What does the immune system do?
The immune system plays a vital role in keeping us healthy and feeling well. The immune system is made up of an intricate system of cells, tissues, proteins, and organs (1, 2). Besides the nervous system, the immune system is one of the most complex systems in the body (2). This system works together to protect us against viruses, bacteria, or other foreign substances by keeping them out of the body and if that doesn’t happen the immune works to find the invaders and destroys them (1, 2). If the immune system becomes weak and it can’t protect the body against pathogens, then we can become susceptible to minor illnesses or to potentially deadly diseases. Some disorders of the immune system include: allergies, asthma, immune deficiency disorders (HIV), and autoimmune diseases (1).
Discussing the immune system is a very large and multifaceted topic. Therefore, this will be a multi part series of posts in which we will cover many different topics over the coming weeks. Topics will include nutrients/foods that can help to boost the immune system, herbs that are immuno-protective, and lifestyle habits that can benefit a strong immune system.
Your first line of defense against pathogens and to maintain a strong immune system is to live a healthy lifestyle (3). We will get more into the detail in future weeks, but I wanted to touch upon some healthy actions you can take today to either start or stay on a road to health and wellness.
Healthy lifestyle habits that will help your immune system includes (3):
Quitting smoking if you do
Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables
Maintaining a healthy weight.
Drinking alcohol in moderation, if you do drink
Getting an adequate amount of sleep
Taking steps to avoid infection (washing your hands and cooking meats thoroughly)
Future posts will also cover how deficiencies in some micronutrient like zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E can alter our immune function (3). We will explore the amount of each nutrient you need to take in each day for a strong immune system as well as the best food sources for each.
Herbs can also be beneficial to supporting the immune system. Some of the herbs we will delve into a bit further include echinacea, ginger, turmeric, elderberry, garlic, ginseng, and cinnamon.
Finally, another big focus of this blog series will be the role that stress can have on our immune system. Stress is difficult to define because what may be stressful for one person is not for another (3). Stress is the result when life events exceed your capabilities of managing it. Stress causes the body to produce the stress hormone cortisol (5). In brief instances, cortisol can boost the immune system by limiting inflammation (5). However, when stress becomes chronic and you have too much cortisol in your blood you are at higher risk for inflammation and reduced immune function. Stress also decreases the body’s number of lymphocytes. These are the white blood cells that help to fight off viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens (5). In the future we will further explore ways to keep stress under control.
Our immune system is vital for our health and existence on this planet. There are simple measures we can take every day to stay healthy and well!
About the Author: Leanne DiMaio earned her Master’s degree in Applied Clinical Nutrition from New York Chiropractic College in December 2017. She is currently working on her Doctorate degree in Clinical Nutrition at Maryland University of Integrative Health. Leanne is passionate about helping others achieve their optimal state of health and wellness. She is currently earning clinical hours toward the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential under Kim Ross's supervision.
1. MedlinePlus. Immune System and Disorders | Autoimmune Disease. Medlineplus.gov. https://medlineplus.gov/immunesystemanddisorders.html. Published 2018. Accessed August 5, 2018.
2. PubMed Health. Immune System. PubMed Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0025680/. Published 2018. Accessed August 5, 2018.
3. Harvard Publishing. How to boost your immune system. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system. Published 2018. Accessed August 5, 2018.
4. One Green Planet. Seven Healing Herbs and Spices to Boost the Immune System. One Green Planet. http://www.onegreenplanet.org/natural-health/seven-healing-herbs-spices-boost-immune-system/. Published 2018. Accessed August 5, 2018.
5. Cleveland Clinic. What Happens When Your Immune System Gets Stressed Out?. Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-happens-when-your-immune-system-gets-stressed-out/. Published 2017. Accessed August 5, 2018.
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