How Your Immune System Protects You and How You Can Help It Do Its Job
We’re deep into fall season now, and with all that cheer and merriment also comes a rise in cold and flu cases, extra exhaustion, increased stress, and the effects of colder weather on our bodies. There are maybe no other seasons like fall and winter that put such a strain on our bio systems, and one bio system in particular: our immune system.
So, now seemed like a good time to talk a little about how to keep your immune system up and running this fall, and even ways you can make it stronger.
Your immune system is made up of a network of organs, vessels, cells and microorganisms that work together to defend you, but a whopping 70% of its fighting ability resides in your gut. Your gut is the primary point of contact between your cells and the numerous pathogens you encounter, so it’s vitally important that your gut is intact and cared for properly. A little more on that later.
Your immune system can be classified in two parts. You were born with the innate immune system which responds quickly but non-specifically. Over time you build your adaptive immune system, which is slower to respond initially, but with repeated exposure becomes very specific at identifying threats and effective at eliminating pathogens.
Your innate immune system is considered the first line of defense for your body and it includes key players such as:
- Physical barriers like your skin (integumentary system) and mucous membranes (gastrointestinal tract, nose, eyes) designed to physically hold out pathogens.
- Chemical barriers like stomach acid which is a harsh environment where few pathogens can survive.
- Secretory barriers like enzymes (lysozyme destroys bacteria cell walls) and antibodies that inactivate pathogens
- Biological barriers like non-specific white blood cells
Your adaptive immune system, no surprise, adapts over time to help your body defend against learned pathogens and threats. “The integral parts of this system include:
- White blood cells like Memory B and T cells that specifically remember a pathogen for future reference
- Antibodies that directly or indirectly bind to and inactivate pathogens.
Immune System Degraders and Boosters
Your chosen lifestyle can either degrade or benefit your immune system. Things like:
- Staying well hydrated
When it comes to sleep, keep in mind that your immune system needs 8 hours a night to properly do its job. If you had a project that was going to take 3 hours to complete, but you were only given 2 hours to do it, the outcome would be shoddy at best.
We think this sentiment best sums up how lifestyle affects immunity:
When the immune system doesn’t have to defend against poor lifestyle choices, it can focus on the pathogens that are outside one’s control.
As we mentioned up top, your body’s ability to defend itself properly is largely dependent on the integrity of your gut, which is considered to be the foundation of your immune system. If your gut is ‘leaky’ (permeable), your immune system defenses are on high alert and anything that enters through its barriers is marked as dangerous, including large molecules from healthy foods that haven’t been digested properly.
This leads to a sweeping attack that leaves destruction in its path for not only pathogens, but other body systems as well. With all the connections from your gut to other parts of your body (brain connections in specific), it’s critically important to maintain a healthy gut barrier.
Your gut is also home to trillions of microbes that have a synergistic relationship with you. They help process the food you eat and create nutrients. They also help fight off invading pathogens and regulate your immune system.
There will always be some ‘bad’ microbes hanging around in your gut. But when you eat healthy foods and drink clean water, the ‘good’ microbes grow, flourish, and crowd out the bad microbes. However, when you eat junk carbohydrates (chips, fast food, processed foods) and drink empty calories (soda and alcohol) the ‘good’ microbes can’t survive, and the ‘bad’ ones take over. This further hinders your immune system’s ability to defend you.
Immune System Support
As we mentioned before, the body’s immune system can be supported and “supercharged” by a healthy diet. Here is a list of foods you can be looking for at the grocery store that can help boost your immunity this fall:
- Citrus fruits (like lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits)
- Button mushrooms
- Acai berries
- Low fat plain yogurt
- Sweet potato
- Green teas
- Plain almonds
Your body’s immune system is remarkable and has the ability to properly protect you. It just needs a little help from you. Focus on buying and preparing the right diet, about 150 minutes of exercise or movement a week, eight hours of sleep a night, and stress reduction (like meditation or focused breathing) a few minutes out of each day.
Additionally, consider signing up for one of our IV Infusion Therapies. If you feel like you’ve been too busy, aren’t getting the nutrients you need, or just need a boost – you can always come in to the LiveWell Clinic and get one of our quick and easy Infusions to get you back in tip-top shape.