What is our immune system? How do we keep it strong and what's needed to boost our immunity in times of need? For a lot of us, beyond upping our vitamin C, we aren’t taught much about our immune system and more often than not we only think about it when we are already unwell.
With immunity on the mind more than ever these days, what can we do to support our strong natural immunity year around? In this blog we explore the two parts of our immune system, the innate and adaptive, as well as key hero nutrients to boost up and keep our immune system nice and strong for when we need it.
If you’re in contact with someone who has a cold and germs pass from them to you, having a strong immune system is what will be the difference between you getting sick or keeping healthy.
How Does The Immune System Work?
Put simply, the job of the immune system is essentially to fight off harmful invaders in the body also known as antigens. An antigen is any substance that triggers your immune system and activates it to produce antibodies that effectively keep you safe and well.
When activated, immune molecules attach themselves to these invaders, 'disarm' them, and in essence 'destroy' them before they can do us any harm. When our immune system is weak we have have less ability to fight off and destroy these invaders. So, if you’re in contact with someone who has a cold and germs pass from them to you, having a strong immune system is what will be the difference between you getting sick or keeping healthy.
Our immune system has two branches that are worth knowing about:
The Innate Immune System
This is our first line of defence and is the part of our immune system we have had since we were born. It helps to keep harmful invaders and toxins out of our body. Our innate immune system includes things like our skin, coughing reflex, mucous and mucous membranes, and immune cells. It works really quickly and comes into action immediately, such as the swelling or inflammation we experience when we cut our finger and need to protect ourselves from foreign invaders or germs.
The Adaptive Immune System
The adaptive system is also known as our acquired immune system and is directly impacted by our exposure to germs, viruses and foreign entities across our lifespan. This system is what is utilised when we get things like vaccinations, it learns about invaders from when first exposed to a particular virus, bacteria or foreign substance. This learning then enables our immune system to react with haste and precision the next time we see the same invader and get rid of the infection faster.
So, since we have some control over our immune system and how it responds, what can we do to support it?
For healthy baseline immunity our body relies on broad spectrum essential nutrients that both rejuvenate our cells and keep our immune system strong.
What Nutrients Support the Immune System?
For healthy baseline immunity our body relies on broad spectrum essential nutrients that both rejuvenate our cells and keep our immune system strong. Let’s look at some of the nutrient and herbal big hitters that support a strong natural immune system.
Vitamin D is largely responsible for controlling our immune response. Deficiency of this crucial nutrient is associated with increased autoimmunity, and increased risk of infection.
As an active form, vitamin D3 is the most bioavailable option. Inactive forms (of any nutrients) require the use of other nutrients to convert them into active forms.
Zinc is involved in regulating both our innate and adaptive immune system. Deficiency in zinc is associated with impaired function of innate immune cells.
The most bioavailable form of zinc is zinc picolinate. In many processes related to our immune system, zinc works in a complementary manner with vitamin C.
Our ability to build immune cells is vitamin c dependent—so safe to say that vitamin C is a very important part of the strong immunity equation! Vitamin C has a short half-life, meaning it doesn't stay in our body very long. Topping up our stores on the daily is incredibly supportive for our immune cells and since it’s near-impossible to ‘overdose’ on vitamin C, the more the better!
For generations, herbs found in nature have been used to both prevent illness and to shorten our experience of it. Echinacea and holy basil leaf are known for their anti-stress and antiviral effects and soothe our immune system. Ginger root is lauded for the easing of nausea and marshmallow root can help ease gastric inflammation and soothe the lungs. Incorporating these herbs into our diets in small doses each day nourishes our bodies from the inside out and can be taken in larger quantities when we feel the first signs of ills and chills.
What Should I Eat To Support My Immune System?
The food we eat can either support or inhibit our immune system. Nutrient-dense whole foods are the best foods we can be eating to protect ourselves from nasty invaders.
To help you and your family stay well this winter, we have put together 8 of our favourite whole food, immune-supporting recipes. Click to download this nourishing FREE resource.