Immune System Basics

Posted by Bibian Cummings on Sep 20th 2020

In this series of our health education, we will be talking about the immune system. You will learn the following: What Is the Immune System? Why do I need a strong immune system? How do I boost my immune system? What Foods Boost the Immune system?

What Is the Immune System?
The primary function of the immune system is to protect and help the body to fight off illness and disease, maintaining good health. The immune system protects the host from environmental agents such as microbes or chemicals, thereby preserving the integrity of the body.

Many cells and organs work together to protect the body. White blood cells, also called leukocytes (LOO-kuh-sytes), play an important role in the immune system.

Some types of white blood cells, called phagocytes (FAH-guh-sytes), chew up invading organisms. Others, called lymphocytes (LIM-fuh-sytes), help the body remember the invaders and destroy them.

One type of phagocyte is the neutrophil (NOO-truh-fil), which fights bacteria. When someone might have bacterial infection, a blood test will show if it caused the body to have lots of neutrophils. Other types of phagocytes do their own jobs to make sure that the body responds to invaders.

The two kinds of lymphocytes are B lymphocytes and T lymphocytes. Lymphocytes start out in the bone marrow and either stay there and mature into B cells, or go to the thymus gland to mature into T cells. B lymphocytes are like the body's military intelligence system — they find their targets and send defenses to lock onto them. T cells are like the soldiers — they destroy the invaders that the intelligence system finds.

Why do I need a strong immune system? A healthy immune system is very important because it protects your body against illness and disease. Our body is designed to heal itself, therefore, it is important to ensure we have a healthy immune system so that our body can perform its function to prevent and fight any diseases.

A healthy immune system can defeat invading pathogens that we breath, may be in our food or water, or environment such as mold or pollen, etc. The body encounters millions of environmental agents every day such as microbes or chemicals that could be potentially deadly without a strong immune system.

Healthy Ways to Strengthen Your Immune System

Your first line of defense is to choose a healthy lifestyle. Following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward naturally keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies such as these:

• Don't smoke.
• Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
• Eat a diet high in unprocessed foods, organic if possible
• Exercise regularly.
• Maintain a healthy weight.
• If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.
• Get adequate sleep.
• Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.
• Try to minimize stress.
• Avoid pollution and poor air quality

What Foods Boost The Immune System?

Here are my top picks for immune boosting foods:

Blueberries, have potent antioxidant properties
Turmeric, powerful anti-inflammatory agent
Flax and flax lignans, potent hormone regulator and immune booster
Fatty fish like wild salmon or cod
Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables
Sweet potatoes
Ginger                                                                                                                                                                                Lemon

Supplements to Boost the Immune System


As many as 40% of Americans suffer from a zinc deficiency without even knowing it. Yet even slightly missing out on the zinc in your diet can mean a weakened immune system that will make you more sick more often. 15 to 40mg is suggested for daily use. Up to 100 mg in times of severe illness. In times of illness, some of the zinc should be in lozenge form.

However, you should be warned, high doses should not be taken long term and should be taken with small amounts copper.

Vitamin C

Vitamin is one of the most important immune system supplements as it decreases the severity and shorten the duration of the common cold. During cold season, consider taking a 800 to 2,000 mg supplement daily to keep your immune system working well. During times of severe illness, consider increasing the dose to bowel tolerance levels.

Vitamin D-3

Vitamin D is needed to support healthy immune function and some studies show 70% of the population may be deficient. Since the body makes vitamin D from sunlight, deficiency is especially common during the winter months, leaving the immune system depleted. 2,000 to 5,000 IU per day is enough to help ward off most colds and cough.

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
Elderberry has been shown numerous studies to promote your body's natural recovery from pathogens. Elderberry floods the body with antioxidants to help the immune system naturally fight off infection. One study showed that elderberry supplements were able to shorten the duration of the flu by 4 days.

Oregano oil
Oregano oil has natural but very potent anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and antiviral properties. It contains two powerful phenols, thymol and carvacrol, plant chemicals with antioxidant effects. Oregano oil can be inhaled, taken orally in a capsule or applied to the skin with a carrier oil.

N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)
This natural protein works by aiding in repairing bodily tissue, promoting white blood cell production, and breaking up thick mucus. NAC's benefits for respiratory and immune health benefits are so widely known, it has been branded as an "essential medicine" by the World Health Organization.

Colostrum is the first milk that mammals provide to their newborn babies intended to bolster the immune system. It contains immune-boosting components like gamma globulin, interferon, growth hormone (GH), that help “train” the body how to ward off illness. Taking a colostrum supplement provides antibodies that “teach” the body how to recognize pathogens more effectively. It gives your body skills it needs to fight off any illness it comes across.

Medicinal Mushrooms such as Agaricus (Beta Glucans)
Mushrooms and especially Agaricus is high in beta glucans that enhance the action of natural killer cells and macrophages, directly boosting the immune system. Beta Glucans is also available as a supplement.

Flax Seed Lignans

Flax seed lignans are potent inhibitors of platelet-activating factor, a mediator of inflammation. Through these effects, flax seed has the potential to be used for the treatment of disorders characterized in part by activated lymphocytes and a hyper-stimulated immune response. Antioxidants provided in lignans may also support the immune system.

Lignans are also high in phytoestrogens which are excellent for balancing hormone levels in the body. In women, they help balance estrogen levels; in men, they help balance the testosterone-DHT relationship and inhibit certain enzymes needed to convert testosterone to DHT. This results in lower DHT levels, which may improve prostate health and may help maintain testosterone levels. In men, women and animals, lignans inhibit HSD enzyme, which helps reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. They also have anti-estrogenic effects and can prevent naturally occurring (and sometimes radical) hormones from binding to estrogen receptors and exerting their negative effects. Lignans provide a weaker, cleaner estrogen to balance any deficit or surplus.

Traditionally, health benefits attributed to lignans have included a lowered risk of heart disease, menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis and breast cancer.

Michael N. Starnbach, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School

Structure and function of the immune system.
"...The major function of the immune system is to protect the host from environmental agents such as microbes or chemicals, thereby preserving the integrity of the body..." Schultz KT1, Grieder F.