11 Body Systems: What is the Immune System and you can help protect it
The 11 Body Systems are a collection of organ systems made up of parts that are able to work together to serve a common purpose – growth, reproduction and survival.
Each part of a system depends on the other parts to perform tasks that can’t be achieved by single parts acting alone and help to improve our chances of survival by maintaining a stable internal body environment.
This stable environment is known as homeostasis. Our series, 11 Body Systems goes into depth about each body system and how it relates to the rest of the body.
Why is the immune system important?
The immune system is the body‘s defense system. It protects us against pathogens which are micro-organisms like viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and fungi, that can cause disease.
The immune system fights off these disease-causing microbes, keeping them in balance with the health-promoting microbes of our microbiota (the ‘friendly‘ bacteria, yeasts, and fungi occurring throughout the body that are beneficial to health).
Because pathogens rapidly mutate and evolve, our defense system needs to be responsive and have multiple defenses. The first line of defense is the innate response.
This response is non-specific, meaning that it will not discriminate against specific bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Inflammation is one of the key innate responses.
People think of inflammation as ‘bad‘ or undesirable but when you the cardinal signs of inflammation: redness, swelling, warmth, along with pain, there is a complex interplay of cells and molecules working to prevent pathogens from causing damage and clearing out waste products of the healing process.
Conversely, the adaptive response adapts to specific pathogen threats, allowing us to better defend ourselves against future infection.
Want to know more about inflammation? Read this blog on 'when inflammation causes harm - a dietitian explains'
It includes a range of different cells and systems that identify specific patterns on the surface of pathogens and builds a large, targeted response specifically against them.
This is why for many illnesses, exposure when young, or vaccination, will provide lifelong, or long-term immunity to the illness.
Disorders of the immune system can result in autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases and cancer. Immunodeficiency occurs when the immune system is less active than normal, resulting in recurring and life-threatening infections.
In humans, immunodeficiency can either be the result of a genetic disease such as severe combined immunodeficiency, or acquired conditions such as HIV/AIDS, or the use of immunosuppressive medication.
Autoimmunity results from a dysfunction of the immune system in which self-cells (or non-pathogenic microbes residing on tissue) are targeted by the immune system and result in damage to our own tissue.
What is the immune system made up of?
The immune system includes cells that help to recognise pathogens and differentiate them from ‘self‘ tissue and beneficial microbes, along with proteins that help to regulate the inflammatory response (inflammasomes).
It also includes many of the more commonly known immune components; white blood cells (leukocytes) that engulf and destroy pathogens, along with lymphocyte B and T-cells which identify, mark, and target pathogens and cells infected with pathogens for destruction.
The various components of the inflammatory systems work to help encourage healing by encouraging increased blood-flow to areas of infection (transports immune cells to the area), swelling and pain (which results from the increased flow and slow clearance, but also helps immobilise the area to prevent further damage).
How you can support the immune system: Immune boosting ingredients in Nuzest Good Green Vitality
Omega 3 fats
Omega 3 fats help us to regulate immunity and inflammation in conjunction with the ‘pro-inflammatory‘ omega 6 fats. Omega 3 fats are found in fatty fish and in vegan sources like flax seeds and in algae.
Vitamins A, C and E
Vitamin A is intricately involved in immunity. (1) Vitamin A supplementation is associated with large reductions in illness, mortality, and vision problems in children and it has been recommended that any children at any risk of deficiency should be given a vitamin A supplement. (2)
Additionally, vitamin A supplementation during pregnancy improves immunity to illness and reduces the incidence of gestational night blindness. (3)
While vitamin C, contrary to popular belief, probably won‘t cure the common cold, reviews research show that it might help to reduce symptoms of colds and shorten their duration, (4) and might even help to prevent the occurrence of colds in athletes and others prone to higher levels of stress when taken regularly. (5, 6)
Vitamin E also has anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects. (7)
Vitamin D is a key immune regulator and has also shown promise for aiding several auto-immune conditions like systemic lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. (8)
In addition to their other actions, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and B12 are under-recognised antioxidants that can help reduce oxidative stress to the body. (9, 10)
Bioflavonoids, polyphenols and plant-based antioxidants
Bioflavonoids, polyphenols and other plant-based antioxidants found in many plants and fungi foods have a range of immune system benefits. Research shows that bioflavonoids reduce upper-respiratory-tract infections. (11)
Other antioxidant-rich foods like grapeseed, rosehip, and cacao improve antioxidant status and immunity and reduce inflammation. (12-17)
Adaptogens are herbs that are stress ‘tonics‘ that help us to respond to stressors more effectively. Among the adaptogens, ginger, ginseng, gotu kola, ashwagandha and astragalus have demonstrated a range of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. (18-26)
Common culinary and medicinal herbs like rosemary are anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial and may benefit immune status. (27)
Turmeric is likely to improve immune function. (28)
Shiitake mushroom is thought to aid immunity by increasing white blood cell activation. (29, 30)
The natural plant enzyme bromelain is considered to be both anti-inflammatory and immune supportive. (31, 32)
Overall, the research shows that probiotic supplementation reduces the incidence and severity of respiratory infections, (33-35)(36-38) Probiotics are suggested for use to reduce inflammation and infection following several types of surgeries. (44-46)(47)
Spirulina and chlorella
Spirulina could reduce the seasonal allergies, along with protection from heavy metals and other toxins and general protection of the liver, (53) along with reducing oxidation and inflammation. (54)(56, 57)
In randomised, controlled trials, chlorella has demonstrated the capacity to provide a short-term ‘boost‘ to immunity by increasing natural killer cells. (58)
The importance of protein for immunity
Protein is also important for preserving immunity, especially if you‘re an athlete, or you‘re working (or playing!) hard. In fact, one of the results of over-stress, over-training, and chronic fatigue is an increased susceptibility to infection.
A deficiency in protein is rare in the modern world. But when we consider that the recommended daily intake for protein is a woefully low 0.8 g per kilo of body weight per day and that levels of 2 x this amount or more are indicated for improved performance and body composition, higher protein intake is likely to better help you to regulate immunity and inflammation. (60)
Specific amino acids like glutamine reduce the incidence of infections and improve immunity. (61-64)
Glutamine levels are correlated with over-training in athletes, and plasma glutamine levels don‘t rise in athletes with over-training syndrome, (65) and over-trained athletes maintain low glutamine levels for months or even years. (66)
So, protein, along with helping you to maintain muscle, lose fat, and improve satiety, could also help you to stay well, in spite of what life throws at you! Nuzest's Clean Lean Protein is a high quality pea protein designed to support you with energy, recovery, repair and weight management.
Read more about the 11 Body Systems:
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The information provided in this article is intended for educational purposes only and is general advice. It should not, nor is it intended to be, relied on as a substitute for individual medical advice or care. If the contents of this, or any other of the blogs in this series raises any concerns or questions regarding your health, please consult a qualified healthcare practitioner.