7 Strategies to Enhance Your Natural Immunity

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Part A - But first of all - what is Immunity?

The human body is a marvellously complex, biochemical system that evolved over the past 200,000 years or so.  It is an organism that relies on homeostasis, which is a self-regulating process by which each of the biological systems maintain stability while adjusting to changing external conditions. This should allow our bodies to stay healthy and strong.  The disruption of homeostatic mechanisms in any of the body’s systems, including Immunity, is what leads to illness and disease.

The Immune System is made up of different organs, cells, and proteins that work together to protect your body from outside invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins. These substances are called antigens.  The parts of your immune system that actively fight infection, found in various organs of the body, include:

  • White Blood Cells. Key players in your Immune System.  They move throughout the tissues of your body searching for foreign invaders and then they attack!  They include infection-fighting lymphocytes (B-cells and T-cells).  The Immune system keeps a record of every microbe it has ever defeated, meaning it can recognize and destroy an invader quickly if it enters the body again, before it can multiply and make you feel sick.
  • Antibodies.  Help the body to fight microbes or the toxins (poisons) they produce. They do this by recognizing substances called antigens on the surface of the microbe, or in the chemicals they produce, which mark the microbe or toxin as being foreign.
  • Lymphatic vessels. A network of channels throughout the body that carry lymphocytes to the lymphoid organs and bloodstream.  Unlike the cardiovascular system, the lymph vessels do not have their own pump, and so they rely on you moving your muscles to keep this critical fluid moving and removing wastes.
  • Lymph nodes. Small organs shaped like beans, which are located throughout the body and connect via the lymphatic vessels.  They trap microbes and toxins and send them out of the body via the lymphatic vessels.
  • Bone marrow. The soft, spongy tissue found in bone cavities.  The red and white blood cells are made here.
  • Spleen. A fist-sized organ located in the abdominal cavity.  Filters the blood to remove old and damaged cells; also makes lymphocytes.
  • Thymus. Two lobes that join in front of the trachea behind the breastbone.  Filters and monitors your blood content.
  • Adenoids. Two glands located at the back of the nasal passage.
  • Tonsils. Two oval masses in the back of the throat.  The adenoids and tonsils work by trapping germs coming in through the mouth and nose.

When your immune system recognizes an antigen, it attacks it. This is called an immune response. Part of this response is to make antibodies. Antibodies are proteins that work to attack, weaken, and destroy antigens. Your body also makes other cells to fight the antigen.  And, your immune system will remember the antigen. If it sees the antigen again, it can recognize it. It will quickly send out the right antibodies, so in most cases, you don't get sick. This protection against a certain disease is called immunity.

For example, as a child you may have had the measles, and your body likely developed antibodies, so that even if you are exposed again, you (likely) won’t get sick.

There are three different types of immunity:

  • Innate immunity is the protection that you are born with. It is your body's first line of defense. It includes barriers such as the skin and mucous membranes. They keep harmful substances from entering the body. 
  • Active (or adaptive) immunity develops when you are infected with or vaccinated against a foreign substance. Active immunity is usually long-lasting. For many diseases, it can last your entire life.
  • Passive immunity happens when you receive antibodies to a disease instead of making them through your own immune system. For example, newborn babies have antibodies from their mothers though the placenta and through breastfeeding. People can also get passive immunity through blood products that contain antibodies. This kind of immunity gives you protection right away. But it only lasts a few weeks or months.

Some infections, like the flu and the common cold, have to be fought many times because so many different viruses or strains of the same type of virus can cause these illnesses. Catching a cold or flu from one virus does not give you immunity against the others.

As well as the immune system, the body has several other ways to defend itself against microbes, including the skin, lungs, digestive system and body fluids like skin oil, saliva and tears.

Did you know?  Fever is an immune system response!  A rise in body temperature, or fever, can happen with some infections, as this can kill some microbes. 

It is common for people to have an over- or underactive immune system.  Overactivity of the immune system can take many forms, including allergic diseases, where the immune system makes an overly strong response to allergens and autoimmune diseases, where the immune system mounts a response against normal tissues of the body, thinking that your own tissues are foreign invaders.

Autoimmune diseases include multiple sclerosis, autoimmune thyroid disease (Hashimoto's), type 1 diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and systemic vasculitis.

An underactive immune system does not function correctly and makes people vulnerable to infections. It can be life threatening in severe cases.  People who have had an organ transplant need immunosuppression treatment to prevent the body from attacking the transplanted organ, however this leaves them vulnerable to pathogens..

Immunization works by copying the body's natural immune response. A vaccine (a small amount of a specially treated virus, bacterium or toxin) is injected into the body, which will make antibodies to it. If a vaccinated person is then exposed to the actual virus, bacterium or toxin, their body will recognise it, and know how to attack it, so hopefully they won't get sick. 

Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines are a new type of vaccine to protect against infectious diseases. They don't use live viruses to trigger an immune response. Instead, they teach your cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response. Once triggered, your body makes antibodies. These antibodies help you fight the infection if the real virus does enter your body in the future.

Herd immunity, also known as population immunity, is the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection.  Vaccinated people are protected from getting the disease in question and passing on the pathogen, so the chains of transmission, and the virus dies out..

Part B - But how do we keep the Immune System healthy?  

By maintaining the Immune System in peak form, it may deal with any pathogen quickly and quietly without us getting sick, and we may not even be aware it’s at work!  But if we have neglected our health, and let it decline as we age, our immune system may have lost the capacity to fight.  If we have a weakened immune system, we will most likely fall ill for a period of time. Sometimes illnesses are short, such as the common cold, while others can be chronic and life-altering like autoimmune diseases.

7 Natural Immune Enhancing Strategies:

In a nutshell: increase healthy practices, limit or avoid unhealthy and toxic practices.

1.  Just Eat Real Food!  

Consume a healthy diet of natural, live, good quality, and great variety of whole foods including the macronutrients (protein, essential fats and low-Glycemic carbohydrates), and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc.) that provide the building blocks of cell tissues, as well as the various chemicals (hormones, neurotransmitters, enzymes, etc.) that keep the body strong, healthy, balanced and functioning efficiently.

Malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies can also impair immunity. Generally, a diet rich in whole foods like vegetables, fruits, quality animal products (meat, fish, poultry, eggs), nuts, seeds, healthy fats, legumes and gluten-free whole grains are going to help sustain a healthy immune system.  

Eat Fat, Fibre and Protein at every meal!

Read more about eating a Rainbow of Veggies here!

Immunity superstars:

  • Onions and garlic –  antimicrobial, antibacterial and antiviral properties, also anti-inflammatory
  • Berries – sources of flavonoids that are anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting, contain fibre to support the digestive tract and in turn the microbiome
  • Citrus – contains Vitamin C for immune defense, protection against pathogens and infections
  • Mushrooms – modulate the immune system, dialing it up or down as needed
  • Ginger – highly anti-inflammatory and has anti-oxidant effects that protect against diseases
  • Fire Cider – a very potent mix of garlic, onions, horseradish and ginger that helps to dampen infections quickly
  • Bone Broth – rich in minerals and amino acids that nourish the gut and encourage healing, anti-inflammatory
  • Turmeric – highly anti-inflammatory and can help to modulate the immune system by activating the beneficial immune components while down-regulating the inflammatory ones
  • Coconut Oil – anti-microbial and anti-bacterial
  • Greens – an overall vitamin and mineral-rich category that is also rich in B-vitamins for energy and nervous system function
  • Wild salmon – high in anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats, and a good source of protein (protein helps to support and modulate a healthy immune response)

 And for gut health:

  • Consume soluble and insoluble fibre
  • Drink water
  • Eat fermented foods (sauerkraut, pickles, dairy-free yogurt/kefir, etc.)
  • Eat prebiotic foods (Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions, leeks, dandelion greens, etc.)
  • Don’t overuse antibiotics
  • Chew your food well
  • Use digestive bitters alongside meals
  • Reduce or eliminate refined sugars

 Avoid or limit:

  • Refined or processed carbs (white sugar and flour)
  • Processed vegetable oils
  • Genetically modified foods (Some of the most highly modified foods are corn, soy and vegetable oils. )
  • Artificial sweeteners (aspartame, etc.)
  • Chemicals you cannot pronounce! (read food labels)
  • “Junk” foods that have many nutrients stripped during processing, unbalancing the natural composition of the food and leaving unsatisfying, empty calories

2.  Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. …

Choose 

  • Filtered Water
  • Herbal Tea
  • Kombucha
  • Kefir

Avoid or limit:

  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Soft Drinks
  • Sugar-laden drinks
  • Alcohol

Rule of Thumb:  Don’t drink your calories!

3.  Supplements and Essential Oils

While it is preferable to get your micronutrients from food sources, that is not always possible.  There are a number of vitamin and mineral supplements that can enhance immune health.

  • Vitamin A helps to regulate our innate and adaptive immune systems, and supports antibody cell production. 
  • Vitamin C is another one that is essential to our innate and adaptive immune system, and for the gut barrier to keep pathogens out.
  • Vitamin E.  Like vitamin C, vitamin E can be a powerful antioxidant that helps your body fight off infection. This important vitamin — part of nearly 200 biochemical reactions in your body — is critical in how your immune system functions. 
  • Our immune cells have Vitamin D receptors, and it helps to modulate our immune response, prevent infection and protect against autoimmune diseases.  Known as the Sunshine vitamin, becasue our bodies will make it if we get enough sunshine - but hard to do in northern latitudes in winter.
  • Selenium has a powerful effect on the immune system by preventing infections. 
  • Zinc is a key modulator of the immune system, impacting nearly all components of immunity to help protect against infections. It also helps to prevent inflammation and this impacts the risk of infection, as well as chronic inflammatory diseases and autoimmune conditions.
  • Melatonin has been shown to stimulate the production of immune cells like natural killer cells, macrophages and T cells
  • Fish oil has long been promoted for its anti-inflammatory effects, and research now shows that the omega-3 fats found in fish oil also help to modulate the immune system.
  • Probiotics interact with receptors on the intestinal cells and modulate both the innate and adaptive immune responses. Probiotics also strengthen the lining of the gut, which protects the GI tract from harm by pathogens. These good bacteria also boost immunity by decreasing inflammation in the body.

Essential Oils have also shown to be effective in supporting immunity, through immune function enhancing or immune function balancing properties.  Make sure you buy a high quality oil! 

Five effective essential oils are Eucalyptus, Ginger, Oregano, Peppermint, and Tea Tree oils.  Make sure to check the product descriptions for proper use.

 4.   Exercise regularly                            

Exercise boosts the parts of our immune system that fight infections, reduces inflammation and increases our circulation, allowing the immune system to work much more efficiently.

The best exercise is the exercise you will actually do! 

Start slow, invite a friend, and Just Do It!

Variety is the key!

  • Gentle cardio - walking, swimming, cycling, etc.
  • Yoga or other flexibility and mobility movements
  • Strength Training to burn fat, and build muscle
  • Intermittent higher intensity (HIIT)
  • Play, connect with others, enjoy!
  • Every day
  • Outside in the fresh air!

5.  Get enough sleep

Did you know? Good quality sleep allows us to develop a long-term ‘memory’ of pathogens, which helps our immune system recognize and respond to infections more quickly.  Insomnia can lead to activation of the pro-inflammatory cytokines, leaving us more susceptible to infections. 

Get more Sleep Strategies here!

Try these:

  • Make sure it’s dark in the room.
  • Turn off all devices at least an hour before bed.
  • Sleep in a cool room.
  • Create a consistent bedtime.
  • Practice relaxing bedtime rituals – meditation, reading, aromatherapy, baths

Avoid or limit:

  • Sugary foods and caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
  • Electronic devices in the bedroom
  • High stress activities in the evening
  • Burning the midnight oil!

6.  Manage your stress levels

Many of us deal with a constant stream of stressors and our ability to process stress also impacts our immune system. While short-term stress can be beneficial, long-term stress leads to a suppressed immune system and chronic inflammation, plus it increases our susceptibility to infections.  A regular meditation practice will lead to less stress, more connection with your true self, and give a greater sense of inner peace.

Looking for a gentle yoga and meditation class?  Join "Take A Deep Breath In!"

Try these:

  • Meditation 
  • Breathwork
  • Positive attitude
  • Sleep
  • Self Care – take time for yourself to relax, treat yourself and pursue your own interests.
  • Being in nature
  • Writing or journaling
  • Talking with loved ones
  • Gentle exercise
  • Creating a calm work and home environment

7.  Connect with others, get outside in the sunshine, play and have fun!

Socialize regularly and stay mentally active. Social interaction helps ward off depression and stress, both of which can contribute to memory loss and lack of energy. Look for opportunities to get together (even if it is online!) with family, friends, loved ones and others — especially if you live alone.

Just as physical activity helps keep your body in shape, mentally stimulating activities help keep your brain in shape — and these can be more fun done in groups. Join a book club. Learn to play bridge. Attend cultural or educational events. Volunteer at a local community organization.

Recipes:

Immunity Boosting Bone Broth

~ makes about 8 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 Whole Chicken Carcass (about 2 lbs of bones)
  • 1 Carrot (peeled and chopped)
  • 1 Yellow Onion (diced)
  • 2 stalks Celery (chopped)
  • 3 Garlic (cloves, halved)
  • 1 tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 tsp Sea Salt
  • 1 cup Parsley (chopped)
  • 12 cups Water

Directions

  1. Place the bones in the slow cooker or soup pot and cover with water. Add all remaining ingredients. Cook on low heat for at least 12 hours.
  2. After 12 hours, strain the broth through a strainer or mesh sack. Discard the vegetables that you strained out. Allow the broth to cool. Once cool, remove the layer of fat that forms on the top and discard or save it for future cooking.
  3. Freeze broth until ready to use.

 

Mushroom Miso Soup 

~ Serves 6- 8

Ingredients

  • 6 cups bone broth
  • ½ cup cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • ½ cup shiitake mushrooms, chopped
  • 1-inch fresh ginger, grated
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp miso paste, gluten-free
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp arame, soaked

Directions

  1. Bring broth to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add mushrooms, garlic and ginger. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove 1-1⁄2 cups of broth and whisk it into miso, then add it back to soup.
  4. Add green onions and arame and heat for 3 minutes before serving.

For more info on this and other natural health topics:

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