr. Davidson: Then just another completely side note, hey, it’s November and most states it’s getting pretty cold so what do we do? We shut our doors. We shut our windows and we turn up that heat and if you have central heating, when you raise up the heat with central heating it lowers the humidity in your house which then dries out your mucous membranes which when your mucous membranes are dry, that actually–’cause your mucous membranes are supposed to protect you from the outside critters and bugs and viruses and bacteria. But when those mucous membranes are starting to get a little dried out, that actually increases your susceptibility or your kind of being able to get sick. That’s why people tend to get sick it’s because the humidity goes down. So if you can increase the humidity in your house with the humidifier, even here in Washington, it rains all the time but it gets cold. We close our doors and windows and turn up the heat and you can dramatically feel that dryness in the air on your skin, in your hair that goes for those mucous membranes. So some people get humidifiers; other people actually take like water-soluble lubricant and maybe line inside of their nostrils too so that when you’re out in a crowd with a bunch of people that are also going to be sick, it actually helps protect you from getting sick.
Dr. Maki: Yeah, right so every kind of wet surface in your body, your eyes, your nose, your mouth, the GI tract, the anus, the vagina, the urethra, all those little wet surfaces are basically exposed to the outside world. We have protection there that is supposed to prevent us from the viruses and the bacteria and the fungus and the mold and all the different things that are around us. All those things are around us all the time. It’s not like they’re here for different times of the year and they’re not. They’re always there and to be honest, our immune system does a very, very good job especially in the United States where we have such a good quality life. We have running water. We have sewage. We have garbage collection. We live in a very clean environment. So now, the things that happened in other countries where they don’t have those things, infectious diseases still really a big problem. In the United States, infectious disease should not be as big of a problem. Now, I know that it’s becoming a really hot topic these days across the country for a variety of different reasons. But what we’re trying to say is some strategies that you can use on your own to again, keep yourself well. So you can maybe at least minimize, maybe not, you’re not going to not get sick. Maybe that is still inevitable. You and I, even you and I, were supposedly the ones that are you know, have all the knowledge and information, you and I still get sick usually once a year. Once good cold–
Dr. Davidson: Yeah once a year, a tiny cold for about three days that still doesn’t slow you down but at the same time you just don’t want to keep running at the pace that you are. So if you just slow down a little bit, it goes away.
Dr. Maki: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, and they’re not, they’re inconvenient but for sure. I mean like I said you and I are busy. We have lots of things to do, we cannot really afford to get sick but in some ways, you can kind of reflect back and say, “Man, I was really busy and there is a lot going on then I got sick.” It’s like, of course. But you don’t really look at it or you don’t acknowledge it that way at the moment. It’s always kind after the fact but then our lives tend to be somewhat routine and habit and it recycles itself on an annual basis. Somewhere between the beginning of October and February, it ends up being this annual cycle for people. So in the next episode, we’re going into some more specifics. We’re going to give you some ideas, new trend herb-wise that we’ve seen with our own patients that actually work very well. So, Dr. Davidson, do you have anything else to add for this one?
Dr. Davidson: No. No. This was good.
Dr. Maki: Yeah. Yeah. So well, I guess, until next time, I’m Dr. Maki.
Dr. Davidson: I’m Dr. Davidson.
Dr. Maki: Take care. Bye.