The immune system plays a central role in our overall health – it protects us from pathogens and cell changes that can make us sick.
Here’s what you need to know about the immune system and how to support immune health.
Our immune system and the crucial role it plays in our health and well-being
The main functions of the immune system include:
- Fighting and eliminating disease-causing bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi from the body
- Detecting and fighting harmful substances from the environment
- Fighting cancer cells and other disease-causing changes within the body
The immune system is made up of different cells, proteins, and organs under two sub-systems that work together:
- The innate immune system (non-specific) is the immune system we are born with. It is inherited and activated the moment we are born. This is your child’s rapid response system. This is the body’s first line of response to invaders, or potential threats.
It swings into action immediately upon detecting invaders, with phagocytes, or cells of the innate immune system, surrounding, engulfing, and killing threats inside the body.
- The adaptive immune system (specific), also known as the acquired immune system, is the one we develop as we become exposed to microbes, or the chemicals released by those microbes, as we move through our day-to-day environment.
Together with the innate immune system, your acquired immune system produces antibodies that protect the body from specific invaders. These antibodies are developed by B lymphocytes and stay in your body after you’ve been exposed to the invader.
It usually takes several days for B lymphocytes to develop antibodies. But after your initial exposure, the immune system will learn to detect and recognize that specific invader and defend your body against it.
The cells of the immune system are produced by the following organs found throughout the body:
- Lymph nodes – Bean-shaped organs found throughout the body
- Lymphatic vessels – A network of vessels that carries lymphocytes to the bloodstream and lymphoid organs
- Bone marrow – Soft tissue inside the bone cavities
- Tonsils – Two oval-shaped tissue masses in the back of the throat
- Spleen – A small organ in the abdominal cavity
- Adenoids – Two glands located behind the nasal passage
- Peyer’s patches – Lymphoid tissue within the small intestine
- Thymus – Two joined lobes in front of the trachea
Without a functioning immune system, we would be completely vulnerable to harmful substances in the environment, with no way to fight invaders and threats that enter our body, or from harmful changes that take place inside the body.
That is why it is crucial to support immune health through a balanced diet, adequate sleep, plenty of fluids, and regular physical activity.
How to strengthen your immune system
Nutrition – Getting enough nutrients from a healthy and balanced diet is essential for immune health and function. According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the presence of certain micronutrients can help better prepare the body for each stage of its immune response to excess inflammation and microbial attacks.
For example, vitamin C, vitamin D, iron, protein (i.e. amino acid glutamine), selenium, and zinc are known to play a vital role in the function and growth of immune cells. These micronutrients can be found in many plant and animal foods. They are also widely available as supplements.
On the other hand, diets that are low in nutrients, lack variety, and consist mainly of processed and ultra-processed foods can negatively impact one’s immune system.
Experts also believe that excessive consumption of refined sugar and processed foods, with not enough in fruits and vegetables in the diet, can create disturbances in healthy intestinal microorganisms, and is associated with suppressed immunity and chronic inflammation of the gut.
Sleep – Researchers at the University of Tübingen in Germany have found that getting adequate sleep can support the body’s immune response. They observed that stress hormones (adrenaline and noradrenaline) and pro-inflammatory molecules (prostaglandins) can inhibit the stickiness of integrins, a type of adhesion molecules, which are necessary for immune cells (T cells) to make contact with, and kill, virus-infected cells and cancer cells.
Low levels of stress hormones during sleep improve the “stickiness” of integrins, promoting direct contact between immune cells and foreign invaders.
Individuals who get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep each night are more likely to catch the common cold. Chronic lack of sleep is also known to decrease the effectiveness of the flu shot.
Needless to say, it is important to get an adequate amount of sleep each night for a robust immune system. If you are unable to get seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep most nights, the Sleep Foundation recommends taking two 30-minute naps (no longer) each day, ideally in the morning and in the afternoon.
This is known to offset the negative impact of sleep deprivation as well as lower stress levels.
We recommend taking the revolutionary blend of mineral complexes found in Min-Tran before bed for added sleep support
Exercise – Experts believe that regular moderate intensity exercise is good for immunity. A 2018 study found that exercise can help the immune system find and attack pathogens in the short term, and slow down the effects of ageing on the immune system, reducing the risk of infection. Examples of regular moderate intensity aerobic exercise include walking, running, and cycling. The average adult should get 150 minutes of physical activity per week.
The researchers also stress the importance of observing proper hygiene when exercising, which includes washing the hands thoroughly after exercise.
Proper hydration – Drink plenty of fluids to support immune health. According to the University of California, Irvine (UCI) Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute, the immune system relies on the blood stream, which is mostly made up of water, when transporting nutrients to organ systems. Proper hydration is also vital to the body’s detoxification pathways, as it helps increase lymphatic draining.
Stress management – There are many studies showing the link between stress and infection. A 2004 meta-analysis of 300 studies has found that brief naturalistic stressors, in which the stress lasts only for as long as you’re in the situation, can suppress cellular immunity while humoral immunity remains intact.
Cellular immunity is an immune process in which the activation of phagocytes and T cells as well as the release of cytokines and chemokines, protects the body from foreign invaders. Humoral immunity is an immune response derived from serum antibodies created by plasma cells.
Chronic stress, or stressful events lasting anywhere from a few days to several months or years, can compromise all aspects of immunity and negatively affect the immune system’s ability to fight disease and inflammation.
To manage stress, experts recommend meditating for at least a few minutes each day, having a strong support system, making lifestyle changes, and speaking with a mental health professional.
Natural supplements for immune health
Vitamin D is essential for immune function, cell growth, and healthy bones. The daily requirement for vitamin D varies with age, pregnancy, and underlying medical conditions, though the recommended amount for adults between 18 to 70 years old and pregnant and breastfeeding women is 600 IU (15mcg).
Also known as the “sunshine vitamin”, the skin produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Experts recommend getting five to 30 minutes of sunlight about twice each week, making sure that the face, legs, arms, or back are exposed. Natural dietary sources of vitamin D include oily fish and mushrooms grown in UV light.
However, individuals who do not get enough sun exposure, have darker skin, have malabsorption, or have restrictive diets may need to supplement with vitamin D2 (made from yeast) or vitamin D3 (derived from cod liver oil or fat from lamb’s wool).
Vitamin D is most effective in its natural form, such as cod liver oil.
Zinc helps the body fight foreign invaders and produce genetic material like DNA and proteins. It is vital to immune function, normal growth, wound healing, and proper taste and smell.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for most healthy men and women are 8 mcg and 11 mcg, respectively. The RDA for pregnant and breastfeeding women is between 11 mcg to 13 mcg, depending on age.
Oysters are considered the best natural dietary source of zinc.
Zinc is present in many multivitamin supplements and is often combined with calcium, magnesium, and vitamin C.
It can also be taken alone in the form of zinc oxide, zinc sulfate, and zinc acetate, with zinc gluconate and zinc picolinate being better absorbed by the body, according to several studies.
When considering a zinc supplement, we prefer zinc in its natural form over a synthetic one. We recommend Zinc Chelate.
Vitamin C supports immune function, healthy skin, bone structure, and iron absorption. The RDA for men and women are 90 mg and 75 mg, respectively. Natural dietary sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, green vegetables, tomatoes, and strawberries.
You can also take vitamin C in supplement form. Like zinc, it is present in many multivitamin supplements and is often combined with bioflavonoids, rosehips, collagen, and zinc.
Vitamin C is commonly taken in the form of ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, and calcium ascorbate.
Studies suggest that 200 mg of vitamin C each day can potentially reduce the duration of cold symptoms by 8% in adults and 14% in children, which equate to roughly one less day of illness.
Echinacea is known to support immune function by helping the body increase white blood cells for fighting germs and infection, according to studies. The leaves and roots are often taken in capsule, tablet, tea, or tincture form. A 2014 review of several studies on echinacea suggests that this herb can potentially help fight colds.
There are 10 species of this herb, with Echinacea purpurea being the most widely studied. It is sometimes combined with vitamin C for immune health.
Medicinal mushrooms are usually taken in powder form to enhance the body’s immune response. Studies have shown that mushroom products help activate macrophages and natural killer (NK) cells, which are specialized cells that detect and fight bacteria and other invaders, among other immune functions.
They also support antitumor immunity by activating the complement receptors, or the membrane proteins on the surface of immune cells.
Some of the most widely used medicinal mushrooms include maitake, reishi, and shiitake.
Safe and effective supplements that support immune health
- Cod liver oil is an excellent source of vitamin D.
- Immuplex supports the body’s inflammatory response function to short-term stressors as well as maintain normal white blood cell activity in healthy individuals with vitamins A, B6, B12, C, and E in addition to iron, zinc, and other minerals.
- Cataplex A-C-P contains vitamins C and A to support immune health.
- Epimune Complex contains maitake and turkey tail mushrooms for immune and respiratory health support.
- Echinacea Premium is made from Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea roots for immune function, upper respiratory tract health, and relief for temporary throat dryness, discomfort, and irritation.
Whole Body Solutions offers many other natural supplements and multivitamins for your benefit.
Taking a holistic approach to immune health will help ensure that the cells, tissues, and organ systems that fight invaders and cancer cells are robust, healthy, and working efficiently. While it is important to eat healthy, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly, supplementation can fill the gaps in your diet and help you get the nutrients you need.
Whole Body Solutions has been helping individuals safeguard their health through safe and natural means for over 30 years.
The center was founded by Dr. Ann Doggett, an accomplished chiropractor and nutritionist. Her credentials include:
- Doctorate of Chiropractic (New York Chiropractic College, 1989)
- Master’s Degree in Human Nutrition (University of Bridgeport, 2000)
- Advanced Clinical Training in Nutrition Response Testing (Ulan Nutritional Systems, 2006)
- Certification in Practical Herbal Therapy (Australian College of Phytotherapy, 2008)
Our services include nutrition, chiropractic, acupuncture, weight management, and brain integration to help clients achieve wellness. We take a big-picture approach to their health and wellness concerns. Dr. Doggett has had great success treating back pain, chronic fatigue, stress anxiety, ADD/ADHD, infertility, weight loss, and digestive disorders, just to name a few.