The pursuit of a healthy immune system is not limited to cold and flu season. Let's take a few minutes to dive a bit deeper into the immune system, understand how the body is able to defend itself, and explore some nutrients you can take to support your immune system now and throughout the year.
The Immune System Explained
The immune system is made of special organs, cells, and chemicals that fight infection. It is a finely coordinated collection of specialized cells, communicating to each other via unique chemicals and specialized receptors. Immune cells have their own circulatory system, which is called the lymphatic system. Lymphatic fluid bathes the body as it transports white blood cells to areas of infection or injury. Immune system cells are located in various lymph nodes that are strategically positioned throughout the body. The spleen, located in the upper left part of the abdomen, manufactures lymphocytes and traps foreign antigens in order to trigger an immune response.
“Main Players” in the Immune System
Here are the primary players in the immune system, that help the body protect itself.1
Phagocytes: The first line-of-defensive “scouts” of the immune system are phagocytic cells called dendritic cells, macrophages, and neutrophils. All of these phagocyte cells zip through the body, and engulf and kill antigens. This immune process of engulfing/devouring antigens by phagocytic cells provides your natural immunity. After killing the antigen, phagocytic cells return to the lymph nodes to start their next course of action, which is to stimulate other cells of the immune system to activate “acquired immunity”. Acquired immunity begins after a phagocytic cell “devours” an antigen. It then signals the next group of immune cells, T and B lymphocytes, to spring into action.
Lymphocytes: These are a type of white blood cell that are mainly made up of T and B lymphocytes. They act on virus-infected body cells and also attack fungi and parasites. In addition, T-cells are an important part of the immune system’s destruction of cancerous cells. After being triggered by a phagocyte, T-cells attach to the antigenic cell and inject a protein that kills it.
Killer cells: Killer cells are lymphocytes that rush out, bind themselves to infected cells and kill them by injecting poison.
T-cells: When stimulated into action by a phagocyte, helper T-cells stimulate T or B cells to destroy the antigen. Helper T-cells are known as TH1 cells. Those that stimulate B-cells are known as TH2 cells. When activated, primed B-cells multiply rapidly and mature to become plasma cells. Plasma cells are factories for an outpouring of antibodies directed against a specific antigen.
Antibodies: Antibodies are proteins that are released from plasma cells into the blood. Once triggered, these proteins discharge molecules called cytokines, which stimulate cells to move to areas that need help, almost like a commanding officer shouting out orders.
Immune Health Strategy
Our immune system doesn’t just spring into action during the height of cold and flu season like some might think. It fights inflammation, which is the main cause of all chronic-disease, throughout the year. Various immune-health supplements and nutrients can empower our immune system to perform even stronger, and one of the best nutrients to do this, is Aged Garlic Extract. The properties that make Aged Garlic Extract such a powerful tool in maintaining cardiovascular health give us a window into why it also benefits the immune system. It supports healthy inflammation response and reduces oxidation. In moving the system away from chronic immune activation, it frees the body to fight invaders rather than constantly work to do things like push blood through inflamed arteries.
The aging process strengthens garlic’s antioxidant content, helping the body to make more lymphocytes, including powerful killer cells, as well as more antibodies. It also cranks up the action of existing lymphocytes as well.2
Other Immune Boosting Nutrients
Besides Aged Garlic Extract, there are a few other nutrients you can add to your diet to keep your immune system in fighting shape.
Astragalus: Astragalus is an herbal supplement that has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. Some evidence suggests it can enhance the immune system and reduce inflammation by increasing the body’s production of white blood cells (which are the cells of your immune system responsible for preventing illness).3
Zinc: Zinc has become a popular treatment for the common cold. It keeps the immune system strong, and also helps to heal wounds. Some studies have shown that zinc may reduce the duration of the common cold by one to two days, and may reduce the number of upper respiratory infections in children.4
Vitamin C: Vitamin C, an antioxidant, is essential for immune cells to function properly. It is depleted during infections, so a vitamin C deficiency may increase a person’s risk of getting sick. Adding more Vitamin C to your diet will not reduce your risk of catching a cold, but it may speed up your recovery time and reduce the severity of your symptoms.5
Build up your immune system with the nutrients mentioned above, and proactively support your immunity year-round, so you can enter (and exit) the cold and flu season with ease.
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.
- Immunity: Beyond Cold and Flu Season, New Hope Media, 2017