The immune system is the host defense system of the body comprised of complex network of tissues, cells and organs that collectively work in conjunction to protect the body and ward off disease and pathogens.
When immune health is compromised, however, by poor diet, lack of restful sleep, chronic stress and various unhealthy lifestyle habits it can respond in ways that, overtime, may result in a lowered immune response and often related autoimmune malfunctions.
In addition, the regular use of antibiotics or other immunosuppressive medications can weaken the immune system and its ability to naturally respond and shield the body.
It is also known that immune response decreases as we age which can contribute to an increase in inflammatory conditions as well as "increase our susceptibility to infections and the occurrence of autoimmune diseases and cancers", according to some research.
We can, however, support optimal immune function through certain dietary superfoods, regular exercise and periodic cleansing protocols. Moreover, getting the proper amount of sleep, providing for adequate sun exposure and practicing stress-reducing relaxation techniques such as meditation can also be of great help to support immune health during the course of a lifetime.
Understanding how our immune system's work can be helpful when we wish to take an active role in maintaining or increasing our own immune defense.
In humans, this system is composed of two parts, the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system. These two subsystems, while equally important, function on different levels.
The innate immune system is the main system of host defense in the human body, providing for immediate immune defense against pathogens but, unlike adaptive response, does not offer long-lasting immunity to the body.
This is essentially the protective shield and the first line of
defense, acting as a physical and chemical barrier to infectious agents
via the activation of cytokines, white blood cells (leukocytes) and antibodies. It
also works to stimulate adaptive immune functions.
layer of protection is the adaptive immune system. This adaptive or
"acquired" immunity generates "immunological memory" after the initial
response to a specific pathogen. This creates increased immune
protection if and when this same pathogen is encountered, in essence
preparing the body for any potential immune challenges in the future.
The major cells of the adaptive immune response are T and B lymphocytes or T cells and B cells, produced by stem cells in the bone marrow.
The lymphatic system, a component of the circulatory system, plays a primary role in immune system function and defense. It is comprised lymphatic organs, lymph nodes and circulating lymph fluid that travels through a network of lymphatic vessels throughout the body.
Lymph fluid contains lymphocytes and other white blood cells which are concentrated in the lymph nodes. The spleen, thymus, bone marrow and tonsils are all considered lymphoid organs and are a necessary part of immune cell production.
The colon holds a diverse community of yeast and bacteria which, working together with the lymphatic system, play an important role in human immune function.
Different species of bacteria natural present in the gut, like Bacteroides and Clostridia, largely influence anti-inflammatory responses and help to regulate the production of cytokines and antibodies the immune system produces.
The gut or intestinal tract does this by working in conjunction with a mass of tissue that makes immune cells. This is called the "gut-associated lymphoid tissue" and is the largest mass of lymphoid tissue in the body.
In Chinese medicine the immune system is referred to as "Wei Chi" or "protective Chi (Qi)" and is believed to circulate just under the surface of the skin between the muscle and epidermis layer that flows throughout the body.
According to TCM, when protective Chi is healthy, "evil forces cannot prevail." Therapeutic approach often involves preventative strategies for enhancing immune functions and is usually focused on either removing excess or replenishing deficiencies, depending on specific individual conditions.
Most Chinese therapies aim at fixing imbalances before symptoms of immune malfunction may be obvious through sickness or disease. This is achieved through immune modulation methods using certain adaptogens known to decrease one's sensitivity to stress by normalizing over-activity or under-activity of the organs, glands and their related systems.
Adaptogen tonic herbs work with the "adaptive immune system" to restore deeper long-lasting immune functions.
Nutrition and diet are paramount to sustaining healthy immune function over the course of a lifetime. It is much better to support the body and its resistance to invasion with a fully fortified immune system and not become ill in the first place.
We believe that building and maintaining a strong immune force field can be in part achieved using many of the superfoods we discuss on this website. There are a list of certain top superfoods, however, that can be particularly helpful for nourishing and upholding long-term immune health.
Periodic juicing fasting is highly recommended for reducing waste and toxic accumulation that can occur over time and compromise immune health. Freshly pressed low-sugar green juices when consumed exclusively over a short period of time can greatly help to improve digestion and allow for the release of potential toxic residues.
Deep breathing and sweating through vigorous exercise is especially important for all systems of the body, but especially the immune and lymphatic system. Adequate exercise helps to release stagnant emotional and mental tension and improves circulation. The endorphins produced through aerobic exercise promote immunomodulation and have been shown in some research to be "modifiers of the biological response and as such may become a tool in the field of immunotherapy."
Likewise, regular exercise encourages proper elimination, supports sound rest and bolsters detoxification mechanisms, all of which help to maintain optimal immune functions. Similar to exercise, a daily meditation practice can also be helpful for stress-management, calming the nervous system and buffering the impact of stressful situations should they arise in our life.
While a number of people are concerned about being out in the sun and too much sun exposure, some sunlight on the bare skin has been shown to stimulate immune cells or macrophages that activate vitamin D, an important disease fighting nutrient.
When skin is exposed to small daily doses of UV light, especially between the hours of 10am and 3pm, certain genes like proopiomelanocortin are turned on and help to modulate the immune system as well as anti-inflammatory pathways.
The immune system has a regulatory relationship with the pineal gland which produces the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is important for inducing normal sleep cycles and has been identified to regulate control by stimulating or suppressing immune responses. Melatonin supplementation has thus been used as a treatment adjunct for serious immune disorders.
Regular sleep helps to reduce stress levels which can affect our immune health. It is generally recommended that we go to bed by 10pm and wake around 6am, getting a least 8 hours of restful sleep every night.