Strengthen Your Immunity Before Winter
Although the weather doesn’t seem like it, fall is here and winter’s colds and flu are on their way. I’m seeing reminders everywhere to get your flu shots NOW. Even if you do get a flu shot, you will also want to support your immune system for it to work optimally. What else can we do to prevent these annoying and possibly dangerous illnesses this coming winter?
NOW is the time to start strengthening your immune system. Did you know that your immune system is in a battle every day? That’s its job. You’re protected by a coordinated defense. Cells, proteins, and chemical signals join forces against bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other pathogens. And your immune system also helps in wound healing, cellular and tissue turnover, and repair.
A healthy, functional immune system is a complex machine. It contains many layers, subsystems, tissues, organs, and processes. But a basic understanding can help you see what you need to maintain healthy immunity.
Physical Barriers That Protect You
Imagine your body as a castle to be defended. Your skin is actually your first barrier to disease. Yes, it pays to take good care of your skin. And nutrition, both taken internally and topically, is one of many factors required for overall skin health. Micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals, are not only essential components of skin structure, but they also modulate multiple biological functions.
Other physical barriers include tiny hairs called cilia in your upper respiratory tract. Cilia propel a liquid layer of mucus that covers the airways. The mucus layer traps pathogens (potentially infectious microorganisms) and other particles that move potentially harmful material away from your lungs. This mucus is loaded with protective proteins such as antibodies and lysozymes that kill and disable germs, like bacteria and viruses.
Immunity Central: Your Bone Marrow
Your bone marrow is a buzzing central hub of activity for your immune protection. The bone marrow is the site of production of all blood cells, including white blood cells. White blood cells are what defend our bodies from infections.
Neutrophils, the most prevalent, help prevent infections by blocking, disabling, digesting, or warding off invading particles and microorganisms. They also communicate with other cells to help them repair cells and mount a proper immune response. Lymphocytes, the second most prevalent, can be further classified as T cells, B cells, and natural killer cells (I love that name!) T cells act in immune reactions not needing antibodies, and B cells produce antibodies, which are immune proteins that bond to potential pathogens. There’s also a symphony of cellular communication going on in your bone marrow between all these developing and mature immune cells.
Since bone marrow is so important to immunity, protecting it is imperative. Ensure you get enough vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, and other trace minerals in your diet. Take care of your bones, and they will help take care of you, too.
Your Gut Microbiome: Germs That Help You
The word is out! Microbes in and on our body outnumber human cells. The vast majority of the bacteria reside in the colon. It may seem hard to understand, but these microbes play a crucial role in your immune system. Your intestines encounter more antigens (foreign material that starts an immune response) than any other part of your body. Potentially harmful microbes that try to break through the gut lining are stopped dead in their tracks. The cells lining your intestines secrete proteins that recruit white blood cells to the affected area. And, as you know, white blood cells pack a punch of protection. These epithelial cells also produce antimicrobial peptides and mucus that trap bacteria. The beneficial bacteria in your gut microbiome digest compounds and extract nutrients that your body can’t process on its own. Some intestinal bacteria also synthesize certain B vitamins and vitamin K. B vitamins, like vitamin B12, are also linked to supporting healthy immune system function. Vitamin K is an important component in maintaining the production of blood-clotting factors.
Nutritional Steps to Build Your Immune System
You can help keep your immune system strong by following your mom’s advice: Wash your hands regularly and live a healthy lifestyle that includes eating your fruits and veggies. But if you want to take additional steps to preserve daily health and vitality, there are nutritional strategies you can use to help support your immune system:
Add a multivitamin and mineral supplement to your healthy diet to ensure your body has all the essential vitamins and minerals it needs to support overall health as well as produce immune cells. This includes nutrients like vitamin C and D, as well as zinc. I also take extra vit C combined with a quality grape seed extract and extra vit D throughout the cold and flu season.
Help support healthy function of your immune cells by maintaining healthy membranes with omega-3 fatty acids in a quality fish oil supplement.
Maintain a healthy gut barrier with prebiotics (which feed your healthy bacteria) or add additional good bacterial support with a probiotic supplement.
Consider foods or supplements rich in beta-glucans. Beta-glucans are immunostimulants, meaning they support the function and responsiveness of immune cells. Now “awake” and alert to foreign triggers, your immune system is in a heightened state of awareness.