Updated: May 13, 2020
The Immune System
The immune system is a complex network of cells and proteins that defends the body against infection.
The immune system can be activated by a lot of different things that the body doesn’t recognize as its own. These are called antigens. Examples of antigens include the proteins on the surfaces of bacteria, fungi and viruses. When these antigens attach to special receptors on the immune cells, a whole series of processes are triggered in the body.
The immune system keeps a record of every microbe it has ever defeated. This information is stored in specific white blood cells known as memory cells. This means it can recognize and destroy the microbe quickly if it enters the body again, before it can multiply and make you feel sick. Some infections, like the flu, have different strains that can cause illness. Catching a cold or flu from one virus does not give you immunity against the others.
The immune system protects your body from outside invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins. It is made up of different organs, cells, and proteins that work together. There are two main parts of the immune system:
The innate immune system
The adaptive immune system
The innate immune system
Is your “rapid response system”. The innate immune system is inherited and is active from the moment you are born. When this system recognizes an invader, it goes into action immediately. The cells of this immune system surround and engulf the invader. The invader is killed inside the immune system cells. These cells are called phagocytes. The acquired immune system The acquired immune system, with help from the innate system, produces cells (antibodies) to protect your body from a specific invader. These antibodies are developed by cells called B lymphocytes after the body has been exposed to the invader. It can take several days for antibodies to develop. But after the first exposure, the immune system will recognize the invader and defend against it. The cells of both parts of the immune system are made in various organs of the body, including:
Immune System Breakdown: White blood cells are the key players in your immune system. They are made in your bone marrow and are part of the lymphatic system. White blood cells move through blood and tissue throughout your body, looking for foreign invaders. When they find them, they launch an immune attack. Antibodies help the body to fight microbes or the toxins (poisons) they produce. They do this by recognizing substances called antigens on the surface of the microbe. The antibodies then sound the alarm for the targeted invaders. There are many cells, proteins and chemicals involved in this attack. When a person is infected with the flu virus their immune system swings into action, using a host of different cells to attack the invader. A type of white blood cell called a macrophage recognizes foreign material like viruses and attempts to swallow them up. Other white cells have even more specialized jobs. For example, B-cells make protein antibodies that attach to the virus, effectively labeling it as dangerous so other cells, like T-cells, can recognize and destroy it. Cytokines: To counter attack an invasion, the cells involved in the body’s immune response need to communicate with each other. They do this by releasing a set of proteins that serve as chemical messengers. These proteins, called cytokines, tell immune cells what to do. Cytokines are an integral part of the body’s immune response. You can blame cytokines for causing things like fever, inflammation, runny nose and aches often associated with a viral invasion. The complement system is made up of proteins whose actions complement the work done by antibodies. This system is made up of a large number of plasma proteins that react with one another to induce a series of inflammatory responses that help to fight infection. Such enzymes are called zymogens and were first found in the gut. The spleen is a blood-filtering organ that removes microbes and destroys old or damaged red blood cells. Bone marrow is the tissue found inside your bones. It produces the red blood cells our bodies need to carry oxygen. Also, white blood cells (used to fight infection) and platelets (needed to help our blood clot). The thymus filters and monitors your blood content. It produces the white blood cells.
The lymphatic system is a network of delicate tubes throughout the body. The main roles of the lymphatic system are to:
manage the fluid levels in the body
react to bacteria
deal with cancer cells
deal with cell products that otherwise would result in disease or disorders
absorb some of the fats in our diet from the intestine.
The lymphatic system is made up of:
lymph nodes -- which trap microbes
lymph vessels -- tubes that carry lymph, the fluid that contains infection-fighting white blood cells
white blood cells
Interacting with Other Systems: The immune system is the body’s “police force”. It constantly patrols every organ and tissue in the body. It works closely with the circulatory system for transportation needs and the lymphatic system for production of lymphocytes and flushing cellular debris. One of the most important parts of the immune system is the entire integumentary system (AKA your skin). Your skin is usually the first defense your body has against disease. There is a much greater chance you will get an illness causing bacteria or virus on your skin/hands, than you will breathe those microorganisms into your lungs. You have cells on your skin that help to kill any bacteria that land there. Always remember to wash your hands; most of the microorganisms that get you sick are picked up when you touch things! The common transference culprits are: handles/door knobs, shopping carts, handrails, gas pumps, ATM pads, etc.... but what about your KEYS, steering wheel, INK PEN, keyboard, cell phone, TV remote, light switches... bacteria aren't just transferred “out in public”. There is a significant amount of transfer within the home. In some cases, this transfer risk is HIGHER because people view their homes as “safe zones”.
How Important Is A Healthy Immune System?
Think of the Immune System as a orchestra. For the best performance, you want every musician playing optimally. Every instrument tuned and in good working order. A healthy immune system is the same concept. All components operating optimally. The immune system protects us from disease caused by bacteria, viruses and toxins, and helps remove foreign bodies and malignant cells from our system. 70-80% of our immune cells live in the gut as part of the 100 trillion gut bacteria that make up the gut microbiota. The gut is a major entrance for pathogens, toxins and allergens. Therefore, a healthy immune system is reliant on the establishment of a healthy gut microbiome, which is directly linked to nutrition. Good nutrition is essential to a strong immune system, which may offer protection from seasonal illness and other health problems. No one food or supplement will do the trick! And you can't eat ONE SALAD and think you have given your body what it needs. A healthy immune system is created and maintained through a complete dietary change that is followed on a regular basis. Studies have shown high sugar intake suppresses your immune system. When your immune system is compromised, your chances of getting sick increase. If your diet contains foods and beverages high in sugar or refined carbohydrates (which the body breaks down into sugar) you may be compromising your body’s ability to fight off disease. Research has proven that high consumption of these items may compromise your immune response, increasing your chances of illness:
Foods and drinks high in sugar
Tobacco products (even though they are NOT food) also compromise your immune system.
Protein plays a role in the body's immune system, especially for healing and recovery. Eat a variety of protein foods including seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans and peas, and unsalted nuts and seeds.
Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system and protect against infections. You can find this vitamin in foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, spinach, red bell peppers, apricot and eggs.
Vitamin C supports the immune system by stimulating the formation of antibodies. This healthy vitamin is in citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit and tangerines, or red bell pepper, papaya, strawberries and tomato juice.
Vitamin E works as an antioxidant and may support immune function. Include vitamin E in your diet with almonds, hazelnuts and peanut butter.
Zinc helps the immune system work properly and may help wounds heal. Zinc can be found in lean meat, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grain products, beans, seeds and nuts.
Other nutrients, including vitamin B6, B12, copper, folate, selenium and iron also may support immune response and play a role in a healthful eating style.
If it comes in cellophane, plastic or a can...there is a good chance it is NOT beneficial for the body! Majority of your shopping should be done in the perimeter of the store! The goal is fresh fruits, vegetables, grass fed meats and free-range chicken/eggs. Over time these foods will help your body build your immune system up. Eating foods high in preservatives, will preserve a diseased state!
Along with dietary changes and supplements.... It is important to address others contributing factors as well:
Sleep- Is the time when your body produces and distributes key immune cells like cytokines (a type of protein that can either fight or promote inflammation), T cells (a type of white blood cell that regulates immune response) When you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system may not do these things as well, making it less able to defend your body against harmful invaders.
Exercise- Regular exercise lowers your risk of developing chronic diseases, as well as viral and bacterial infections. Exercise also increases the release of endorphins (a group of hormones that reduce pain and create feelings of pleasure) making it a great way to manage stress.
Stress- Long-term stress leads to chronically elevated levels of as the steroid hormone cortisol. The body relies on hormones like cortisol during short-term bouts of stress (when your body goes into “fight-or-flight” response); cortisol has a beneficial effect of actually preventing the immune system from responding before the stressful event is over (so your body can react to the immediate stressor). But when cortisol levels are constantly high, it essentially blocks the immune system from kicking into gear and doing its job to protect the body against potential threats from germs like viruses and bacteria.
Essential Oils- Oils have antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties. When used daily they help keep the frequency of the body elevated as well as boost the immune system.
Your first line of defense is to choose a healthy lifestyle.
Following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward naturally keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living choices.
Along with the Essential Oils, you can also boost the immune system with a biofeedback session targeting the immune system.
No matter WHAT methods you determine are the best for you....an important key to a healthy immune system is CONSISTENCY!!