Immunity can be described as the body’s ability to resist infection. Organs and cells that form the immune system defend our body by providing physical and chemical barriers to entry and a complex series of memory cells that capture and destroy foreign invaders.
The first lines of defence against invasion are:-
- The skin,
- Mucous membranes in the air passages
- The digestive system.
The skin is a tough, self repairing, slightly acidic, waxy coated barrier that some bacteria find difficult to penetrate.
The mucous membranes that line the nasal passages and lungs secrete sticky, antimicrobial mucus that catches and disposes of foreign particles.
The digestive system in itself provides a number of barriers. First there is hydrochloric acid in the stomach followed by the mucous in the intestines which line the tract. The digestive system produces 10 litres of digestive juices a day to break down the food you eat & enable the nutrients to pass through the gastro-intestinal wall. (The tract is 30 feet long with the surface area of a small football pitch and effectively replaces itself every four days- very clever).
The health of this gastro- intestinal tract is maintained by a team of some three hundred different strains of bacteria and other micro-organisms as unique to you as your fingerprint.
Your immune system replaces its entire army every week, and, when under viral attack, has the capacity to produce two hundred thousand new immune cells every minute.
Even so, all three of the above may not be enough, but thankfully the body has an extremely clever second string which can spring into action within the blood stream.
This specifically targeted immunity action is dependant upon white blood cells. These are produced in the bone marrow and are found mostly in the lymph tissues, lymph nodes, spleen and lining to the gastrointestinal tract.
The white blood cells come with T Cells, and B Cells and numerous other mechanisms capable of destroying, marking, tagging and reacting to invaders.
T Cells release chemicals that destroy cells that have been invaded by bacteria or virus.
B Cells react to invaders and produce antibodies which attach to the invader and can kill or tag it as dangerous to other immune cells.
Both the T & B Cells also serve as the memory of the immune system enabling the body to react rapidly to identify any organism that strikes again.
Weaknesses in the System
It is well known the strength of the immune system is dependant upon a number of criteria e.g. age, genetics, smoking habits, levels of exercise, diet, stress, history of infection, vaccinations and medication. Any element which is unbalanced could leave the immune system susceptible to attack.
Unfortunately many modern drugs and treatments also have an adverse effect on the immune system. Antibiotics can destroy many of the digestive system bacteria which help to protect us.
In addition of course new strains of virus will test the immune system and until antibodies are in place the body may be vulnerable especially if the system is already weakened by other self inflicting factors ( e.g. smoking).
Boosting the System
Your immune system is entirely dependant on an optimum intake of vitamins and minerals. Lousy diet– guess what, low immunity!
Deficiency of vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B12, Folic acid, C, E and minerals Iron, Zinc, Magnesium and Selenium will suppress the immune system.
Vitamins B1 & B2 have a mild immune boosting effect compared to B6. The production of antibodies, so critical in any infection, depends upon B6 as does T cell function. B12 & Folic acid are also essential for proper B cell & T cell function. Since no nutrients work in isolation, it is a good idea to take a high strength multivitamin and mineral supplement.
Nutrition for the immune system can of course be delivered in a balanced diet. The ideal immune boosting diet is, in essence, no different from the ideal diet for anyone.
Since immune cells are produced rapidly during an infection, sufficient protein is essential. Diets high in saturated or hydrogenated fats suppress the immunity and clog up the lymphatic system, but essential fats, found in cold pressed seeds oils boosts immunity. Therefore a well balanced protein, low fat diet with fats obtained from essential sources such as seeds and nuts, together with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables rich in vitamins and minerals is the way to eat for maximum immunity.
|Vit. & Mineral||Best Natural Sources|
|A||Halibut Liver oil, Liver, Butter, Cheese & Eggs|
|B1||Dried Brewers Yeast, Yeast Extract, Brown Rice, Wheat germ, Nuts,|
|B2||Yeast extract, Dried Brewers Yeast, Liver, Wheat germ, Cheese Eggs|
|B6||Dried Brewers Yeast, Wheat Bran, Yeast Extract, Wheat germ, Oat flakes, White meat, Vegetables|
|B12||Pig’s Liver, Pig’s Kidney, Fatty Fish, Pork, Beef, Lamb, White Fish, Eggs, Cheese, Seaweed.|
|Folic Acid||Dried Brewers Yeast, Soya Flour, Wheat germ, Wheat bran, Nuts
Brussels sprouts, Asparagus, Peas, Chickpeas and Brown rice
|C||Acerola Cherry Juice, Camu Pulp, Rosehip, Black cherries, Guavas, Parsley, Kale, Broccoli, Green Peppers, Citrus Fruits|
|E||Wheat germ Oil, Soya bean Oil, Maze Oil, Nuts & Seeds|
|Iron||Cockles, Dried Brewers Yeast, Winkles, Wheat bran, Cooked Liver & Kidney, Soya Flour, Dark Green Leafy Vegetables (such as watercress and curly kale)|
|Zinc||Oysters, Liver, Dried Brewers Yeast, Shellfish, Meats, Hard Cheese, Canned Fish, Whole bread, Eggs|
|Magnesium||Soya beans, Nuts, Dried Brewers Yeast, Whole wheat Flour, Brown Rice, Dried Peas, Shrimps|
|Selenium||Organ meats, Fish & Shellfish, Muscle meats, Wholegrain, Cereals, Brazil Nuts.|
Additional Herbs & Tonics
In addition some herbs and tonics are particularly helpful in aiding the immune system.
Echinacea, Goldenseal, Cat’s Claw, Ginger, Astragalus and some mushroom species are known to possess immune enhancing properties. Studies have shown the active ingredient in Garlic, allicin, has antimicrobial and antiviral activities.
A rebalance of the gut bacteria with pre & probiotics will make sure the defence mechanisms are in peak condition and are advisable particularly after a course of antibiotics.
As a pick me up and for those recovering from illness a number of quality liquid tonics with multivitamins and other essential ingredients are available. These have shown to improve the conditions of those with low immunity. e.g. Bio-Strath.
Here are a few great immune support supplements:
- Natures Aid Beta-glucans Immune support
- Solgar Beta Glucans & elderberry Immune complex
- Pharma Nord Bio Glucan Plus
- Nature’s Plus Tri-Immune
Overall the immune system is your one and only defence against infection. Look after it and it will look after you.