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by Carly Neubert, BA, NC February 13, 2019
Your immune system is your best ally in surviving and thriving. The building blocks of your cells are the building blocks for your healthy immune system. Your cells need vitamins, minerals, fats, and amino acids (proteins) in order to function and provide you with optimal health and energy. Anything you do to improve your health will likely affect your immune system. Everything from your lifestyle to the supplements and medication you consume will affect your immune system.
Every day, no matter where you go, you are exposed to a variety of bacteria and other organisms that either help you or hurt you. Your immune system plays a huge role in keeping you healthy and happy. Your immune system protects you from the world of pathogens that would like to take over your body. Pathogens can be bacteria, viruses, fungi, or chemicals. Anything that doesn’t help your body, will hurt your health. Your immune system is charged with deciding which things are friendly and which are harmful.
You have many types of immune cells. Phagocytes are the type of immune cells that break down pathogens. Neutrophils, monocytes, macrophages, and mast cells are all types of phagocytes with specific jobs. Lymphocytes are the class of immune cells that help your other cells remember which cells are good and which are harmful. B cells, T cells, and Natural Killer (NK) cells are types of lymphocytes that have their unique roles within your immune system.
We usually don’t think about our immune systems until we are sick. Whether you have an acute illness, like a cold, or a long-term disease, your immune system is always involved. We often think of our immune systems as an imaginary host of military cells patrolling our inner body. While this is partially true, most of your immune cells live in your gut. Over 70% of your immune system is the immune cells within your gut. The rest of your immune cells are found in various places in your body. Your lymphatic and circulatory systems transport immune cells within your body. Your spleen makes phagocytes, and stores other immune cells.
Your bone marrow produces white blood cells. Some of the white blood cells are stored and mature in your thymus gland. Once in the thymus, they are called T-cells. Once they are matured, the T-cells leave the thymus and patrol your body looking for invaders. Lymph nodes store immune cells.
Just because you get a cold, doesn’t necessarily mean you have a weak immune system. However, if you get a cold and stay sick for weeks, and end up with pneumonia, then it is likely you have a weak immune system.
A weak immune system means that your immune cells don’t have enough raw materials in order to function properly. When your immune cells can’t do their jobs, you are more likely to fall prey to pathogenic infections.
The top sign of a weak immune system is persistent and frequent illnesses. Chronic diarrhea or constipation are also top signs of weak immune function. Slow wound healing is also a tell-tell sign of low immune response.
If you get a cold 1-2 times per year and recover quickly, you have a strong immune system. A strong immune response allows you more energy and a longer life. If you have a strong immune system you are less likely to get deadly infections or cancer.
The same principle is true for adults, kids, and pets. Immune support for kids and pets is just as important as for adults. Most immune support supplements can be found with child dosages. Pet immune support products are surprisingly similar to human supplements. Cats and dogs benefit from probiotics and other immune system supplements.
Of course, no one likes being sick so the important question is: how do I improve my immune system? If most of your immune system is in your gut, then it makes sense to start there. Most of the pathogens you encounter come through your mucus membranes, including your stomach and small intestines. Antimicrobial supplements are useful for acute illnesses (cold or flu) and chronic infections like Small Intestinal Bowel Overgrowth (SIBO) or parasites. Echinacea, elderberry, colloidal silver, probiotics, astragalus root, ginger, and oregano are commonly used for killing pathogens.
Refer to my blog for the best way to prevent or shorten the duration of a cold or flu. I review my top tips for bolstering your immune system and killing germs during the flu season. Vitamin C is the ultimate support for your immune system. It kills pathogens, builds collagen, reduces inflammation and oxidation, and creates hydrogen peroxide to kill cancer cells.
The easiest and cheapest way to enhance your immune system is to remove processed sugar from your diet. Sugar is a vampire. It quite literally sucks minerals from your body during its digestion. Sugar causes inflammation and oxidation which means your immune cells are constantly trying to reduce the effects of its consumption. For more information about how sugar affects your immune system, watch Dr. Lustig’s TedX talks.
Sugar consumption is a leading cause of Leaky Gut, which causes a low immune system.
Leaky Gut is a silent epidemic that is leading to many diseases, including cancer. Overcoming Leaky Gut starts with removing toxic foods from the diet, including sugars, sweeteners and processed foods. Refer to my article, I Love Your Guts, for a primer on healing from a Leaky Gut. When you heal your leaking gut, you heal your immune system. There are many vital supplements for healing your gut. My top recommendations are colostrum, probiotics, and collagen powder.
Lifestyle habits and changes can improve or decrease your immune function. If you are chronically sleep deprived, then you can expect a low immune system. High stress and high cortisol will lead to a lowered immune response. On the other hand, relieving stress and getting adequate sleep will allow your immune cells to function better.
Exercise can improve or worsen your immune system. Many studies show the benefit of exercise and the harmful effects of over-exercising.
Traditional treatments for cancer focus on killing or breaking down cells. Chemotherapy and radiation not only target cancer cells but healthy cells as well. Integrative approaches to cancer take an opposite focus. Most integrative cancer therapies focus on building your immune system so that it will seek out and destroy cancer cells.
Whether you have cancer, or just want a stronger immune system, there are superfoods that contain immune-bolstering compounds.
Broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts are all in the cruciferous vegetable family. This family of vegetables contains isothiocyanates, sulforaphane, and indole-3-carbinol. These three compounds have been rigorously studied as treatments and prevention of cancer.
Medicinal mushrooms have been in use since the 1st century AD. Traditional Chinese Medicine relies heavily on mushrooms for enhancing your immune system. Turkey tail, shitake, reishi, maitake, and cordyceps each have immune-boosting nutrients. Mushroom supplements, like Transfer Point Beta Glucan, have been well studied and proven to enhance immune function.
Your immune system starts to develop while you are still in the womb. By the time a baby is born his immune system is almost fully developed. However, babies spend the first few years of their lives developing their immune system and cells. Their immune system development is largely based on the probiotics and pathogens they are exposed to. I recommend a full-spectrum probiotic for babies, children, and adults. Baby and child probiotics are available in liquids, powders, and chewable gummies.
Probiotics are essential to immune health. They affect your gut where over 70% of your immune cells reside. Probiotic supplements are helpful, but you must also include other healthy habits. Healing your Leaky Gut and eating fibrous vegetables will yield a healthy colony of good bacteria to support your immune system.
Your immune system is a wonderful and miraculous part of your body. Although it may seem invisible, your immune system is made of organs and cells. There are tangible steps you can take to strengthen your immune cells. If you want more energy, vitality, and longevity, follow my tips for improving your immune function.
Carly Neubert BA, NC
For additional recipes, biohacking tips and lifestyle hacks -- check out my other blog on my coaching site www.cleancoachcarly.com! I post weekly about nutrition and lifestyle topics, all backed by science. Happy Reading!
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