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Supporting your Immune system

Immune | March 11, 2020 | Author: Naturopath


Supporting your Immune system

In our society we are confronted with many potentially deadly viruses and pathogens which spread easily from person to person. The key to avoid or reduce the chances of succumbing to sickness is maintaining a healthy immune system. Stress, sleep, dental health, metabolic disorders (obesity, dysbiosis and inflammation) and nutrition play a role in how our immune system functions. Supporting these along with an arsenal of herbal and nutritional medicine can help our body cope preventing robust pathogens from getting the best of us.

The immune system

There are two parts to the immune system. The innate immune system is the first responder to all emergencies and the adaptive immune system which, as the name implies, adapts over time to defend against pathogen after exposure.

The innate immune system is the first responder to all emergencies. It is fast-acting at the first sign of infection and in response to chemical signals released from infected cells, it will send in phagocytes whose job it is to disarm the pathogens, ingesting the dying or dead cells. Signals are sent out which induce inflammation (swelling) and fever (activating heat-shock proteins) to help contain and kill the invader. At the same time, the compliment system which is made up of plasma proteins, identifies and marks the antigen (the invader) making them more recognisable to phagocytes and natural killer cells (opsonisation). Natural killer (NK) cells are a very important antiviral cell defence. They contain small granules of cytotoxins (cell toxins) which they release onto infected cell causing cell death. The skin, tears, mucus, stomach acid and digestive enzymes are all part of the innate immune system of defence.

The immune systemThe adaptive immune system takes time to learn from and remember how to respond from previous encounters to its invader. Antigens are shown to T cells which then mobilize, quickly mature and release cytokines which trigger the growth of more T cells, the maturation of B cells and the production of antibodies. T cells and B cells are white blood cells from the lymphatic system.

Antibodies are proteins produced by immune cells which bind to pathogens (viruses, bacteria and parasites) and thus inactivating them or marking them to be killed by other immune cells.

Supporting the Immune system

Nutrients and herbal medicine

Various micronutrients are essential for an efficient functioning immune system, particularly vitamins A, C, D, E, B2, B6, and B12, folic acid, iron, zinc and selenium. 

Zinc is important for maintenance and development of immune cells of both the innate and adaptive immune system. Zinc supports the integrity of mucus membrane (nose, mouth, throat, eyes). Higher doses are needed at times of infection, and deficiency increases susceptibility to infection.

Zinc is crucial for a robust immune defence system

Iron deficiency can mean a reduced capacity for adequate immune responses.

Selenium is an essential micronutrient which plays an important role in immune responses. Selenium deficiency effects both the innate and adaptive immune response. Selenium support white blood cells especially natural killer cells.

Vitamin A deficiency can lead to an increased susceptibility to severe infections. It is an immune-modulating agent that plays an important role in the immunological response to infections. Vitamin A supports mucus membrane health.

Supporting the Immune systemMucus membranes, or the mucosa, is a protective lining of epithelial cells in many parts of the body.

In the respiratory tract the nose, mouth and throat are covered by mucus, supplied regularly, to keep the areas moist and protected. 

Mucus helps trap pathogens and prevents them entering further into the body. 

Saline nasal sprays - using saline sprays and rinses can help keep the nasal passages healthy and moist. Saline can help loosen thick mucus allowing for easier removal of trapped pathogens out of the body. Inhalations of eucalyptus, tea tree, thyme and peppermint can help with pathogen distruction. 

Vitamin C. Helps reduce the duration and severity of viral infections. Vitamin C is important for skin integrity (epithelial barrier function). It stimulates the production and is involved with the function and movement of white blood cells (lymphatic cells).

Vitamin D. Current data indicate that vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of acute airway infection. Needs may be increased especially in winter, due to the lower solar UVB radiation. It is suggested there is safety in taking approximately 1000 IU of vitamin D daily to optimise non-specific immunity and prevent infection.

  • Cod liver oil contains vitamin A, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Maybe mum was right.

Vitamin E deficiency impairs both humoral and cell-mediated aspects of adaptive immunity, including B and T cell function.

Vitamin B deficiency can mean a lowered immune response.

Antioxidants help strengthen the immunes system and antioxidant supplementation can significantly improve certain immune responses. Zinc, vitamin C, vitamin A, beta-carotene, vitamin E and selenium have antioxidant properties. Fruit and vegetables contain many antioxidants.

Probiotics. Digestive health is often the first place to improve for all sorts of health concerns. Probiotics can help keep the gut healthy, they help modulate the immune system, strengthen the innate immune system and offer protection against viral infection.

Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea pallida, and Echinacea purpurea), is a proven immune modulating herb. It can stimulate the non-specific innate immune response and also the specific, adaptive immune function, making it beneficial for the whole immune system.

Black Elder (Sambucus nigra) considered to have substantial antiviral properties. Compounds from elderberries can directly inhibit the virus's entry and replication in human cells, and can help strengthen the immune response to the viruses. In other studies, black elder has been found to reduce the severity and duration of viral infections. This small fruit is also rich in antioxidants.

Stress and the immune system

Whether it be emotional (such as anxiety), physical or environmental (pollution and toxins) stress can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system reducing its ability to fight of antigens. Acute stress can release proinflammatory cytokines which are often necessary in the fight against infection but long-term stress is associated with pro-inflammatory cytokines with negative health effects. Cytokines are proteins which coordinate the immune responses. Systemic infection represents a dysfunction in the immune system. Chronic stress can also cause an activation of latent viruses (such as shingles, Epstein Barr virus (EBV) and cytomegalovirus (CMV). This then adds more strain to the immune system.

Reduce stress. What could be putting the body under stress. Is it lifestyle - smoking, alcohol, late nights; too many commitments; negative people; environment – air quality, sick building syndrome, mould in the home or toxins  (house cleaning products for example).
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  • Support the stress response with passionflower, hops, magnesium, vitamin C and vitamin B
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  • Reduce inflammation with turmeric, boswellia serrata and fish oil
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Importance of the diet

The immune system developes over a lifetime reaching peak performance in early adulthood and declines as we age. An adequate supply of micronutrients at all ages is needed to support immune function. There are many nutrients which, when deficient, can effect the immune system.

Importance of the dietEating a variety of fresh food can help prevent this occuring. This is especially important for the young, growing teenagers the and elderly.  

  • Eat fruit and vegetables for beneficial antioxidants, vitamins and minerals
  • Eat protein rich foods such as meat, fish, poultry, legumes, nuts, seeds and grain. Protein is the building block of the body – including the immune system
  • Take a multi-vitamin to help with nutrient deficits

Sleep and the immune system

Sleep and the immune system are both associated and influenced by each other. Sleep deprivation, whether it be poor qualtily or lack of quantity, can result in susceptibility to infection and inflammation. 

Improve sleep

  • Zizyphus, valerian, sour cherry, kava, passionflower and magnesium can help with achieving a good night sleep.
  • Follow good sleep hygiene practices - going to bed and rising at the same time everyday. Avoid stimulating foods and activities close to bed time. A warm bath/shower and quiet time without electonic devices before bed. 
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Dental health

Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) has been implicated in many chronic health diseases and health concerns. Having regular dental checks and following healthy dental hygene practices (such as regular teeth brushing and flossing) can help support the immune system.
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What else can you do

  • Don't forget the importance of handwashing. Frequent and thorough hand washing with soap and water and avoiding touching nose, mouth and eyes is considered the best method for reducing disease transmission. 
  • Don’t smoke
  • Don’t drink excess amounts of alcohol
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Relax and rejuvenate
  • Regular exercise
  • Maintain a healthy weight

A healthy immune system can defeat invading pathogens  Australia’s best online discount chemist


Zinc and immunity: An essential interrelation.

Vitamin A Deficiency and the Lung

Vitamin D and airway infections: a European perspective

Mother Was Right About Cod Liver Oil

Selenium, Selenoproteins, and Immunity

Probiotics and immune health

Prospective study of probiotic supplementation results in immune stimulation and improvement of upper respiratory infection rate

Enhancement of Innate and Adaptive Immune Functions by Multiple Echinacea Species

Elderberry compounds could help minimize flu symptoms, study suggests

Black Elderberry (Sambucus Nigra) Supplementation Effectively Treats Upper Respiratory Symptoms: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized, Controlled Clinical Trials

Mechanisms and applications of hypertonic saline

Current Directions in Stress and Human Immune Function

Chronic stress, daily stressors, and circulating inflammatory markers.

Human immune system during sleep

Immune Function and Micronutrient Requirements Change over the Life Course

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