WHAT IS THE IMMUNE SYSTEM?
The immune system protects living beings from infectious agents in the environment that are able to breach the physical barriers of the body such as the skin, mucosal lining of the digestive tract, or the mucosal lining of the airways. It is composed mainly of white blood cells, the thymus, the spleen, the lymphatic system, and all the chemical messengers all working in cohesion to properly defend the body. There are a number of different types of white blood cells and immune cells that are activated in response to different types of infectious agents that come in contact with the body.
The way cells are activated is based upon a multitude of inflammatory chemical messengers or signals, meaning that the immune response in itself is inherently inflammatory in nature. The importance of this will become apparent later. The immune system has two distinct systems, the innate and adaptive immune systems, respectively providing immediate responses to microbes and long term protection from infectious agents that the body has previously been exposed to. They communicate and work in unison to continuously thwart the efforts of any microbes that may be trying to find a new home in the body.The innate immune system provides immediate and nonspecific responses to an infectious agent (bacteria, virus, cancer cell etc.) that may make its way into the body and will, in turn, activate the adaptive immune system which takes a bit longer to kick in.
Nonspecific responses mean that, regardless of what pathogen is presented to the immune system, it will launch a massive inflammatory chemical cascade activating white blood cells (T cells) and further immune-related chemical responses, bringing all the attention of the immune system to the area under assault. In this way, it provides a quick and effective measure at slowing down the infectious agent from entering the body regardless of how or what it is trying to do to the body. The adaptive immune system then takes over and eventually signals specialized cells in the immune system that recognize patterns and chemical markers of the infectious agents. This allows the immune system to specifically react and attack the infectious agent that is attacking the system. Over time the adaptive immune system builds itself up, even more, becoming extremely effective and specific in its ability to produce a response against the same microbes the next time they may get into the system.
This is how immunity is established naturally against things like chickenpox, the flu, and vaccinations. Sometimes the immune system can go a bit haywire and will start recognizing normal or healthy cells in the body as a threat. It can even begin to miss infectious agents that have hid inside cells leading to autoimmune disease and immunodeficiency. Thankfully, the development of hygiene and modernized medicine has prevented many people from being as susceptible to infectious diseases as they once were, yet it still takes a great deal of work and mindfulness to keep the immune system in a healthy, balanced state. This is why providing proper immune support as part of a daily routine is extremely important. Things, like eating a balanced diet rich in organic vegetables, drinking lots of water, getting adequate amounts of sunshine, lots of sleep, and some exercise, will do wonders for one’s immune system. Of course with the advance of medical care and access to alternative forms of treatment, people now have a wide range of types of supplements and specialized products to choose from to help boost the immune system in addition to easy and valuable lifestyle changes.
HOW TO AVOID IMPARED IMMUNE SYSTEM AND INFECTIONS
As discussed above, chronic inflammation is one of the leading causes of immune-related dysfunction. Inflammation may stem from dysfunctional body systems, toxins in the environment, or infectious agents that are attacking the body. The easiest way to reduce inflammation in the body and improve immune function is by looking at things that humans routinely do, eat, or drink on a day to day basis.
Alcohol is extremely inflammatory and is a toxin that is, unfortunately, generally consumed without much concern in relation to its long term health impacts. Alcohol starts affecting the immune system as soon as it comes in contact with the gut, by impairing healthy gut bacteria and their optimal balance, which acts as one of the body’s main barriers against infectious agents in the environment. It also burdens the liver with toxins and impairs its ability to shed waste products from the body or maintain a healthy hormone balance.
The immune system relies on balanced hormones for their ability to stimulate proliferation and activation of immune cells in places that are attacked by infectious agents. Removing waste from the body is also an essential process, as the immune system both rely on an abundance of antioxidants in the body which neutralize the large quantities of metabolic and clearance of cellular waste generated while combating infections. These metabolic or immune waste products are known to be extremely inflammatory agents and will further impair immune function.
To avoid drinking alcohol, try finding a fulfilling alternative such as tea, sparkling water, kombucha, or herbal mocktails which provide bodily and neurological sensations that help quell the urge to drink alcohol. Removing alcohol from one's household and avoiding common locations where individuals gather to drink may be the first step to getting rid of the most common triggers many individuals will experience.
Avoid Unhealthy Fats
The latter half of the 20th century saw fat become the evil ingredient in food responsible for causing disease and weight gain, but thanks to the forward march of science and intellect, we now know that fats serve a vital role in overall wellbeing and long term health. This is not the case for every fat though, as the demand for oil in large scale food production and in kitchens around the globe remains consistently high, in turn causing many producers to search for cheaper options. In the current dietary landscape almost all fast, convenient, or processed foods are made with poor quality fats such as saturated and trans fats used to fry food or cook on a range. These fats are typically highly processed but they can also be found in naturally occurring oils such as soy or corn oil, which are high in omega-6s, and even red meat, which is high in arachidonic acid.
Unfortunately, as much as these fats may increase the flavor and enjoyment one gets from food, it also greatly increases the amount of inflammation their body will experience after consuming said food. Unhealthy fats will cause inflammation throughout the gut and will greatly strain the liver and gallbladder. This impairs the body's ability to absorb nutrients, including healthy fats, while also being able to release toxins processed in the liver through bile. Without adequate nutrition and healthy fats, the body’s immune cells cannot properly function or communicate. As toxins and metabolic byproducts build up in the body, their abilities further decrease leading to an imbalance in the gut microbiome, intestinal inflammation, and susceptibility to opportunistic infections that can be debilitating to many people’s health.
To avoid unhealthy fats, begin by removing fried foods and highly processed food. Highly processed foods are typically anything that is premixed and packaged with many ingredients that the average person will likely be unable to identify. Reducing the amount of red meat in one's diet while adding in healthier fats such as olive oil and fish oil will also serve to increase the number of beneficial fats that an individual is able to consume on a daily basis.
Avoid Simple Carbohydrates
Simple carbohydrates can be anything ranging from pure refined white sugar to a hot baked russet potato or highly refined pasta. Carbohydrates are essentially variations of sugary compounds that can vary in length and shape. Carbohydrates such as sugar (or glucose) are very short and simple compounds that allow them to be quickly absorbed by the body and turned into fuel. Starches are essentially tons of sugary compounds that have linked together to form a long chain of sugar compounds, which can also be absorbed extremely rapidly, especially when the starches have been heated which weakens the bonds between the linked sugar molecules.
Typical Western diets have an abundance of simple carbohydrates, typically paired with unhealthy fats, as they are cheap to produce and also have addictive qualities that lead to large profits. Sugars and starches also compose much of the diet that is consumed by bacteria and yeast. This means that when diets are high in sugar they can often fuel microbes and dysfunctional cells that rapidly use sugars as fuel, allowing them to thrive and disrupt the natural balance of microbes within the body. This can greatly burden the immune system and allows opportunistic bacteria to take hold, often leading to chronic infections, further exacerbated by the inflammatory nature of sugars in themselves.
Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, are also commonly lacking much of the nutrition that was originally present in the grains that were used to make the bread. This means the carbohydrates are not only fueling infectious agents and disease cells in the body, but it is actually not providing any adequate levels of nutrition for the body. To avoid refined carbohydrates avoid white breads, highly processed pastas, dessert breads, and any product that contains refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or “natural sweeteners”. These will commonly be seen in sweets and treats, snack foods, crackers, and drinks and can easily be identified on the ingredients label of the packaging.
Stress is at an all-time high, and not just due to current geopolitical developments. Although stress is a functionally healthy response that provides the ability for living beings to survive extremely challenging situations, it saps the body of its vitality after being exposed to chronic levels of high stress. For decades society has been sliding further into the rat race mentality that demands more consumption and production from all of its constituents. Technology has also greatly increased the amount of stress humans experience as it allows them to be bombarded with excessive amounts of information that is now available and connects a global community. These constant images, news flashes, and exaggerated titles are registered as a highly stressful event to the brain releasing vast amounts of cortisol throughout the body. Constant exposure to stress triggers the body's cortisol system burns out and the adrenal glands begin to shut down.
This long-term exposure to stress will directly decrease immune cell function and overall immune system balance which allows it to properly react with organisms or toxins it may experience in the environment. The immune system is not only depressed by large amounts of cortisol that are released during a stressful event, but its normal function also relies on the daily fluctuations of cortisol present within healthy adrenal glands. Furthermore, chronic stress is associated with depression and anxiety which can cause further inflammation throughout the body and then, of course, impairing or immune systems ability to function properly. This makes stress one of the worst influences on immune system function and as humans continue to cohabit the planet in their current capacity, exploiting its vast amount of resources, stress levels will continue to rise and health levels will continue to fall.
Take time to find balance with morning and night routines by meditating, exploring creativity, or reading an enjoyable book. Tending to one’s own needs and taking a break from the hectic energy of the world does wonders for one's ability to react and deal with stress levels in a healthy manner. Setting social media and technology limits is always a great way to further decrease a very common source of chronic stress. Whatever the healthy de-stressing technique may be, make sure to lean into it and embrace the quiet moments that can be captured in the midst of a chaotic world.
REDUCE ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION EXPOSURE
Environmental toxins are quite literally everywhere, or anywhere that could be considered part of one's environment. Environmental toxins include things such as heavy metals, pesticides, hydrocarbons from fuel, and plastics. All of these toxins can be found throughout many ecosystems today and humans are exposed to them constantly through different mediums including food, furniture, and common household or toiletry products. Environmental toxins can have a wide array of negative effects on the body and many are known to lead to long-term health complications, many of which revolve around immune dysfunction.
Toxins in the environment will create inflammation throughout the body by directly damaging DNA affecting the cell's ability to function and causes many of the vital organs of the body to become burdened and bogged down. Of course with this comes immune dysfunction which can often manifest as the development of cancer or an opportunistic infection after years of toxin exposure. To avoid the most common sources of environmental toxins high-quality air filters should be used in one’s home, with a water filtration system for the whole house, only drinking high quality purified water, eating organic foods as much as possible, and sticking to products whose ingredients could be read and understood by a 10-year-old.
HOW TO NATURALLY BOOST THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
PLANT BASED DIET
Most people have heard by now that plants are basically amazing. Eating a diet rich in plants is something every human on this planet should strive to do as they are extremely abundant in vitamins, minerals, and compounds are known to boost health and wellbeing in the long term. Fiber from plants helps feed healthy bacteria in the gut while preventing blood sugar spikes and allowing the body to fully digest its meal by slowing the passage of food through the digestive tract. This increases the number of nutrients the gut can absorb from one meal while supporting the main barrier that pathogens in the environment have to battle with. These nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, calcium, and selenium from plants provide the micronutrients necessary for optimal immune cell function to help fight off infections while also preventing future infections.
Additionally, plants are packed with other vitamins and compounds that support cellular health in every part of the body. Most notably these vitamins and compounds provide great anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities that soothe uncontrolled and erratic processes in the body allowing it to divert more energy to healing its damaged system and fighting off infectious agents. Overall plant-based diets, in general, support the health of our vital organs and provide the type of nutrition that can reverse years of damage and dysfunction and should be considered as part of any treatment regiment.
A good place to start when adding more vegetables to a diet is with generous amounts of dark leafy greens that are paired with a variety of different colored vegetables which is known as “eating the rainbow”. These vegetables should of course be organic when possible in order to avoid further exposure to environmental toxins that may have been absorbed by the plant from their surrounding soil. There are lots of great and flavorful plants that are often forgotten when it comes to cuisine, so adding more vegetables to one's diet can be a great way to explore culinary abilities in the kitchen while discovering new meals that are quick, easy, and still extremely nutritious.
PRE AND PRO-BIOTIC FOODS
Prebiotic foods are often those included in a plant-based diet as fiber provides the majority of a gut bacteria’s nutritional intake and further encourages the formation of short-chain fatty acids which makes up the rest of their “diet”. Prebiotic foods ensure that beneficial gut bacteria are healthy and thriving, but sometimes healthy gut bacteria need to be supplemented to help support the gut microbiome. This is where probiotic foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, and kombucha come into play. These probiotic foods are rich in bacteria such as bifidobacterium and lactobacillus which make up the majority of the healthy gut bacteria population throughout the digestive tract.
Providing proper prebiotics and supplementing probiotics will result in a thriving gut microbiome, essential for one's health as the body's “healthy” bacteria help fight off “unhealthy” bacteria or infectious agents that can often cause severe infections and lasting health concerns. Furthermore, gut bacteria help protect the gut lining, produce enzymes that help break down food, while also providing important nutrients like vitamin K. Fermenting is another great way to explore one's culinary abilities in the kitchen and adhering to a more plant-based diet like we mentioned above adds tons of healthy prebiotics to boost microbiome health.
REGULAR PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Surprise, surprise… exercise is extremely beneficial for the body and overall well being. It's common knowledge, yet is candidly ignored by so many, even though the body’s biological urge to move in a purposeful and forceful way will always be there. Exercise, be it running, surfing, or gardening helps drive more blood to our tissues to flush toxins and metabolic byproducts that may be causing inflammation or pain. Furthermore, it stimulates the release of hormones throughout the body that boost cellular activity and directly increase white blood cell function.
The more a person exercises the healthier they will be, with an immune system that is primed to fight off infections anywhere in the body. Other benefits such as lung, heart, and bone health are also an important benefit of consistent exercise that will strengthen the integrity of the body and its ability to provide oxygen and nutrition to all parts of the body.
For beginners, 30 minutes of brisk walking a few times a week can be a good place to start, but finding a hobby or enjoyable sport to play with a community may be one of the funniest and motivating forms of getting exercise.
GET GOOD SLEEP
Humans spent approximately 30% of their lives in the sleep state, which is a substantial amount of hours over the course of a whole lifetime. Sleeping may be one of the most vital things that humans do as it is when the body does the majority of its healing and recovery from the stressors it is put through each day. Unfortunately many people today are getting not only less sleep but worse sleep than ever in history thanks to an abundance of entertainment and technology that is now available at the touch of a finger. With poor sleep comes poor healing, which burdens and compromises all systems of the body, including the immune system.
As overall vitality decreases microbes and pathogens in the environment can more easily penetrate and infect the body. If individuals fail to consistently get deep rest they may never fully recover from the conditions they are dealing with, possibly subjecting them to chronic infections that are hard to combat. The most important aspects of healthy sleep hygiene includes avoiding blue light for at least an hour before sleep, ensuring the room is dark and cool, while going to sleep at a consistent time every night. After a couple of weeks of practicing good sleep hygiene one will begin noticing significant changes in energy and mood throughout the day. The effects of proper rest take hold quickly and will have significant beneficial effects on one's health over a lifespan.
UV light rays from the sun are not only important for stimulating Vitamin D production in skin cells but can also directly kill microbes and viruses that may be hanging out on various objects or surfaces. Vitamin D, synthesized within skin cells, is essential for regulating calcium levels throughout the body which plays a vital role in muscular, organ, and cellular function.
Calcium is an essential mineral that is stored and released by every cell in the body, along with potassium and sodium, providing the electrical potential that is needed for every process the cell performs. This means that immune cells need proper levels of calcium and vitamin D to communicate, activate, and attack microbes that may have infiltrated the body. Furthermore, sunshine is commonly associated with an elevated mood and a positive outlook on life, both being strongly associated with improved overall health status and immune function. Getting outside to experience the sunshine has a ton of health benefits and immune-boosting qualities in itself, there really is no better place for one's body than being outside in nature.
Herbs have been used for thousands of years as a potent form of medicine, with many tracing their roots back to early Chinese herbalism. For thousands of years plant-based medicine was the primary source of pharmaceutical agents or “drugs”, a word originally reserved for plant medicines, until the turn of the 20th century when chemically synthesized drugs became widely regarded as true medicine. Now science, and the general population alike, are beginning to realize the therapeutic potential of plants as the complex variety and balance of plant compounds provide multi-drug therapy like actions in the body. Science previously had previously only been able to study single compounds and their effects on the body, as the complex test needed to test and examine the effects of complex medicines was near impossible to achieve with primitive scientific technology.
Still, to this day many drugs are derived from plants and account for up to 50% of new chemotherapeutic agents used in cancer therapies, and for good reason. Whole plant medicines are typically associated with increased benefits, decreased side effects, and significant therapeutic potential when compared to other isolated compounds or drugs at similar dosage. In hindsight, observing human beings as living beings that are part of nature, instead of being separate from nature, would clearly indicate that nature would have provided all the compounds necessary to treat various ailments or infections that may burden the body based on the local environment.
Below we have included some of our favorite herbs that have significant effects on the immune system that have all been quite extensively studied. Not to mention they come with almost 5,000 years of empirical evidence as a clinical tool for many herbalists.
SEE WHAT PEOPLE THINK OF IMMUNA
THE MUSHROOMS IN IMMUNA
Reishi has a long history of use as a clinical tool in the Chinese medicine practitioners toolbox, and for good reason. Rich in beta-glucans and triterpenes, Reishi offers a great tool in its ability to balance the immune system in patients who have an under or overactive immune system leading to chronic inflammation.
It has often been used to fortify patients by calming the nervous system and preventing white blood cell depletion, allowing the body to allocate its resources in fighting off infections or damaged cells and processes in the body. It also boasts a wide variety of other possible uses with antibiotics, antitumor (2), antioxidant (1), blood glucose (5), antiviral (3), and cardiovascular activity(4).
Gaining notoriety for its beneficial qualities in recent years, Chaga mushrooms have been used by people in Northern Europe as a folk medicine for centuries. Studies revealing the ability of Chaga to possibly slow the growth of cancer cells and prevent side effects related to toxic radiation exposure has led researchers to speculate if it does indeed deserve consideration as part of a cancer multidrug regimen (6,7). Furthermore, Chaga seems to be more effective in its toxin scavenging ability compared to other mushrooms (8). With other metabolic and lipid-modulating effects, it is no wonder that researchers have taken a closer look at Chaga in recent years for its ability to support the functions of a healthy body.
The Turkey Tail mushroom has become well known for its immune-related actions. A major active component of turkey tail mushrooms, PSK, has been shown to be effective at preventing Candida albicans infections in the gastrointestinal system by increasing immune cell function (9). This same component improves mRNA expression which enhances glutathione levels, our master antioxidant molecule, to help clear toxins and metabolic byproducts (10). Another interesting component is PSP which has demonstrated an ability to prevent HIV reverse transcriptase indicating its possible use in an HIV treatment regimen. Notably, PSP also shows evidence that it may be able to protect against acetaminophen-induced liver toxicity, giving a reason to suspect that it may benefit other conditions that burden the body with toxins. Research continues to examine the turkey tail mushroom closely with the promise of being a potent clinical tool of the past and future.
Herbal medicine can be ingested in multiple forms, but the most tried and true forms include decoctions (simmered teas) and alcohol extracts (tinctures). Both of these types of plant extracts can be considered full-spectrum and provide a broad range of medicinal compounds found within the plants that have been extracted. If those are not your cup of tea, there are multiple types of capsules and gel caps on the market that can assist those who are averse to the flavors and scents of herbal medicine. Herbs are of course just one tool to help boost immune system function but may well be one of the most powerful ways to help bolster the body against infectious agents in the environment and disease processes within the body.
At Plants Basically we developed our exclusive Immune Elixir that combines the purest, traditional herbal medicine extracts to create an Immuno-modulating botanical & functional mushroom blend for daily immune system support. The adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms in this formula are individually extracted to provide a broad spectrum of therapeutic plant compounds and formulated to achieve its functional potential.
1. Ganoderma lucidum extract protects DNA from strand breakage caused by hydroxyl radical and UV irradiation. Int J Mol.Med 1999
2. Jin, X., Beguerie, J. R., Sze, D. M. Y., & Chan, G. C. (2012). Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi mushroom) for cancer treatment. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (6).
3. Iwatsuki, K., Akihisa, T., Tokuda, H., Ukiya, M., Oshikubo, M., Kimura, Y., ... & Nishino, H. (2003). Lucidenic acids P and Q, methyl lucidenate P, and other triterpenoids from the fungus Ganoderma lucidum and their inhibitory effects on Epstein− Barr virus activation. Journal of natural products, 66(12), 1582-1585.
4. Lee, S. Y., & RHEE, H. M. (1990). Cardiovascular effects of mycelium extract of Ganoderma lucidum: inhibition of sympathetic outflow as a mechanism of its hypotensive action. Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, 38(5), 1359-1364.
5. Hikino, H., Ishiyama, M., Suzuki, Y., & Konno, C. (1989). Mechanisms of Hypoglycemic Activity of Ganoderan B: A Glycan of Ganoderma lucidum Fruit Bodies1. Planta medica, 55(05), 423-428.
6. Géry, A., Dubreule, C., Andre, V., Rioult, J. P., Bouchart, V., Heutte, N., ... & Garon, D. (2018). Chaga (Inonotus obliquus), a future potential medicinal fungus in oncology? A chemical study and a comparison of the cytotoxicity against human lung adenocarcinoma cells (A549) and human bronchial epithelial cells (BEAS-2B). Integrative cancer therapies, 17(3), 832-843.
7. Rasina LN. [Effect of cryosubstance Chagi on deposition or isolation of 90Sr and on the effect of prolonged external exposure to gamma-radiation]. Radiats Biol Radioecol 2002;42(4):399-403.
8. Nakajima Y, Sato Y, Konishi T. Antioxidant small phenolic ingredients in Inonotus obliquus (persoon) Pilat (Chaga). Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo) 2007;55(8):1222-6.
9. Ohmura, Y., Matsunaga, K., Motokawa, I., Sakurai, K., and Ando, T. Protective effects of a protein-bound polysaccharide, PSK, against Candida albicans infection in syngeneic tumor-bearing mice via Th1 cell functions. Cancer Biother.Radiopharm. 2003;18(5):769-780.
10. Pang, Z. J., Chen, Y., Zhou, M., and Wan, J. Effect of polysaccharide krestin on glutathione peroxidase gene expression in mouse peritoneal macrophages. Br.J Biomed Sci 2000;57(2):130-136.
11. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1996.
12. Shao BM, Xu W, Dai H, et al. A study on the immune receptors for polysaccharides from the roots of Astragalus membranaceus, a Chinese medicinal herb. Biochem Biophys Res Commun 2004;320:1103-11.
13. Qun L, Luo Q, Zhang ZY, et al. Effects of astragalus on IL-2/IL-2R system in patients with maintained hemodialysis. Clin Nephrol 1999;52:333-4.
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