Immunity and gut health - Herbs, supplements and nutrition

I wrote this for a workshop I presented in 2015.  It is that time of year again, and with so many sniffles going around I thought I would post this for interest's sake. 

Stay well this winter... 


What factors affect the immune response?


The adrenal response

High levels of cortisol and other corticosteroids are released in association with chronic stress

  • When cortisol is released appropriately by the body it suppresses inflammation during a stress response
  •  Disordered cortisol release can cause cortisol resistance and actually INCREASE inflammatory responses
  • Chronic stress = chronic inflammation
  • Chronic stress also inhibits lymphocyte production = increased risk of infection and disease [1]

Gut health

  • 70% immune response begins in the gut – GALT (gut-associated lymphoid tissue – includes the tonsils and adenoids) is where the body responds to pathogens that digestive enzymes, digestive acids and intestinal flora hasn’t cleared effectively
  • The GALT stores T and B lymphocytes
  • How well your gut functions determines how effectively your immune system can respond to infection.  Chronic inflammation or tissue injury any where in the body can directly affect the severity of gastrointestinal disease symptoms (IBS, colitis, reflux and indigestion)
  • Healthy gut microbiota is necessary to inhibit bacterial, viral and parasitic infection as part of the first barrier of defence (innate immunity)
  • Changes in intestinal permeability have been demonstrated to produce inflammatory (immune) responses in animal models[3].  When the natural physical barriers of the gut lining were passed in rat models and bacteria was implanted directly into the gut lining it created a localised immune response (mast cell degranulation) and a systemic inflammatory response.

An aside:

A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled 2009 trial found that there was a direct and positive benefit from supplementing with Lactobacillus casei strain sharota in direct relationship to reducing anxiety and depression symptoms, compared to placebo[4].   This benefit was directly related to the good bacteria’s potential to positively influence mood-regulating systemic inflammatory cytokines.

Allergy and intolerance – food and environmental.

How does this affect you and your family?


  • Chronic pain and inflammation
  • Poor resilience to repeat infection
  • Long recovery from illness
  • Fatigue
  • Pain and inflammation (joints or tummy troubles)
  •  Food sensitivities
  •  Allergies and hay fever
  •  Psoriasis/eczema
  • Autoimmune disease


  • Constant cold and flu
  • Hay fever and allergy
  • Ear infection and grommets
  • Eczema
  • Environmental and food sensitivities

What can be done? 

1.          Identifying the drivers of lowered immunity that relate directly to YOU (as outlined above)

2.         Reducing or eliminate exposure

3.          Reducing inflammatory response

4.         Building gut function – the cup and the water

5.         Reducing stress response

Photo by Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media / Getty Images
Photo by Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media / Getty Images



 ·      Eliminating colours, preservatives, additives and flavours

·      Reducing refined sugar in the diet (sugar slows down phagocytic neutrophils)

·      Identifying intolerances and eliminating – Royal Prince Alfred Elimination Diet

 Food as medicine: Fruit and vegetables generally, but more specifically


  • Vitamin C foods: Citrus, kiwifruit, raw capsicum, raw tomato.
  • Zinc foods: Oysters, beef and lamb, wheat germ.
  • Mushrooms (reishi) Contain complex sugar compounds (polysaccharides) that stimulate T and B cells.
  • Turmeric: 1 tsp of turmeric in warm milk or milk substitute (rice or almond).  If using non-dairy milk add ½ tsp of coconut oil as the anti-inflammatory actions of turmeric work better in the presence of a fatty acid chain (there is enough fat in milk).
  • Green foods: spinach, kale, barley grass, wheat grass, and spirulina.
  • Antioxidant-rich: Cooked tomatoes (lycopene), brazil nuts (selenium), blueberries (anthocyanidins), green tea (polyphenols), broccoli (glucosinolates).

 AND reduce the foods that cause inflammation

  • Caffeine
  • Sugar
  • Refined and processed foods



Shitake mushroom and ginger stew


1 handful of dried shitake mushroom + boiling water to cover (let soak for 30 mins)

2 cups of mixed vegetable (carrot, sweet potato, celery, turnip, pumpkin etc.), diced

1 brown onion finely chopped

1 thumb of ginger finely grated

2 litres water

½ cup whole barley well rinsed

2 tbsp raw miso paste

In a slow cooker add diced mixed vegetables, onion, ginger and water.  When shitake mushroom are tender slice into thin slivers and add to slow cooker with the reserved soaking water.  Add water and barley and cook on low for six hours or high for four hours with lid on.  At the end of the cooking time take off the heat and stir through raw miso paste and serve. 

Note: You can add soup bones to the slow cooker when you add the vegetables in order to provide nutrient dense protein and gelatine. 



[1]     McCance, K. L. & Huether, S. E.  2006.  Pathophysiology.  The biologic basis for disease in adults and children.  P 175-203, p. 672-675

[2]    Ricciotti, E., Fitzgerald, G.A.  2011.  Prostaglandins and inflammation.  Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol.  2011 May; 31(5): 986-1000. doi:10.1161/ATVBAHA.110.207449

[3]     Arrieta, M. C., Bistritz, L., & Meddings, J. B. 2006.  Alterations in intestinal permeability.  Gut 2006; 55:1512-1520. Doi10.1136/gut.2005.085373

[4]    Alexander, J. S., Ganta, V. C., Jordan, P. A., Witte, M. H. 2009.  Gastrointestinal lymphatics in health and disease.  Journal of Orthopaedic Science. doi: