Even though most people don’t know what immunity is, all of us want to boost our immune system. This is a trending topic, especially during the seasonal viral infections and outbreaks, such as the current coronavirus pandemic.
Nevertheless, people sometimes forget that we are complex and dynamic biological systems, in which homeostasis and fine regulations are essential.
So if we want to have a resilient immune system, we first have to take everyday precautions such as washing our hands, living a healthy life, and avoiding people who are sick.
Caring for your immune system will give you an edge in staying healthy.
In this article, you’ll learn how to keep your immune system in top shape. You can find more information about other health-related topics at HealthCareers.co.
What Is the Immune System?
The immune system consists of various immune cells, molecules, tissues, and organs that act together to protect the integrity of an organism. There are two primary parts of the immune system — innate and adaptive, both involved in recognizing and eliminating pathogens and dangerous substances.
Since there are different pathogens (such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, etc.), distinct parts of the immune system are responsible for protecting us against them. For example, if the immune system tries to cope with a viral infection, the essential immune system function is cell-mediated.
This means that different types of immune cells — particularly the cytotoxic T-cells and NK cells — participate in eliminating the infected human cells by killing them. That is how the virus-infected host cells pay the ultimate price to prevent the infection spread in the body.
Nevertheless, other types of T-cells, called T-helper cells, aid the immune system against virus agents through enabling the production of virus-neutralizing antibodies by B lymphocytes. Therefore, we can assume that the T-cells are the central immune system cells that dictate antiviral protection.
We always have to remember that the immune system is not a single entity. It depends on the homeostasis, i.e., working in balance and harmony. However, despite the in-depth research on the immune response, there are many mechanisms and interactions that are not fully elucidated within the immune system.
So there’s no single way to improve the functioning of this system, as we would have evolved it already. Moreover, instead of thinking about how to strengthen the immune system, it’s better to consider twice or thrice whether it is wise or not to disturb such a fine-tuned balance.
After all, all we need is a healthy immune system and not some sort of a super-human immunity. In some cases, the latter can be even associated with specific medical conditions and diseases. In line with this, any measurement that is considered as an immunity enhancer can hack the immune system and can even make things worse, so we have to be smart and wise before anything else.
What Is a Compromised Immune System?
Having a healthy immune system means that it doesn’t remind you of its existence. Conversely, a weak immune system cannot stay unnoticed. Many disorders are associated with immune deficiency.
Some of them can present themselves from birth, and they are called primary immunodeficiencies. In contrast, the secondary immunodeficiencies occur as a result of other medical conditions or environmental factors, such as HIV, severe infections, certain types of cancer, malnutrition, and some medical treatments.
All of the disorders that cause immunodeficiency can be without symptoms or with a mild clinical picture, making a person unaware of it for years, until there are severe complications.
The latter are usually frequent, and severe life-threatening infections are difficult to treat and have the predisposition to lead to the development of some types of cancer.
In these cases, it is tempting to boost the immune system. However, doing this is complicated because there are so many parts of the immune system that are linked in a complex network. Thus, if you influence one, the others also change.
Taking into account that the immune cells are generated continually and that most of these cells die without exerting any function, it’s impossible to tell which particular cells function at their optimal level.
To impose any measurements that improve immunity, there have to be carefully conducted clinical trials in specific clinical contexts.
Strengthening Your Immune System
So should you or should you not interfere with your immune system? To answer this question, we have to know that immunity is a double-edged sword. Our immune system faces the challenge of distinguishing and fighting off invaders and damaged cells while not harming our own bodies.
If the immune response spins out of control, for example, the inflammation becomes uncontrolled — the bacteria are killed, but the organism suffers as well. Thus, the delicate balance should not be disturbed, and this is the main obstacle to influencing our immunity.
In other words, we don’t need an overactive immune system, because that can damage our organism. In fact, the immune system is not intended to be boosted, especially in cases where it acts against its own cells and tissues. This can happen in the so-called autoimmune conditions.
Usually, people who have an autoimmune disease have very unspecific symptoms for years before establishing a diagnosis. Moreover, they have to take chemotherapeutics for life to suppress the immune system, which also needs a fine regulation to avoid the excessive weakening of the immune system and infections.
So to answer the initial question, if you are healthy, you don’t need to boost your immunity, you just have to ensure healthy conditions for your immune system to work normally.
How to Boost the Immune System
In the modern world, we all are interested in having a strong immune system. And whereas numerous nutrients, vitamins, and minerals are scientifically linked to supporting immunity, the effects of our lifestyle on the immune system become more and more important. Many research studies aim to shed light on the effects diet, exercise, psychological stress, etc., have on the immunity.
However, the general argument for healthy living is valid because any part of your body, including your immune system, functions better if you lead a healthy lifestyle.
How to Boost the Immune System Naturally
The right way to naturally start giving your immunity the upper hand is to follow the general good-health guidelines. Here’s a useful list of tips on how to keep your immune system working correctly:
- Eat a healthy diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Maintain a healthy weight and cut off sugars.
- Give up smoking.
- Avoid alcohol consumption.
- Drink enough water.
- Get plenty of adequate sleep.
- Exercise regularly.
- Wash your hands frequently and cook food thoroughly.
- Try to minimize stress.
And whereas eating healthy foods to boost the immune system is accepted and well-researched, especially in malnutrition settings, for other statements, the research is ongoing. Higher blood glucose is associated with decreased immune functions, as seen in diabetes. Nicotine and alcohol also have deteriorating effects on the immune cells.
Sleep deprivation has been linked to decrease immune function in numerous studies. It is thought that lack of sleep disturbs the microbiome and melatonin secretion, which also acts as an immunomodulator, and leads to a weakened immune system.
Regular physical activity promotes immune cells and molecules distribution within the body, and avoiding stress keeps the stress hormones such as cortisol — which suppress the immune system — within the normal ranges.
Using Supplements to Boost the Immune System
Supplements do not replace a healthy diet. However, if you decide to take something additional, you have to remember that many supplements on the store shelves claim to support or boost immunity. But are those claims genuine?
Numerous herbal and plant extracts that are put in products have immune-enhancing properties, but a small number of existing substances have been studied in humans. There is data that certain herbal extracts boost the immune system by increasing the number of immune cells, especially Th cells, and increase the proliferation of undifferentiated stem cells or their activities and functions.
However, it’s unlikely to enhance the immune system by only taking supplements because many other factors influence its functioning. We know that malnutrition can impair the immune function, so we need an adequate food intake.
When it comes to supplements and herbal extracts, most products that claim to boost immunity may be misleading. In line with this, the global concept of boosting the entire immunity makes little sense scientifically, since the immune system is too complex.
Using Vitamins to Boost the Immune System
Most of the nutrients essential for proper immune function can be sourced mainly from a balanced and healthy diet. When we are talking about vitamins, some of the famous examples are scientifically disproved. For example, according to science, vitamin C does not give us an answer on how to fight viruses as it was previously thought.
Vitamin D and the immune system, on the other hand, are closely connected. Vitamin D has a validated immunomodulatory function, and its low levels are associated with increased susceptibility to infections and the development of autoimmune diseases.
In contrast to taking vitamins for immune-system boost, minerals could be more effective, if not found in primary foods. Taking the best zinc supplement might benefit the immune response, for this mineral has a validated role in cell-mediated immunity.
However, there are also other vitamins and minerals involved in the immune function. For example, vitamin A benefits the immunity, but here’s the deal. Supplementation with vitamins to help your immune system is only recommended if there is an insufficiency/deficiency, and not as routine or megadosing. The latter, in fact, has no benefit and may lead to toxicity.
Using Drinks to Boost the Immune System
A trendy approach for influencing the immune system is using juices prepared with fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, etc. Many nutrition experts claim that these drinks stimulate the immune system by providing antioxidants and essential micronutrients. Antioxidants are popular among healthy people, although continued use has not shown proven benefits to health and immunity.
However, it’s good to remember that immune systems use oxidative bursts to fight off some pathogens; thus, parts of the immune system that uses oxygen free-radicals can be inhibited by high amounts of antioxidants. Therefore, taking antioxidants might be helpful to some extent, still, it will disrupt the homeostasis of the immune system.
Using Prescription Medication to Boost the Immune System
Using prescribed medicine is needed mainly for the conditions related to immunodeficiencies, primary or secondary. In these cases, it is beneficial to administer a treatment that boosts immunity. Immunoglobulin therapy with passive antibodies infused in blood or under the skin is beneficial, especially in patients without an adequate production of antibodies.
Other treatment options include immunomodulators such as interferon-gamma therapy, growth factors, cytokines, as well as stem cell transplantation. The latter fills the gaps in the immune system and — as a real immune system booster — restores basically all of the immune functions.
Usually, the transfusion of stem cells as treatment requires the current and functioning immune cells to be demolished by chemotherapy or radiation before the transplantation. In this period, the patient will be even more vulnerable to infection, even though temporarily. One of the limitations of this therapy is the need for an excellent match between the donor and recipient. For this reason, usually, the donor is a parent or close relative. In some cases, stem cells harvested from the placenta at birth could be used.
How to Boost Your Immune System Safely
Modulating the immune system should be targeted, adequate, and evidence-based. Thus, if you want to boost your immunity safely, it is a good idea to consult a doctor, preferably an immunologist. This specialist can give you insights on how your immune system functions and whether you have something to worry about or not. Sometimes, the immunologist will prescribe some immunological testing.
If everything is normal, there will be no need for treatment. However, you can measure one or more nutrients in the blood, and then — if you are low in certain minerals, vitamins, etc. — supplementation is a reasonable choice. And as each of them is considered as an immune system booster, vitamins prove to be helpful.
What are the signs of a weak immune system?
Some of the warning signs of a weak immune system are frequent, recurrent, and severe infections, even with not so virulent pathogens, frequent ear infections, sinusitis, pneumonia, skin abscesses, etc. Other features associated with a weak immune system are using antibiotics to treat the infections with no effect, the need for intravenous antibiotics; inability to thrive; and a history of primary immunodeficiency in the family.
What is the best immune booster supplement?
There is no such thing as the best immune booster supplement. Since the immune system is a very complex network consisting of many cells and molecules that interact with each other, it is unlikely that one or two supplements will boost the entire immune system. Supplements should be reserved only for people who are severely malnourished. Nevertheless, the supplements will do little to improve your immune system, and what helps the immune system the most is to lead a healthy lifestyle.
What can you do for a weak immune system?
If your immune system is proven to be weak, you can take some steps to maximize your chances of staying healthy and avoiding infections. First, practice strict hygiene, avoid being near people who are sick, and treat your chronic condition if you have one. Secondly, strive for healthy living, including eating well, sleeping enough, exercising regularly, and avoiding stress.
If you want to keep your immune system in good shape and increase your chances of fighting off infections or lessening the chance of illness, then try to stay healthy. The ordinary and routine measures, such as getting enough sleep, eating well, being physically active, etc., are very useful for preserving good immunity.
However, if needed, supplements can also be used to your benefit. But as a general rule, take the product information that claims to boost the immune system with a pinch of salt.