In this article we’ll focus on The Immune System 101. We’ll discuss what the immune system is and how you can strengthen your immune system naturally. Find out what sabotages your immune system and what are the best strategies to make changes that actually work.
What Is The Immune System
According to Dr John Bergman, the immune system is “that bodily system that protects your body from foreign substances, cells and tissue by producing the immune response through a variety of defense mechanisms”.
According to Better Health, the immune system is “a complex network of cells and proteins that defends the body against infection. It’s made up of special organs, cells and chemicals that fight infection (microbes).”
According to University of California, the immune system is “the body’s ability to fight off germs and foreign terms that shouldn’t be there”. Another definition from the same source would be something like this: “The immune system is a vast communication network of cells and chemical signals distributed in blood and tissue throughout the human body, which regulates normal growth and development of the organism while protecting against disease”.
According to Mayo Clinic, “the immune system is designed to execute rapid, specific, and protective responses against foreign pathogens.”
I don’t know about you but to me it seems that everyone has their own definition of the immune system. It turns out that it’s easier to actually explain what the immune system does than to give a definition of what it is as a whole.
That’s because the immune system is made-up of an array of structures (for the lack of a better word) that work separately or together in multiple ways. The immune system is far more complex than most of us think and it’s not even fully understood by medical research.
How Does the Immune System Work
We know that the immune system’s role is to manage all pathogens through various protocols. The main parts of the immune system are the following:
- white blood cells – neutrophils, monocytes, eosinophils, basophils, lymphocytes (B cells, T cells)
- gut bacteria (gut microbiome)
- the thymus
- the spleen
- the lymphatic system
- the bone marrow
- the complement system
We’ll not go into details as to what each of these components does and how they work together, that’s a topic for an entire book. Just keep in mind that your immune system is far less understood and far more complex in terms of how it functions.
The immune system is constantly scanning for foreign entities that can threaten the body. If something dangerous is detected, that’s when your immune system will react by sending in the defense, keeping those invaders away. It does this by first detecting antigens – an antigen is a bacterium, fungus, virus, toxin, or foreign body. Once an antigen is detected, antibodies are being secreted, and their primary role is to lock-on to specific antigens (more or less like a missile locks-on to a target).
From everything that we know so far, we humans have three types of immunity:
Innate Immunity – We are all born with some level of immunity to pathogens. Many factors can influence how powerful or how weak this type of immunity is, but this is mainly the immunity you get from birth. The innate immune responses are the first line of defense against invading pathogens. Innate immune responses are not specific to a particular pathogen, as the adaptive immune system is. The innate immune system is made of physical barriers such as skin, chemicals in the blood, and immune system cells that attack foreign cells in the body.
Adaptive Immunity – This is what you are going to experience in your life. As you’re exposed to various pathogens, you develop immune responses to these stimuli. It’s worth noting that, when it comes to an immune response, the adaptive immune system is slower compared to the innate immunity. That’s because the adaptive immune system works by means of an antigen-specific response. Once an antigen has been detected, your adaptive immune system creates an army of immune cells specifically designed to fight that antigen. This type of immune response is designed to keep a blueprint of that pathogen, so that the host (You) will be protected faster in case of future infections.
Passive Immunity – Passive immunity is provided when a person is given antibodies to a disease rather than producing them through his or her own immune system. During the last 3 months of pregnancy, antibodies from the mother are passed to her unborn baby through the placenta. This is a great example of passive immunity because the baby has been given antibodies rather than making them itself. Another example of passive immunization is the transfer of antibodies from a person that has developed an adaptive response to a certain disease. It’s worth noting that passive immunity does not come with memory, which means the person that receives this type of immunity will not be protected against future disease.
Here’s How To Strengthen Your Immune System
Now that you know what the immune system is and you also know a bit about how it works, let’s see how you can strengthen it. There are a multitude of factors that can help you prevent or reverse disease; not managing these factors correctly means you’ll move away from health and closer to disease.
These are the factors that contribute to the health of the immune system, and we’ll discuss each of them in detail below:
- Gut Health
- Physical Activity
What kind of food are you eating? Healthy food is food that nourishes your body from the inside out. Healthy food will give you more energy, support your body to become stronger, and help you build a stronger immune system.
Here’s how I define healthy food:
- whole foods, plant based way of eating, as natural as possible, organic is even better.
- without additives, preservatives or fillers.
- healthy fats that aren’t industrially processed.
- ideally home cooked food, without the use of added sugar, refined flours and refined seed oils.
- foods that are high micronutrients – enzymes, phytonutrients, prebiotic fiber, resistant starch (another type of healthy fiber), plus vitamins and minerals.
- eat quality proteins and plenty of healthy fats.
- if a certain food comes from animals, it should come from healthy animals that spend time outside in the sun, animals that never received antibiotics or hormones.
- foods that are unprocessed or processed as little as possible.
- no GMOSs, no processed foods, no toxins in your food.
- always choose food that is grown, stored and prepared in a responsible way.
- always read the ingredients list.
2. Gut Health
When we talk about gut health, we need to talk about the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is a wonderful collection of numerous species of bacteria found in your gut, bacterias that need to be kept in perfect harmony balance.
We now know that 70% of the immune system is along our gut lining and what we eat feeds our gut microbiome. Most of the chronic diseases that we experience in our “modern world” come from chronic inflammation. And chronic inflammation happens because those gut bacteria that form the gut microbiome are out of balance for too much time.
We have many strains of bacterias in our gut and, when they are out of balance, our entire system is out of balance and susceptible to all kinds of diseases. So the big trigger for systemic inflammation in the body is actually a gut microbiome that;’s out of balance.
Things like a poor diet, chronic stress and antibiotics can negatively alter your gut health. On the other hand, a diet rich in plant based nutrients, healthy fiber and healthy fats can feed the good bacteria in your keeping, keeping the “good guys” and the “bad guys” in balance.
Keep this phrase in mind: “You are what you eat”.
Unfortunately in our present society, stress has become a chronic problem. It’s well known by now that, through the way our bodies are designed to work, stress is one of the biggest causes for many diseases. Stress can influence the way we digest our food, the way we process nutrients, the way we think and act in various conditions. It can also influence our sleep and recovery, and our development.
It’s true that stress can be good in moderation but it can also be our biggest enemy. We know that stress has 3 components – physical stress, chemical stress and emotional stress – and we’ll briefly discuss each of them below:
- Physical stress can be the result of excessive physical activity or a sedentary lifestyle, but can also originate from problems in the spine.
- Chemical stress is stress related to all kinds of man-made chemicals that are constantly found in our environment (air, food, pesticides, preservatives, heavy metals).
- Emotional stress is what we usually mean when we’re using the word /stress/. Emotional stress is simply a response to the way we perceive our environment. The trigger can be anything, like for instance a problem at work, an angry boss, a situation, relationship, fear of something or someone.
Stress is a subject worth exploring and you don’t have to be a medical expert to do it. You can start by understanding when stress happens in your own life, and try to consciously acknowledge it and do something about it.
Some of us have so much stress in our lives that we don’t even consider it stress anymore. In order to fight stress you first need to get one step back and realize when it’s happening. Think about it!
4. Physical Activity
This includes anything from simple walking, hiking, running to any kind of cardio and strength training routines. Exercising is one of the best ways to stimulate the immune system, through blood oxygenation and breathing.
The key to healthy exercising is to know when to stop. That’s right! Chronic exercise means one does not allow enough time for recovery, which leads to repeated injuries and chronic inflammation, both of which are working against a healthy immune system.
The best way to exercise in a healthy way is to start slowly, exercise as much as you need based on how you feel, making sure that you always recover to 100% before starting to exercise again. It may take you a day or a week to recover, but it is mandatory that you are back to 100% before you start exercising again.
Everyday exposure to environmental chemicals is the number one overlooked factor overwhelming people’s health and driving chronic illness. There are well over a thousand endocrine disrupting chemicals that have been identified, so these chemicals are basically everywhere.
Let’s have a look at some of the places and chemicals around the house:
- We have chemicals in the kitchen, and this includes pesticides, additives, preservatives in foods, plastics, cookware, food packaging, etc.
- Then there’s a whole list of chemicals found in personal care products that should never go on our skin. This includes soap, shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants, hair dye, sun screen, nail polish, etc.
- Household cleaners are another part that’s overlooked when it comes to sources of toxicity. This includes household cleaners, air fresheners, antibacterials, laundry products, but also house dust and the indoor air quality.
The key to staying away from all the toxins is to not panic and to start eliminating them slowly. Obviously we cannot eliminate all the toxins around us but we do have control over the majority of them. In the end it’s a matter of choice and making your health a priority.
Read more: The Very Simple Guide to Plastics
Sleep is the way the body regenerates and repairs itself so the question is: Are you getting good sleep or poor sleep? Do you wake up refreshed in the morning? It turns out that when it comes to sleep, what counts more is the quality of the sleep you’re getting, not necessarily the quantity (hours of sleep).
Things like sleeping in a well ventilated room, body’s temperature, room temperature, avoiding blue light and screens before bed, the way you eat and what you’re eating, healthy exercise, medications, any kind of noises, a dark environment, the time when you go to sleep, sleep patterns, all of these factors can contribute to the quality of your sleep.
If you want to read more about sleep, you can browse a small chapter in this article related to staying healthy while traveling.
While inflammation is the way our bodies heal (we heal through inflammation), systemic inflammation is something that will eventually lead to all sorts of immune system problems. Systemic inflammation is often caused by toxic foods and it’s linked to all sorts of chronic conditions and autoimmune conditions. These conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, allergies of different types, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, obesity, colitis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, etc,
As I’ve explained above, all the factors that influence your immune system are linked together, and this includes inflammation as well. In the complicated “health puzzle” inflammation can be seen both as a cause of disease but also as a symptom.
I want to emphasize that stress, toxins and the gut microbiome all play a big role in how much or how little inflammation is present in your body. My personal experience with inflammation is linked to chronic inflammations – this simply means that something is causing the body to stay in a constant state of inflammation. Find the cause of the problem and you will heal the inflammation, thus healing the body of disease.
According to new research done by Wim Hof (aka The Iceman) together with various universities around the world, it is actually possible to influence the immune system through special breathing techniques. Wim Hof developed breathing techniques that can lead to voluntarily generating adrenaline in the body, as a way to fight endotoxins and dampening one’s innate immune response.
The breathing techniques proposed by Wim Hof are focused on increasing the body’s ability to generate more white blood cells compared to a normal immune system response, while keeping the inflammatory response in the body lower. This is definitely fascinating information that is supported by multiple validated studies, so it’s something worth looking into.
Instead of Conclusions
Instead of drawing conclusions myself, I’ll want to ask you to read the article one more time while focusing on your own health journey and your own immune system. Try to go beyond the “mask” and really ask yourself “what is the best way that you could strengthen your immune system today?”
I want to add one more idea to the mix – The immune system is a complex network of systems found inside each of us. This system is so complex that we cannot possibly put it on paper or even pretend that we completely understand it. You are designed to be healthy, yes! But in order to be healthy and thrive, you need to feed your mind and your body with healthy emotions and healthy foods. It’s equally important to stay away from all kinds of stress because chronic stress will sabotage anyone’s immune system, no matter how healthy one might be.
Learning how to listen to your own body and how to strengthen your immune system is your personal journey. Being healthy is the most beautiful thing in the world but you need to put time aside in order to make it happen.
Enjoy your health! Enjoy your life! Don’t forget that you are designed to be healthy and to thrive in this world.
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