Immune System Basics
Innate immunity: This type of immunity to disease is general and protects us from a wide array of pathogens. Included in this type of immunity are things like our skin, which is a barrier from the outside world, and our body’s natural killer cells.
Adaptive immunity: This is a type of immunity that we develop to fight off something that we are exposed to. We develop this when we are exposed to a virus or get a vaccine, and then we are more readily able to fight it off when we are exposed to it again. This is done with things like T cells and B cells.
Immune System Components
White blood cells- The cells of the immune system that help defend against disease and foreign particles.
Antibodies- A blood protein that tags invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, and foreign substances, in the body for destruction.
Complement system- The part of the immune system that aids antibodies and phagocytic white blood cells in clearing pathogens from the body.
Lymphatic system- Part of the immune system that produces and distributes lymphocytes.
Spleen- Organ that filters the blood of pathogens and helps regulate Lymphocytes.
Bone marrow- Produces white blood cells.
Thymus- Organ that is essential for the development of T lymphocytes.
Gut- The gut plays a role in the immune system as well. There is part of the gut called the GALT that has immune cells and is important for immune response. Many people have an inflamed gut due to eating inflammatory foods and thus have an impaired immune system. It is important to remove any possible inflammatory foods from the diet and heal the gut in order to have a robust immune system.
Immune Boosting Nutrients
Probiotics help to support the gut microbiome’s role in our immune function. Some good sources of probiotics and prebiotics include fermented vegetables such as kimchi and sauerkraut, or they can be taken in supplement form as well.
Studies have shown that the immune system can be impaired by even a mild deficiency in zinc. This is due to the thymic hormone called thymulin which is dependent on zinc for its function. Thymulin regulates the function of T lymphocytes ( a white blood cell in the immune system) and natural killer cells (part of our innate immune system). Some sources of zinc include seafood, red meat, and chicken.
Vitamin C stimulates the function of white blood cells. Specifically, vitamin C stimulates the migration of neutrophils, which are the first responders, to the site of the infection. Vitamin C also reduces damage done to tissues during an infection. A good source of vitamin C is citrus fruit.
Selenium is an antioxidant and thus helps to reduce inflammation during illness. Additionally, selenium boosts the production of T lymphocytes and the activity of natural killer cells. A good source of selenium is seafood or brazil nuts.
Glutamine is highly utilized by the cells of the immune system. Glutamine is essential for the Production of lymphocytes and cytokines. Some good sources of glutamine include nuts, meat, fish, and eggs.
Iron is required for the production and maturation of the white blood cells, lymphocytes. A good source of iron is red meat.
Vitamin D plays an important role in gene expression, especially in immune cells, and thus affects the activity of the immune cells. Vitamin D is something that the average person does not get enough of, and even less so in winter when there is less sunlight and we are outside less. Look into supplementing vitamin D to keep your immune system healthy. When supplementing vitamin D, you need to monitor your lab levels because we store vitamin D, and it can get to a toxic level.
A great way to boost your immune system is by juicing vegetables! This allows the body to easily absorb all of the nutrients in the vegetables and also boosts our body’s nutrient levels. Additionally, vegetables help to make the body more alkaline, making us a less desirable host for diseases.
A diet too high in sodium or sugar can cause an excessive immune response. This is seen with increased inflammation due to the overproduction of proinflammatory cytokines.
Caffeine increases the hormone cortisol, which suppresses the cells of the immune system and, therefore, the body’s ability to fight off disease.
Alcohol has an inflammatory effect on the body and decreases the absorption of several nutrients. With the depletion of many nutrients, we become immunosuppressed and prone to diseases. Additionally, alcohol can also impair the function of several of the body’s white blood cells.