Your immune system is your body’s defense mechanism that helps you function at your very best. But how much do you really know about how the immune system works? Let’s take a closer look at the immune system, how it functions, and of course —how to support a healthy immune system.
The immune system is a large and complex network of organs, white blood cells, proteins (antibodies), and chemicals that work together to help maintain a healthy state from foreign invaders. These foreign invaders could include bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. The main tasks of the immune system are to fight potential pathogens and recognize and neutralize harmful substances from the environment.
INNATE VS. ADAPTIVE IMMUNE SYSTEMS
There are two subsystems within the immune system: the innate (nonspecific) immune system and the adaptive (specific) immune system. These systems are important for keeping you healthy and work together closely whenever a foreign invader triggers an immune response.
WHAT IS THE INNATE IMMUNE SYSTEM?
The innate immune system is the immune system you are born with and is active from the moment you’re born. It is the body’s first line of defense against germs entering your body. The innate immune system responds the same way to all foreign substances, which is why it is sometimes referred to as the “nonspecific immune system.”
It acts very quickly. If perhaps, you were to get a small cut on your finger, your innate immune system would work quickly to make sure that bacteria that have entered through the wound are detected and destroyed within a few hours. The innate immune system consists of two main types of immune barriers: the skin and mucous membranes, and by immune system cells and proteins.
Your skin is actually one of the most important parts of the innate immune system. The skin’s closed surface and mucous membranes already form a physical barrier against foreign invaders, protecting them from entering. Tear fluid, sweat, and urine also stop these invaders from settling in the body. If any invader gets past the skin and mucous membranes and enter the body, the innate immune system activates special cells and enzymes that contribute to the immune response. However, the innate immune system has only limited power in stopping the spread of germs, which is why it needs help from its partner: the adaptive immune system.
WHAT IS THE ADAPTIVE IMMUNE SYSTEM?
If the innate immune system cannot destroy these foreign invaders, the adaptive immune system takes over. The adaptive immune system specifically targets the type of invader, but first, it needs to identify what it is. That means that it does not respond as quickly as the innate immune system, but it is more accurate (hence why it is sometimes referred to as the “specific” immune system). The adaptive immune system can also “remember” invaders, so the next time a known invader is encountered, the adaptive immune system can respond faster.
HOW TO SUPPORT YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
The immune system is complex, but thankfully supporting immune system health doesn’t have to be. Let’s go over a few ways you can support your immune system every day.
1.) GET LOTS OF VITAMIN C
While supplements cannot help the body cure, treat, or prevent disease or symptoms of disease, adding supplements — such as vitamin C — to your routine can help support a healthy immune system. Vitamin C is one of the leading vitamins for immune support. This nutrient is important for the function of white blood cells, vital components of the immune system. It also acts as an antioxidant, helping to fight free radicals in the body. However, the body cannot store vitamin C, so it needs to be replenished daily. Your body can’t make vitamin C on its own, so it needs to acquire it from external sources -such as your diet or supplements. Citrus fruits such as oranges or grapefruits are rich in vitamin C. Red bell peppers are also a great source of vitamin C for people trying to get their daily dose of vitamin C while avoiding the sugar in fruit.
Vitamin D is an important nutrient that helps support healthy bones, teeth, and the immune system. Vitamin D is involved in all three layers of immune support:
- Skin and barrier function
- Function and movement of immune cells
- Normal functioning of T-cells and B-cells
The sun is your main source of Vitamin D, but if you’re spending a lot of time indoors a supplement is a great idea.
3.) EXERCISE REGULARLY
During and after exercise, pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines are released, and immune-cell circulation improves, increasing immune support.
4.) GET ADEQUATE SLEEP
Skipping out on sleep does more than make you feel groggy the next day, it can also prevent your immune system from working optimally. Getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night can help promote overall health.