Everywhere you turn, there's a lot of talk (and some of it pretty far-fetched) about the immune system. The immune system is now front and center in everyone's thoughts. Coming through a worldwide pandemic can do that.
Understanding What the Immune System Is – The Basics
Your body is an amazing machine. It also has incredible repositories of databases and learning systems. It is cataloging information constantly. Cell memory. Emotional memory. Cognitive Memory.
But probably the most vital "library" for our survival is the gut. It has its own catalog of us vs. not us cells and detailed information about how to respond to each. The majority of our immune intelligence is found in our "second brain," the gut.
Our immune system's library of information is divided into two sections: our innate immunity, which we inherit from our mothers, and our learned or acquired immunity, which is like a Rolodex of everything we've been exposed to which our body has taken good notes about as it learned to detect, isolate, and conquer.
Our immune defenses kick into action when our bodies detect a foreign invader. Our first immune defensive maneuver comes from our innate immunity, which holds the line while our acquired immunity system gets a handle on what the body is dealing with and figures out how to stop it.
As the immune system mounts a full-scale defense, it needs a reserve of energy it can tap into to not only take on this new invader but keep doing the work it's been doing 24/7/365. It's a dangerous world we walk through every day, and our immune system is what ensures our survival.
In the headlines, we see a lot of claims for products that will "build your immune system" and "boost your immune system." Marketing and advertising departments work hard to entice you to fall for this kind of hyperbole, but it's lazy….and untrue.
- You can give your body the nutrition your immune system needs with a healthy diet and less stress so that resources can go to the immune system's fight when you are sick.
- You can choose a lifestyle and foods that don't add to the burdens your immune system is dealing with.
- But you cannot build or boost or create an immune system; you're born with it, or your body has learned it through experience…those are the only two choices.
Along with nutrition and lifestyle, there are added nutrients that are backed by clinical research you can use to help your body be strong and ensure your immune system has a reservoir of energy to draw from.
Who Are the Immune "Players"
The immune system has many layers. The first layer is physical barriers. For example, our skin, along with our body hair, create an effective barrier to invading pathogens.
Our "interior skin," also known as the lining of our gastrointestinal tract, provides a harsh environment and strong defense against pathogens. Our respiratory tract does too.
These systems produce secretions like mucus, bile, saliva, sweat, and tears, which also provide a biochemical defense to invaders.
At the cellular level, we have inflammation, lymph, and our own "special forces" teams – our immune cells.
One category of immune cells is our Leukocytes. These are further subcategorized as granulocytes (neutrophils, eosinophils, and basophils), lymphocytes (B cells, T cells including helper T cells and memory T cells, and Natural Killer (NK) cells), and phagocytes (neutrophils, monocytes, macrophages, mast cells, and dendritic cells). Some of these probably sound familiar from TV Commercials about cutting-edge therapies or drug side effects.
Another group is our Cell Surface Proteins (MHC 1 or 2). Our bodies also have these in that Rolodex of antibodies we discussed earlier. Antibodies are immunoglobulins like IgA, IgD, IgE, IgG, and IgM.
We can take a macro view of "sorting" all these players using the terms innate and acquired immunity teams. The immune protections we are born with are our first responders; they are our fast but non-specific defenses from our physical barriers (skin etc.), our biochemical reactions, inflammation, and the phagocytes circulating in our bodies.
Our acquired immune response is slower – our cells have to do some reconnaissance work to determine precisely who these pathogens are and develop a complex effective response.
The cells doing this intricate work are B Cells, T Cells, and Immunoglobulins. Working with these immune cells are receptors that recognize our immune fighters and help bind them to cell surfaces.
The foundation of success for our immune system is micronutrients for energy and to assist in the biochemical processes needed for a successful defense. These are vitamins like D and C; minerals like zinc, selenium, and magnesium; and clinically-proven nutrients such as Quercetin and Beta Glucans which are bolstered by the natural storehouse of immune system nutrition found in Colostrum.
Taking Control of Your Immune System’s Care
Amid the pandemic, we all became much more aware of vitamin D3 (which isn't actually a vitamin but a natural steroid) and, of course, vitamin C. In addition, holistic physicians and informed consumers have revived some very effective nutrients that had fallen out of popular use: Beta-glucans, Colostrum, and Quercetin are all well-studied and have been clinically shown to be extremely effective.
Researchers continue to uncover the role and function of various types of immune cells, including how they interact with the cascade of events during infection and recovery. We have learned more about how some nutrients can trigger a cascade of events that help regulate the immune system. We've become more familiar with cytokines and are unraveling what triggers a cytokine storm. And, we have learned how to mitigate an over-reaction when the immune system goes into overdrive.
When it comes to proactively supporting your immune health, two of the biggest things we've learned in recent years are
- how to improve the potency and delivery of nutrients with supplementation in a way that the immune system's cells can use them;
- how to prime the immune system so that it's robust and ready when it needs to double down on ensuring that you – the organism – survives.
We are in an era of innovation. We are learning how to ensure we have the best nutrients, that they are in a form that we can absorb quickly, and how they should be combined with other nutrients that make them work better.
For example, in the past, we could get iron from constantly being in the dirt, eating with our dirty hands, and walking barefoot. Every so often, we might crunch on a rock. Today we can get those same minerals in a cleaner form and in a way that our bodies can absorb them rather than as a rock sitting in your stomach.
We've also found ways to make nutrients that traditionally were hard to absorb rapidly enough as they traverse our digestive tract, far more easily digested or to be pre-digested, quickly absorbed, and put to work.
We've discovered that some non-protein-based nutrients work far better when combined with another vitamin, mineral, or fat. We've learned to dramatically improve availability, transport, and absorption with cofactors or catalysts.
And finally, we've discovered how to concentrate nutrition found in various foods. For example, you would need to eat 3.5 ounces of freshly harvested red onion to get 500 mg of Quercetin, that's about 1 medium onion…. every day. Here's the rub though: that's only your intake, not your absorption after digestion. But when Quercetin is combined with a phytosome (plant-based nutrient) like lecithin, it allows for a 20x increase in blood plasma levels from the same dosage. And bonus, no onion breath!
The exciting innovations in nutritional sciences and supplementation are the harbingers of protecting and dramatically improving our health in the coming decades. Products putting these breakthroughs to work right now are leading the way to a new era of self-care and vitality in the face of superbugs, antibiotic resistance, and the degradation of our food supply chain coupled with climate change.
A New Concept: Priming Your Immune System
It's The Secret to Being Prepared
The immune system is unique in design compared to our other bodily systems. Our other systems are an enclosed loop: our respiratory, circulatory, and digestive systems are comprised of organs with a common function. But the immune system and the lymphatic system call on structures from all of our other bodily systems – and both are vital to your ability to fight off parasites, bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
When the immune system detects a foreign invader, the alarm goes out. Depending on how deadly the invader seems to be, some of our other systems are downregulated to give the immune system more of our energy reserves when it is activated. Other supporting bodily systems are put into overdrive.
Activating the immune system happens AFTER you've been exposed to something or have gotten sick. You don't want to keep your immune system activated all the time (contrary to some of those headlines and "slick" marketing pieces you've seen) because your body can go into overdrive and even start attacking its own organs and systems, which becomes an autoimmune disorder.
However, there is something you can do to ensure your immune system is always ready with a robust and appropriate response. It's called priming your immune system. Interestingly, during the COVID pandemic, researchers found that some people exposed to the virus had a significant, appropriate, and effective immune response without ever having been exposed to the virus!
Another way to think about priming is that we are training the immune system. Scientists believe that priming the immune system capitalizes on our innate immunity or immunological memory so that our defense systems are ready when challenged. In fact, this is the basis of the new messenger RNA vaccines introduced to fight COVID-19. In simple terms, we give the immune system information about a pathogen and teach the immune system to remember that pathogen without running the risk of infection or strong immune system response.
Alpha and beta-glucans derived from yeast and mushrooms convey this resistance information to our immune system beautifully. For years, studies were focused on the adaptive immune system and its learning patterns. But in research published in the journal Cell, scientists took a different tack and discovered that beta-glucan inspired the production of innate immune system neutrophils.
Colostrum holds a vast repository of innate immunity information. And Quercetin has antiviral information about RNA (influenza and coronavirus) and DNA viruses (herpes virus).
We Are In The Midst Of Exciting And Revolutionary Research For Health And Self-Care.
You can put these cutting-edge discoveries to work for your own health right now! Along with the basics – enough sleep, rest/reduced stress, adequate hydration, and non-toxic/inflammatory foods, look for effective supplements to help prime your immune system before you need it to mount a full-scale defense.
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Divangahi, M., Aaby, P., Khader, S.A. et al. Trained immunity, tolerance, priming and differentiation: distinct immunological processes. Nat Immunol 22, 2–6 (January 2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41590-020-00845-6
Kalafati, L., Kourtzelis, I., et al Innate Immune Training of Granulopiesis Promtes Anti-tumor activity. Cell, voluen 183, issue 3, 771-785 (October 29, 2020) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2020.09.058
|These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.|
Lisa Moretti is a Certified Health Coach from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN), the largest nutrition school in the world. She was at the top of her cohort in 2015. She's been involved in the natural health and supplement world professionally since 1981.