How To Encourage A Healthy Immune System

How To Encourage A Healthy Immune System

We tend to think of our immune system as these tiny cells that attack and destroy pathogens, which of course they do! But the immune system is a little more complex. Lets take a look at how the immune system functions and how it protects our bodies from invading pathogens.

The skin is the first layer of defense against external pathogens. Consisting of hair follicles, sweat glands, nerve endings and capillaries transporting blood, the skin is the largest organ in the body. And it plays a vital role in shielding our bodies from pathogens and environmental toxins.

The skin's primary function is to serve as a barrier, protecting the internal organs from physical and chemical attack, invasion of pathogens and excessive water loss. 

Internally, we also have our immune system that protects us. 

Humans have three types of immunity:

  • Innate 
  • Adaptive
  • Passive

Innate immunity includes the external barriers of our body — the first line of defense against pathogens — such as the skin and mucous membranes of the throat and gut.

The components of the innate immune system are:

  • Macrophages: Named for the Greek words that mean "big eaters", these long- limbed cells are true to their moniker. They are voracious, using flexible tendrils to snag and attack their targets.
  • Neutrophils: These short-lived cells are the first line of defense against infection. They kill bacteria, then die, forming pus.
  • Dendritic cells: These are the innate immune system's traffic cops, directing T-cells and B-cells to their targets.
  • Mast cells: They produce histamines that help the immune system attack allergens
  • Natural killer cells: These rapid-response cells attack viruses and may also be aggressive in attacking cancerous and pre-cancerous cells.

The adaptive immune system, also called acquired immunity, is sophisticated and takes longer to develop a plan of attack.


Which parts of the body are involved in the immune system?

There are a number of organs that are involved in the immune system. As we know, the skin is the first protective measure against potential invaders.

The thymus gland is an organ that is located behind the sternum bone and produces cells that mature into T-cells, which help other parts of the immune system function properly. 

The lymph system is a network of tissues that work to move a liquid called lymph through your circulatory system. It helps to produce immune cells including lymphocytes, monocytes and antibody producing cells called plasma cells.

The spleen is an organ that is located under the rib cage, above the stomach. It filters the blood and removes old, deformed or damaged red blood cells.

Lastly, our bone marrow which is a spongy substance found in the center of our bones has a very important function. The bone marrow produces red blood cells, platlets and white blood cells. Lymphocytes are produced in the marrow and as we learned above, they have an important part in our immune system.


What can impair the immune system?

  • stress
  • toxic load
  • food allergens

The immune response

The five sub-classes of antibodies each have a different niche within the immune system:

1. Immunoglobulin A - is found in high concentrations in the mucous membranes, particularly those lining the respiratory passages, GI tract and genitourinary tract, as well as in saliva, tears and breast milk. Their main function is to prevent pathogens from entering the circulatory system.

2. Immunoglobulin D - antibodies function mainly as antigen receptors on the cell membranes of B-cells that have not been exposed to antigens. They also activate mast cells to produce cytokines, which are chemical messengers of inflammation

3. Immunoglobulin E - bind to allergens when the immune system overreacts to environmental antigens, such as pollen or pet dander, triggering histamine release from mast cells and basophils, and causing the symptoms of allergy

4. Immunoglobulin G - the most abundant type of antibody, is found in all body fluids, and provides the majority of antibody-based immunity from pathogens. They are capable of crossing the placenta to provide passive immunity to the fetus.

5. Immunoglobulin M - found mainly in the blood and lymp fluid, is the first antibody to be made by the body, starting in the fetus, to fight a new infection. It interacts with the innate immune system to direct complement proteins and macrophages to attack the antigen it binds to.


So now that we know how our immune system works, its important to support it so that it can function optimally.

Immune Boosters vs. Builders — What's the difference?

Immune boosters stimulate the immune system without nourishing it. They can help fight infections but may not be safe for auto immune conditions.

Immune builders support and nourish the immune system to help it function at its optimal level. This can be a more supportive approach.

Immune Boosters include:

  • Garlic
  • Echinacea
  • Astragalus
  • Reishi
  • Ginseng

Immune Builders include:

  • Probiotics
  • Protein
  • A,C,E, Bioflavonoids
  • Magnesium
  • Essential Fatty Acids
  • B-Complex

Whether you are wanting to support your immune system or improve its function. Consider how this complex system functions and the ways we can support it.

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