How the Immune System Works (+ 8 Ways to Give It a Boost!)Reading Time: 7 minutes
Feeling great happens from the inside out! Perhaps no other system in the body demonstrates this concept better than your immune system. Read on to discover how the immune system works… and eight ways you can make it even stronger.
How Does the Immune System Work?
Your immune system is your “first line of defense” against bacteria, fungi, toxins, and even malignant cells that can lead to serious diseases in your body. In layman’s terms, here are just some of the things immune system cells can do:
- Some immune system cells shoot out particles that can open the cell membranes of pathogens like viruses and bacteria.
- Other cells work together to surround invaders and emit poisonous substances which kill the “bad guys” on contact.
- Others are like garbage collectors; their job is to “eat up” unfriendly substances in the body.
- Still, others are on “special assignment” to search out particular pathogens. Natural Killer Cells , designed to hunt out and destroy cancer cells, are examples of this.
Your Immune System Is All Around You
Your immune system connects and interacts with just about every other system in your body, including the circulatory system, the digestive system, the lymphatic system, the detoxification pathways, and even your brain.
A little-known fact is that up to 80% of our immune system cells are in the upper GI, more specifically in the mucosal lining of the small intestinal tract . This is why gut health is so important for overall immune system health.
Also, new research, such as a January 2018 investigation conducted at the University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center , shows that more immune system functions occur in the brain than previously thought through glial cells of the neuroimmune system. These cells exist in the central nervous system and are designed to protect brain neurons from damage.
The immune system consists of billions of cells that perform hundreds of vital functions. Their daily routine is not unlike secret soldiers on the front lines of a battlefield – seeking out and destroying invaders without you ever knowing about it!
Autoimmunity: When Our Toxic World Catches Up to Us
With all this talk about what a great job the immune system does at destroying the “bad stuff,” one question you may ask is: What about people with autoimmune conditions? Doesn’t this mean that the immune system attacks things that it shouldn’t, like healthy cells?
In America and all over the world, we see an epidemic of autoimmune-related conditions. If you are reading this, there is a good chance that an autoimmune condition affects you or someone you know.
Here are three important (and surprising!) stats about autoimmunity:
- The American Autoimmune Related Disease Association estimates that approximately 50 million Americans  suffer from some form of autoimmune disease. This is about one in six Americans.
- Common autoimmune conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, chronic Lyme disease, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and fibromyalgia. But there are many other conditions that are also autoimmune-related such as type 2 diabetes , autism , asthma , eczema, allergies , and some food intolerances .
- Some experts state that up to 90% of all people diagnosed with hypothyroidism suffer from an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis .
8 Ways to Make Your Immune System Stronger
The rise in autoimmune conditions is just one example of how our bodies are responding to a world where the air, water, and food is more toxic than ever . Additionally, our lifestyles are more sedentary, stressful, and sterile than ever before.
The good news is that the general tips listed below can help you to rebalance and revitalize your immune system naturally:
#1: Clean up your diet.
Eating a healthy, whole foods, green-centered diet is probably the best thing you can do for your immune system. This includes going 100% organic and non-GMO, as well as eating plenty of colorful vegetables and fruits.
Focusing on getting more healthy sources of omega-3 fats  as well as fewer simple carbs and sugars is a must according to most experts. Many individuals who have chronic conditions like autoimmunity benefit from going gluten-free and dairy-free as well.
#2: Balance your gut.
Restoring the right balance in your microbiome is key if you want to help your immune system. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University say that the gut is where “bacteria and the immune system meet .” Not only do most of your immune system cells reside in your digestive tract, but research over the last decade has also shown that we house more bacterial cells than human cells, most of them residing in the gut.
Supplementing with probiotics is important, but remember that these friendly bacteria are living things that need to eat. Prebiotics are the “food” of healthy gut bacteria.
Some good examples of prebiotics are:
- Raw garlic
- Raw dandelion greens
- Raw leeks
- Onions (raw and cooked)
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Green bananas
Apples are also considered by many to be prebiotic because they contain pectin, which increases levels of the long-chain amino acid butyrate. According to researchers at the University of Naples in Italy , butyrate helps to nourish healthy bacteria while decreasing harmful bacteria.
#3: Stay hydrated.
Staying hydrated is crucial for maintaining good immunity since water helps carry oxygen to the cells of your body and assists in flushing out the waste products. Perhaps most importantly, however, drinking enough water helps lymph fluid continue to flow. The lymph system is an integral part of the immune system. Lymph nodes throughout the body are where B and T lymphocytes (two types of white blood cells) are produced.
#4: Support your liver.
Your liver is your main pathway of detoxification as well as nutrient assimilation. Your immune system cannot be at its best when the liver is sluggish and slow. In addition to going organic with what you eat, removing sources of toxins in your household products and sundry items are good actions to take to lower your toxic load.
Consider cleansing herbs like milk thistle, which research shows can significantly help both your detoxification pathways and your immune system.
#5: Lower stress.
How stressed are you every day? Stress can absolutely affect your immune system. There are many vehicles for this connection, but perhaps the biggest has to do with hormonal reactions to chronic stress. When you are stressed, cortisol is released, inflammation is heightened, and key functions of the immune system, such as the production of immune system cells needed to fight infection, shut down.
In contrast, when you are calm, the body receives this as a signal to kick in “healing hormones” such as serotonin . The body cannot rest, digest, and heal when it is in stress mode. Period!
#6: Get regular exercise.
Exercise helps the immune system by causing changes in antibodies and white blood cells through increased circulation. When circulation is increased, the body speeds up the rate in which immune system cells discover and destroy opportunistic pathogens.
Did you know that some immune-system conditions, like asthma, can be helped directly through exercise? A recent Iranian study published in the journal Trends in Life Science  found that aerobic exercise can help asthmatics by balancing insulin levels.
#7: Take care of your teeth and gums.
Getting adequate oral care directly relates to an improved immune system. A 2007 World Health Organization report addressed the major health problem of oral health: “The strategy is that oral disease prevention and the promotion of oral health needs to be integrated with chronic disease prevention and general health promotion as the risks to health are linked .”
The connection between oral and immune system health is obvious: every harmful bacterial substance that can remain within the deep pockets of your gums will eventually spill out into the rest of your body. Make sure to get regular check-ups, ideally with a holistic dentist who can check your mouth for cavitations . A qualified holistic dentist will also be able to advise you about bacteria-filled root canals and amalgam fillings which contain mercury.
#8: Get enough sleep.
According to the Mayo Clinic , lack of sleep can increase the likelihood of getting sick after viral exposure, and can also increase the risk of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. A 2012 study by the University of Tübingen in Germany  found that “[s]leep and the circadian system exert a strong regulatory influence on immune functions,” including the production of immune system cytokines, some of which are only created during sleep. Most experts advise getting at least 8 hours of quality sleep (10 hours or more for children and teenagers).
Key Supplements That Can Boost Your Immune System
The lifestyle changes mentioned above are essential when it comes to kicking your immune system into high gear. Sometimes all this is not enough, however. In addition to the above steps, you might also consider taking sources of key nutrients which have been shown to significantly aid the immune system.
Vitamins and minerals that directly help to support the immune system include:
Other plants which studies have shown contain high immune system potency include:
- Curcumin from turmeric
- Milk thistle
- Turkey tail mushroom
And finally, don’t rule out the power of the mind ! Visualize every one of your immune cells in balance and pulsating with vibrant energy. Then see all that good health flooding every part of your body and mind every day!
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The immune system is your body’s first and best line of defense against illness and toxins.
The immune system connects and interacts with just about every other system in the body.
80% of your immune system is in the GI tract, which is why gut health is so important to overall immune function.
8 ways to build your immune system:
- Clean up your diet
- Balance your gut
- Stay hydrated
- Support your liver
- Lower stress
- Get regular exercise
- Take care of your teeth and gums
- Get enough sleep
Vitamins and minerals that directly help to support the immune system include:
- vitamin D3 (in conjunction with vitamin K2)
- vitamin C
- vitamin B 12