'Immune system' can seem like a bit of an abstract concept, right? How does it work? What exactly is it? How can I help my immune system help me? And, for a lot of us, beyond upping our vitamin C intake, we aren’t taught a lot about it and tend to only think about immunity when we are already unwell. But it’s actually really easy to do and is one of the best investments we can make in our health.
In this blog we are going to explore the two types of immunity: Innate and adaptive as well as the four hero nutrients of immunity so we can support our health all year round.
How Does The Immune System Work?
Put simply, the job of the immune system is essentially to destroy antigens that have been tagged by the body as an invader. An antigen is any substance that causes your immune system to produce antibodies.
Immune molecules can attach themselves to these invaders and 'disarm' them, then destroy them before they can do us any harm. So, if you’re in contact with someone who has a cold and germs pass from them to you, a healthy immune system will get to work.
Our immune system has two branches:
The Innate Immune System
The Innate Immune system This is our first line of defence and is the immune system we have had since we were born. It is non-specific (untrained) and helps to keep harmful materials out of our body. It includes things like our skin, coughing reflex, mucous and mucous membranes, and immune cells. It works really quickly and comes into action immediately if, say, we cut our finger and need to protect ourselves from foreign invaders. or germs.
The Adaptive Immune System
The Adaptive Immune System The adaptive system is also known as our acquired system and is directly impacted by our exposure to germs, viruses and foreign entities across our lifespan. This system is the target of vaccinations or is undergoes training when we are first exposed to a particular virus, bacteria or foreign substance. This training enables our immune system to react with haste and precision the next time we see the same invading substance and get rid of the infection faster.
This system is more associated with addressing molecules from the outside world. It 'adapts' to pathogens we've been exposed to that our body has deemed an invader.
So, since we have some control over our immune system and how it responds, what can we do to support it?
What Nutrients Support the Immune System?
For healthy baseline immune function, we need to have broad spectrum essential nutrients in adequate levels. Let’s look at three big-hitters:
We can build a healthy base with a healthy, balanced, whole-food diet. Beyond that, we introduce our immunity superheroes.
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 function. 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.