It’s that time of year again. Viruses and bacteria are preparing themselves to attack and infect you! In response, we must prepare our immune systems.
The Immune Response
The immune response involves the blood and lymphatic system in what is called ‘seek and destroy’ activity. Cells in the blood (i.e. leukocytes or white blood cells) and lymphocytes, produced in the lymphatic system, work together in the body whenever a foreign invader enters. From there, the body can respond in a myriad of ways.
First, we have the white blood cells or leukocytes, which is a category of 5 types of immune response cells. Everyone remembers white blood cells from biology class, so here we will take this one step further. Our first type of leukocyte are neutrophils, whose function is to engulf and destroy bacteria. Eosinophils release chemicals to destroy foreign cells (i.e. pollen, dander, dust, etc.) and parasites. Basophils deal directly with blood clotting at injury sites by releasing histamine at the site to increase inflammation and then release heparin to limit the size of a blood clot. They are also the least common leukocyte. Our last two leukocytes are blood cells, but they also are a part of the lymphatic immune response. First, we have monocytes, which engulf and destroy microorganisms, cancerous cells, dead leukocytes, and cellular debris. Next are lymphocytes, which make up more than 25% of our blood. Lymphocytes which develop and mature in red bone marrow will become B cells or Natural Killer cells. T cells are produced by lymphocytes which travel and mature in the thymus.
The lymphatic system part of an immune response includes several functions by both lymphocytes and monocytes. Lymphocytes are broken down into three types: NK (natural killer) cells, B cells, and T cells. Natural Killer cells can recognize virally infected and cancerous cells in the body and release the necessary chemicals to kill it. B cells create antibodies by turning into plasma to coat fragments of pathogens from monocytes. T cells have four categories: Cytotoxic, Helper, Memory, and Suppressor. Cytotoxic T cells kill cells infected with a virus by producing toxic granules. Helper T cells are activated by B cells, stimulate the production of cytotoxic T cells, and produce interleukin. When helper T cells are exposed to a virus, memory T cells are created, and then remain inactive until the next time the virus enter the body, at which time they immediately become cytotoxic T cells. Suppressor T cells, silently one of the most important parts of an immune response, inhibit B cells and cytotoxic T cells to control the intensity and length of time in which an immune response goes on. Now, we come back around to monocytes. After a monocytes previous functions, they bring fragments of the pathogens they’ve destroyed to B cells and T cells so that they may activate. Monocytes are also responsible for producing interferon, interleukin and tumor necrosis factor. Interferon is produced after a virus have been engulfed by a monocyte, it stimulates other cells to produce the same antiviral substance, thus preventing viral infections from spreading throughout the body. This stimulates NK cells to attack infected cells. Though interleukin stimulates B cells, T cells, and NK cells, it is most recognized as the fever that comes with inflammation and infection. This temperature raising increases leukocyte activity and creation. Lastly, bacteria that have infected the body can create endotoxins which are killer by tumor necrosis factor (TNF).
The last two ways that the immune response may attack foreign invaders is through antibodies and complement proteins. Antibodies, or immunoglobulins, coat a bacterium or virus which marks it to be destroyed and then attracts phagocytes (neutrophils and monocytes) to do so. There are five classes of immunoglobulins. IgA (immunoglobulin A) is on the surface of our skin and in our bodily secretions. It is also present in colostrum and provides mother to baby passive immunity. IgD is attached to B cells and is the activator which turns it into a plasma cell. IgE is on basophils and is the reason for a release of histamine or heparin. IgG is our active immunity, responding and defending the body against every invader it remembers. It is also the earliest passive immunity, passing from mother to fetus. IgM is the immunoglobulin which responds to the first time the body comes into contacts with a new pathogen. It is also what responds to incompatible bloods types.
Lastly, complement proteins are 9 proteins which attach to antibodies to kill a bacterium or virus by enhancing the antibodies effect and drilling holes into them.
Brain turned to mush yet!?
What we have next is the ever -growing list of nutrients to nourish, maintain, support, and build our immune systems. Now, while this list may be exhaustive, it is not in any way definite or complete. Many of these will be one sentence mentions, because we have a lot to show you! So please be aware that everything listed has a multitude of functions and benefits to the body and may even have secondary immune system benefits that are not included here. These nutrients are broken down into these categories: amino acids, antioxidants, herbs, minerals, mushrooms, and vitamins.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, linked together by peptide bonds. The greatest difference between amino acids and sugar/fatty acids are that amino acids are made up of 16% nitrogen. The enzymes and hormones that regulate every single one of our bodily processes are proteins. So, it is no shocker that amino acids are paramount in keeping the immune system functioning well.
-Arginine enhances immune function by increasing the size and activity of the thymus gland, which is where T cells are formed.
-Carnitine improves the effectiveness of Vitamins E and C.
-Cysteine is a free radical destroyer and works best with Vitamin E and Selenium. Cysteine is more active in the body when taken in the form of N-Acetyl L-Cysteine (NAC).
-Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant and new research is coming out everyday on its benefits.
-Lysine as everybody knows is what you get for cold sores or herpes virus and is best with Vitamin C.
-Tyrosine has mild antioxidant benefits.
Antioxidants have recently been touted as the ultimate in natural ‘anti-aging’ benefits and this is for the most part true. They protect the body against cellular degeneration caused by processes in the body such as oxidation and protect the body against free radicals. Antioxidants are sourced from natural components. Antioxidants include herbs, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
-Alpha Lipoic Acid
-Grape Seed extract
-Pycnogenol (French Maritime Pine Bark)
Minerals are essential to every part of the body. The bones require the bulky minerals to build and form, while the glands require those trace minerals to be nourished and produce hormones and enzymes. While every part of the body needs magnesium, well so does the immune system.
-Iron is most important to the formation of hemoglobin and myoglobin, making it essential in the maintenance of our immune systems. People generally absorb this well from food sources, which are mostly dense, dark leafy greens.
-Magnesium deficiencies lead to a myriad health issues, among them is a weakened immune system.
-Selenium was mentioned previously in antioxidants, so we know it is a free radical destroyer. Selenium deficiency has been found to be a common occurrence among those diagnosed with some forms of cancer. When Selenium is mixed with Vitamin E it protects the immune system by preventing the formation of free-radicals.
-Silica can stimulate the immune system.
-Trace minerals nourish the glands, so they are already nourishing a huge part of the immune system including the thymus and lymphs. Among the trace minerals, Manganese in minute quantities can boost the immune system.
-Zinc is also important to immune system function. Zinc lozenges have been a folk remedy for loosing your sense of taste when you have the cold since its creation, and they are not wrong! Zinc fights and prevents the formation of free radicals and is an active constituent of SOD, another antioxidant. OptiZinc, which we carry in the Eureka Natural Foods products, is a zinc supplement attached to the amino acid methionine, which gives it the antioxidant activity comparable to Vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene.
The definition of a vitamin is as follows: “any of a group of organic compounds which are essential for normal growth and nutrition and are required in small quantities in the diet because they cannot be synthesized by the body.” (Oxford Dictionary). Without further ado:
-Vitamin A enhances immunity and as previously stated, also is an antioxidant. It is especially powerful when combined with beta-carotene and the carotenoids.
-Folate strengthens the immune system by aiding in the proper formation and function of white blood cells.
-Vitamin C is the most well-known powerful antioxidant. It is needed by over 300 metabolic functions in the body on top of enhancing immunity. Vitamin C also aids in interferon production and decreases the body’s susceptibility to infection.
-Vitamin D is needed for proper immune function and can be an immunity enhancer.
-Vitamin E is a family of 8 antioxidant compounds. In particular, D-alpha tocopherol is a powerful antioxidant and is a part of the body’s natural defense system.
Herbs are medicine. They may not always be needed, and they may only be needed by a few, but herbs are nature’s cure. Nature also provided herbs that would work with our body’s defenses by providing unique nutrients to enhance immunity.
-Acerola is a rainforest herb closely related to cherries and has antioxidant, antifungal, and astringent properties. You can find this in the Vitamin C section of Eureka Natural Foods!
-Andrographis is a fantastic herb, that: prevents and treats upper respiratory infections, has antiviral and antibacterial activity, and is an immunomodulator.
-Ashwagandha can both modulate and stimulate the immune system as it is an adaptogen.
-Astragalus protects the immune system and acts as a tonic.
-Cat’s Claw can stimulate the immune system
-Cayenne’s active constituent capsicum is wonderful for warding off colds and sinus infections.
-Echinacea is by far one of the most well know herbs for immune boosting. It stimulates white blood cell production, the immune system, and the lymphatic system.
-Elderberry comes in at a close second for most well know immune boosting herbs. Elderberry enhances immune function and combats free radicals.
-Garlic enhances immune function and inhibits the growth of bacteria that can infect the stomach and intestines.
-Goldenseal is known for being best once you’re already sick, but it works well as an immune system strengthener.
-Holy Basil/Tulsi is another incredible adaptogen that contains phytochemical compounds that support immune response cells.
-Horehound boosts immune function.
-Maca is an adaptogen and supports the immune system.
-Myrrh has wonderful immune stimulating effects.
-Neem provides immune cell support. Recent studies on Neem show this herb contains 135 bio-active components for immune support and tissue health.
-Olive leaf is a popular nutrient for staving off colds and flus. It also has antioxidant properties.
-Oregano oil is an incredible immune booster and cold and flu remedy.
-Pau d’Arco is commonly found in detox blends as it is a wonderful blood cleanser, but it also fights off all infections due to that same blood purifying action.
-Red Clover is good for a particularly weakened immune system.
-Schisandra, like all the adaptogens, has great antioxidant properties.
-Suma can boost the immune system.
-Turmeric. It’s great for everything else, of course it’s on the list!
You didn’t think I would leave out the all-time favorite supplement? The long and short of mushroom supplements is that almost every single one has immune system benefits and mushroom mycelia can consume harmful bacteria upon contact. (The benefits listed are from a mix of mycelia through to fruiting bodies. A post all about mushrooms will be forth coming-stay tuned).
-Reishi is the most popular and well-known of the mushrooms and with good reason! Reishi stimulates macrophage production and activates NK, T, and tumor necrosis factor cell production. It also has antiviral and antimicrobial activity.
-Maitake increase tumor necrosis factor cells and has been shown to have antiviral activity in HIV research.
-Chaga has by far the greatest anti-tumor activity of the mushrooms and has been approved of and used as an anti-cancer drug in some countries since the early 1950s. On top of that, it contains high antiviral activity, particularly against HIV and influenza. It is also a fantastic immunomodulator.
-Turkey Tail is an immune enhancer that contains antiviral, antibacterial, antioxidant, and antimicrobial compounds.
-Lion’s Man is an immune stimulant and has antimicrobial properties.
-Shiitake has immunomodulatory and immune stimulating properties.
-Cordyceps is an immune stimulant, antioxidant, and antiviral.
Colostrum is concentrated proteins that contain immunoglobins created by mammals before the breast milk. Some research suggests that a supplement of bovine colostrum can benefit the immune system due to similar immunoglobins.
Manuka honey is a wonderful food nutrient from New Zealand. The immune benefits alone make is a staple in some households now. Manuka honey is known for its hydrogen peroxide activity that makes it a natural antibiotic in the body. It stimulates specialty cell production, it can fight internal and external infections, and it promotes healing throughout the body. Methylglyoxal’s (MG’s) is the unit of measure for the antibacterial activity in manuka honey, and you can find a selection of MG100+ through MG500+ at Eureka Natural Foods. Another wonderful aspect of manuka honey is that it does not develop resistant bacteria and protects against cellular damage caused by bacteria.
Probiotics are the body’s first line of defense against infection of any kind. Building our immune systems, when we’re sick, or just every day, probiotics are incredibly vital to the proper function of the immune system. (Refer to probiotics post from May).
Aromatherapy for immune boosting is a good for both you and your home. These oils or oil blends are also great for out and about when you interact with a lot of people (and their potential travelling germs), use to inhale or to sanitize your hands! Common oils considered to have immune boosting effects are Cinnamon bark, Clove, Eucalyptus, Lavender, Lemon, Peppermint, and Rosemary essential oils. Traditional Thieves’ oil, which is used topically or aromatically to promote all over wellness, consists of Cinnamon Bark, Clove, Eucalyptus, Lemon, and Rosemary essential oils. You can find variations of this incredible blend in the Global Goods at both Eureka Natural Foods locations with the essential oils.
You may be asking yourself “How do I choose?” or like many “Do you have a product with all of that?” The answer to these questions is easy! Let us help you! Come into Eureka Natural Foods at either of our locations and ask a Wellness clerk about our selection. We have individual nutrients in tablet, capsule, and tincture. We also have a wonderful selection of immune boosting blends, which are located right next to mushroom section.
Disclaimer: We are not doctors. We cannot diagnose, prescribe, or recommend anything. If you are thinking of making major lifestyle changes, please consult your doctor or Naturopathic doctor. Statements made here have not been verified by the FDA.