There has never been a more appropriate time to learn everything you can about your body's immune system, leading to a stronger overall immunity and better health. What is the immune system? What does it do? How does it do it? What can you do to help your immune system do its best work?
Studying the immune system is a lifetime's work for many scientists and researchers, so, don't worry— you can get by with just learning a little about the science behind it. There's a few things you can start doing now to protect yourself against the Coronavirus and other threats or diseases that make you sick.
What Does the Immune System Do
If your body had a home security system, it would be your immune system. The immune system has a huge job, and it's working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no time for breaks.
The burglars are germs, bacteria, viruses, fungi, pathogens, microbes, pollen, pet dander, micro-particles and other toxins. Anything the body can't immediately identify as familiar gets tagged as a threat, investigated, contained, and neutralized. Or at least that is what your immune system tries to do each time.
Every time there is a break-in, your immune system's internal alarm system gets activated. Sirens start blaring and your body sends out its own internal emergency response team to target the intruder— or the diseases that make you sick.
As the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) explains, as long as your immune system is in perfect working order, it can be busy responding to threats day and night and you would remain blissfully unaware.
The Two Branches of Your Immune System
One fact many people don't know about the human immune system is that there are two different branches, or sub-systems. These are called the innate and adaptive. Let's look at what each one does to help you stay healthy.
Innate Immune System:
Also called the “non-specific immune system,” the innate system is the equivalent of the front lines foot soldiers of your body's defenses. Whenever a new threat tries to break and enter, the innate immune system is the first responder on the scene.
Adaptive Immune System:
Meanwhile, back behind the scenes, the adaptive immune system is busy mixing up custom antidotes to known threats. This is why the adaptive immune system is often called the “acquired immune system” (also learned or specific).
The antibodies or antidotes that the adaptive branch cooks up are then remembered for the future. Anytime a known germ or pathogen tries to attack your body again, the adaptive branch will roll out the antidote to make it easier to fight off returning invaders, ultimately leading to an immune response that fights diseases each time.
Here, it is easy to see how vitally important your body's immune system is to keeping you well and healthy every day, and especially during any kind of serious health crisis.
However, sometimes your immune system doesn't have enough power on its own to fight off the most serious threats. This may happen for any number of reasons. The three most common reasons your immune system may struggle to keep you healthy include these:
- The new threat is not recognized and is also very strong and powerful (the new novel Coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is a perfect example of this kind of threat).
- Your body is already under attack from other germs, seasonal pollen, an underlying health issue, or something else, and your immune response is too busy to fight off the new threat.
- Your body is deprived of the supply of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your body relies on to support your immune system fully.
You may be wondering if there are additional things you can do to boost your immune system. Keep reading this article as it will provide you with tips for extra protection against serious health threats and diseases.
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How to Strengthen Your Immune System
Before you can strengthen your immune system, you first need to understand the different parts and how the whole system works together and help eachother.
As the Cancer Research Institute (CRI) explains, the body uses a variety of different types of cells to do different jobs to keep you healthy. Let's take a closer look at each type of cell and its job.
B cells are in charge of making and distributing antidotes (antibodies) to specific threats. The adaptive immune system programs these cells and gives them their instructions for which threats to attack.
There might be one group of B cells that is in charge of defending the body against the common cold. Another group of B cells might be in charge of fighting off ragweed pollen.
T cells (helper):
As their name suggests, helper T cells send out SOS messages to killer T cells, B cells, and other important cell groups when a threat is detected and they need backup help to fight it off.
T cells (killer):
Killer T cells are the militia of your immune system. They are always fighting and killing pathogens, viruses, bacteria, and other threats. T cells are incredibly important for fighting off major threats like cancer and new diseases.
T cells (regulatory):
Regulatory T cells are kind of like the unsung heroes of your immune system. They are administrators, always overseeing the entire immune system response, noting where the system as a whole may be under-reacting or over-reacting to a threat.
When they are unsuccessful, autoimmune diseases or serious conditions are often the result. Autoimmune diseases are different as they incorrectly attack working parts of the body, causing conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Macrophages are often nicknamed “big eater cells.” They eat bacteria and infected cells whole by engulfing them. They often work together with dendritic cells (see next section here) to mark dangerous cells so the immune system as a whole can go to work and destroy the attacking diseases.
Dendritic cells are like the armored tanks of the immune system. They are powerful eaters and can digest whole cells and cell groups, whether they are cancer cells or other types of foreign cells.
Dendritic cells can also deposit proteins on the outer cell membranes of dangerous cells so other immune system cells can attack and destroy them.
Immunity boosters come in two forms: internal or external.
Your body's immune system has two internal molecules that it uses to boost the response of the whole system, often using many of the cells you just learned about in the section earlier here.
Cytokines are messenger cells. They are responsible for carrying messages back and forth from different immune cells and groups of cells.
The cytokines help the different cell groups coordinate the most effective response to threats for both immediate and ongoing battles.
Antibodies are a type of protein made by the immune system cells. These markers are designed to recognize specific markers, called antigens, on invading cells.
The antibodies look for these antigens and attach (or bind) to them. By doing this, the antibodies mark those cells for destruction.
Then, when other immune system cells see the antibodies, they know to go to work right away to destroy those cells.
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Internal vs. External Immunity Boosters
So, now you understand what internal immunity boosters are, where they come from, and what they do.
External immunity boosters are quite different. Sometimes an external immunity booster is something you add to your daily routine, such as a vitamin, mineral, or supplement. Certain foods can be immunity boosters as well, so you can get help simply from adjusting your diet also.
And sometimes, an external immunity booster can be something you take away from your routine. For example, nicotine, caffeine, sugar, fried foods, alcohol and some substances (including certain prescription or street drugs) can have a depressive effect on your immunity and immune response, so cutting these components can help your immune response.
How to Build Your Immune System
If you want to build up your immune system, you need to know where it is located in your body and how each part fits together. Now we are going to talk about where your immune system is actually located in your body – what organs, glands and materials comprise your immune system.
What most people do not realize is that the immune system is not just one thing and it is not located in just one place in the body. It is actually a whole network of interconnected, related organs, glands, and tissues that work together to protect you.
Did you know that your skin is not just the largest organ in your body, but it is also the largest part of your immune system?
The skin is your body's most visible and complete protective shield from anything that could cause your body harm. Because of this, your skin has its own dedicated immune system cells and lymphatic system vessels (similar to blood vessels, but filled with lymphatic fluid instead) that it can use to mount an early defense against toxins.
The thymus gland sits right underneath your breastbone, just below your neck. It is an incubator for T cells (killer, regulatory, and helper). The thymus gland helps to grow and protect these critical cells until they are mature enough to do their jobs.
The lymph nodes are located throughout your body. Some are near the surface of your skin and some are buried deep inside. They are primarily located between your neck and your knees. Lymph nodes are essentially small classrooms where new mature T cells learn to fight off toxins.
Interestingly, the lymph nodes (along with the thymus and spleen) are shared by the immune system and the lymphatic system, both of which have complementary roles in your body.
As Live Science explains, the lymphatic system is responsible for flushing your body of waste and toxins. The lymphatic system also helps make the lymphocytes (T cells and B cells) that protect you from being sick.
The spleen is a small organ that sits just to the left of your stomach. It helps your immune system by storing platelets (clotting blood cells) and white blood cells of various types. It filters the blood and incubates developing B cells until they are mature enough to do their jobs.
The bone marrow is the innermost soft tissue inside your bones. It kind of looks and feels like a sponge. Bone marrow is where stem cells form and grow. Those infant stem cells can then develop into red or white blood cells, including B cells and T cells, and even platelets.
While scientists are still not completely clear on what the appendix does, or if it is even an essential organ anymore, what they do know is that it seems connected to the immune system in some way, perhaps as yet another storage site for blood cells or other types of cells.
Immune Boosting Foods
Earlier here we talked about how one type of external immune booster can come from foods.
Adding certain foods to your diet is a great way to increase your intake of some essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that can improve your immunity system response.
The four main nutrients you want to focus on when adding immune boosting foods to your diet are these:
Numerous research studies have linked Vitamin C to increased immune resistance to the common cold, allergies, respiratory infections and other system-wide infections of the like.
Vitamin A is especially important for healthy functioning of the adaptive immune system, and research has shown this vitamin is especially protective against infection.
Research shows that Vitamin E is also a vital component to help your immune system protect you from infection from a variety of sources.
Zinc is perhaps the best known of these four nutrients in its role to reduce the symptoms and severity of the common cold. It can also be a beneficial component of fighting off other types of infection.
Let's take a look at the best foods for adding each of these nutrients to your daily menu.
Foods With High Levels of Vitamin C
When you think of Vitamin C, you probably instantly think of oranges. Perhaps lemons, tangerines, and limes also come to mind.
But there are also lots of other delicious foods that can pack a powerful punch when it comes to loading you up with beneficial Vitamin C. Here are some, just to name a few:
- Red peppers, kiwi fruit, strawberries, cantaloupe melon, broccoli, white potatoes, tomatoes, papaya, cauliflower, grapefruit, brussels sprouts, and acerola.
WebMD suggests that a regular daily intake for adults should be around 75 mg for women and around 90 mg for men. However, you may need to take in more if you are fighting off an infection or a respiratory illness. You can also take extra Vitamin C as a preparation for if you feel like you may be starting to get sick.
Foods With High Levels of Vitamin A
Vitamin A is found in two types of food: preformed (animal-based foods) and pro-vitamin (plant-based foods). Some of the best food options include:
- Dairy products, cod liver oil, beef liver, fish and poultry, sweet potato, butternut squash, dried apricots, carrots,
cantaloupe melon, spinach, kale, salad greens, mango, and papaya.
Healthline states that the recommended daily dose of Vitamin A for adults is 700 mcg for women and 900 mcg for men. Notice that this is in micro-grams, not milligrams. It is possible to overdose on Vitamin A, although to do this you would have to take 10,000 IU (about 300 mcg)!
Foods With High Levels of Vitamin E
Vitamin E is another nutrient that it is easy to get naturally from food. These are all great foods for boosting your Vitamin E intake:
Seeds and nuts such as: pine nuts, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds; avocado, swiss chard, butternut squash, spinach, beet greens, trout fish, wheat germ or wheat germ oil, mamey sapote, salmon, kiwi, mango, and red sweet pepper.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for adults is 15 mg per day.
Taking more than 1,100 IU (733 mg) is not recommended.
Foods With High Levels of Zinc
You can increase your levels of zinc by incorporating more of the following foods in your diet:
- Dairy, eggs, beans, chickpeas, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, almonds, oysters, seafood and shellfish, dark poultry, whole grains, beef, avocado, mushrooms, and spinach.
As health expert Dr. Josh Axe explains, the majority of people today are deficient in zinc.
The current recommended daily allowance of zinc for adults is 8 mg for women and 11 mg for men. You may want to increase your zinc intake if you need to give your immune system an extra boost. However, try to avoid going higher than 40 mg per day unless your doctor gives the okay. It's always best to seek medical advice when making drastic changes to your diet or lifestyle.
Immune System Boosters
Finding the right immune system booster can mean incorporating different things for different people.
You may want to choose one of these three common and popular ways to improve your daily intake of Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin A, and zinc for overall better immunity.
1) Eat nutrient-rich foods.
Some people may prefer to get their boost from eating some of the health foods described above.
2) Take a supplement that contains the right nutrients.
For other people, taking the time to shop, cook and measure out the right portions of each every day may simply not be doable with their existing daily schedule. These people may prefer to take a supplement to get the immune boosting benefits of Vitamins C, E, and A, and the trace mineral zinc.
3) Add new foods and take a supplement.
For others, they may prefer to take a combination approach, upping their intake of nutrient-rich foods and adding an additional supplement as well just to cover all the bases.
If you're unsure about which option is best for you, seek medical advice from your doctor about which option can help you stay healthy.
Supplements for Boosting Your Immune System
A variety of different supplements exist to boost the immune system. You certainly won't find any shortage of supplements that claim to give your immune system all the might and power it needs to fight off any disease, infection or illness.
Choosing a supplement from a reputable manufacturer will be the key to ensuring you get a high quality supplement with the nutrients you need. You don't want extra additives that may overtax your immune system or make your body work harder to expel what you don't need.
Immune System Booster Vitamins
Here is a short primer to help you choose your immune system booster vitamins so you get a high quality supplement.
1) Read the ingredients list.
When you read the ingredients list, you are looking for low-value additions like fillers, artificial ingredients, or preservatives. Not only can these lessen the value of your supplement, but they may actually be detrimental to its impact on your immune system.
2) Identify the amount of each essential ingredient.
You want to make sure you will not be taking in too much of any essential ingredient, because as we mentioned here earlier, there are upper limit (UL) recommendations for adult doses. Taking more than the daily UL dose may cause unwanted side effects.
3) Identify the form of each essential ingredient.
You want to be sure that each essential ingredient comes in a high quality form that will be easy for your body to digest and use. For example, acerola powder is a great source of Vitamin C. Zinc gluconate is a highly accessible form of zinc. And rosehips are packed full of Vitamins C, A, and E.
4) Find out where the supplement is made.
Finally, be sure you know where your supplement is manufactured. Different countries have different regulations regarding how ingredients are sourced, prepared, and manufactured. For this reason, it is often safest to stick to products made in the UK or USA.
Immune System Supplements
Supplements like Immune Defence can really make it easier to get your daily recommended dose of some or all of the main recommended nutrients that work to boost your immune system.
While right now there is nothing that can stop the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, science supports that there is a much lower risk for people who have a healthy, high-functioning immune system.
Science has also amply demonstrated that nutrients like Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, and zinc can play a beneficial role in boosting your immune system so it does a better job of fighting off viruses and infection.
It may be a year or more before researchers have developed a COVID-19 vaccine that can be mass-produced and distributed to everyone who needs it. In the meantime, it is up to each one of us to find our own sources of protection and health.
Immune Defence contains all four essential nutrients to boost your immune system: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and zinc. The tasty lozenges are easy to give to kids as well as adults to protect your whole family, working to give your immune system a much-needed boost.