Now, more than ever before, learning how to boost your immune system must literally become a way of life.
Here at Edible Health we are passionate about and care deeply for the overall well-being and vitality of our extended family - and that includes you!
And when it comes to staying healthy and avoiding sickness, the very best thing we can all do is look after our immune systems.
So we’ve curated this handy general resource. We hope this will serve to give you a better understanding of:
- What our immune system is and how it works;
- Factors that can weaken our system;
- Conditions that can arise from a weakened state;
- How to boost your immune system. In other words, what we can all do to improve our resilience, health and wellbeing including the foods, supplements, vitamins we consume, the exercise we do, and more.
Please remember, however, that this information does not form medical advice. If you believe you have low immunity levels, please consult your medical professional.
How Does the Immune System Work?
It is essentially the body’s way of protecting and defending itself against foreign nasties including substances, cells and tissues. It does this through organs (lymph nodes, bone marrow, thymus - a lymphoid organ, white blood cells, antibodies etc) and processes that are resistance fighters against infections and toxins. If this system is compromised then the body is less resilient towards these nasties, and therefore more likely to succumb to sickness.
Weak Immune System Symptoms
So what are the symptoms of a run down immune system? The body can give us any number of indications that something is askew. For instance:
Inflammation is a major tell-tale sign that the body is under attack. It is the process that occurs when bacteria and toxins injure tissues (which can happen from other factors such as trauma and heat). The cells impacted release chemicals, which in turn leak fluid and cause swelling. Our system does this to try and isolate the threat and minimise its chance of extending to other parts of the body.
It is not unusual to experience some kind of cold two or three times a year. However, when cold symptoms persist and you’re run-down with one more often than not, it’s a clear sign the system is weak.
This can manifest itself in many ways, for instance:
- Pneumonia occurring multiple times
- Antibiotics being needed more than twice a year for adults, or more than four times a year for children
- Small infections escalating to major and severe infections
- Over four ear infections a year
We’re all guilty of spreading ourselves too thin at times and falling in a heap as a result. But a persistently sluggish status quo can be a sign that the body is robbing Peter to pay Paul. It’s taking the energy you might normally have for A, B and C and instead using it to support or prop up the immune system.
Our gut is a major component of our immune system, with the microbiota living there playing a huge role in our health and wellbeing. When this microbiota is low or there is an imbalance leaning towards bad gut bacteria, then our system becomes vulnerable. Gas, cramping, bloating, constipation or regular diarrhea are all tell-tale signs.
When we damage our skin in some way, say we burn it or we cut it, the body rushes to heal the localised damage. It does this by sending nutrient supercharged blood to the area, to give it all the substances it needs to begin to repair. This whole process is reliant on healthy immune cells so if the system is compromised, then so too will be the healing process.
Low immune system causes
Ok, there is a surprising number of factors that can lead to a weakened system and therefore poor health. You might also know of this as the term “immunocompromised”. Let’s explore some of these now...
This is going to sound like a paradox, but this is a condition in which the immune system is both the victim and the aggressor. In a nutshell it occurs when the body makes a mistake - it thinks your healthy cells are actually foreign cells that are a potential threat. So it acts in every bit the same way as it would if it were defending the body against a real and valid danger - it attacks. We still don’t know why this happens.
Some of the more well-known autoimmune diseases include:
- Type 1 diabetes
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Celiac disease
Stress and immune system
As it turns out, stress literally gets into the body. It does this by way of sympathetic fibers that descend from the brain into the bone marrow, thymus, spleen and lymph nodes. As we’ve already read, these are all key players in our body’s defend/attack strategy. Once they’ve infiltrated these parts of the body, they can release all manner of substances that in turn have an affect on our immune levels.
Moreover, anxiety can lead to other behaviours that might in fact make matters worse, rather than any better. For example, stress can affect sleep quality, it can lead to increased intake of alcohol and/or smoking, reduced physical activity, neglecting the diet and more. None of these are going to help our resilience.
We’ve all heard the term ‘stress is a killer’, and for good reason.
Refined sugars and processed fatty foods are an increasingly present albeit dangerous ingredient in many modern-day meals. When it comes to humans, the most fundamental role of food is to keep us alive. A balanced diet provides a broad level of all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals our bodies need to - very broadly speaking - do everything. So if that diet isn’t delivering the right spread of nutrition, or it’s over-delivering in the wrong spread, then the body is not going to be able to do everything it needs to do. This in turn has a trigger-effect on the immune system.
So what are some of the main offenders we need to watch out for?
- Red meat
Absolutely this can provide iron and other nutrients, but it becomes problematic when we eat too much of it. Unfortunately, that is exactly the problem for many of us. When excess meat (beef, lamb, pork) is consumed so too is a sugar called Neu5Gc. Our immune system may regard Neu5Gc as a pathogen (so, a possible disease-causing substance) and therefore have an inflammatory reaction, which we’ve touched on earlier.
- Fried is no friend
Now, that is bad news for anyone who loves their regular serve of pommes-frites or morning fry-up, but it’s the truth. Not only can it lead to all manner of diseases but it can also trigger an inflammatory response in the body.
- Refined sugar has over the years amassed a very poor PR reputation indeed, and again it’s no surprise why. This stuff is lurking everywhere. Not just in the usual suspects like chocolate bars or fizzy drinks, but even in seemingly innocent-looking products like breakfast cereals, yoghurts, breads, ready meals and more. As a general rule, excessive sugar consumption depletes the body’s nutrient balance, which triggers a cascade of inflammation and metabolic disruption.
Weight and heart disease
Excess weight, particularly that which resides around the abdomen, can negatively impact the body’s immune system and essentially prompt it to turn against itself. This is because abdominal fat results in the production of ‘pro-inflammatory’ cells. As the name suggests, these are cells that move around in the bloodstream and encourage inflammation. And it’s that excessive inflammation that in turn can contribute to heart disease.
Smoking wreaks havoc on our health, there is absolutely no question of this. Cigarette smoke contains a shocking 7,000 chemical compounds, many of which are not at all friendly to our system. In general we know that smokers tend to be unhealthier than non-smokers, they go to the doctor more than non-smokers, and they take more sick leave from work than non-smokers. Smoking is a contributor to all manner of diseases, including:
- Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis
- Chrone’s disease
- Gum disease
- Viral and bacterial infections
We’ve started to get a very clear sense that much of our protection and defence lies in good gut health. We know that this part of our body is host to a delicate balance of good versus bad bacteria. As it turns out, alcohol disrupts this balance which, as we have already seen, results in a weakened system.
Cancer has an ability to move into the bone marrow which, as we now know, is an active agent in maintaining our health. Once the cancer has infiltrated the bone marrow, it can stop it from doing all the good work it normally does by way of producing so many blood cells.
Moreover, in a terrible irony it is also the treatment of cancer that can negatively impact our system as well. Certain treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, a high dose of steroids and specific cancer drugs can reduce the number of white blood cells produced by bone marrow. As a result this further weakens the immune system at a time when it needs all the strength it can get.
When diabetes results in an over-production of sugar levels in the blood, it can weaken our defences. This is because (as we’ve read earlier) sugar can negatively impact our immune system. This can lead to a number of infections including foot, yeast, urinary tract and post surgery infections.
This is when inflammation of and damage to the liver occurs. The liver plays a crucial role in removing toxins from the blood, storing vitamins and producing hormones. Therefore, if it is not working properly then the immune system suffers. Viral hepatitis includes Hepatitis A, B and C.
As the body ages so too does its ability to maintain the same level of cells in the bone marrow and thymus as it would have done in years gone by. We know already that these are both active contributors to our immune health. So when these fighters (so to speak) reduce in numbers, so too does our vulnerability to toxins, disease, etc.
We just innately associate a change in weather with an increase in poor health, don’t we? That first sign of a shift in season brings a growth of new bugs and bacteria and before you know it, sick leave is on the rise. But this could be a two-fold problem in that adverse weather, and prolonged bouts of it, might impact our mental health and wellbeing, which can also have an adverse affect on our physical health. Read on...
Stress and the immune system
Let’s go back to the time when we were roaming around the wild, living in caves. Stress back then had nothing to do with a difficult boss or a bad day at the office. It was more like getting attacked by a ferocious animal. As a result, the body learned to begin to defend itself before stress escalated into a tangible problem. In other words, the moment we began to feel stress, the body’s immune system would kick in and begin to prepare for having to wound heals and what not. Since then anxiety has of course taken on a new guise, but the body still prepares accordingly.
If this stress continues, then the ongoing activity it causes in the immune system actually triggers gradual changes to how our brain works. For instance, it might reduce the availability of serotonin, which are essentially messengers between cells and responsible for a good mood. So, you see where we are going… More stress = more activation of the immune system = less chance of us being happy. And all this of course makes us that little more susceptible to (or at least not as well equipped to deal with) mental health issues like depression.
How to Boost Your Immune System
Well after a bit of doom and gloom above, the overarching good news is that there is much we can do when looking at how to boost your immune system! So let’s have a look at some of the most powerful and positive contributors.
What does collagen have to do with our immune system? Well we have seen already the important role our digestive system plays in maintaining our health and wellbeing. The amino acids that combine to form collagen help build the tissue that lines the colon and intestinal tract, which in turn seals in everything where it needs to be. Keeping this in fine working order, therefore preventing leakage, could help treat or maybe even prevent gut problems associated with the poor absorption of vitamins and minerals.
The idea of supplements (like collagen, vitamins B, C, D, E or zinc) is to provide concentrated amounts of specific nutrients that (for whatever reason) might be otherwise lacking in our systems. They’re not designed to replace outright the sources that would normally provide these nutrients, but rather to complement them. Visit this great article on collagen powder supplements to find out more.
Go to bed
How to boost your immune system? Find the answer during a good night’s sleep! Catching zzzzs is such a crucial part to our overall health and wellbeing. Whilst you’re getting some quality shut-eye your body is catching up on the day, busy repairing and restoring. One thing it is doing is producing cytokines. These not only encourage sleep, but we actually need more of them when we have an infection or inflammation (or, surprise-surprise) when we are anxious and stressed out. If we’re not getting enough zzzs then our level of cytokines might not be optimal. Quick - hit the sack!
Extensive research has shown that high intakes of fresh fruit and vegetables can reduce inflammation and enhance immune cells. Indeed, it turns out mothers around the world were right after all - you really should eat all your greens. Studies show that vegetarians have more efficient white blood cells than their meat-eating counterparts, so upping your ante of fresh vege is a great step in the right direction.
Leafy greens and indeed fresh fruit and vegetables are a great source of some essential vitamins and minerals needed to maintain our resilience and health. They include:
- Vitamin B
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
To find out more about foods that are rich in these vitamins and minerals, read this great article on wellbeing-boosting foods.
More and more people are turning to occasional but consistent fasting regimes. This might in part be a result of an interesting study that found fasting for three days on water and very minimal calories has the ability to essentially ‘reset’ our immune system. This appears to be because fasting lowers the white blood cell count in our bloodstream. This in turn triggers our immune system to go produce some more fresh white blood cells. And as we’ve already read here, white blood cells are active agents in maintaining good health and wellbeing.
Hydrate with H2O
We can’t live without water. It’s just not possible, and for good reason. Adequate amounts of water does so much good for us, we could spend our time just writing about that. One of its most important roles is flushing our kidneys, which in turn help to flush toxins from our body. But there are plenty who believe water outside of us is just as powerful as water inside. Have you ever seen someone out swimming in wild water in the middle of a freezing cold winter? It’s (probably) not because they are crazy, but because they believe the hit of extreme cold prompts the body to create more white blood cells, the benefits of which we mention several times here.
Let’s get physical
It’s all about moderation! Doing too much or doing too little may not be ideal. But as with most things in life, approach it with balance and you should be on the road to getting the best out of your immune system. To date, there are many compelling hypotheses linking exercise to immunity. One such theory suggests that exercise causes changes in our antibodies and white blood cells. It suggests that because the blood is pumping faster around our bodies (as a result of physical exertion), these fighters are also circulating at pace. Therefore, perhaps they are able to detect, respond and react more quickly than they would during more sedentary behaviour.
Wash, wash, wash. But not too much!
Maintaining good personal hygiene (properly washing hands with soap and water, covering your mouth when sneezing, discarding used tissues immediately and appropriately) plays a powerful role in preventing the spread of disease. It can help to minimise the risk of catching or spreading powerful contagions like diarrhea, foot and mouth disease, salmonella, and of course, COVID 19.
When it comes to these especially harmful germs, hand washing is crucial. However, being exposed to less harmful bugs could ironically be good for us. The majority of bacteria to which we are exposed is not seriously dangerous. In fact, it’s probably just bad enough to be good for us! We call this active immunity, which is something the body acquires after it is exposed to an infection. The “hygiene hypothesis” is based on the belief that exposure to a small amount of bacteria can help our bodies get familiar with fighting bugs. Proponents of this theory believe the western world is essentially cleaning itself to sickness.
Don’t worry - be happy!
It turns out this is much more than a catchy tune, it’s also a way of life to embrace if you want to find out how to boost your immune system! The more optimistic we are, the more we appear to have stronger cell-mediated immunity. Studies show that factors such as relationship problems or career anxiety can delay that speed at which one heals and/or falls ill.
Have you ever seen media coverage of groups of people who come together to laugh? That’s it, that’s all they do. They just meet, and they laugh. And afterwards they say how fabulous they feel. Indeed, a good hearty chuckle does more than bring a smile to our dial. It does so much, for instance:
- stimulates organs
- activates and then relieves our stress responses
- relieves tension
- improves immunity (positive thoughts go hand-in-hand with laughter, but they also
Natural Remedies - How to Boost Your Immune System
So the great news is that there are plenty of ways to boost your immune system naturally. Food, drink, physical activity, rest, relaxation, our internal dialogue; all of these are powerful agents for positive change!
It has become a modern day buzzword, and for good reason. Science doesn’t yet have all the answers, but we now know that meditation can increase volume in certain regions of the brain as well as reduce anxiety and depression. A study found that meditation resulted in shifts in the expression of genes related to stress, inflammation and wound healing, with one sample in the group exhibiting shifts also in genes responsible for fighting viral infections.
If you want to know how to boost your immune system through activity, look to yoga. It has long been associated with an ability to lower stress hormones which, if left unchecked, would otherwise negatively impact the immune system. It may also have a helpful anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
Acupuncture is based on ancient Chinese beliefs and medicine that view health as an expression of the natural yin and yang of our body. These forces depend on the ‘qi’ (pronounced “chee”) energy paths and meridians running through the body. Acupuncture does this by encouraging those energy pathways and improved circulation and flow. It also increases white blood cells, which we know are immune system agents.
We hope this has been a really useful guide to you on how to boost your immune system and we wish you plenty of health and happiness. Be sure to contact us if you have any questions.
The information we have provided herewith, and all linked materials, are not intended nor should they be construed as medical advice. Moreover, the information herewith should not be used as a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. Please refer to our Terms and Conditions and consult your General Practitioner for advice specific for you.