How To Improve Your Immune System? - Blog
The Immune System
Our immune system is highly complex and contains many forms of defence to help fight off pathogens, including viral and bacterial infections.
Innate vs Acquired Immunity
The innate immune system is non-selective, meaning that it shows a uniform reaction against pathogens each time. On the other hand, the acquired immune system adapts and improves its response over time based on exposure to different pathogens. The acquired immune system is faster, more efficient, and more targeted for second and subsequent exposures than it is to primary exposure to pathogens.
First Lines of Defence
Our skin acts as a barrier to many pathogens. It also harbours thousands of microorganisms, including antimicrobial proteins which repel microbes before they get a chance to enter the body.
Mucus is another important protector. Mucus in the sinuses, throat, mouth, and lungs contains mucin which can prevent bacteria from adhering to underlying tissues.
However, if these initial defence strategies fail the body can become infected and must resort to new strategies to fight off the pathogens.
White Blood Cells
There are five types of white blood cells in the immune system that respond in various ways when the body is faced with infection.
Neutrophils are the most prolific white blood cells and are the first to respond when infection enters the body. Neutrophils work to kill and digest both fungi and bacteria. Monocytes also help to break down bacteria. Both neutrophils and monocytes are phagocytic, meaning that they engulf bacteria and other foreign particles through a process called phagocytosis.
Basophils mediate allergic reactions by releasing histamine, and eosinophils attack cancerous cells and parasites.
Lymphocytes produce antibodies. There are two main forms of lymphocyte: B-cells and T-cells. B-cells produce antibodies when triggered by the presence of antigens such as bacteria and viruses. T-cells have two main roles; helper T-cells support the B-cells and direct the immune response by producing cytokines, while cytotoxic T-cells destroy cells that are have become infected by antigens.
Although the body has countless inbuilt mechanisms that work to keep you healthy, there are also ways that you can boost your immunity levels. A healthy lifestyle and diet can go a long way when it comes to keeping a healthy immune system.
Ongoing research in neuroimmunology has found strong evidence that sleep is an important factor for a well-functioning immune system. Further evidence has found that psychological factors including stress are also closely linked to immune function. For example, one of the early neuroimmunology studies in this area found that those who perceived themselves to be more stressed were significantly more susceptible to becoming sick when exposed to the common cold virus.
It is common knowledge that eating a healthy diet and staying hydrated have notable benefits to all areas of health, and unsurprisingly this also extends to having healthy immune function. Whole plant foods, healthy fats, and probiotics are all aspects of a healthy diet which support the immune system and helps to prevent disease.
Immune System Supplements
While it is achievable to maintain healthy immune function through lifestyle alone, some people need some added support when it comes to immunity. If a person is deficient in certain vitamins it can be useful to take supplements to support the immune system function. There is some controversy around taking immune boosting supplements, with some scientists advocating for the advantages of supplements and others stating that supplements are unnecessary if you lead a healthy lifestyle.
Natural Immune Support
Active ingredients in supplements designed to support the immune system include natural herbs and other plant-based compounds. These are often intended to be taken as a prophylactic to help reduce frequency of mild illness. For example:
- Vitamin C can reduce cold symptoms and reduce risk of illness for some people
- Echinacea may support healthy recovery for some people
- Olive leaf extract contains oleuropein which has anti-inflammatory properties
- Schisandra is an adaptogen which can help support the body against disease
- Garlic may reduce the risk of catching a cold and support overall health
Potential Side Effects of Immune Support Supplements
Most immune system supplements are generally safe when taken as directed. However, some people may experience side effects such as an upset stomach, headache, nausea, and skin irritation. If you experience adverse effects while taking immune supplements consult a medical professional immediately.
Should I take immune supplements?
If you are considering taking immune supplements but are unsure whether they are right for you, consult your doctor or pharmacist. If you are taking medications that may interact with immune supplements you should seek advice from a medical professional.
About the Author
We use a variety of authors from both naturopathic and medical backgrounds. We also have in house researchers that compile the latest information into an easily digestible format.
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