The Immune System Basics
The main purpose of your immune system is to protect your body from viruses and bacteria.
Without it, they would have free reign and you would be constantly falling ill.
Your immune system works by recognising the difference between your bodys cells and alien cells, allowing it to destroy any that could be potentially harmful.
This usually works well but can cause problems if your immune system wrongly classifies some of your own cells and attacks them instead.
How To Keep From Getting Sick
Because our immune response to fighting disease, infections and viruses in the body is so complex, there’s a lot we don’t know about why some people have a more balanced immune response while others don’t.
“The immune system is really complicated,” Dr. Cassel says. “We don’t understand very much of it at all.”
You may not have a lot of control over how your immune system functions, but there are ways to keep from getting sick.
“The main way to prevent infections is to stay away from sick people, wash your hands and get all recommended vaccines,” Dr. Cassel says.
A Simple Breakdown Of How Gut Health And Immunity Interact
- A healthy digestive tract allows microscopic particles of digested food and nutrients to pass through the gut wall. But with the right balance of bacteria, it can also keep out larger food particles and pathogens.
- If conditions within the GI tract arent optimal, the gut wall could be damaged. This allows large food particles and pathogens to escape into the rest of the body.
- When invader particles permeate the gut wall, it triggers an immune system response. This includes pain and inflammation in the gut. But it can also affect other parts of the body too.7
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Best Vitamins And Supplements To Strengthen Your Immune System
The right balance of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids will fortify your defences.
In the midst of a global pandemic, it’s never been more vital to keep your immune system healthy. One of the easiest ways to do this is through your diet, so if you’ve been Googling ‘vitamins for immune system’, you’re on the right track.
We asked Dr Carrie Ruxton, dietician at the Health and Food Supplements Information Service, and Aliza Marogy, nutritionist and founder of clinical supplement company Inessa, to talk us through the seven key vitamins your immune system relies on:
How Does Your Immune System Work
The immune system is a network of cells and proteins that are tasked to defend the body against any infection1. It is a complex system among whose components are white blood cells, antibodies, and the bone marrow .
The best way to boost your immune system is to make healthy lifestyle choices: getting enough sleep with the right balance of physical activity, a healthy diet and sticking to a vitamin and mineral-rich diet can keep your immune system in great shape .
You can support your daily diet by taking supplements to help maintain a functioning immune system. If you need some ideas on where and how to start choosing the right vitamins and minerals to suit your bodys needs, read on.
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Engage In Moderate Exercise
Although prolonged intense exercise can suppress your immune system, moderate exercise can give it a boost.
Studies indicate that even a single session of moderate exercise can boost the effectiveness of vaccines in people with compromised immune systems (
Examples of moderate exercise include brisk walking, steady bicycling, jogging, swimming, and light hiking. Most people should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week .
Moderate exercise can reduce inflammation and promote the healthy turnover of immune cells. Jogging, biking, walking, swimming, and hiking are great options.
Good Hygiene Supports Immunity
Frequent handwashing is an important measure against the possible spread of infectious diseases . Handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is our first line of defense in stopping the spread of infection .
Nowadays, its important to be aware of what youre coming in contact with, and what your body is being exposed to. Aside from frequent handwashing, practicing social distancing and masking up can help support your immune systems defenses in the new normal.
On top of these safety measures, keeping our immune system healthy is vital in making sure were protected from the pandemic.
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Does Being Cold Give You A Weak Immune System
Almost every mother has said it: “Wear a jacket or you’ll catch a cold!” Is she right? Probably not, exposure to moderate cold temperatures doesn’t increase your susceptibility to infection. There are two reasons why winter is “cold and flu season.” In the winter, people spend more time indoors, in closer contact with other people who can pass on their germs. Also the influenza virus stays airborne longer when air is cold and less humid.
But researchers remain interested in this question in different populations. Some experiments with mice suggest that cold exposure might reduce the ability to cope with infection. But what about humans? Scientists have performed experiments in which volunteers were briefly dunked in cold water or spent short periods of time naked in subfreezing temperatures. They’ve studied people who lived in Antarctica and those on expeditions in the Canadian Rockies. The results have been mixed. For example, researchers documented an increase in upper respiratory infections in competitive cross-country skiers who exercise vigorously in the cold, but whether these infections are due to the cold or other factors such as the intense exercise or the dryness of the air is not known.
Strategies To Stay Healthy
So, if you can’t help your immune system by taking an over-the-counter potion or pill, what can you do to cut down on illness this winter? Differences between people who rarely get sick and those who are sick all the time may have more to do with habits than immune function, says Starnbach. Here are some tips that might help.
Clean your hands. While some germs are airborne, more often than not, illness occurs after you touch a contaminated surface, says Starnbach. Most often germs move from your hands into your eyes, nose, or mouth, so also make an effort not to touch your face.
Keep your body in top shape. Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep can help keep your body and your immune system working well.
Manage stress. Research has shown that high stress levels may impair the immune system. So whenever possible, try to be aware of your stress levels and work to lower them when they get too high.
Get vaccinated. Getting vaccinated against the flu and other diseases stimulates the immune system to protect against illness. Vaccines teach the immune system to recognize specific pathogens and prepare them to mount a defense if they are encountered.
The bottom line is that aside from vaccines, there’s really nothing you can take to improve your immune system, so it’s probably best to avoid pills and potions that make those types of claims.
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Limit Refined And Processed Foods
Refined and processed foods, especially junk foods, cause inflammations and an imbalance of gut bacteria, negatively affecting the immune system. In addition, high unsaturated fats, hidden sugars, processed meats trigger adverse metabolic and endocrine conditions, which leads to impaired immune functions.
Supplements And Immunity: Facts Vs Fiction
Most people have been told at least once to take vitamin C to speed up recovery after catching a cold or the flu. But do supplements help boost immunity? And if so, which supplements should people prioritize? This article takes a look at a few of the most popular recommendations for immunity-boosting supplements and highlights the truth behind the claims.
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How Does Vitamin C Boost Your Immunity And Improve Your Health
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that assists in the formation and maintenance of bones, blood vessels, and skin while strengthening your immunity. This nutrient is found naturally in several foods, especially in fruits and vegetables. Additionally, vitamin C supplements are also available.
As one could expect, COVID-19 has forced people to focus more on protecting themselves from illnesses and infections by strengthening their immunity. This article reviews the impact vitamin C has on your immunity and health.
Vitamin C An Essential Nutrient
Vitamin C or L-ascorbic acid is a water-soluble nutrient and antioxidant that can neutralize unstable compounds and help prevent or reverse cellular damage in our bodies. It is also involved in various biochemical processes related to immune health.
Major benefits of Vitamin C include:
The Impact of Vitamin C on Immunity
Vitamin C is a critical micronutrient. It contributes to your immune defense system by supporting multiple cellular functions of your bodys adaptive immune systems. Being an antioxidant, it can also fight free radicals in the body, thereby decreasing inflammation and boosting immunity. It can keep your skin healthy and enable it to act as a barrier against toxic compounds entering your body.
How To Support The Immune System With Supplements
For the immune system to hit peak performance, it needs good, regular nourishment.
So, its understandable that eating a diet lacking in essential nutrients is connected with a higher risk of getting some health conditions.
If your diet isnt providing you with the micronutrients you need, supplements, such as multivitamins, offer additional support to your immune system.
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This also applies to probiotics and prebiotics. Is your gut getting sufficient supplies of these nutrients from your diet?
If not, adding a probiotic or prebiotic supplement can help to bolster your gut microbiome. This offers extra benefits to your immunity too.
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Cansupplements Help Your Immunity
While vitamins andsupplements can help fill in the gaps in your diet, the best way to load up onessential nutrients is to get them straight from food.
Your body absorbs and usesvitamins and nutrients better when they come from a dietarysource. When its a vitamin or supplement, its often questionablehow much youre actually getting. Because supplements are regulated asfoods, not as drugs, the Food and Drug Administration doesnt evaluate thequality of supplements or assess their effects on the body.
Some supplements may have side effects, especially if taken before surgery or with other medicines. Supplements can also cause problems if you have certain health conditions. And the effects of many supplements havent been tested in children, pregnant women and other groups.
Its especially important to avoid taking vitamin E supplements. Not only is there little clinical research showing that vitamin E supplements benefit your health, but they may also be harmful in some situations.
For these reasons, expertssay its best to get vitamins through food rather than supplements.
Talk with yourhealthcare provider if youre thinking about taking dietary supplements,Zumpano says.
Immunomodulatory Role Of Vitamin D
The influence of VD3 metabolites in the immune system, particularly of 1,252 VD3, has been known for more than 20 years,. In vitro, 1,252VD3 exerts a marked inhibitory effect on adaptive immune cells . It inhibits T-cell proliferation,, the expression of interleukin-2 and interferon- mrNA and protein in T cells,, and CD8 T-cell-mediated cytotoxicity. The decrease in the production of IL-2 and IFN by 1,252VD3 is partially mediated by binding of the VDRRXR complex to the VDRE in the promoters of genes encoding IL-2 and IFN . The anti-proliferative effect could be explained, at least in part, by the decrease in IL-2 production, as proliferation is partially rescued by adding exogenous IL-2 . These inhibitory effects of 1,252VD3 are most pronounced in the memory T-cell compartment, which is concomitant with the higher expression of VDR in effector and memory T cells compared with naive T cells. Moreover, 1,252VD3 enhances nonspecific T-cell suppressor activity, as measured by the ability of 1,252VD3-treated T cells to suppress primary mixed-lymphocyte reactions and cytotoxic T-cell responses.
Mechanisms of vitamin D immunomodulation
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Increase Your Fluid Intake
Proper hydration is crucial to good gut health and supporting a stronger immune system.
For example, increasing fibre and not increasing water intake can worsen constipation. This is because water helps fibre to pass through the digestive tract.
The NHS Eatwell Guide recommends 6 to 8 glasses of fluid a day as a guide.18
This more collaborative relationship between the digestive and the immune systems, is a relatively new discovery in the last decade.
Although studies are now uncovering more about this connection, theres a lot more to uncover.
But with so much of the immune system located in the gut, there seems to be little doubt that what we eat can have an influence on our overall wellness, as well as digestive health.19
Nuclear Receptors For Vitamin Metabolites
Locally produced 1,252VD3 can act on immune cells in an autocrine or paracrine manner. On complexing with 1,252VD3, the nuclear vitamin D receptor heterodimerizes with nuclear receptors of the retinoic X receptor family which has three main isoforms: , and and binds to VD3 response elements in the promoters of VD3-responsive genes .
Similarly, retinoic acid exerts its multiple effects by binding to nuclear receptors of the retinoic acid receptor family, which also has three main isoforms: , and . These form RARRXR heterodimers, which interact with retinoic acid response elements within the promoters of retinoic acid-responsive genes,. RAR proteins are ubiquitously expressed and are also upregulated by retinoic acid,. As mentioned above, RXR proteins can also pair with VDR proteins or form RXRRXR homodimers, which are specific receptors for 9-cis-retinoic acid but not for all-trans retinoic acid . In addition, RXR proteins are partners for other nuclear receptors, such as thyroid hormone receptor, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor and liver X receptor, among others. Therefore, it is possible that, given their common RXR nuclear binding partners, some ligands, such as 1,252VD3 and retinoic acid, might antagonize each others effects.
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Be Wary Of Hype And Headlines
While vitamin C supplements pose little risk to consumers, other so-called “immune-boosting” products could be harmful.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak began in the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission have already issued warning letters to seven companies for selling fraudulent products that promise to cure, treat or prevent the viral infection. “These warning letters are just the first step,” FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a news release. “We’re prepared to take enforcement actions against companies that continue to market this type of scam.”
Note that no evidence suggests that other so-called immune-boosting supplements such as zinc, green tea or echinacea help to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infections, Dr. Mark Mulligan, division director of the infectious diseases and vaccine center at NYU Langone Medical Center, told New York Times Parenting. “I do not recommend spending money on supplements for this purpose,” Mulligan said.
“The medical profession still doesn’t know exactly how to influence the immune system, despite what supplement products may claim,” Julie Stefanski, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, told The Washington Post.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Mar. 10 to include information about the Vitamin C infusion trial being conducted in China.
Boost The Immune System
With the novel coronavirus infecting many, people are seeking to boost their immune systems. We definitely need our bodies’ defenses to be as strong as possible. How can this be done?
Like the Army, the immune system is an intricate network of units that act together to combat invaders, in this case bacteria, viruses and other “enemies.”
Since it is a system of many parts, not a single unit, it cannot technically be boosted. However, it can be strengthened to run efficiently in order to fight off diseases. Keep your body’s soldiers fit and ready by living a healthy lifestyle.
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Cut Back On Hand Sanitizer
Yes, hand sanitizer is known for killing germs that cause illness. But studies have shown that only hand sanitizers with 60 to 95 percent alcohol are effective at killing germs. Those with lower alcohol concentrations, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control states, may cause germs to become resistant to the sanitizing agent. Plus, hand sanitizers are less effective at bacterial removal compared to regular soap and water.
Tip to remember: Wash your hands with soap and water frequently. In circumstances when you cant wash your hands, opt for hand sanitizer. Just dont swap the antibacterial for soap.
Eat More Healthy Fats
Healthy fats, like those found in olive oil and salmon, may boost your bodys immune response to pathogens by .
Although low-level inflammation is a normal response to stress or injury, chronic inflammation can suppress your immune system .
Olive oil, which is highly anti-inflammatory, is linked to a decreased risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Plus, its anti-inflammatory properties may help your body fight off harmful disease-causing bacteria and viruses (
These foods include yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and natto.
Research suggests that a flourishing network of gut bacteria can help your immune cells differentiate between normal, healthy cells and harmful invader organisms .
In a 3-month study in 126 children, those who drank just 2.4 ounces of fermented milk daily had about 20% fewer childhood infectious diseases, compared with a control group .
If you dont regularly eat fermented foods, probiotic supplements are another option.
In a 28-day study in 152 people infected with rhinovirus, those who supplemented with probiotic Bifidobacterium animalis had a stronger immune response and lower levels of the virus in their nasal mucus than a control group .
Gut health and immunity are deeply interconnected. Fermented foods and probiotics may bolster your immune system by helping it identify and target harmful pathogens.
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