The immune system is an intricate network of specialized tissues, organs, cells, and chemicals. The lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, thymus gland, and tonsils all play a role, as do lymphocytes (specialized white blood cells), antibodies, and interferon.
Two types of immunity protect the body: innate and adaptive. Innate immunity is present at birth and provides the first barrier against micro-organisms. The skin, mucus secretions, and the acidity of the stomach are examples of innate immunity that act as barriers to keep unwanted germs away from more vulnerable tissues.
Adaptive immunity is the second barrier to infection. It is acquired later in life, such as after an inoculation or successfully fighting off an infection. The adaptive immune system retains a memory of all the invaders it has faced. This is why people usually get the measles only once, although they may be repeatedly exposed to the disease. Unfortunately some bugs—such as the viruses that cause the common cold—“disguise” themselves and must be fought off time and again by the immune system.
The immune system is constantly under pressure to keep the body free from infection by fighting off a variety of different pathogens mainly bacteria, viruses, yeast and fungi. It protects us from cancer and detoxifies the body. It therefore goes without saying that the health of the immune system is vitally important to enable to efficiently overcome these challenges. If an in
fection occurs or the body is overloaded with toxins or carcinogens, then the immune system has to work harder and
It is vital to give the immune system all that it needs to function well through a nutritious diet, healthy lifestyle and appropriate supplementation.can become weakened. A suppressed immune system can lead to repeated infections, vulnerabilty to cancer and other serious illness, impaired wound healing because the body’s ability to heal is impaired.
Nutritional Supplements that could help. (Refer to the individual supplement for cautions in use.)
|Supplement/Herb||What it does||Dosage|
|Vitamin C||Vitamin C increases white blood cell function, interferon production and antibody activity. Also helps inflamed mucous membranes to heal.||1000 mg 3 times daily|
|Zinc||Zinc is a primary nutrient in immune function, particularly due to its beneficial effects on thymus gland function and white blood cell function. It is also required for the liberation of stored vitamin A from the liver.||15 – 30mg per day|
|Vitamin A||Stimulates immune activity and help prevent infection getting into the mucous membranes. Essential if you already have an infection.||5000- 10,000iu daily|
|Selenium||Promotes immune function,increasing natural killer cell activity and the ability of lymphocytes to kill abnormal cells.||50 – 200ug per day|
|Astragalus||Astragalus is an adaptogenic herb that may be especially valuable in the long-term recovery of people with moderate to severely weakened immune systems. Because it increases the activity of white blood cells it is suitable for use as a preventative against recurring colds, flu and bronchitis, as well as an adjunct to other supplements in chronic illnesses and supporting long term recovery from debilitating viral infections.||225 – 675mg per day|
|Ashwagandha||It activates lymphocytes and boosts immune response.||As directed|
|Rhodiola||Iimproves resistance to stress, as well as having direct immune supportive properties. Rhodiola has been shown to increase the activity of certain immune cells, including natural killer cells and B-cells and is associated with improved infection resistance.||250 – 750mg per day|
|Anti-oxidant formula||An anti-oxidant formula will supply bioflavanoids, vitamins A, C & E, selenium, zinc and beta carotene which all support immune response.||as directed.|
Needed to make white blood cells and anti-bodies. Very useful for athletes who get recurrent infections.
|2.5 to 5 grams after exercise and 2 hours later.|
|Acidophilus||For immune system support, alos produce acids that kill of harmful bacteria.||as directed|
|Fish Oil||An important supplement when there is severe infection or after surgery. Omega 3 fats support immune activity.||1-2 grms daily with antioxidants or Vitamin E to protect it from oxidation.|
|Vitamin E||To enhance immune function and speed the healing process.||400-800iu daily|
|Echinacea||Activates all actions of the immune system and is very useful if there is already an infection.||as directed|
Diet and Lifestyle Factors
Try to eat little and often, ideally every 2 to 3 hours as this provides a consistent supply of nutrients to the immune system, as well as helping to keep blood sugar levels stable. Avoid having large meals, as the body concentrates on the digestive process it temporarily suppresses the immune system. Avoid having very hot or very cold drinks as this has the same effect.
All forms of sugar (including honey) interfere with the ability of white blood cells to destroy bacteria. Cut down on or preferably eliminate white table sugar, glucose, cakes, sweets, biscuits, chocolates, honey and concentrated fruit juices.
Make sure that you are not intolerant to any foods by having a food intolerance test. See Food allergies
Alcohol intake interferes with a wide variety of immune defenses, making it more prone to infections and less able to fight them off. Do not binge drink, aim to drink no more than 1 to 2 units of alcohol each day. 1 unit equals half pint of beer or a pub measure of wine or spirits. Avoid alcohol altogether if you have an infection.
An excess of dietary fat suppresses the immune system. Avoid altogether trans and hydrogenated fats and aim to eat 3 portions of oily fish a week. Hidden hydrogenated fat is often found in burgers, pies, sausages, pastries, cakes, spreads and desserts. Avoid fried foods and high fat dressings or sauces.
Many studies have demonstrated immune-stimulating effects from yoghurt which contains live cultures, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and other probiotics (friendly bacteria). In preliminary human studies, consumption of live probiotic-containing yoghurt has been associated with a reduced incidence of a few immune-related diseases, including cancer, infections of the stomach and intestines, and some allergic reactions. Avoid fruit yogurts as they tend to have a high sugar content, thereby defeating the object of taking the yogurt.
Taking probiotics is especially important after a course of antibiotics. Antibiotics do not discriminate between good and bad bacteria and kill off the lot! The most efficient way to take probiotics is to take a good quality supplement, which will provide many thousand times the amount of bacteria that are normally found in a yogurt or probiotic drink.
Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, 5 to 7 servings per day. They contain a wide range of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants which are all needed for the optimal function of the immune system. Incorporate as much variety into your diet as possible.
Protein provides the building material for antibodies and white blood cells and so is vital for a healthy immune system. Eat good quality, free range, organic sources of protein such as fish, poultry, lean meat, dairy products, eggs and pulses.
Do not smoke. Smoking produces free radicals which damage the immune system and destroy vitamin C. Each cigarette destroys 25mg of vitamin C, so a 20 a day habit will destroy 500mg of much needed vitamin C. This is why smokers tend to get more infections and take longer to heal after injury.
Both excessive thinness and severe obesity are associated with impaired immune responses and an increased risk of infection. Endeavour to maintain your ideal body weight. Attempts to lose weight through dietary restriction creates a stressful environment in the body, which in turn suppresses the immune system. See the article on successful weight loss for more information.
Regular moderate physical activity has positive effects on immunity, and has been shown to reduce the risk of infection. Exercise actually increases natural killer cell activity and helps fight infections. At least 30 minutes of exercise 3 times a week is ideal. Anything that makes your heart work harder and gets you breathing faster is fine. However, be aware that very intense and prolonged exercise, such as running a marathon or overtraining, can, in the short term, actually increase the risk of developing infections.
Sleep is an important time when your body engages repair and recovery processes. Make sure that you are getting adequate sleep for your needs.
Stress has a detrimental effect on immunity and should be avoided. Learn relaxation techniques, give yourself “down-time”, eat healthily and take time out to enjoy yourself. Avoid over-exercising and keep a positive attitude toward life.
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