Updated 10/8/23; Originally posted 1/2/22
Your immune system keeps you healthy and free from invading germs, microbes, toxic substances, and anything else unrecognized. Your immune system is not a stranger’s best friend! This post explains how your immune system works, immune function boosting activities, and how to use your Wellness Lifestyle to help it work better!
Table of Contents:
The 2 Aspects of Your Immune System
Your immune system has 2 parts – both trying to identify “you” cells from “non-you” bits and then get rid of the “non-you”. Part 1 is a quick to respond and short term component called the innate immune system. This is the first line of defense tasked with the job of stopping the spread of any infection or toxin. Part 2 is slow to respond but has a long memory (and needs reminded frequently that it exists) called the adaptive immune system. This component creates highly specialized fighters for each new virus, bacteria, or other pathogen. There are overlaps and differences but both parts are important!
1: Innate Immune System ~ Prevents Illness
The innate immune system is constantly engaged in the business of inflammation in order to deal with wounds, food, environmental toxins that you breath, chemicals that you put on your skin, and so much more that your body encounters on a daily basis. It is the more conservative half – relying on some basic non-specific protective tools such as chemical barriers (e.g. tears and mucus), physical barriers (e.g. skin and gut linings), and basic inflammation responses.
The innate immune system is most important during the first 7 days after you are exposed – and the one that prevents you from getting sick at all!
2: Adaptive Immune System ~ Handles New and Remembered Threats
When fully functional, this part of your body’s protective nature responds to new threats, mobilizes T cells, B cells and cytokines, mounts the attack on invaders, and then withdraws and chills out to wait for the next new invader to be identified.
Memory T and B cells hang around to be recruited for the next time you are exposed to this same invader (such as the chicken pox virus). Your body has learned and your immune system retains a memory of how to win this battle.
Which Part of Your Immune System is Most Important for Staying Healthy?
If you want to avoid catching a cold, deal with questionable food better, or stop getting strep throat every winter, you want your innate immune system to be on her toes ready to fight.
If you want to get rid of environmental toxins or the newest nasty virus, your adaptive immune system needs to be ready to learn and remember.
An underactive immune system leaves you dealing with frequent annoying illnesses. When underfunctioning or overchallenged for a long period of time, your body will start to harbor whole body chronic issues that lead to cancer, brain inflammation, and ultimately death.
An overactive immune system is just as bad as an underactive one – just ask anyone dealing with an autoimmune disease! Your overactive immune system starts attacking your own cells and creating damage rather than protection.
Imbalanced functioning of the two aspects of the immune system result in chronic illnesses and the inability to activate the needed part in order to prevent new illnesses from occurring.
The 12+ Body Parts That Make Up Your Immune System
The task of keeping you healthy is an endeavor that involves the entire body. From head to toes, a great portion of your body participates on the Immune System Team.
- Adenoids and Tonsils ~ Small bumps at the back of your throat and nasal passages whose job is to catch and remove germs via sending them to the stomach. These organs are an important part of a child’s immune system (they sure do put all sorts of things in their mouth and nose!).
- Blood stream ~ Blood carries immune fighting white blood cells throughout the body – unless your blood flow is low or challenged! A blood test can provide a snapshot as to the numbers of the various types of white blood cells working for the immune system.
- Bone marrow ~ Your bones contain stem cells that, upon request, can develop into new immune fighting cells.
- Glymphatic system ~ A recently found system that cleanses your brain tissues and attacks invaders via a host of immune cells floating in the cerebrospinal fluid.
- Lymph fluid ~ Lymph fluid that flows between cells and brings cellular trash from the inside and outside of every cell back to the heart for insertion into the blood stream [for the liver, spleen, and kidneys to cleanse and send out of the body for removal]. Immune cells travel through both the blood stream and the lymph stream. Your heart pumps your blood around the body. Body movements stimulate lymph flow; lack of movement means no flow! Your lymph system has no pump other than your regular whole body movements.
- Lymph nodes ~ Nodes are lymph transport and communication hubs used by your immune cells to investigate what type of things are passing through on their way to the heart and activating the local fighters if something inappropriate is seen.
- Lymph vessels ~ The lymph vessel system is patterned similarly to your vascular system; lymph vessels carry lymph fluid from the cells back to the heart. Lymph vessels get larger as they get closer to the heart. The thoracic duct is the largest and last lymph vessel entering the veins and heart – located in your upper back/chest and under your left shoulder blade.
- Mucus Membranes ~ Your nose, throat, sinuses, vagina, urinary tract, and intestines are lined with mucus membranes that should be covered in a thin layer of mucus. Germs and other invading elements stick to the mucus, cilia (hairs) move the germs out of your body, and local enzymes kill the pathogens.
- Skin ~ Skin is both a physical protective barrier (except when broken!), a chemical barrier via its oils and microbial barrier via incredibly large variety of immune cells for both the innate and adaptive immune systems. Skin health is a reflection of your health on the inside!
- Spleen ~ Your hardworking spleen cleanses your blood of damaged red blood cells, stores blood and immune cells, and activates those immune cells when they sense an invader.
- Stomach, Peyer’s Patches, and Bowel ~ Stomach acid’s high pH kills pathogens and breaks down your food into tiny usable pieces that can be absorbed through the small intestine. Peyers patches are small lymph node-like tissues in the small intestine that sense pathogens and activate the adaptive immune system. Beneficial bacteria in your intestines help keep the pathogens out!
- Thymus Gland ~ Adaptive immune T cells mature in the thymus gland during childhood then are stored in the spleen for future use. Fully developed before birth, the thymus gland participates immensely in developing the ability of the immune system to recognize “you” cells and bits. When puberty begins, the thymus gland starts to shrink and be replaced by fat.
6 Wellness Lifestyle Choices that Support Great Immune Function
Exercise Your Whole Body for Good Immune Function
Whole body exercise stimulates lymph flow, increased blood flow, and brings immune cells to every part of the body and back to your detox organs. Exercise brings glucose from your blood into your muscles where it can be used for good rather than inflammatory evil. Endorphins, your brain’s feel good chemicals, are generated via exercise and inspire you to make more choices that help you feel good and stay healthy!
You can exercise on your own, in a group, in small time increments throughout the day, or in one big hunk of time daily. If you are looking for daily exercise options that seem to have infinite variety and feels customized to your precise needs that day, read more about my Movement Classes and Videos or plan on chatting with me about becoming a client either virtually or in my La Plata, Maryland studio!
Supplement with Vitamin D for Immune Support
Vitamin D both calms and boosts your immune system. Vitamin D tames the activity of the adaptive immune system while ramping up the innate immune system. Every cell in your body needs enough usable Vitamin D in order for everything to work optimally as designed. Why? How much? Probably more than you think!
Read more from me about Vitamin D and its role in maintaining your wellness and then add Vitamin D to your custom supplement subscription through me!
Strengthen Your Immune System with Quality Sleep
Sleep is more important than most people realize for immune health. Sleep is when your brain’s immune activity is the highest. Sleep is when you have the most energy to apply to fighting infections rather than moving, thinking, and playing!
During deep sleep, your adaptive immune system is working harder to create its memory. During REM sleep, your immune system gets less energy. Sleep affects your immune function and illness affects your sleep!
Having trouble with your sleep? I would love to work with you on improving your sleep in order to optimize your wellness. Let’s talk more!
Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods for a Strong Immune System
Food is crucial to survival and also a daily invader worthy of immune activity! A large number of common foods in the Standard American Diet create quite a bit of inflammation in the gut and elsewhere in the body. This constant source of inflammation (your daily food!) keeps your immune system so busy that there is little left to fight new things like viruses, fungal infections, nasty bacteria, cancer, and other issues.
What should you eat to support a healthy immune system? Things that help not harm! I suggest you start by ditching the sugar (it’s addictive so go slow!), alcohol, processed foods, and inflammatory fats from your daily meal choices. Remember that as you switch your diet, your body will detox (slowly so you feel good!) – if you feel like crap you need to slow those changes down. When you focus instead on eating plates full of fresh and gently cooked organic vegetables, healthy grass-fed or pastured meats, and brain friendly fats your whole body will feel better.
Need help figuring out how and what to eat in order to be less inflamed and have better immune function? I would love to work with you!
Build Your Immune System With Vitamins, Minerals & Functional Mushrooms
Each human body is unique. The RDA of vitamins and minerals may or may not be optimal for your wellness and immune function! Some of us need more B vitamins, others need more C or magnesium to keep everything running smoothly. But we all need our micronutrients!
Even if your diet is chock full of a wide variety of foods that are primarily organic vegetables, organic fruits, happy local grassfed/pastured meat, and spices, you are still likely to be missing some micronutrient that will help your immune system work better. If your diet looks different – even more micronutrients for you!
Functional mushrooms like turkey tail, reishi, and chaga provide fabulous support for your immune system. Adaptogenic mushrooms can both upgrade and downgrade immune activity as needed. I’d love to help you improve your diet, get your micronutrients in, and add mushrooms to the mix!
Stress and Fear Compromise Your Immune System
Americans rarely want to admit how hard it is for us to let ourselves slow down, choose less stress (we might be missing out on something!), and trust in our healing abilities and the universe. Stress temporarily reduces inflammation by quieting the innate immune system. When stress becomes chronic, you are more at risk of inflammation because your immune system never gets to return to full function.
Fear activates the same type of physical responses that other stressors do but there’s more. Fear’s protective nature adds an element of emotional stress that encourages us to distrust unknown people and things. When this goes on for too long (say 2 years?), everything and everyone can become questionable and untrustable. Your limbic system of your brain takes over your higher order thinking. According to your limbic system, no one in the world is as important as you! This destabilizing situation turns your immune system up in a way that everything in and around you must be fought to keep you safe. Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me!
Meditation and Yoga are two wellness practices that provide great stress relief, calm your limbic system, and help you release unhelpful fear. If you would like to learn how these two practices can be accessible and useful to you, let’s plan to talk.
10 Tips to NOT GET SICK After You Are Exposed
Germs are everywhere. Not all of them are friendly. If you want to have a life outside of your home (which can sometimes be the source of your illness!), then you will occasionally get exposed to a new bacteria, virus, fungus, or something! Use these ideas to support your innate immune system and AVOID GETTING SICK if you can!
- Enhanced Zinc lozenges from Life Extension are formulated with positively charged zinc acetate ions that are absorbed through your mucus membranes (because you suck them till they are gone). Zinc inhibits the replication of viruses and goes right to the mouth, nose, throat to thwart the entrance of nasty viruses. If you have been exposed to a virus, Chris Masterjohn PhD explains how to quickly use a zinc lozenge – not a supplement that you swallow! If they taste pleasant, consider investing in a daily zinc supplement because you are deficient!
- Your zinc needs to come with copper or your body can not use it! My favorite sources of copper are incredibly dark chocolate (90%) and red meat (that come with zinc too).
- Mucus membranes need you to take your Vitamin C level up several notches and check your Vitamin A intake. Dr Linus Pauling was an advocate of very high vitamin C intake. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and helps fight oxidative stress through the entire body. Vitamin A is known for supporting healthy, pliable, moist skin and mucus membranes.
- You already know to wash your hands – but are you washing your nasal passages? This is a time honored cleansing tradition taught by yoga teachers and Ayurveda practitioners world-wide. Get out your neti pot or sinus rinse bottle and do a nasal/sinus rinse to quickly remove whatever you breathed in (after every trip out of the house?). You will need warm salty water so your mucus membranes are happy with this activity. You can ensure your sinuses are unfriendly to viruses by adjusting the pH of the rinse water by adding a bit of baking soda. Adding a touch of povidone iodine (properly diluted as described by Chris Masterjohn) makes the rinse oh so effective!
- Elderberries help boost your innate immune system particularly when dealing with a respiratory health – especially a syrup made locally with love like that from MamaBears Elderberry available at Zen and Vitality
- Raw garlic is chock full of immune supporting nutrients and will keep the vampires away too! Bonus! My favorite garlic technique, especially when my kids were young, is to keep a small jar of thinly sliced garlic covered in local honey. You can take out a slice, put it on a cracker, use another cracker as a chaser, and voila – homemade antibiotic and antiviral plant medicine! Pick up your local organic garlic grown with love by Next Step Produce right here at Zen and Vitality in La Plata, MD
- Colloidal silver nasal spray or gel applied at the entrance to your nose provides great antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral work. Remember the silver spoon used to feed babies from the past? The use of silver was quite intentional – it kept the milk, food, and babies healthy!
- Use electrolytes to hydrate your cells and keep your lymph flowing easily by drinking water full of electrolytes (like the LMNT electrolyte powder packets or Ultima electrolytes available at Zen and Vitality) – you need to keep the water you drink not just pee it out!
- Fuel your immune system and brain with easy glucose and good fats by mixing a teaspoon of honey and a teaspoon of coconut oil or MCT oil and just downing it (or you can be more creative).
- Gargle with a properly diluted blend of hydrogen peroxide and water (not frequently!) or ozone infused water (ask Zoa) to help kill viruses and bacteria
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