The Great Defender: that’s our immune system, uniquely designed to keep us healthy and defend against illness and infection. Made up of organs, including the skin, lungs, and gut, as well as specialized cells, the immune system’s job is to remain on alert for disease-causing invaders and to protect our body against them.
Our immune system’s first responders are white blood cells (WBC) that are alerted to the presence of an invader. Some WBCs seek and destroy invaders while others have a cellular memory that enables the body to remember and recognize previous invaders and help destroy them. For example, if you get chickenpox, your body develops immunity to the bacteria; if you’re exposed to chickenpox again, you won’t contract it.
Sometimes the cellular communication goes haywire and the immune system starts attacking healthy cells in the body. This is called an autoimmune response; it can lead to autoimmune disease of which there are many types, such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. There are also conditions, such as Selective IgA Deficiency, in which some part of the immune response is lacking or not functioning properly.
Each of our immune systems are as unique as our individual family health history, our lifestyles, and the environmental conditions with which we live. Some folks seem to never get sick, while others catch every bug going around. The strength of the immune system also changes as we age. Because the immune system is our greatest defender against disease, it’s critical that we keep it strong, healthy and balanced.
Four Holistic Ways to Boost Immunity
Get Your Zz’s. Sleep regenerates the entire body. Research shows that restful and regular sleep generates the hormones that help fight infection, whereas insufficient / poor quality sleep makes us prone to infection and prolongs recovery from illness.
De-stress. Persistent stress raises the level of a hormone called cortisol in the bloodstream. Over time, this creates a cascade of physiological events that result in weakened immunity. Take time out with meditation, yoga, exercise, or a walk in nature.
Say No to Sugar. A diet high in sugar interferes with optimal immune system function. Limit your intake of all sweets. Choose organic, dark chocolate when you need to satisfy the sweet tooth.
Crazy ’bout Shrooms. With 38,000 varieties, you’re bound to find a mushroom you like! They’re versatile in cooking, full of nutrients, and contain compounds that research shows are important to building a strong immune system. Make shrooms a part of your whole foods diet.
- Pizzorno, J. E. & Murray, M. T. (Eds.) Textbook of Natural Medicine 4th Ed. (2013). pp. 516-524. Elsevier Science: St. Louis, MO. http://www.rhc.ac.ir/Files/Download/pdf/nursingbooks/Textbook%20of%20Natural%20Medicine-2013-cd.pdf
- A Pillar of Optimal Health: The Immune System. http://www.naturopathic.org/article_content.asp?article=1010
- Guggenheim, Alena G., Wright, KM & Zwickey, HL. “Immune Modulation From Five Major Mushrooms: Application to Integrative Oncology.” Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal (2014) 13:1, 32–44. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684115/
- Harvard Health. Consequences of Insufficient Sleep. http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences
- Besedovsky, L., Lange T., Born J., “Sleep and immune function.” Pflugers Arch. (2012 Jan) 463(1):121-37. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00424-011-1044-0
- Opp, MR, et al. Neural-Immune Interactions in the Regulation of Sleep, Front Biosci. 2003 May 1;8:d768-79.
- Harvard Health. “Sleep: What’s in it for You?” http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/health
- Eating Well Immunity Diet Tips: http://www.eatingwell.com/nutrition_health/immunity/healthy_immunity_diet_guidelines
- Immunity & Diet: Harvard Health http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system