Winter, spring, summer, and fall, 7 days a week and 24 hours a day our Immune System is on constant alert for harmful invading pathogens. Our immune systems are amazing machines that keep us living, laughing, and loving all to the best of our ability! And as long as our immune system is running smoothly we sometimes forget that it’s there. However, if it stops working properly we notice only too quickly.
The immune system keeps you healthy but it’s more than just your body fighting off infections. There are hundreds of intricate processes that work together to create multiple lines of defense. Through a combination of different cells, antibodies, and organs all working harmoniously our bodies locate, catalog, and remove any infections it finds. (1)
The immune system is pretty darn important but that doesn’t mean everyone knows how it works. In this article we will be explaining the basic functions of your immune system, things that may be weakening your immune system, and how you can work to keep it healthy.
How the immune system works:
The immune system is made up of various organs, cells and proteins. Different parts of your body all working together to protect you from infectious diseases and germs. (2)
The major parts of the immune system include:
- white blood cells
- bone marrow and thymus
- complement system
- lymphatic system
White blood cells:
White blood cells only account for 1% of your blood but they are essential to your health. Also knows an leukocytes your white blood cells circulate throughout the body constantly looking for invading pathogens. Most white blood cells will “eat” invading germs by absorbing and dissolving them. There are a few different types of white blood cells but all of them work together to keep you healthy. (3)
Two common of white blood cells are Phagocytes and Lymphocytes:
Phagocytes – a type of blood cell that envelopes and eats foreign, damaged, or dying cells that could cause harm to the body
Lymphocytes – a type of white blood cell that remembers foreign invaders in case they become present again, they attack any other cells that have already been compromised, and they alert other cells of the foreign invader(s)
Bone marrow and thymus:
Our bone marrow and thymus are two different parts of the body but both are involved in the production of white blood cells. Bone marrow is a soft tissue found inside our bones. Bone marrow produces both white and red blood cells. (4)
The thymus scans our blood to make sure we have enough white blood cells and it helps in the production of Lymphocytes when there aren’t enough. The thymus is also one of the only organs that is larger when we are children. As we age it begins to shrink but it doesn’t stop working for as long as we are alive. (5)
Your spleen is another important part of the immune system. The spleen plays the important role of filtering our blood. As it filters your spleen is constantly on the lookout for old or malformed blood cells that kay cause damage. Your spleen can also filter micro-organisms like viruses from your blood. (6)
Antibodies are specialized proteins produced by our immune system to fight foreign bacteria. Antibodies are produced by white blood cells called B lymphocytes (B cells). When B cells come into contact with any foreign bacteria they produce specialized antibodies to fight that specific bacteria. (7)
The complement system is made up of a large number of proteins that react with each other to start inflammatory responses. By causing inflammation the complement system is helping to fight infections. Inflammation fights infections by causing increased blood flow to the effected area. In turn this increased blood flow brings more white blood cells that can eliminate invading germs. (8)
The final piece to our immune systems is the lymphatic system. A bit more substantial than some other parts of the immune system the Lymphatic system reaches throughout your body. Made up of organs and tissues the lymphatic system helps our body maintain fluid levels while helping dispose of toxins and waste within the body. The Lymphatic system also works as a sort of highway for white blood cells allowing them to travel throughout the body. (9)
What can weaken your immune system?
Once you understand how the immune system works you need to know how to keep it working. An important part of maintaining your immune system is knowing what problems to look for.
One potential danger for your immune system is obesity. In addition to foreign invaders causing an immune response fat cells can also cause problems. Fat cells release chemicals (cytokines) that signal your immune system to activate. The more fat cells your body has the more cytokines is being released into your body. This constant signaling leads to a constant immune response and low-grade inflammation. When your body’s immune system is constantly on defense, it gets no time to regroup and eventually becomes fatigued. Then when an actual pathogen comes along your system is lacking in resources and cant fight that infection as effectively as normal. (10)
Today’s modern diet may provide beneficial protection from micro- and macronutrient deficiencies, but over abundance of calories and the macronutrients that compose our diet may all lead to increased inflammation, reduced control of infection, increased rates of cancer, and increased risk for allergic and auto-inflammatory disease. (11)
Another common reason for a weakened immune system is elevated levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that helps control our moods, fear, and motivation. Cortisol is generally produced in stressful situations and prevents some Lymphocytes (T-cells) from recognizing signals to attack enemies. Cortisol also inhibits the secretion of histamine which is important when recruiting more white blood cells. (12)
Some other problems include:
- UV Radiation: UV radiation can inhibit the production of new blood cells. This is why our blood is made in our bones ( the darkest part of our bodies).
- Alcohol : Alcohol can increase the chance of viral invasions by impairing cellular communication.
- Nicotine (including from e-cigarettes): Nicotine naturally increases cortisol levels which can exacerbate the problems you may experience from constant stress.
How to keep your immune system healthy:
There are hundreds of ways to sabotage your immune system but luckily there are just as many ways to keep it healthy. Some of the best ways to improve your immune system are as follows:
One of the most natural ways to boost your immune system is through your diet / nutrition. Some of the most important nutrients for immune health include VItamin C & D, Zinc, Beta Carotine, and Protein. Some of the best foods for these helpful nutrients include:
- Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, and broccoli.
- Vitamin D is found in fatty fish and eggs. Milk and any food that have been fortified with vitamin D.
- Zinc is best from animal sources including beef and seafood. You can also find it in plant-based foods like wheat germ, beans, nuts and tofu.
- Beta Carotene is in such plants as sweet potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, mango, and broccoli
- Protein can come from both animal and plant-based sources. some of these include dairy, beef, seafood, eggs, chicken, seeds, beans and lentils.
All of these foods are great options for boosting your immune system but its most important to have a balanced diet. Making sure you are eating enough serving of fruits and vegetables every day is still important and avoiding heavily processed foods is always a good option!
Moderation in smoking or drinking
If you can it’s probably best to stop smoking and drinking altogether. However, if you don’t want to stop entirely moderation is always a good option.
By drinking less often you are giving your body a good opportunity to clear the toxins from your system and focus on invading germs and viruses. Cutting back on smoking does the same. Smoking less will reduce your cortisol levels which allows your body to focus on keeping you healthy.
Wear sunscreen no matter the season
A lot of the best ways to boost your immune system is by simply avoiding any potential trouble makers. UV radiation can have a negative effect on cell production. By reducing your exposure to UV you are allowing your body to regenerate from any damage it may have received.
Get off the couch and move 2-3 times a week
There is no need to overdo it but staying active can have a positive effect on your immune system. Physical activity can help flush bacteria out of your lungs and airways but it can also strengthen your immune system against future invasions! (13)
If any of the above is alarming – remember measures can always be taken to improve your health and boost your immune system.
Our bodies are incredible machines and our immune systems are a big part of that machine. From our blood cells to our bone marrow we are full of cells and organs that work constantly to keep us healthy. In turn we are also responsible for keeping our own immune systems healthy. By taking care of our bodies, eating right, and avoiding bad habits we can put ourselves in the best position to live happy and healthy lives!
Need help getting started on improving your Immune Health? WLD is dedicated to helping its community make positive changes after every article we post!