You’re the kind of person who believes in making investments in your health. You also believe in taking an active role in your health, and your lifestyle isn’t giving you everything you need to live the life you want.
But now, you want to do more than just treat symptoms. You want to get to the core of your health and strengthen your body’s ability to protect you.
Here’s the problem: when it comes to figuring out how to improve the immune system, there’s a lot of hearsay and conflicting information online. It’s hard to know where to look or what to use.
You’ve come to the right place. Keep reading for the ultimate guide to understanding your immune system and choosing an immune system booster that works for you.
Understanding Your Immune System
The first step is understanding your immune system and how it works.
The tricky thing about the immune system is that it isn’t like your heart or your legs. The heart is a single organ you can identify, with component parts that are relatively easy to recognize and mechanisms that are clearly understood.
The immune system isn’t like that. It’s a system, not a single entity. It relies on a small army of moving parts all throughout the body, and like any system, it only works when kept in balance. This means that you can’t necessarily treat the immune system as one thing, or treat a single element of the immune system–you have to treat all of it in order to keep the whole system in balance.
What is the Immune System?
The immune system is a collection of organs, cells, and proteins that work together toward one goal: protecting your body from harm. Unfortunately, that goal isn’t as simple as it sounds.
The immune system has a huge job, as it has to deal with wildly disparate foreign invaders. Bacteria, fungi, viruses, toxins, even foreign tissue–the immune system is responsible for keeping out anything that isn’t supposed to be in your body, anywhere in the body, at all times.
The immune system has three basic tasks:
To fight off disease-causing pathogens and remove them from the body
To recognize and neutralize harmful factors from the environment
To fight and neutralize disease-causing factors within the body such as cancer cells
Without the immune system, we would have no way to fight off harmful elements outside the body or protect against harmful developments within the body. Technically, the immune system has many of the built-in tools it needs to do its job–the issue is how it implements them.
Innate vs. Acquired Immune System
The immune system itself is made up of many disparate parts, but these can be grouped into two systems:
The innate immune system
The acquired immune system
The innate immune system is something we are born with, inherited from our parents and activated the moment we are born. This functions as your body’s rapid-response team, patrolling the body to recognize, isolate, and kill invaders.
The acquired immune system, on the other hand, is developed over time with assistance from the innate immune system. Each time you are exposed to microbes, the innate system develops antibodies targeted toward that specific invader.
Think of the acquired immune system as a library, full of instructions that the immune system can deploy the next time it encounters the same invader.
How It Works
In simple terms, the immune system is activated anytime it encounters something it doesn’t recognize as you. On a cellular level, special receptors on immune cells attach to proteins on the surface of bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
Once this attachment happens and the cell registers the antigen as foreign, it sets off an immune response to kill the foreign invader before it can harm you. After your immune system encounters an invader the first time, it stores information about it so that the next time it encounters it, it can immediately recognize the germ and fight it off faster.
The ways the immune system fights off foreign invaders involves several complex processes, often determined by where the response is triggered.
Balancing the Immune Response
Much of the dialogue around the immune system focuses on strengthening it, but the ability to do so has proved somewhat elusive. Plus, you may not necessarily want to strengthen the immune system.
This may sound counterintuitive, but keep in mind that the immune system is a system, not a single part. It needs balance to function. More importantly, it has to know when to activate and when to rest.
Too Much of a Good Thing
This means that where the immune system is concerned, you can have too much of a good thing.
Your immune system is responsible for protecting you from harm, but you don’t want an immune system that cries wolf. An overactive immune system may attack cells that it shouldn’t, or mistake your own cells for foreign invaders.
This is how you get autoimmune disorders, in which the immune system mistakes your own cells for foreign and targets healthy cells. In Type 1 diabetes, for example, the immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, leaving the body unable to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and process food.
Because doctors do not yet fully understand how the immune system functions, the causes of immune system disorders are not yet fully understood either. Theories and myths abound, but the short answer is that the immune system is a complex machine, so there may be multiple reasons why the system malfunctions in even one person.
Signs of Immune Problems
Immune malfunction can result in any number of issues in the body–including symptoms that you would never attribute to the immune system.
Chronically cold hands, for example, can actually be a symptom of immune dysfunction. If your blood vessels are inflamed, they have a harder time transporting blood around your body. Areas close to the heart can conserve heat, but extremities (fingers, toes, ears, even the nose) struggle to maintain heat.
Doctors refer to this as Raynaud’s phenomenon, and it’s just one of the many peculiar ways the immune system can lead the body to malfunction.
Factors Affecting Immune Response
With that in mind, it’s important to understand that the immune response is not a steady-state response. Like the immune system itself, it evolves over time as your body changes and your internal balance shifts.
Again, the immune system is highly complex and no one issue is responsible for how it performs, but there are a few commonalities that have been identified as factors in immune response. Some are in your control, while others happen naturally but can be mitigated.
Unfortunately, one of the major factors in immune response is age.
As we age, our body’s ability to handle new challenges gradually reduces. Some people age gracefully, some don’t, but the conclusion of many studies is that generally speaking, seniors are more likely to have immune issues than younger people.
These issues can vary widely between people. Some people get sick more often and have a harder time recovering. Some people have more internal issues such as cancerous cells. But many of the leading causes of death in people over 65 are the result of infectious diseases–the fourth leading cause of death in seniors worldwide is lower respiratory infection.
It’s unclear why this happens, but many scientists have noted a correlation between increased risk for infection and decreased T cells.
Much like a car can’t run without gas, your body can’t run effectively without fuel to support its activities. Your immune system is no different. And just like your car runs less effectively on poor-quality gasoline, your immune system is less effective when relying on poor-quality food.
Again, no one factor makes or breaks your immune system. Malnourishment in general has been shown to weaken your immune response, but no single vitamin or mineral is a magic bullet either. The greater variety of tools your system can use, the better equipped it is to handle new threats.
As your doctor and your parents have always told you, exercise is one of the foundational pillars of a healthy life. It trains your body to operate more efficiently, which leaves your body with greater agility in responding to problems and supporting your life.
Like diet, exercise is not a targeted tool to boost the immune system, but rather a whole-system bolster that strengthens immune function by proxy.
For example, exercise is known to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. When you exercise, the body releases a variety of hormones, including epinephrine (adrenaline). This triggers adrenergic receptors, which immune cells possess, setting off several immunological responses.
One of them is the production of cytokines, or proteins, including TNF, a key regulator of local and systemic inflammation which helps boost immune responses.
Unfortunately, another major immune factor is something that afflicts eight in ten Americans: stress.
Stress has been empirically associated with several facets of the immune response, as the immune system is one of the many ways that the body responds to challenging circumstances. When you become stressed, your body is essentially preparing a fight or flight response, including mobilization of the immune system.
Think of it this way: when ancient humans were stressed during a lion attack, that was in response to the knowledge that they could be badly injured. A bite from an animal, for example, would leave the body exposed to foreign pathogens. Mobilizing the immune system is a logical way for the body to prepare to protect itself, even after the stressor (the lion) is gone.
On a cellular level, acute stress lasting a matter of minutes raises levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the bloodstream, cells responsible for triggering inflammation that is the first line of defense in an immune response.
As a short-term response, this is useful. But chronic stress creates chronic, systemic inflammation and decreases the immune system’s ability to regulate itself–and respond to genuine threats.
Immune System Busters
In simple terms, your lifestyle has a significant effect on how well your body responds to challenges. While in theory, your body has the tools it needs to respond to germs, viruses, and external invaders, its ability to implement that response is strongly shaped by your habits.
Think of it like maintaining a car. You change your oil because the oil is responsible for lubricating the car parts, allowing them to function without overheating and thus maintaining the health of the whole engine. As the oil gets dirtier, it becomes less effective at lubricating the engine, leaving the engine at increasing risk of damage.
Your body is the same way.
Your immune system is helped or harmed by your habits. Any of the following can significantly weaken your immune response:
Lack of sleep
Lack of exercise
If you’re surprised by a few items on the list, remember that your immune system is tied to your psychological response to problems–especially your stress response.
Take sleep, for example. Sleep quality and mood are closely entwined, with sleep quality improvements causing a dramatic improvement in mood. This also means that sleep and stress are tangled together–45% of adults who sleep less than eight hours report feeling more stressed, compared to 32% of adults who sleep eight hours or more.
How to Strengthen the Immune System
Now that we’ve talked about all the ways the immune system might be weakened, let’s take a closer look at the ways that the immune system can be strengthened.
There are two ways to approach the problem: to treat the effects of poor maintenance and to boost the immune response proactively. In other words, treating the effects of bad habits, improving your habits, or both.
Natural Immune Boosters
The best immune boosters shouldn’t be used as a one-off solution, but rather used together as part of a holistic approach to wellbeing. Here are four natural immune boosters that you may already encounter as part of a healthy diet.
Vitamin C has a proven immune benefit in humans, which is why we’re often told to drink orange juice when we get sick.
Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, even working to help regenerate other antioxidants in the body. In terms of immune function, it’s a multipurpose superhero. For example, one of its many immune-promoting functions is to support the epithelial barrier, protecting the body against environmental oxidative stress.
It also has gene-regulating effects, which means it plays a key role in differentiating and proliferating B- and T-cells.
Common sources of vitamin C include:
Like vitamin C, vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, protecting cells from damage caused by free radicals. But it has a far larger role in the body as a whole–it’s involved in more than 200 biochemical functions.
A few common sources of vitamin E in your diet include:
Vegetable oils such as wheat germ, safflower, and sunflower oil
Green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli
Most Americans do not get enough vitamin E in their diets, but healthy people rarely show signs of vitamin E deficiency. That’s because vitamin E deficiency is actually rather rare in healthy people and is usually linked to diseases which cause fat to be improperly digested, such as Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and certain rare genetic diseases.
The best way to understand vitamin A’s role in immune response is to understand what happens when you don’t have enough of it. Vitamin A deficiency impedes the regeneration of mucosal barriers damaged when you get an infection, as well as diminishing the function of natural killer cells, macrophages, and neutrophils.
In addition, vitamin A is essential for adaptive immune function, promoting the production of helper T-cells and B-cells.
Vitamin A is available in the human diet in two forms:
Preformed vitamin A (retinol and retinyl ester)
Provitamin A carotenoids
Preformed vitamin A is found in animal sources, such as dairy, fish, and meat (especially liver). Provitamin A carotenoids come in many forms, but among the most important is beta carotene, which is found in carrots, sweet potatoes, and dark leafy greens.
Both preformed vitamin A and provitamin A must be metabolized intracellularly to retinal and retinoic acid before they can be used as vitamin A, which means that other carotenoids found in food cannot be converted to vitamin A.
Zinc is an essential mineral, known as an essential trace element because very small amounts of it are necessary for human health. It impacts multiple elements of the immune response, from gene regulation to maintaining your skin barrier, affecting both innate and acquired immunity.
Think of it as the powerhouse of your immune system.
As the human body does not store excess zinc, it must be consumed regularly in your diet. A few common sources of zinc include:
If you need a strong dose of zinc, oysters are the best bet. Just three ounces contains anywhere from 94% to 493% of your daily value of zinc, depending on the type of oyster, where they were raised, and how they were prepared.
Phytates, which are present in whole grain bread, cereal, and legumes, bind zinc, which means that zinc has a far lower bioavailability in plant- and grain-based foods compared to animal products. Unfortunately, this means that those eating a plant-based diet may not have sufficient zinc to meet their daily needs.
If you can’t stomach oysters or if you’re a vegetarian, no worries. You can still get your daily zinc from several of our patches, including our CoQ10 Plus Topical Patch.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
If you’re a health nut, you’ve probably heard of omega-3 fatty acids before as the healthy fat your body needs to thrive.
While the human body can make most of the fats it needs from other fats or raw materials, that isn’t the case for omega-3s. For this reason, they’re considered essential fatty acids–they must be obtained directly from food.
There are three main types of omega-3s:
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
ALA is the most common omega-3 in Western diets, while EPA and DHA are known as marine omega-3s since they come mainly from fish.
What makes omega-3s so important? They play an integral role in supporting cell membranes, provide a starting point for creating hormones involved in blood clotting, and bind to receptors that regulate genetic function, to name a few.
While omega-3s are not direct disease-fighters, they have a well-recognized anti-inflammatory effect. In addition, omega-3s are incorporated into the cell membranes of all immune cells investigated to date.
Since there are three different types of omega-3s, where you can get them and the amount of omega-3s depends on what type you’re looking for and how much of it. A few common sources include:
Keep in mind that EPA and DHA are primarily found in fish, while ALA is usually found in plant sources. And if you’re not a fish person, make sure to check out our Omega-3 Plus Patch.
The Best Immune Boosters on the Market
As you can see, it isn’t a question of finding the best immune system booster on the market, but rather the best combination of immune boosters. That’s where we come in.
We know how hard it is to find the time to build a balanced diet. That’s why we created our vitamin patches–so that you can live life to the fullest and the health support your body needs to thrive. If you haven’t tried our patches before, check out how to use our patches, and don’t forget to check out our shop to give your immune system the support it needs.