Defending your immune system naturally
With all that is going on in the world right now, it seems like immunity is a hot topic that everybody wants to know about. You might be feeling a little powerless at the moment but there are a few things you can do to strengthen your immune system and help protect yourself, along with using a mask, washing your hands and self-isolating. After all, strengthening the body's resistance to illness is better than trying to find a cure.
Age, diet, stress and other lifestyle factors can affect the ideal function of the immune system.
First things first, you need to have a balanced diet, making sure you get a wide variety of nutrients. Different colours generally indicate different nutrients, hence why nutritionists and naturopaths always rave on about keeping your plate colourful. Orange is usually indicative of vitamin C, purple can indicate anti-oxidants and red is vitamin A. So what we’re saying is, eat a rainbow!
Think of the immune system as your own private security system, protecting you from invaders, germs and killer cells.
So, what exactly happens when you have an immune response?
The immune system protects the body from possibly harmful substances by recognizing and responding to antigens. Antigens are substances on the surface of cells, viruses, fungi, or bacteria (let’s think of these as tailor-made hats). The immune system recognizes that these ‘hats’ aren’t good and will destroy them, or try to destroy them.
Sometimes our immune system doesn’t recognize the presence of these antigens and they get through our system, which causes us to experience the symptoms of illness. The alarm is when you seem to get sick a lot or it takes a while for you to get over something.
In saying this, it is good to have a strong immune response, it means your body has the ability to fight off bacteria and viruses. It is essential to support our immune system with the key vitamins and minerals it needs to function well. These essential vitamins and minerals include vitamins C, D, E and zinc.
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and contributes to immune defence by supporting various cellular functions of the immune system. It supports epithelial (tissue) barrier function against pathogens and promotes oxidant scavenging activity of the skin; our first barrier of defence. It also helps your body to produce important antibodies that attach to antigens to neutralise them; making them ineffective. But our bodies need more than just vitamin C.
Vitamin D deficiency has shown to be associated with an immune system dysfunction, attacking the body instead of the bacteria, leading to an increased susceptibility to infection. Vitamin D modulates T cell production, which are like soldiers that search out and destroy invaders within our immune system.
There is a correlation between the immune system and zinc; as immune cells such as neutrophils, natural killer cells and macrophages all need zinc to function properly. These guys are all involved in detecting and fighting the infection.
Two powerful plants known for centuries to help support immunity are Elderberry and Echinacea. Elderberry has been shown to inhibit the replication and severity of certain viruses. It contains antioxidants; proanthocyanins and flavonoids, which are anti-microbial, anti-viral and protect cells to help fight off invaders.
Echinacea has also been shown to shorten the duration and severity of common colds and other upper respiratory infections, by increasing white blood cells, our defence mechanism within our immune system.
As you can imagine, supporting your immune system at this current time is important, to give it strength and a fighting chance. And the good news is there are so many other ways to support yourself on top of good nutrition. Keep an eye out for our upcoming blogs talking about this!