Our Immune systems play a vital role. While this is true all year round, we tend to pay more attention to it during the winter months.
In this article, we are going to look at your immunity and how you can strengthen it.
What is the immune system?
The immune system is simply what protects the human body from infections and abnormalities. It is powerful and works behind the scenes to keep us healthy. Without a healthy one in place, you are a lot more likely to pick up infections that could be much worse in terms of duration and severity. And in some cases, fatal.
So how does immunity work? There are two types of immunity that protect us, these are non-specific immunity and specific immunity.
Non-Specific immunity occurs when the immune system fights off different types of bacteria’s, viruses, and pathogens. This could be the first line of defence such as your skin or when you get a fever – the body naturally heats up to kill the bug.
Specific immunity on the other hand, is where your white blood cells attack specific antigens (antigens are the proteins on pathogens) that invade your body through ingestion or inhalation. This is the third line of defence.
What Makes up the Immune System?
There are several parts to your immune system. In a nutshell, they can be broken down as follows:
The skin is an important part of the immune system because it’s the first line of defence when it comes to fighting infection.
The skin works in the same way that a brick wall would, stopping anything getting through. Tears and saliva offer further protection as they’re anti-bacterial so it can neutralise any invaders.
Mucus is integral to the immune system because it acts as a barrier which can help prevent anything harmful entering the body; it’s catches it before it can cause damage.
Moist areas such as the nose, sinuses and lungs are lined with cilia cells that pass mucus towards your throat which helps trap any dirt or debris as well as stopping anything from getting through to the respiratory tract. The mucus produced by glands in your nose contains an enzyme called lysozyme. This breaks down bacteria – so they don’t make it further into your respiratory system.
The Lymph system is vital because it produces and traps white blood cells. The lymph system is part of your immunity because it helps remove harmful substances like bacteria and viruses from the body.
Lymph nodes are soft, round and fluid-filled structures found throughout the lymph system (the immune system). They contain a few types of immune cells, such as B-cells and T-cells which produce antibodies to help fight infection. Essentially, these work by attacking chemicals that have been tagged by foreign invaders so they can’t cause damage inside our bodies. It’s important to remember that the lymphatic capillaries allow for exchange between lymph fluid containing waste products or toxins being sent into the bloodstream for recycling or disposal.
The gut is vital to your immune system because it works to fight off unwanted bacteria and germs.
There are immune cells found in the gut which act to destroy harmful substances that enter when eating or drinking. They do this by producing proteins like cytokines and interleukins, these work with other immunity cells such as B-cells and T-cells.
With around 70-80% of immune system cells found in the gut – this is an integral component to your overall immune health!
So then, now with some background – how do we actually strengthen the immune system in our everyday lives?
How Can I Strengthen My Immune System?!
There are many simple steps you can take to improve immunity. However, it’s important to remember that how you live your life has a long-lasting effect on immunity function. That said – let’s get into it!
Eat more whole plant foods
A diet which is high in fruit, vegetables and whole grains is a great way to boost immunity – it provides your body with most of the nutrients required to help immunity function. These foods typically contain vitamins A, C and E which are antioxidants that help fight off infection.
Also eating more fibre (plant food) will mean you’re less likely to experience digestive problems.
It’s also important to balance produce intake across the day; make sure you eat lots of different things over breakfast, lunch, and dinner so you get a good variety of immunity boosting foods.
Eat more healthy fats
Healthy fats are good for the immune system because they help immunity cells communicate with each other.
Also, healthy fats ensure immunity cell membranes are fluid which helps the immune cells move around the body freely – digging deep into the skin and gut lining to find mucus mucous membrane invaders.
So, immunity cells have a better chance of protecting you from germs if you are consuming essential fatty acids. These immunity fats are typically found in foods such as nuts, seeds and oily fish like sardines and salmon.
Eat more Probiotic Foods
Probiotics are essentially the good bacteria in your body – these immunity boosters can be added to foods or drinks.
Some of the best immunity boosting probiotic foods include sauerkraut, kefir, pickled cucumber and kombucha tea. So why are probiotics integral to the immune system?
Probiotics have a positive effect on immunity because of their friendly bacteria that boost immunity function. Plus, they can restore gut immunity of individuals who have suffered from poor immune health in the past.
So, if you find your immunity is low – try adding some probiotic foods into your diet to help it increase naturally!
Cut down on Sugars
Too much sugar is not the best idea. Sugars provide fuel for bacteria and yeast infections in your body.
So, if you’re immune system isn’t doing so great, consider cutting down on sugar. This should make it easier to boost immunity health! Obviously, this is contextual and depends on the person. But generally speaking, less is better when it comes to sugar!
It may be hard to reduce processed foods completely but the more you can; the more it can help your immune system. The more fresh and unprocessed produce you eat; the better immunity function you’re going to have, not just from an immunity perspective but also an overall wellness perspective too!
Exercise boosts immunity in two ways. Firstly, immunity cells have more oxygen to breathe when blood circulation is good so they can clear mucus membrane invaders quickly. Secondly, immunity cells are being produced at a higher rate because exercise increases immunity cells’ concentration of certain immunity proteins called lymphocytes.
There have been some studies that have linked physical exercise as a tool to help the immune system against covid!
So, if you want your immunity levels to be high then get out there and sweat!
Hydration is definitely one of the most important immunity boosting healthy habits.
Regular hydration is essential for immunity cell function because it helps maintain the mucus membrane to stop bugs getting into your body easily. Furthermore, it’s vital for detoxification pathways – increasing lymphatic draining and making sure we are clearing out any foreign invaders and other waste materials
Manage your stress levels.
Stress can inhibit the strength of your immune system. Each time you experience stress, cortisol and adrenaline are released in your body. This is fine in short-term situations but when it becomes chronic – these hormones suppress an essential part of your immune system. There are many studies which have sighted a clear reduction in infection-fighting t-cells due to stress.
You need to reduce the levels of these hormones in order to strengthen your immune system and keep yourself healthy.
The are many ways to do this from exercise to meditation. So, limit your stress – where possible!
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Sleep helps to restore your immune system after it is weakened by the stresses of everyday life. If you are having trouble getting to sleep, try taking chamomile tea or some other form of “night time” tea before bedtime. Magnesium can also help promote peaceful sleep. Also, avoiding caffeine too late in the day, minimizing screen time leading up to sleep, getting to bed early and aiming for 7-9 hours sleep are integral to help maximise your sleep.
Supplementation for your Immune System
By getting the above right – you are well on your way to boosting your immunity. However, supplementation can also play a role. While the individual themselves and the time of year are both contextual factors – supplementation can definitely help fill in the gaps.
What are the best supplements to help boost your immunity?
There are many that help in different ways. Let’s explore some of the best:
Vitamin C strengthens immunity by stimulating the production of white blood cells that help fight infection. It also helps immune cells absorb iron, which is necessary for immunity. There have also been links between a reduction in the common colds severity and duration and vitamin c supplements . For general immunity maintenance and helping to reduce the impact of colds, take 1-2 grams daily (especially during the winter months).
Vitamin D stimulates immunity by inducing the production of T lymphocytes (T cells), specialized white blood cells that fight infections. Of course, if you are out and about during the brighter days – you can get vitamin D naturally. But the evidence suggests that we are vitamin d deficient in Ireland – particularly during the winter months (our latitude plays a big role in that). So it advisable to take vitamin D supplements for the winter months and thus boost your immune system.
While the amount depends on the person (and their location/situation – are they outdoors much etc) – we would recommend 1000 – 4000 IU daily.
These vitamins support immunity through their role in the synthesis of hormones and chemical messengers that boost immunity. B vitamins can reduce levels of cortisol resulting in improved immunity. For this reason consider vitamin b supplements for your immunity.
Echinacea contains compounds that stimulate immunity through the activation of immune cells, production of specialized proteins involved in immunity, and reduced levels of biochemical compounds associated with inflammation. Echinacea is great too if you feel a cold coming on and is a great way to protect yourself against the effects. (Consider Echinaforce from A.Vogel)
Rhodiola rosea is an herb native to cold regions such as Siberia and Scandinavia. It has been used for centuries as a tonic to improve energy and reduce stress. Evidence suggests it enhances immunity and reduces fatigue, making Rhodiola especially helpful for those with immunity and fatigue issues. Therefore, this makes it a great immunity booster.
Garlic contains a compound called allicin that stimulates immunity through increasing levels of immune cells and enhancing the oxidative burst that kills bacteria and fungi. Supplement with .6 -1.2 grams daily to fight off colds or other infections.
Zinc helps immunity by stimulating the production of T cells and increasing activity of white blood cells. Zinc deficiency has been shown to reduce immunity, so make sure you are getting enough zinc in your diet. If not, consider zinc supplements.
Probiotics support immunity by activating the number of T cells and antibody-producing B cells. Furthermore, they can inhibit the growth of harmful gut bacteria. Fortunately, there are a variety of quality probiotic supplements on the market. Udos Choice Super 8 for example contains 42 billion good bacteria with 8 different strains.
Olive leaf extract
It contains a compound called oleuropein that treats infections by boosting immunity, protecting against bacterial invasion, and preventing viruses from reproducing. Supplementation with olive leaf extract can help reduce severity of symptoms in colds and flus.
Final Words on Boosting your Immune System.
Your Immune system plays a vital role in your health and living life to the fullest. Through diet, lifestyle and immunity boosting supplements when needed – you are well on your way to boosting your immune system.