The immune system is a vast network of cells, proteins, organs and vessels situated throughout your body to protect you from pathogens and organisms compromise the immune system. Each part of this system works with the others to act as barriers, such as specialized cells that can neutralize toxins, cells that activate proteins to kill bacteria or even some that tag a toxin for destruction by a killer cell, or T Cell.
Sometimes the immune system becomes compromised due to autoimmune disorders, genetic abnormalities or even stress. For this reason, it is important to take care of ourselves with a wholesome diet and exercise, both of which naturally support a healthy immune system. During times of stress, we can add more support with extra nutrition like vitamin C, zinc or herbs like elderberry. And the more support we give, the better is can function.
Your Two Immune Systems
The immune system is divided into two main types of immune responses; the innate immune response (or system), and the adaptive immune response (or system). Ideally, both of these systems work together to protect your body and keep you healthy.
- The innate immune system consists of nonspecific defense mechanisms that jump into play when antigens invade your body. Sometimes known as barriers to disease, certain parts of this immune system include skin, blood chemicals and cells that are specific to the immune system. These are responsible for limiting the spread of bacteria, viruses, parasites and other antigens as they travel through your body. We are born with this natural immunity and it is the first line of defense.
- The adaptive immune system is another response system that defends you against pathogens. As the name implies, it is adaptive. When certain bacteria or other antigens invade, it can create more immunity to the specific invader and ensure its destruction if infected again.
This immune system consists of specialized cells and processes that can neutralize, eliminate or prevent the growth of antigens that can harm your health. It is also known as the acquired immune system because it adapts to changes in the environment to protect your body from future challenges. This helps defend you against recurrent weakened immune states, leading to long-lasting and stronger defense.
What Inhibits Immunity
Stress can have an impact and weaken our immunity in a couple of ways. It may lead to unhealthy coping strategies, like poor food choices and drinking alcohol, which can leave us more susceptible to sickness. It can also increase stress hormones like cortisol, which also may contribute to suppressing the immune system. Stress can also contribute to internal inflammation and other changes in the body, which also suppress the immune system.
Poor diet can also affect the immune system. Consuming too much processed meat, saturated fats and sugar all play a roll in how well we respond to pathogens that can lead to illness. Too much of the above foods can lead to a state of internal inflammation, which is linked to several health issues. In addition, certain substances in excess, like sugar or unhealthy fats, may also suppress the immune system. At the same time, these types of foods do not contribute nutrients that support health.
Medications like TNF inhibitors and corticosteroids may increase the chance of contracting a fungal infection as they suppress the immune system. These should be used only under the supervision of a qualified healthcare professional.
Alcohol has a direct impact on the microbiome of your digestive tract and disrupting it can lead to digestive issues. In fact, alcohol consumption can disrupt the barrier and allow excess bacteria to cross into your bloodstream, leaving you more susceptible to illness. Avoiding excess alcohol is key during times of heightened immune stress to ensure your body is able to protect itself from outside attack.
How to Boost Your Immune System, Naturally
Direct evidence or research about how to naturally boost the immune system is difficult to find. This is because the immune system is just that; a system that includes a lot of parts from many types of cells and organs. To understand how any component would affect the immune system would require a study of how the component works with each cell and organ of the immune system as well as the lymph vessels that are also part of this vast system. Because of this, any approach to strengthening the immune system should be a holistic one to ensure your entire being is healthy.
Getting a proper night’s sleep allows your body to rejuvenate and restore all of your bodily systems, including the immune system. Not getting enough sleep may suppress your immunity and leave you more susceptible. A sufficient night’s rest is imperative so your body can make the proteins your body needs to fight invaders, heal and restore full function to any areas that may be weakened.
Protecting your health is just as important as boosting your immunity. Seemingly little things like washing your hands with soap and water throughout the day, or avoiding close contact with those who may be ill play big roles in keeping you healthy. And if you do have to work in close quarters with others, wash your hands more frequently and wipe down keyboards or other workplace machinery you share with others.
There are no particular foods that are linked to boosting immunity, but we do know [studies show] that certain vitamins do help by supporting your immune system. Vitamin C, for example, is widely acknowledge as a potent antioxidant that may contribute to immune defense support. We do know that deficiencies are linked to an increased susceptibility immune compromise, so getting your daily dose is important. (2)
Avoid junk foods like the plague, for these can use up your storage of nutrients as your body attempts to digest these highly processed foods. This means your body is left depleted and more susceptible to illness or infections.
The best diet to support your immune system should include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Fresh produce provides an abundance of phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals that help support your body and maintain a healthy immune system. We know that vitamins and minerals are catalysts that can help our bodies stay strong, but phytonutrients also help as they can aid in the creation of healthy cells to replace sick or damaged ones.
Exercise aids in overall health by keeping your body weight in control and ensuring your muscles remain strong. But it also helps by increasing circulation and oxygen supply to the blood stream. This means your body is more able to carry out waste, that can weaken the body. At the same time, better circulation increases the ability to move oxygen and nutrients to all areas of your body, including the organs that are involved with a healthy immune system.
Stress is known to wreak havoc on the body in a number of ways, including curbing immunity. Using techniques like yoga or biofeedback can help get stress under control. Taking care of your body with healthy food, proper rest and exercise also help lower stress levels, so you remain stronger to tackle the daily battle of the germs.
Supplement Your Nutrition
As lifestyles have become increasingly busy, many people don’t find time to eat a healthy diet the way they’d like to. In this case, certain supplements might help fill the nutritional gap. Here are just some that might help.
Zinc is a mineral that is found naturally throughout the body. It can also be found in many foods such as oysters, crab, some poultry and red meats and certain dairy products. Some people have a difficult time getting enough zinc, including vegetarians, those with digestive issues and those who consume too much alcohol.
A deficiency of this mineral is known to slow growth in adolescents or can lead to hair loss or wound healing issues. At the same time, there are some studies that show it may reduce symptoms of the common cold if taken in an appropriate amount of time. For this reason, many home remedies include zinc supplementation.
Elderberries are a fruit from the Sambucus tree and have long been used by native people as a remedy for sickness. Believed to fight colds and flus, it has been used in juices and tinctures, along with other herbs or vitamins, and as a home remedy to support one’s health during times of stress.
Some small studies show that lozenges containing elderberry seemed to help improve the bodies responses to cellular attack. (3) Elderberries do contain nutrients like vitamins C, A and even potassium and folate and so contribute to overall health.
Supplements like elderberry contain natural substances called flavonoids. These substances play a role in reducing inflammation and the supporting the immune system. Some people believe they help with other types of immune attacks as well. Most companies boost this herb with zinc and vitamin C to provide all around protection and immune support. And supplementing with herbs and nutrients can fill in the nutrition gap for people on the go or those who have less than adequate diets.
While easy to consume vitamin C through certain fruits, it is also easy to miss if you are too busy. At the same time, stress can deplete our nutrient preserve, so taking supplements may be a way to support our health during times of heightened immune distress.
For this reason, many people take a vitamin C supplement to ensure they get what they need. Some studies do show that having adequate levels of this vitamin can help optimize cell function and play a role in supporting the immune system. Along with helping you stay healthy, this vitamin can promote healthy skin and protect your cells from oxidative stress.
Boosting your immune system requires a holistic approach that anyone can easily incorporate into their lifestyles. Being proactive in your health can help you avoid the downtime and may even help you avoid the emergency room.
Daily practices like a healthy diet, proper rest, and exercise all work together to ensure you remain healthy and do your best to support your immune system. And when life gets stressed or too busy, using supplementation can provide extra support.
1 Medications that Weaken Your Immune System and Fungal Infections. (2017, January 25). Retrieved January 21, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/infections/immune-system.html
2 Maggini S., Wintergerst E.S., Beveridge S., Hornig D.H. Selected vitamins and trace elements support immune function by strengthening epithelial barriers and cellular and humoral immune responses. Br. J. Nutr. 2007;98:S29–S35. doi: 10.1017/S0007114507832971
3 Zakay-Rones, Z., et al. “Randomized Study of the Efficacy and Safety of Oral Elderberry Extract in the Treatment of Influenza A and B Virus Infections.” Journal of International Medical Research, Apr. 2004, pp. 132–140, doi:10.1177/147323000403200205.