While modern science and technology have developed methods to reduce our exposure to these pathogens as well as pharmaceuticals that help us to recover from sickness, there are also a number of natural ways to keep your immune system strong that prevent sickness in the first place.
Exercise, sleep, and diets are hugely important to maintain a strong immune system. If necessary, there are also immune system supplements that can be used when your body needs a little extra help. So, who else is ready to learn about natural ways to keep your immune system strong… Antibody?
How does the immune system function?
As a basic overview, our immune system operates by identifying pathogens: viruses, bacteria or microorganisms that can cause sickness or disease (1) that may lead to symptoms of sickness and infection in our bodies so that it may “kill” or “destroy” these threats. Sounds pretty aggressive, right? Think of the immune system as the “silent killer” of our bodies; if it is functioning properly, it will go completely unnoticed and you will feel completely normal. But, the signs of a weak immune system will appear in the form of sickness or infection, as the body has been unable to otherwise remove the pathogen responsible for the symptoms.
The immune system functions by being able to recognize the difference between the body’s own cells and the cells of other organisms or substances. It can be divided into the Innate Immune System, which defends against generic or non-specific pathogens that we have evolved to recognize and combat, as well as the Adaptive Immune System that fights specific pathogens that can change over time. The Adaptive System learns from exposure to these infectious microbes in order to be able to continue to remove them in the future (2).
Exercise and the immune system
We know that exercise and physical activity are vastly important for both our body and our brain, but they also act to modulate our immune response through a variety of cellular and immunoregulatory pathways (3).
Physical activity and exercise have been shown as great ways of decreasing risk for chronic inflammatory diseases (4). It is believed that the anti-inflammatory imparting effects of exercise may be what mediates this risk of chronic disease.
Exercise has also been shown to reduce immunosenescence, which is the age-related decline in our immune function (5). It is important to note that while both resistance and aerobic forms of exercise were shown to increase indicators of a strong immune system and decrease in inflammatory indicators, aerobic exercise was most beneficial after a 6-month program. As such, long-term exercise regimens are certainly a beneficial way to reduce your immune system’s overall decline in functionality as you age!
There are positive correlations between exercise, sleep, diet, certain supplements, and a healthy immune system through scientific literature is still being developed to understand the true mechanisms behind these relationships!
Avoiding the use of tobacco and chronic consumption of alcohol is a means of preventing the deteriorative effects of these substances on your immune system as well.
Sleep and the immune system
Sleep is popularly known as the time in which our bodies have the chance to rest and recover – the time of healing! After a long day (or week!), climbing into bed and falling asleep is deeply important to maintain health in a variety of bodily functions.
During sleep, our immune and nervous systems communicate whereby various immune cells in our body become highly active and can even be the basis for forming immunological memories that help to combat future infection.
Just as the act of sleeping is important to maintain immune health, it is also crucial that chronic sleep reduction is avoided. It has been shown that long-term sleep deprivation leads to both low level chronic systemic inflammation, and can also cause immunodeficiencies (6) that can increase the likelihood of infections such as the common cold (7). In sum, you need to make sure you carve out the necessary time each day to ensure you are getting enough sleep at night and over the long run!
Diet and the immune system
Ensuring that you have a healthy and balanced diet is very important for maintaining a strong immune system. You can eat a variety of foods to boost the immune system function, however, nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits and vegetables are thought to be most important. Foods with adequate levels of a variety of vitamins and other trace minerals can play a role in boosting immunity. Here is a list of some of the vitamins and trace minerals that have evidence for supporting healthy immune systems (8):
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C and E
- Vitamin D
Carrots, sweet potato, kale, and spinach are great examples of foods containing Vitamin A, while citrus fruits are a great source of Vitamin C (9). Vitamin C and E are both found in foods such as bell peppers or spinach and other dark leafy greens. Common food sources of Vitamin D can include milk or eggs. Zinc, Copper, Iron, and Selenium are found in highest concentrations in cereals, meat and fish products (10).
Studies also show that ingesting adequate calories, protein, complex carbohydrates (avoiding simple sugars), and Omega-3 Fatty acids as well as limiting intake of sodium and saturated fats can help to naturally maintain a healthy immune system.
10 best supplements for the immune system
While we always recommend maintaining a healthy diet first, there are a number of natural supplements that have been recommended for use to maintain a healthy immune system. Dr. Axe has provided a great list of 10 herbs, supplements, and essential oils that assist the immune system. A detailed summary of evidence supports each product (11):
- Colloidal Silver
- Astragalus Root
- Vitamin D
Tobacco, alcohol, and the immune system
Along with knowing about the many natural ways to boost your immune system, it is also important to understand how you can avoid particular substances, such as tobacco and alcohol, that decrease your body’s immune response.
Smoking cigarettes and using products containing tobacco leads to a wide variety of diseases and sickness. In 2015, the World Health Organization reported that in the United States, the prevalence of tobacco use was 22.3% where 15.9% of the population smoked tobacco daily (12) and the prevalence of tobacco use was 15% while 10.7% of people smoked tobacco daily in Canada (13).
Smoking can reduce normal immune response or even exacerbate the immune response in a self-degenerative manner—where the protective cells may attack the incorrect organisms/cells in the body!— for both the innate and adaptive immune systems (14). Avoiding smoking has been shown as a means of improving many other aspects of your health and wellness, and it also clearly can be beneficial for combating a weak immune system.
While chronic alcohol consumption has been associated with a variety of health concerns and mortality risk, research is beginning to understand its relationship with the immune system as well. Chronic alcohol consumption can impede immune response pathways that defend against infection, aid in the healing of tissue injury and further harm organs and tissues already damaged by alcohol (15).
Since we have come to understand the absence of symptoms relating to sickness and infection as our benchmarks for a healthy body and mind, we now know that maintaining a healthy immune system is a crucial part of staying in a healthful condition.
Boosting your immune system is a preventative measure and can reduce the overall need to mend your health and wellness after the onset of sickness. Just as you can use a firewall to protect your computer from harmful viruses, you can support a natural and active lifestyle to protect yourself from the biological viruses and other pathogens that you are exposed to on a daily basis. An immune body is a happy body!
Call today to see how we can help you to boost your immunity!