There's a constant battle within us that is far deeper and more complex than our urge to shop, hold the TV remote or sneak in a midnight snack. Unfortunately, we don't see, hear or feel it...that is, until something goes wrong.
Our immune system is our greatest asset in the battle against germs and viruses. Most of us readily accept the fact that supporting a healthy immune system is good, especially in times of pandemics. But we also want to know "how" and "why" it works the way it does. After all, caring for yourself isn't selfish; its called survival. And, how can you care for others if you're not healthy? I've tackled these questions from the perspective of a mom who wants to be healthy for herself and the family that depends on her.
Defense Against Viruses & Bacteria
When we refer to our "immune system" we're describing a system of cells, tissues and organs that protect and defend our bodies from invasion of disease. A healthy immune system holds the keys to differentiate between our body's good cells and potentially bad one's like germs and bacteria, which it destroys when working properly. When our immune system is off its game it may not properly identify bad cells or it can turn against our own healthy cells, which is what happens in autoimmune diseases.
Having a healthy immune system allows us to go about our daily routines with normal precautions. We can play still roll in the dirt a little and take a dog lick on the face without ending up in the ER.
How it works
The first line of defense is superficial and chemical, but in a good way. Our skin, nails, hair, mucus membranes and other things that physically prevent most viruses and bacteria from entering our body and bloodstream. These physical barriers are supported by essential micro-nutrients like vitamins and minerals, proper sleep, a balanced diet and reduction of stress.
But, as we know, sometimes viruses and bacteria make it through our outer shields. That's where the second and third lines of defense comes into play. Our second line of defense, called Innate Immunity, is one we're born with; and the third line of defense, called Adaptive or Acquired Immunity, is what our body develops and learns over time. Unfortunately, as we age, our body's immunity weakens like the sound quality on a vinyl record.
When our first line of defense is breached, a healthy immune system will send in troops of specialized white blood cells called Leukocytes to search and destroy. These battles primarily occur in our gut and lymph systems. And, other times, when the response fails, it can lead to a fever or infection. And, in some cases, the attack is exaggerated and affects our own healthy cells, which is what happens in allergic reactions, asthma, or autoimmune disease.
Our white blood cells are produced in our bone marrow, which is part of our Lymph system. Bone marrow is the General that pumps out the troops (Leukocytes). There are many types of Leukocytes, and they all produce many types of antibodies, which are like specialized soldiers that bind to specific types of antigens, viruses and bacteria. There are three types of specialized soldier cells: granulocytes, lymphocytes (T-cells and B-cells) and monocytes. Think of them like the Air Force, Army and Navy. These guys can spot enemy cells by the proteins on their surfaces, like the uniforms on an enemy soldiers.
Think of supporting your immune system as growing, training, feeding and equipping your inner warrior.
A healthy immune system works well against most known enemies, but can be trickier with new unfamiliar one's like Covid-19. And, sometimes these battles can become wars, which is what happens when we experience inflammation, fever, pain and aches. Our immune system is a bit like the anti-virus software on our computers. It needs to be current and updated to be effective, otherwise the spam and Trojan horses can win. So, how do we do that?
The good news is that much of it comes down to good old common sense.
1. Exercise daily, if you don't already do so. Exercise helps your body eliminate toxins like bacteria. The simple act of getting your blood flowing means that those antigens and antibodies (specialized soldiers) are flowing through your body faster and being more efficient at binding with each other and destroying invaders.
2. Cut down on alcohol if you consume more than a beer or glass of wine every few days. Alcohol interferes with immunity health mainly in your gut, which is where the majority of immune activities occur.1
3. Don't smoke. Smoking causes inflammation in the lungs, deprives bone marrow of oxygen and suppresses the activity of immune cells, which are all very bad things for your immune system.
3. Reduce stress and anxiety. This is important because stress can lead to an increase in hormones, particularly cortisol, which tapers the production of white blood cells (the good soldiers!). Stress and lack of sleep go hand-in-hand. You'll be stressed if you're not sleeping well. Just ask any parent with a new-born.
4. Eat right! Avoid processed foods and sugars. Instead, consume fruits and colorful veggies rich in micro-nutrients that are key to the growth and function of immune cells. Our bodies need the support of vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, iron and amino acids which are abundant in a well-balanced diet. Unfortunately, having a well-balanced diet is easier said than done if you have kids that won't even look at veggies, and you don't want to constantly clean up your blender. If that's the case, consider adding Self Supplements to your routine.
Self Supplements are formulated to be a powerhouse of immunity support with the trusted essentials like vitamins C and D, zinc, elderberry, echinacea and organic mushrooms. All of these ingredients are well-researched, known to support a healthy immune system and reduce the symptoms or duration of the common cold or flu. Elderberry, echinacea, mushrooms rich in beta glucan, selenium, niacin, peptides and essential amino acids are all helpful to avoid deficiencies that can lower the health of your immune system. Mushrooms may impact gut bacterial balance by enhancing the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut while suppressing harmful species.3
You got this!
Disclaimer: The information has not been reviewed or approved by the FDA and was provided as an educational resource, not medical advice. Please consult your medical care practitioner with any questions.
Acknowledgement: Dr. Evan Floreani, MD who is now a retired Internal Medicine physician specialized in hematology.