Senior Viewpoint: Nutrition Essential to Fighting Infection, Dr. Conway McLean, DABFAS, FAPWHc, FAMIFAS

nutrition, infection prevention, senior health, U.P. holistic business, U.P. wellness publication

The attention devoted to sickness and health is omnipresent these days, and with good reason. The pandemic is filling the airwaves and prompting fear in the hearts of many. What we need is accurate information, smart practices. This is where the knowledge of the physician specializing in infectious disease, one who knows the immune system intimately, can be invaluable.

So what specifically is the immune system? It’s the part of the body devoted to fighting off invading micro-organisms that are a part of our world. The complexity and effectiveness of our immune system is nothing short of staggering.

What are the functions of the immune system? This system is critical for survival. Our immune system is constantly alert, monitoring for signs of an invading organism. The immune system functions to keep us free of infection, be it through the skin, a skin structure, or our intestinal lining. Cells of the immune system must be able to distinguish self from something else, i.e. “non-self.”

By now it is well-recognized the COVID-19 virus is more dangerous in the elderly.

A decline in immune function is consistently observed among older adults. Aging is also associated with increased inflammation in the absence of infection and has been found to predict infirmity. The result is seniors are more susceptible to infections and have more serious complications when they get one.

The term for this decline in immune function is immunosenescence. It reflects the deterioration of both components of the immune system—the acquired and the innate. The innate system is the ‘first responder’ to an alien invasion (of a microbe). The cells of the innate system act quickly, but are not specialized. The innate system is generally less effective than the adaptive immune response. The adaptive response is able to recognize a specific invading organism and remember it later, if exposed again.

Scientists specializing in the role of macronutrients, micronutrients, and the gut microbiome are convinced they all play a critical role in the functioning of our immune system. It turns out to be an incredibly complex system, with a multitude of factors and variables. Up until recently, we knew next to nothing about our gut bacteria and its complex interaction with our health and immunity. We do know one crucial part of gut health, not surprising, is our diet. But there are many ways to optimize the effectiveness of our immunity.

Your nutrition can affect the microbes residing in your guts, directly altering your immune response.

The  microbial community in the mammalian gut is a complex and dynamic system, crucial for the development and maturation of every facet of our immune response. The complex interaction between available nutrients, the microbiota, and the immune system seems to be the most important ‘player’ in the fight against invading pathogens.

What does it take to have a healthy immune system?

We know well many micronutrient deficiencies have been identified as contributors to declining immunity. It is believed these could provide opportunities for directed therapies for potentially restoring immune function, creating better health through improved nutrition.

nutrition, infection prevention, senior health, U.P. holistic business, U.P. wellness publication, health benefits of yogurt

Some proffered recommendations: eat yogurt for breakfast! Apparently, the probiotics strengthen the immune system, as revealed by a study on athletes and their colds and GI infections. Yogurt is also rich in vitamin D, which also boosts your immune system.

Vitamin C is well-recognized as an extremely important part of an effective immune system, and a deficit can make you more prone to getting sick. Because your body cannot store it, daily intake is essential for good health. Foods rich in vitamin C include oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, bell peppers, spinach, kale, and broccoli.

Vitamin B6 supports many of the reactions that are integral to immune function. Foods high in B6 include chicken and cold water fish (e.g. salmon and tuna), and green vegetables. Another important vitamin for fighting infection is E, which is a powerful antioxidant. Foods rich in vitamin E include nuts, seeds, and spinach.

nutrition, infection prevention, senior health, U.P. holistic business, U.P. wellness publication, benefits of tea for immune system

Some people think of tea as something consumed in the movies, yet studies reveal alkylamine, a naturally occurring chemical in tea, strengthens the immune system, again, helping it fight off infection more effectively. Honey has centuries of use because of its medicinal properties. Numerous reviews find honey, an antioxidant, acts as a natural immunity booster. So you might want to add it to your tea for both flavor and health benefits.

Another suggestion made by researchers is to eat more garlic, since it seems to stimulate many different cell types essential to the immune system. Ginger, another powerful antioxidant, has antiviral properties, probably a good idea these days. Consume more lemon. Lemon juice is high in vitamin C, and can be used for its antioxidant properties and to prevent the common cold.

nutrition, infection prevention, senior health, U.P. holistic business, U.P. wellness publication, health benefits of chicken soup

How about a bowl of chicken soup? Thought by some to simply be a comfort food, the dish has a mild anti-inflammatory effect. Ingredients in the classic recipe (chicken, garlic, onion, celery, etc.) have been found to slow the migration of white blood cells into the upper respiratory tract, helping to relieve the symptoms of a cold. Additionally, a compound found in chicken soup called carnosine seems to prevent colds. How about a nice bowl of curcumin? This is a component in the spice called turmeric. Studies have shown curcumin helps to regulate the immune system.

Zinc is known to be an important micronutrient for the immune system. Even a mild deficiency in zinc has been associated with widespread defects in the immune response. Look to fish, seeds, nuts, and broccoli as good food sources. Selenium is a trace element that also has critical functional, structural, and enzymatic roles. Inadequate selenium is associated with a higher risk for a variety of chronic diseases since it is critical to immune function. Foods containing higher levels of this mineral include spinach, lentils, eggs, and fish.

Some recommendations for immune health are related more to lifestyle modifications.

Make workouts a part of your weekly regimen since regular exercise increases the activity of immune cells. Exercise also seems to flush bacteria out of your lungs, reducing the likelihood of an airborne illness. Experts suggest moderate levels of intensity, performed 4 to 5 times a week for 30-40 minutes.

Staying hydrated is required for immune health. Water helps your body produce lymph, which carries white blood cells and other immune cells. Sun exposure is important (although difficult in certain climes) since it is the most efficient way to stock up on vitamin D, an immune system supercharger. Surprisingly little is needed, just 15 to 20 minutes a day, to get the recommended dosage.

Getting the flu shot can improve your immune profile, and has been approved for all adults. Smoking suppresses the immune system generally, so quitting helps lower the risk of infectious disease. Smoking also damages the lining of our “windpipes,” explaining why smokers are much more likely to catch a cold virus.

Because of their effectiveness, nutritional therapies should be getting prescribed in the typical medical practice, though this has been rarely and inconsistently recommended. This therapeutic approach should be utilized more consistently in those demonstrating poor immune function, as well as healthy populations.

Our understanding of the risk factors for immune system dysregulation is far from complete.

We can say definitively that adopting these and related strategies will optimize your chances of reducing or delaying the onset of immune-mediated acute and chronic diseases. In summary, I would say, you have a road map. Your course of action, a plan for better health, can now be laid. Perhaps it is time for positive changes in your routine, and thereby your health. Though giant steps are hard to take, small ones require only a step, and if taken in the right direction, lead to the larger changes you choose.

Dr. Conway McLean is a physician practicing foot and ankle medicine and surgery in the Upper Peninsula (Marquette and Escanaba). McLean is triple board certified in surgery, wound care, and orthotic therapy. He has lectured internationally on many topics. Dr. McLean welcomes questions at

Excerpted with permission from the Summer 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC.

Animal or Vegetable? Your Protein Source & Your Health, by Dr. Conway McLean, DABFAS, FAPWHc, FAMIFAS

nutrition, important of protein source, U.P. wellness publication, health and wellness in MI's Upper Peninsula, holistic businesses

“You are what you eat,” goes the old cliché. Is this simply an old wives’ tale or is there some truth to it? Critical to this discussion is that everything we eat gets broken down into its most basic components. This means the carbs in our food get reduced into their simplest form, which are simple sugars. Fats also get broken down, and then stored if the energy from fats is not needed.
It’s when the conversation turns to the subject of proteins that things can get heated. A contentious subject indeed—we aren’t certain about very much.

We do know protein consumption is vital to health as it helps to build new tissue and repair damaged structures. Protein exists throughout the body in everything from muscles and organs to bones and skin. But because your body doesn’t store protein, it’s important to get enough from your diet each day.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein.

Twenty-one have been identified. The body can manufacture ten, so those remaining eleven are termed the essential amino acids. In other words, it is essential these eleven are consumed in your diet. When the body digests proteins in food, they are broken down into amino acids, which are used for almost every metabolic process in the body. To further muddy the waters, different proteins vary greatly in the types of amino acids they contain.

You can get protein from many food sources, including both plants and animals. Animal protein sources, such as red meat, fish, poultry, and eggs, provide a good balance of all the amino acids we need, and are thus termed complete proteins. Plant protein sources, such as beans, lentils and nuts, are considered incomplete since they lack one or more of the amino acids we cannot manufacture. Although most plant proteins are incomplete, there are a few exceptions. Some experts claim soy protein is complete, although two essential amino acids are only found in very small amounts, so it isn’t comparable to animal protein, while quinoa and buckwheat are both complete sources of protein. It is important for vegetarians and vegans to mix their protein sources, thus ensuring they are getting all the essential amino acids.

None of the studies on the topic deny red meat contains many nutrients. A raw “quarter pounder” of beef contains a quarter of the recommended intake of niacin, vitamin B-3. Zinc is an essential mineral and is mainly found in animal protein sources. Said quarter pounder (raw) has about a third of the daily amount suggested. As is oft-quoted, red meat actually is high in iron, which is better absorbed than the plant-derived kind of iron. Many other nutrients are provided through the consumption of beef, including vitamin B-6, selenium, and various other vitamins and minerals. An oft-regarded benefit is the increased lean muscle mass linked with the consumption of animal protein. Some evidence indicates red meat reduces the muscle loss associated with aging.

Some of the reported hazards of beef consumption are the stuff of legend, and some are actually true.

Numerous studies have associated red meat consumption with heart disease, which remains the number one killer in the U.S. An increased risk of stroke also is clearly associated, as is kidney disease. Another association that doesn’t get the publicity of some previous mentions is gastro-intestinal problems. Lastly, to put it bluntly, red meat eaters seem to die younger, as evidenced by multiple studies.

Interestingly, most of the research finds a particular culprit in the form of processed meats. Should you not be aware, these are defined as meats that have been transformed in some fashion. Typically, this is achieved by salting, curing, or smoking meat to enhance the flavor or to preserve it longer. It would seem these processes are carcinogenic to people, and abundant evidence shows this. Some common types associated with processed meat include colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancers. It would seem that cooking red meat at higher temperatures is an additional factor contributing to an increased cancer risk.

Research over the years indicates calorie restriction, over time, is what determines longevity. But recent studies propose it is not just calories, but also the composition of one’s diet, especially in the amount and type of protein. These two seem to be the most critical factors in health and longevity. It would seem you are four times more likely to die from cancer or diabetes if you eat a diet high in proteins and are over fifty, although these effects were significantly reduced if it was a plant-based high-protein diet.

What about the subject of total protein requirements?

According to the principles of a ketogenic diet, protein should dominate your food intake. But convincing evidence exists that a high-protein diet is nearly as bad for your health as smoking, particularly if the proteins are derived from animals. What is a concerned consumer to do? Many claim protein consumption is the most important part of the diet. The textbooks say the average sedentary man should consume about 56 grams per day, 46 grams for a woman. For truly good health though, the evidence shows a diet low in processed meat, rich in plant protein, with animal sources like fish, poultry, eggs and dairy, is best.

However, it is also obvious many varied opinions exist on how much protein, and what kind, a human actually needs. A significant factor is how extraordinarily difficult it is to perform good nutritional studies encompassing a longer span of time. In the meantime, ill-informed consumers struggle with diet and nutrition, uncertain of what foods are necessary for health, and which food items are definitively disease-causing. The challenge of good nutrition and good health remains a complex puzzle many yearn to complete.

Dr. Conway McLean is a physician practicing foot and ankle medicine and surgery in the Upper Peninsula (Marquette and Escanaba). McLean is triple board certified in surgery, wound care, and orthotic therapy. He has lectured internationally on many topics. Dr. McLean welcomes questions at

Reprinted with permission from the Winter 2019-2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. All rights reserved.

“Nurturing through Nature, a Daily Practice,” with Kristen McPhee

Click here for Nutritionist & Herbalist Kristen McPhee’s presentation on the value of nutrition in preventing and helping to alleviate chronic illness shared at our “Myth-Busting & Self-Help Tips” forum last Saturday.

And while you’re there, subscribe to Health and Happiness’s Youtube Channel to stay in the loop for more great video presentations!

A Look At Folate-Rich Foods

Health & Happiness’s Spring 2013 article on Why Folate Matters, by Dr. Jessica Nagelkirk, is likely to provoke your interest in discovering how to make your diet folate-rich. The following chart is from the Natural Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements.

Table 2: Selected Food Sources of Folate and Folic Acid [7]
Food mcg DFE per serving Percent DV*
Beef liver, braised, 3 ounces 215 54
Spinach, boiled, ½ cup 131 33
Black-eyed peas (cowpeas), boiled, ½ cup 105 26
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 25% of the DV† 100 25
Rice, white, medium-grain, cooked, ½ cup† 90 23
Asparagus, boiled, 4 spears 89 22
Spaghetti, cooked, enriched, ½ cup† 83 21
Brussels sprouts, frozen, boiled, ½ cup 78 20
Lettuce, romaine, shredded, 1 cup 64 16
Avocado, raw, sliced, ½ cup 59 15
Spinach, raw, 1 cup 58 15
Broccoli, chopped, frozen, cooked, ½ cup 52 13
Green peas, frozen, boiled, ½ cup 47 12
Kidney beans, canned, ½ cup 46 12
Bread, white, 1 slice† 43 11
Peanuts, dry roasted, 1 ounce 41 10
Wheat germ, 2 tablespoons 40 10
Tomato juice, canned, ¾ cup 36 9
Crab, Dungeness, 3 ounces 36 9
Orange juice, ¾ cup 35 9
Turnip greens, frozen, boiled, ½ cup 32 8
Orange, fresh, 1 small 29 7
Papaya, raw, cubed, ½ cup 27 7
Banana, 1 medium 24 6
Yeast, baker’s, ¼  teaspoon 23 6
Egg, whole, hard-boiled, 1 large 22 6
Vegetarian baked beans, canned, ½ cup 15 4
Cantaloupe, raw, 1 wedge 14 4
Fish, halibut, cooked, 3 ounces 12 3
Milk, 1% fat, 1 cup 12 3
Ground beef, 85% lean, cooked, 3 ounces 7 2
Chicken breast, roasted, ½ breast 3 1

* DV = Daily Value. The FDA developed DVs to help consumers compare the nutrient contents of products within the context of a total diet. The DV for folate is 400 mcg for adults and children aged 4 and older. However, the FDA does not require food labels to list folate content unless a food has been fortified with this nutrient. Foods providing 20% or more of the DV are considered to be high sources of a nutrient.

† Fortified with folic acid as part of the folate fortification program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nutrient Database Web site [7] lists the nutrient content of many foods and provides a comprehensive list of foods containing folate/folic acid.

Why. . . Aesthetic Medicine?

by Jessica Nagelkirk

While they might have only been for movie stars in the past, today cosmetic surgery and anti-aging medicine are booming.  The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reports almost 9.5 million cosmetic procedures were done in 2010, costing consumers $10.7 billion. That’s not including the countless anti-aging products on the market, often referred to as “cosmeceuticals,” promoted as being more powerful than regular cosmetics.  We’re going to look at the motivation behind all of this spending, the physiology of aging, and some of the unexpected health benefits of aesthetic medicine.

Fine Lines & Wrinkles
Collagen is the main structural component of skin, acting as its glue and structural support. UV light is known to damage collagen, reducing the amount and causing the formation of microscopic contractions that appear as wrinkles. Oral and topical use of antioxidants can provide a good supply of nutrients to the skin that help protect collagen from damage.  Supplements that increase collagen production and reduce damage include:

– Vitamin C Orally:  1,000- 3,000 mg daily
– Vitamin C Topically:  Preliminary evidence shows that the product Cellex-C High Potency Serum reduces fine lines, wrinkles, and roughness, and improves tone.
– Exfoliation using sugar or salt scrubs that contain alpha-hydroxy acids
– Green Tea
– Glucosamine: Popular for arthritis due to its ability to help regenerate connective tissue.  In   skin, it re-generates collagen.
– Vitamin A Topically:  May cause irritation, so use with caution

It is commonly known that increasing intake of antioxidants has widespread benefit throughout many systems of the body and is much more than skin deep, reducing damage to tissue ranging from arteries to brain tissue.

Estrogens are noted to increase the thickness of the skin and promote hydration, creating supple, smooth skin.  A decline in estrogen during menopause is associated with the thinning of the skin, loss of moisture retention, and accelerated aging.  A side effect of hormone replacement therapy is often skin benefits, but there are many negative side effects to this therapy so it is seldom used for its skin benefits alone.  Topical estrogens and phytoestrogens (from plants), however, may have a role in cosmetic applications.  Rodiola, Panax, and Cimicifuga are the best herbs to consider for providing phytoestrogen support to the skin and entire endocrine system without the negative effects associated with estrogen therapy.

Laser therapy may be used to resurface the facial skin.  However, it can be used to kill only the most superficial living skin, which will then flake and shed like a sunburn, revealing younger, temporarily less wrinkled skin.  The results are not dramatic but are pleasing enough to a large number of people that the practice and specialty is growing.

Soft tissue fillers and injections are another cosmetic option.  The difficulty is that the skin does not usually leave such injected materials alone, and they are slowly broken down, so repeated injections are needed.  These treatments also come with some risks, like infection and tissue death.

Light & Heat Energy, (LHE), is a device that delivers gentle pulses of light and heat energy to activate the body’s natural healing ability.  For its wrinkle reduction benefits, it creates mild thermal damage to skin cells that triggers a wound-heal response and new collagen is produced.  This action occurs over a period of a few weeks to a few months, leading to improvement in skin texture and smoothing of fine lines.

The above therapies can be extremely expensive, usually costing well over $1,000 for a series of treatments, so maximizing the skin’s ability to maintain its new, younger appearance is a great motivator for a more healthy lifestyle, and it’s a great way to protect that investment!

Sun Spots
Sun spots have been shown to respond well to laser and light therapies like LHE.  These therapies use light and heat to damage the darker pigmented cells, causing them to die and be brought to the surface of the skin where they are sloughed off.

Topicallly, axelaic acid is noted to inhibit the synthesis of melanin and can be useful for hyperpigmentation disorders.

Spider Veins
Veins contain one-way valves that help encourage blood to flow back to your heart, against gravity.  Spider veins form when these valves stop working properly, allowing blood to pool and dilate the veins.  Spider veins, also known as varicose veins, are the most common vascular disease in the U.S., affecting up to 60% of adults.

One often successful treatment for small spider veins, sclerotherapy, involves injecting an agent into the vein that damages the lining enough to shut the vein down, directing blood to a deeper vein on its path back to the heart.  No anesthesia is required and it has been reported to achieve improvement in 80-90% of cases.  Deeper spider veins may require the use of lasers or surgery to remove the dilated vein.

Some natural therapies that can improve vascular stability include compression stockings, ranging from 18 mmHg to 50 mmHg;  horse chestnut tincture, applied externally;  1/2 tsp. daily of hawthorne solid extract; and regular intake of Vitamin C, flavonoids and antioxidants.  (Are you seeing a pattern here?)

General Skin Care
The basic anti-aging protocol is to cleanse, protect, and nourish your skin daily.  Wash your face with a natural, gentle cleanser twice daily.  You can mist your face with an herbal or green tea toner for topical antioxidants.  Apply almond, coconut, or jojoba (pronounced “ho-ho-ba”) oil topically in the morning.  Of these, jojoba is the most similar to natural facial oils.  Also apply a good sunscreen every day and use a makeup that contains sunscreen.  (See What is the Best Sun Protection for You in the Summer 2011 issue of Health & Happiness for ingredients to avoid, or go to  Before bed, wash your face and apply toner. Moisturizer is not recommended, as it decreases your body’s natural production of oil, which is important for protecting against wrinkles.

Consider following an anti-inflammatory diet, For more information see Dean Ornish’s book  The Spectrum, or Dr. Jessica Black, ND’s The Anti-Inflammation Diet and Recipe Book.  Eat five to seven servings of vegetables and fruit daily, focusing on brightly pigmented foods that provide antioxidants and flavonoids.  Sleep at least eight hours per night in a dark, cool room to maximize tissue repair, which happens during deep sleep.  Exercise regularly to improve blood flow and the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your tissues both inside and out.  Drink at least 64 ounces of water daily to support and improve your body’s ability to remove toxins.  Start each day with a full glass of water before breakfast and drink water throughout the day.  Cod liver oil provides omega 3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation and support healthy cell membranes.  Proper nutrition and self-care are critical adjuncts to aesthetic medicine.  Consult with your physician to formulate a plan that suits your individual needs.

When people feel good about how they look on the outside, they are often more motivated to take care of their bodies on the inside.  This is the reason that I, as a naturopathic student, have become an advocate for aesthetic medicine.  By taking care of the body on the inside, patients can make the expense and effort involved in these cosmetic procedures worthwhile.  That motivation for improved self-care through better nutrition, more exercise and adopting many other healthy activities, in addition to supporting a person aesthetically, decreases her chances of suffering debilitating medical conditions as she ages.  The connection between looking good and feeling good cannot be separated, and perhaps all the money spent on aesthetic products may not be as frivolous as some may think, due to the improved wellness associated with the healthier lifestyle it encourages.

 Jessica Nagelkirk, medical student at National College of Natural  Medicine in Portland, Oregon will graduate in the spring of 2012  as a Naturopathic Physician (ND).  View her blog at for more articles and resources about natural medicine.

Reprinted with permission from the Fall 2011 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine.