The immune system plays a vital role in our health by supporting the body from harmful pathogens and keeping us well. Made up from organs, cells and proteins, this natural defense system can benefit from proper support and healthy habits. It can also be weakened by lifestyle factors and certain substances that leave us more vulnerable to illness. Before we break down how to support the immune system, let’s explore how the immune system works in the first place.
How the Immune System Functions
There are two main parts of the immune system: the innate immune system and the acquired immune system.
The innate immune system is what we are born with and its responses are rapid and broadly effective, even in newborn children. When the innate immune system detects an “invader,” or pathogen, white blood cells surround and eliminate the invader. If the innate immune system fails to destroy the pathogen, the acquired (or adaptive) immune system kicks in about four to seven days later. Working with the innate immune system, the acquired immune system targets pathogens more accurately and produces antibodies that stay in the body to recognize pathogens on subsequent encounters.
Amazingly complex, the immune system can recognize and remember millions of different invaders, and produce secretions and cells to match and destroy each one of them.
Key Players in the Immune System
In the immune system, cells and organs work together to ward off invaders. Lymphoid organs are organs in the body that control the production and maturation of defense cells, or lymphocytes. Bone marrow and the thymus produce lymphocytes, while other organs, like the spleen, lymph nodes and tonsils, put the defense cells to work in eliminating pathogens. There are two types of lymphocytes: B and T cells. While B cells and T cells are both produced in the bone marrow, their functions are quite different. B cells secrete antibodies into the body’s fluids to detect pathogens circulating in the bloodstream. T cells then penetrate cells to destroy identified invaders.
Factors That Weaken the Immune System
Some conditions and disorders can wreak havoc on the immune system, while certain medicines may make it more difficult to fight infection. Some of these factors include:
- Autoimmune disorders such as lupus and diabetes
- Infections such as mononucleosis and HIV
- Medications like corticosteroids
Lifestyle factors like smoking, excessive alcohol use and poor-quality sleep also negatively affect the immune system. Antibiotics can weaken the immune system if the body develops antibiotic resistance due to misuse or overuse. It’s crucial to take medication as prescribed by a doctor. If you stop treatment too soon, the remaining bacteria may become resistant to the antibiotic.
How to Support the Immune System
Unfortunately, no magic supplement can enhance one’s immunity immediately. A healthy immune system relies on consistent care. While there are no one hit wonders, here are some collaborative ideas that are worth integrating into your daily life:
- Get enough sleep, ideally between seven to nine hours a night.
- Eat a healthy diet that contains plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Regulate stress levels with mindfulness and self-care.
- Exercise regularly (which can also help you sleep better and stress less).
- Wash your hands often and practice good hygiene.
- Incorporate superfood mushrooms into your diet, such as Lion’s Mane, Reishi, Chaga, Turkey Tail, Agaricus blazei and Antrodia camphorata.
If you feel like you’re always getting sick despite lifestyle changes and supplement support, be sure to seek the advice of a medical professional and be tested for autoimmune disorders. And make sure you’re up to date on recommended vaccines to keep your immune system strong and healthy.