- The immune system is categorized into two types: innate and adaptive immunity, which consist of diverse cells who work together to form an effective response to the dangers attacking our bodies.
- The innate immune system quickly recognizes foreign invaders to trigger "stranger danger" signals.
- The adaptive immune system is slower to respond, but "remembers" past germs through molecules called antibodies.
- You can support your immune system through nutritious foods, sleep, managing stress, herbal supplements, and more.
We’re focused now more than ever before on boosting our immunity - but what does that even mean? How does a properly functioning immune system work? And more importantly, how do we spot issues that could weaken our bodies’ response to threats?
Read on to learn more about what immune health is, how our two types of immunity work together, and 7 ways you can boost immunity naturally.
Immune System Health
Staying healthy means having a strong immune system, which consists of:
- Well-functioning organs, cells, and signalling proteins which form the foundation of our defense against pathogens
- Ability to recognize and fight off harmful substances from the environment
- Ability to combat disease-causing changes in the body (such as cancer cells)
When operating properly, our immune system can naturally protect us against dangers that come our way. When in a state of dysfunction, our immunity can be under-responsive (allowing for infections to take over) or overactive (causing allergic reactions or chronic auto-immune diseases).
Before diving into how you can strengthen this complex system, it’s important to understand the two types of immunity that work together to keep us healthy.
Two Types of Immunity: Innate & Adaptive
The immune system is categorized into two types: innate immunity and adaptive immunity, which must work together to form an effective immune response to dangers attacking our bodies.
To protect against infections, our bodies must recognize pathogens quickly and trigger “stranger danger” signals in order to fight back effectively. If it's a new germ the body hasn’t encountered before, the innate immune system is triggered as a first line of defense to fight off new invading pathogens.
Molecules present on the outside of foreign cells (such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc.) are recognized as “not-self” by the cells in the innate immune system, which triggers a chain reaction of immune events, including inflammation and destruction of invading cells. This response can occur quickly, even if you’ve never been previously exposed to a particular germ.
Here are a few of the most powerful players of the innate immune system:
- Macrophages & Neutrophils: White blood cells that locate foreign bodies (such as bacteria and parasites) and "eat" them, in a process called phagocytosis. They activate the adaptive immune cells and are the hallmark of acute inflammation.
- Natural Killer (NK) Cells: White blood cells which serve to contain viral infections and limit their spread while the adaptive immune response clears the infection.
- Dendritic Cells: Potent antigen* presenting cells (APCs) that have the ability to stimulate the adaptive immune cells, making them a messenger between the systems. (*An antigen is any toxin or foreign substance that stimulates an immune response.)
- Mast Cells: White blood cells involved in allergic reactions and wound healing.
- Cytokines: Made by activated macrophages and are involved in the regulation of inflammatory reactions—some heighten response (pro-inflammatory), whereas others serve to reduce inflammation and promote healing (anti-inflammatory).
- Chemokines: Act as chemoattractants, leading to the migration of immune cells to an infection area to target and destroy invading foreign bodies.
Once the body has come into contact with a disease-causing pathogen for the first time, the adaptive immune system stores information about the germ and how to fight it. This learning is stored in signalling molecules called antibodies, which allow the body to recognize previous pathogens straight away to begin fighting them faster.
The major players of the adaptive immune system are:
- B Lymphocytes: White blood cells that mature in the bone marrow and function in the immune system to remember and protect against past infections by secreting antibodies, which recognize and tag pathogens that re-enter the body.
- T Lymphocytes: White blood cells that tailor the body's immune response to specific pathogens. Upon recognition, T cells undergo amplification of functions which "help" other immune cells kill pathogen-infected cells with surgical precision.
7 ways to strengthen your immune system
Having a weakened immune health might mean that one or all of the above components are not working properly, or that the system is easily overwhelmed. In this case, you might frequently get sick or be more susceptible to illnesses that are going around. In other cases, the germ could be so powerful that no matter the coordinated efforts of our immune system, it’s still able to invade and make us sick.
In either case, here are 7 ways to help stay healthy and holistically strengthen your immune system:
- Eat your fruits and veggies: Plants contain trace minerals and vitamins that are the building blocks of our immune system’s cells. They need energy and nutrients to fight off infections. Look for foods high in Vitamin A, C, D, Zinc, and Magnesium. Other foods with phytonutrients known to boost the immune system are garlic, green onion, ginger, and turmeric. Try this great recipe for an anti-inflammatory and immune boosting chicken soup.
- Support your gut: For maximum absorption of all the goodness from the foods mentioned above, consider eating a diet low in inflammatory foods (we suggest eliminating foods that are processed, sugary, or ‘vegetable oils’) and taking a probiotic. Taking care of your gut will also support your hormones.
- Sleep: For adults, 7-8 hours of deep, restorative sleep is positively correlated with a healthy immune system
- De-stress: The cortisol spikes associated with stress decrease the immune response. Mitigating stress with yoga, deep breathing, peaceful walks, or whatever brings you calm will allow the immune system to function properly.
- Wash your hands & cover your mouth: Washing your hands and avoid touching commonly used public surfaces helps to avoid contracting germs. Covering your mouth when you cough/ sneeze or wearing a face mask helps to limit the spread of your own germs (common misunderstanding that masks prevent contracting germs, when it's more about not sharing yours with others).By taking these preventative measures, disease transmission is significantly slowed.
- Take care of your overall health. Prioritizing exercise, limiting alcohol consumption, stopping smoking, staying hydrated, etc. will decrease body-wide inflammation, lower blood pressure, increase mood, support liver and kidney function, amongst others. Keeping all systems healthy means you’re less susceptible to illness.
- Supplement wisely: The immune system is complex and needs support in many ways. Just one nutrient or active ingredient will not be enough to enhance every aspect. A well rounded approach offers the best chance of fighting off a pathogen and recovering quickly from infections. Herbs such as Astragalus, Reishi, or Ginseng are known to support the immune system long-term, while Skullcap, Bupleurum, or Andrographis are taken at the onset of illness to help support the immune system in the near-term. All of these herbs are organically sourced and blended in the Elix Stay Well and Get Well Immunity Duo.