A Definition of the Immune System
The immune system is a complex system of cells, tissues, and organs that functions to protect the body from infection. The immune system targets microbes, viruses, bacteria, infections, and tumors to protect itself from disease. Scientists continue to study exactly how our immune systems distinguish healthy cells from unhealthy cells, but they have learned that our immune systems recognize signals from danger-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs) or pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) and activate a response. However, immune responses are not always adequate, so people suffer infections, and sometimes activate when they should not or fail to deactivate when they should, causing people to suffer allergic reactions and autoimmune disease.
Challenges with the Immune System
Some people have immunodeficiency, meaning their immune systems are not as strong as they should be. The result can be recurring and life-threatening infections. Immunodeficiency may occur as a result of a genetic disease, conditions such as HIV and AIDS, and the use of medication that suppresses the immune system. Other people may have autoimmune disease, which occurs when the immune system works in overdrive, attacking normal tissues like it should foreign bodies. Autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes type 1, and lupus. Oftentimes, people who have immune diseases experience fatigue or fever.
The Strength of the Immune System
The strength of your immune system can be impacted by your lifestyle. If you catch colds easily, suffer from chronic infection, or get more than two colds a year, you most likely have a weakened immune system. Weak immune systems may be attributed to high levels of stress, eating too much sugar, dehydration, obesity, and drinking well water. There are steps you can take to boost your immune system, such as eating a healthy diet rich in whole foods, low in fats and refined sugars, and adequate in the amount of protein. It’s also important to remain hydrated by drinking five or six eight-ounce glasses of water per day and to remain active by exercising at least 30 minuets per day. Taking the time to relax and enjoy friends and family can also boost your immune system, as can getting at least six to eight hours of sleep per day.
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Vitamins to Boost Your Immune System
While you may know that you need to eat well, exercise, and get enough rest, it may not be possible for you to do it every day because of your busy schedule. That’s why it’s important to boost your immune system with vitamins and minerals. Vitamins can make up for occasional poor diet choices, especially when you choose that that have shown to have some potential to boost your immune system. We list some of the best vitamins for strengthening your immune system here:
- Selenium – Selenium has the potential to slow the body’s overactive responses to some aggressive types of cancer
- Vitamin A – Vitamin A is associated with antioxidants that help strengthen the immune system against infection
- Vitamin B2 – Vitamin B2 also acts as an antioxidant in the body
- Vitamin B6 – Vitamin B6 is critical to the function of the immune system and helping the immune response
- Vitamin C – Vitamin C supports and energizes the immune system
- Vitamin D – Vitamin D increases immune function and stimulates the production of antimicrobial peptides
- Vitamin E – Vitamin E helps the immune system fight off infection
- Zinc – Zinc helps to control the immune response and control inflammation
- Folate/folic acid – Folate/folic acid helps the body produce and maintain cell functions
- Iron – Iron helps the body carry oxygen to the cells, which allows the immune system to remain strong
Read more about the many ways that vitamins can boost your immune system.
Probiotics and the Immune System
In addition to vitamins, probiotics boost the immune system in a few ways. Various studies are showing the benefits of taking probiotics, such as reducing the risk of the common cold in healthy individuals. Probiotics also reduce the occurrence of catching one or more common colds, the length of days people exhibit common cold symptoms, and the symptoms of a cold.
Dr. Simin Meydani, director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging and the Nutritional Immunology Laboratory at Tufts University, explains how probiotics boost the immune system through the gut: “The gut is the largest immune organ in the body, accounting for 25% of the immune cells in the body that provide 50% of the body’s immune response. There are more than 400 species of bacteria residing in the gut, and they have symbiotic relationships with your body.” The gut flora and the microbes there are a key factor in the development and function of the immune system.
Probiotics add healthy bacteria to the gut to boost immunity, especially when people negatively impact their intestinal flora with an unbalanced diet, stress, fatigue, and antibiotics. The main role of probiotics in immune health is to help restore balance in the intestinal microbiota. Dr. Mary Ellen Sanders explains: “A growing number of studies show that probiotics can help healthy subjects stay healthy. For example, studies have shown that children in day care centers don’t get sick as often when they consume probiotics. If you combine the mechanistic studies with the studies showing fewer respiratory and GI [gastrointestinal] infections, it suggests that the immune effects are meaningful.”
If you think that you are getting sick too often, or if you want to be proactive in your immune health, it is a good idea to consider taking the vitamins shown to boost immune strength and to begin taking probiotics . Taking an active role in boosting your immune system will help you to feel better, have more energy, and stay healthy.