The Top 3 Things Crippling Your Immune System

Do you struggle with chronic fatigue? Have you been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder? Do you have sluggish or poor digestion? Did you know all of these can be related to how well your immune system is functioning? Find out the top three things that may be crippling your immune system with Dr. Nicole and Brooke!


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Brooke Scheller:
Hey there, this is Brooke Scheller, the functional medicine nutritionist at Integrative Wellness Group, and I am here with Dr. Nicole. Today we're going to be talking to you about the top three things that are crippling your immune system.

I know a lot of people probably think of the immune system generally based off of how often they get sick. They might think, "I don't really get sick, I've got a great immune system," or maybe they get a couple colds per year or some sinus infections, but those things are a little more superficial than the things that we're going to be talking about today. We're going to be talking about some things that might be going on at a deeper level that could be contributing to symptoms affecting your immune system.

Dr. Nicole, why don't you go into discussing overall the immune system, and then we'll get into those top three things.

Nicole Rivera:
Yeah, definitely. I like what you mentioned with, we base a lot of times things off of how often we get sick, and we think if we don't get sick every year then we have a really strong immune system, but we don't realize there are so many other manifestations. It's everything from canker sores to different types of cold sores. Also how well our body is healing, if we're getting a bruise or we're getting an abrasion or a cut, and if that's healing fast or it's healing really slow. All of those different things are indicators for our immune system, so it's important to gauge other things going on opposed to just thinking, "Okay, I haven't gotten the common cold or the flu." There's a lot of other ways that our immune system does work.

Unfortunately I think nowadays one of the things that we're hearing about most often is different types of autoimmune conditions. These autoimmune conditions don't really set in until our immune systems are so overly taxed out and burdened. For those of you that don't understand what an autoimmune condition is, it means when the immune system is actually attacking specific tissue in your body. Your immune system is attacking a different part of your body. Sometimes it's the thyroid, sometimes it's the pancreas, sometimes it's your joints, sometimes it's your connective tissue, sometimes it's even the brain. All these different conditions have different names, but they all have a very similar origin, and that's really what we're talking about today is the top three things that are going to affect your immune system at a very high level.

Brooke Scheller:
Great. What would you say is the first thing that you would think of if somebody is coming in to you with a compromised immune system?

Nicole Rivera:
The first thing that I would definitely want to evaluate for them is if there is any type of toxicity. There are so many different types of toxicity out there. Heavy metals is a big one, so things like mercury, aluminum, arsenic, barium, cadmium. The list goes on. There's quite a few of these heavy metals. Some of you might be thinking, "Why would I have any of those in my body?" I hear that question quite often as, "Why would I have those things?" Then when we do do the testing and it does come up that there are some heavy metals present, usually it's completely that dumbfounded face saying, "Where did these come from?"

Brooke Scheller:
I think a lot of people think that you have to be working in some type of industry or having some type of work exposure, people who are working in factories or things like that, but we're getting them on a day to day basis.

Nicole Rivera:
Yeah, and those are contributing factors. If you are working in an industrial area, if you're a car mechanic, if you work in some type of factory that's producing anything from plastics to cleaners, yes, you're definitely getting exposed to more chemicals than the average person, but it is even based off of where you live. If you live in a very industrial area, you live in a city, you're definitely getting exposed to more toxins than the average person. If you're a big-time fish eater there's a lot of mercury in fish, but honestly just for the everyday person that's maybe not relating to those past scenarios, if you're someone using antiperspirant you're getting aluminum on a day-to-day basis through your antiperspirant. Not deodorant; specifically antiperspirant.

It's something to understand that these are things that are all around us, and despite the heavy metals you also are getting exposed to other types of chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, different types of chemicals that are in the plastics, because plastic water bottles are such a big thing. There's chemicals all around us, and it could be overwhelming to start thinking, "Oh my gosh, what am I getting exposed to?" You have to kind of know where your body is at, and that's why the testing is so useful. I always tell people, "You don't know what you don't know."

I found it really surprising when I did my own testing. I classified myself as a pescatarian for a long time, I would say about ten years, so I really just ate fish. I had a ton of mercury in my system. I also had a ton of copper in my system, which is technically a mineral. We need it, we need copper, it's very, very important for our brain function and very important for our immune system, but if your copper is too high it becomes toxic, and that was actually based off of where I grew up.

I grew up in Newark, and I didn't know, but there's a really useful site called Once I found out about that site I typed in my zip code of where I grew up, and it turned out the factory that was next door to the apartment building actually produced tons of copper as a byproduct of some of the products they were making, and that was leeching into the air and was also getting into the water. At that time, didn't really know any better, drank tap water, and got exposed to a ton of copper in addition to the mercury as well.

Brooke Scheller:
I think it's important that you mentioned that you could really drive yourself crazy if you're starting to think, "Oh my gosh, there's chemicals in this and chemicals in that." The air that we breathe just in general has chemicals in it. It's not about completely taking yourself out of everything, it's about the simple ways that you can go in and say, "Okay, I'm going to stop using antiperspirant, I'm going to switch to a more natural deodorant. Maybe I can get some type of water filter to help filter out some of those chemicals from my water."

Obviously it would be perfect if we could all put ourselves in a bubble and not let any of that stuff get in, but taking into account where you're living, what types of things you're putting on your skin, putting into your body, because those can absolutely have an effect on the immune system.

Nicole Rivera:
Yeah. I definitely agree, and I think using something like even the and looking at where you're living and looking at what is present. Where are you rated amongst the other areas in the United States? Is there a lot of things in the water of where you're living? If that's the case, get a water purification system and you kind of cover your bases. If you're living in a place maybe the air quality is really bad, make sure you can get some filters in your house that can purify the air. There's things called HEPA filters.

We'll make sure to, obviously, give you some of our references attached to this podcast, but you can't overwhelm yourself. You have to start somewhere, and having the testing, doing a hair analysis or a urine challenge, you'll know what's in your body and how you can help your body to get rid of it, but then evaluating where you're living and knowing what are the top things you want to implement. That could be water, it could be a shower filter, it also could be air purification in your home.

Brooke Scheller:
Speaking about the home, let's talk about number two, which is mold exposure. Something that is really important to note is that it doesn't necessarily mean that you're being exposed currently. It could be a past exposure. I think most importantly, it isn't necessarily something that you would see growing on the walls. Why don't you elaborate a little bit more on the mold topic?

Nicole Rivera:
Yeah, those are really, really important disclaimers to make. Mold is something that we hear about, and we know that if we see black mold we have to come and get it remediated, but it's not very well publicized the effects that mold can have on our systems. Again, like you said Brooke, you're not always going to see it. It definitely can be hidden.

The more and more that we have learned about mold, we do have another podcast that we interviewed a gentleman who is kind of the pioneer in that field, and he's someone who goes into people's homes and evaluates them from top to bottom and is finally able to find out why some of these people are so sick. It's because of these hidden types of mold that are in either the dust, they're in interstitial spaces, they're in their heating and air conditioning units. If you are not feeling well and you are someone who is not getting a lot of answers from conventional medicine and you're feeling really stuffy and congested in your home, and just feeling not well with very odd symptoms, you really want to get your home looked at for mold, because again, you're not always going to see it.

Brooke Scheller:
I'm glad, real quick I'm just going to mention, that you talked about some of the sinus congestion, because that can definitely be correlated with mold. I think that's what most of us associate with it is some type of sinus manifestation, but it can manifest in a lot of different ways too. I know you were going to talk about that also.

Nicole Rivera:
Yeah. Some of the other ways that mold can affect you in a negative way is you might find that you have frequent urination. Not everybody has frequent urination, but either you have the frequent urination or you are losing tons of your electrolytes when you're urinating. You either feel dehydrated because you're urinating a ton, or you feel dehydrated because when you're urinating you're urinating out all of your electrolytes. Those are people that just don't really feel hydrated no matter how much they drink. They also feel thirsty a decent amount of the time.

Another thing is low energy, because the primary organ which is part of the brain that mold affects is the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is actually in charge of affecting your adrenals to work properly, and your adrenals make your energy. You actually start to notice your energy levels go down. You might also have some brain fog, but another big one is hormone imbalance.

I find most of the time that women have different types of imbalances with their testosterone and estrogen levels. They might have polycystic ovarian syndrome, they might have hair growth on the face or on the chin, they might have hypothyroid, a low-functioning thyroid. Then with men I often find that they might have low testosterone, low libido, erectile dysfunction. They also have estrogen imbalances, so they might be putting on weight, they might actually have more tissue in their pecs, so literally looking like almost what they call "man boobs", but it's really because the estrogen is producing more tissue in that area.

There is a huge, huge hormonal component to being affected by mold, and this is really important because if you're someone who's been struggling with your hormones for a really long time and you've gone through bioidentical hormone therapy or you've gone through hormone replacement therapy or you've gone the natural route and you've taken adrenal supplements and you've taken hormone supplements and it's not working, you might have to dive deeper into, "Is my body holding on to mold because of current exposure or past exposure? Is that one of the root cause of why I'm dealing with this?"

Brooke Scheller:
Why don't we elaborate a little bit more on some of the immune-suppressing factors of the mold as well.

Nicole Rivera:
With mold, I do find that it has such a large impact on the immune system. Just so those of you understand, we're not really testing to see if you have mold antibodies in your body. We're not looking to say, "Okay, do you have trichothecenes? Do you have [alpha toxins 00:13:41]?" We're not measuring that. I know there are some physicians that measure that. We're actually looking at some other levels, which we can provide as a resource, that are going to look at the impact that the mold would make on the body.

First of all, mold gives of biotoxins. The biotoxins are primarily within the body. The biotoxins actually will live in the bile that is produced by our liver and gallbladder. Interesting enough, guess what mold loves to attach to? Mercury. If you are someone who has mercury that showed up, say, in your hair analysis and you've gone through a period of time of trying to get it out, maybe you've done chelation, maybe you've done different types of supplements, and it's not leaving, it's just not getting out of your body properly, it could be because you haven't addressed the fact that you've been exposed to mold in the past and biotoxins are still in your bile.

You might start to see this person has liver issues. They might have their antibodies for their liver elevated, they might have high cholesterol, they might have gall stones. Those are very, very common. I'm not saying all people that have those have a mold issue, but they are very correlated. Then the biotoxins being in the body for a long period of time really starts to decrease the white blood cell count. It starts to cause a major imbalance in the immune system, and that imbalance over the long term leads to a mis-signalling in your immune system which can lead to autoimmunity. Obviously the pathways are more complicated than that, but just for sake of being simple, there is a big correlation with someone developing one autoimmune condition, two, three autoimmune conditions, there definitely can be mold in the picture because it impacts the immune system in such a negative way.

Brooke Scheller:
On the decreasing the function of the immune system with the mold, that places you then at greater risk for viruses and infections and things like that as well, correct?

Nicole Rivera:
Yeah. I'm glad that you said that, because yes. I think that we are more likely to get tested for viruses when we go to our traditional medical doctor, DO, whoever we're seeing as our primary. We might be getting tested for things like HHV-6, we might be getting tested for herpes simplex 1, we might be getting tested for Epstein-Barr virus, which is what we call mono. These are things that people get tested for, especially if they're experiencing fatigue or they're getting cold sores, et cetera. If you are somebody who is positive for the herpes simplex 1 and Epstein-Barr and maybe mycoplasma, which is what we call walking pneumonia, all of those viruses are in the body because of a debilitated immune system. Then it's a matter of taking a step further and saying, "Do I have heavy metals? Do I have mold exposure?" Then the last one we're getting to is talking about the gut.

Brooke Scheller:
I think you did want to mention, we always bring the gut into it because the gut has such a big correlation with the body and how the systems all function together. Tell us more about some different things in the gut that can affect the immune system as well.

Nicole Rivera:
Yeah. A big portion of our immune system resides in our gut, and that's why we have probiotics. I know that there's a big rave about probiotics, and probiotics to help us digest better, but really probiotics are a defense mechanism against infections. If you have a sufficient amount of probiotics, which is good bacteria, then it'll protect you against bad. That is something that will boost our immune system and allow us to function and obviously not get various infections in the body. Unfortunately in this day and age, we have a lot of things working against us in the realm of gut infections. The primary gut infections that we develop is going to be parasites, bad bacteria overgrowth, as well as yeast overgrowth.

Brooke Scheller:
Let's start with parasites, because I think this is something that is almost commonly spoken about. We think of parasites if you're traveling abroad or parasites being associated with diarrhea, traveler's diarrhea, things like that. I think in our practice we see a lot of stool analysis, and we don't very often see a lot of parasites in the stool analysis. Every once in a while we do, but tell us more about what can happen if there are parasites present.

Nicole Rivera:
Funny story, I was just out to dinner with a friend of mine, and we were talking about parasites because this is what happens now when I go out with my friends; they like to pick my brain about their health. She was saying, "How would people get parasites?" I go, "Well, exactly what we just ate," because we actually had some raw bar, so yes, I am human and I do eat raw bar sometimes, but I do make sure that obviously I take my anti-parasitic supplements afterwards. It could be as simple as that, eating things that are raw.

Sushi is huge nowadays, and I know that sushi is a healthy alternative when we go out to eat, but you have to be careful with the quality. You really need to make sure you are going to a reputable place. If you're going to Buffet Sushi or if you're going to Buy One Get One Free Sushi, not very reputable. I would really be careful with that. The same thing with those really cheap seafood places, especially the franchises. You really want to be careful with consuming anything raw from those places.

It could be as simple as that. It doesn't mean you're going to get sick. Some people that get really severe parasite infections like giardia and cryptosporidium, you'll be sick from that. You'll have pretty severe diarrhea. The thing is, if you have that it'll pass. You're not going to have diarrhea for a month, but if you have it for a couple days eventually you'll start to feel better and the symptoms will pass. It doesn't mean the parasite is gone. If you are somebody who maybe had that type of attack in the past and you've had diarrhea, traveler's diarrhea, whatever it was, and you still feel off, get checked.

Where the plot thickens, I guess you could say, is that parasitology testing is kind of ridiculous with the methods that we use. The reason being is because twenty minutes after having a bowel movement, any type of parasite will [autolyse 00:20:41], meaning it self-destructs. By the time you have your bowel movement, you collect the sample, and you send it into the lab, chances are there's no more parasite and they're not going to be able to detect it in order to diagnose you. If you have a crazy overabundance of parasites, then they might be able to see it, but typically the best way to know if you have parasites is actually treating it with anti-parasite supplements and then doing the test six weeks later.

You don't obviously want to do that blindly. One of the methods that we use in-office is called autonomic response testing. We actually will have patients hold certain vials of parasites and then we muscle test them to see if it is a possibility. Obviously we use their history to go in conjunction with that, and one of the things that is very common is that someone who has longstanding yeast, so if you've ever heard of candida and you know that you've had it or you have all the symptoms and it's something that you've had and it doesn't go away or it keeps coming back, you might also have parasites, and that's why you can't fully get rid of the candida.

It is really important to consider the possibility of parasites. I think with our food industry and how poorly the animals are treated and the poor conditions, we might be getting parasites more often than we realize through fish and other animal products.

Brooke Scheller:
Another interesting thing, and I was doing some reading on this recently, is we can pick up eggs from anywhere. If somebody has parasites, they go to the bathroom, they don't wash their hands, they touch a door handle, not that I want you to be crazy in thinking about this all the time, but hygiene is obviously important. Another thing interesting is if you have pets and you let your pets lick your face, if your pets have the eggs in their saliva from licking themselves, they could potentially pass that to you as well. It's not necessarily something that you would have to be eating sushi to obtain either. Just to keep in mind as it could be a possibility really for anybody.

Nicole Rivera:
Yeah. I found it so interesting when we bought our water purification system and one of the things on the purification system was, "Removes chlorine, ammonia," and it said parasites. This was quite a few years ago, but I remember thinking, "Oh my gosh, there's parasites in the water." It makes sense, of course, but you think with the different measures taken to clean the water that parasites wouldn't potentially be reaching our tap water, but there is a strong possibility that that could be happening as well.

Brooke Scheller:

Nicole Rivera:
Again, we're not trying to freak everybody out, but if you are somebody experiencing gastrointestinal issues, you really want to get checked. If you do have them, you can do a simple supplement protocol and get rid of them and then be able to move on from there.

Brooke Scheller:
All right. Moving away from parasites, let's talk about bad bacterial overgrowth. I say "bad" with quotes because we did mention the probiotics, so the "bad" are kind of the ...

Nicole Rivera:
Yeah, probiotics are good bacteria, and then of course we have bad bacteria that we can get exposed to, but the primary reason why we have the good bacteria in the first place is yes, it helps our immune system, but it also is supposed to protect us against bad bacteria. Unfortunately, because antibiotics are used so often in our medical system, the antibiotics are wiping out all of our probiotics. The antibiotics overuse, in addition to eating conventional meat and chicken that are pumped full of antibiotics, we could be getting antibiotics from various angles. Depleting all of our good bacteria really opens us up to getting bad bacterial infections.

Another component of that is if you are somebody dealing with indigestion or heart burn and you take a lot of Tums, Prilosec, Prevacid, Nexium, whatever it is, you're also shutting down your stomach acid. Stomach acid is our first line of defense against bad bacteria, so if you have low stomach acid, chances are you could be opening yourself up to potential infections as well.

Brooke Scheller:
Finally yeast, because bacteria and yeast, I feel like we could almost couple together even though they are two different things. How's that going to affect the immune system?

Nicole Rivera:
With yeast, yeast is something that I would say 90% of my clients are dealing with some level of yeast overgrowth. Really what it comes down to is everybody has a little bit of yeast, but if we feed it with carbs and sugar, then we will cause it to overgrow and that will create a whole cascade of issues. Sugar and carbs, this doesn't mean you have a sweet tooth. A lot of people are, "I don't eat dessert," but maybe you like pasta, maybe you like bread. Unfortunately there's sugar in everything that we eat nowadays, everything we drink, so sugar is definitely a problem and it's something that will definitely cause this yeast overgrowth.

Like I said, parasites and yeast sometimes do live together, so if you are someone who maybe has really bad sugar cravings, maybe you've had chronic yeast infections, maybe you have fungal overgrowth in your nails or maybe you have athlete's foot or you have really bad sinuses, those are all indicators of yeast. It's something to definitely consider, because yeast is unfortunately very common, but it is something that really, really triggers the immune system and it is a big culprit of inflammation. Inflammation, you have to think about feeling achy, puffy, also having headaches, and also not being able to lose weight. I think that is things that we hear on a daily basis from our clients. Inflammation is such a big problem nowadays, and it definitely can be due to these different infections that we have in our gut, yeast being a very big one.

Just to sum up some of the things that we talked about today, if you are someone who your immune system is not functioning optimally or you have been diagnosed with various viruses from blood work that you've done, you really do want to consider finding the root cause of why your immune system is dysfunctioning, because you really don't want to let it go untreated so that potentially down the line you do develop an autoimmune condition. Once the immune system is in that autoimmune realm, it is going to be a lot harder to fix and control. Unfortunately once you have one autoimmune condition, typically others will follow.

It's a matter of figuring out what could potentially be going on in your body. I always tell people, "You don't know what you don't know." The testing is what gives us the clarity, and it's empowering, it's not scary. I think that that's one thing I really want to say; this is not to sound intimidating or to instill fear, because once you know what your body needs, you know what you need to eat, you know what supplements are appropriate for you, and you know if you're going to "cheat", it's like, "Okay, this is what I have leeway with, and these are things that I really should stay away from because these are really not going to be good for my body."

You're not going to be able to be perfect all the time, but you kind of know what's really good for your body, and what are things that you really should try to stay away from, and then where are all the things in the middle that you can do in moderation. The testing is key for that, and then just being able to get your immune system up and functioning, and obviously preventing anything more serious down the line.

Brooke Scheller:
I would say a really good place to start too is really becoming aware of your body and how you're feeling. I think a lot of us kind of go through life of day-to-day everything's kind of the same, but starting to recognize if you eat certain foods, if you eat sugar, "Wow, the next day I'm really having brain fog," or, "I can't focus,"-

Nicole Rivera:
"I'm bloated."

Brooke Scheller:
"I'm tired," or, "I'm bloated." That can give some indicators of, "Okay, well maybe it is my gut," or, "Maybe it is my immune system. Maybe there's mold in the house." Just paying attention and really knowing more about your body.

Nicole Rivera:
I really love that you said that, because so many people around us don't feel good, and we kind of just deem our symptoms to be normal because everybody's tired, and everybody can't lose weight, and everybody feels hormonally off.

Brooke Scheller:
We blame it on aging.

Nicole Rivera:
Yeah, but honestly when we go to doctors a lot of times they say, "Well, you're getting older, so it is what it is," but I shouldn't be seeing people that are forty years old that they're going into menopause. There's a fine line when you have to start asking questions. Don't necessarily base how you're feeling and say that it's normal because other people around you are saying, "Oh, well I'm tired too, and I get headaches every day," because that's their norm. Unfortunately because of our food industry not being the best and how many different chemicals we're surrounded by, I feel like our systems are just not optimal. You deserve to feel good, you deserve to know what your body needs, and it's all possible. I think that's a really important thing to finish with is, it is possible for you to wake up feeling awesome every day.

Brooke Scheller:
Yeah. Thank you so much for listening. We really hope that you enjoyed some of this information. We would love it if you could go on and subscribe to our podcast. Also feel free to rate or review if you like us, and we look forward to talking to you soon.