Your immune system comprises several different organs and structures within the body, all designed to protect you from damage and disease caused by foreign microbes. When it works properly, it can properly discern between your own healthy tissue and any invading bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. Important components of your immune system include the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, and white blood cells (both lymphocytes and leukocytes).
Unfortunately, your immune system can have trouble staying strong and protecting you from harm. Stress, poor diet, smoking, UV exposure, and not getting enough sleep can all contribute to a weakened immune system. Furthermore, as you age, your immunities tend to diminish.
The good news is that you can easily enhance your immune system with some supplements and simple lifestyle changes. Read on to learn more.
1. Boost Your Immune System With Colostrum
Colostrum is a milky fluid produced by humans, cows, and other mammals in late pregnancy and the first few days of giving birth, prior to the appearance of true milk. It is packed with all three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) along with a variety of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and antibodies). Those antibodies are responsible for fighting off bacteria, viruses, and other microbes responsible for causing disease. In fact, antibody levels in bovine colostrum have been found to be up to 100 times higher than antibody levels in regular cow’s milks and forty times higher than human colostrum.
Colostrum has been found to help promote digestive health, including healing leaky gut syndrome and improving the gut microbiome as a prebiotic. Benefits come from its diverse range of bioactive components known to help boost and balance immune functions. Some of these components include:
- Glycoproteins – Glycoproteins are proteins that have sugar attached to them. They can help to protect colostrum’s immune and growth factors from the digestive acids in the stomach and intestines.
- Cytokines – Colostrum contains several cytokines, including interferon, interleukins, and lymphokines. These chemicals play roles in antiviral and anti-tumor activities, intercellular communication, and regulation of immune responses. Cytokines have also been found to increase the production of immunoglobins and T-cell activity.
- Immunoglobulins – Immunoglobulins are antibodies that can help to neutralize bacteria, viruses, and other harmful pathogens, ultimately helping your immune system combat infections and allergies. Higher quality colostrum contains at least 25 percent immunoglobulins, including specific antibodies to fight off salmonella, E. coli, and other food-borne pathogens.
- Lactoferrin – Lactoferrin is an iron-binding protein with multiple physiological functions (anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory). Lactoferrin binds to iron, which essentially keeps that iron from bacterial pathogens that use it to multiply and spread. Lactoferrin can also destroy pathogens on contact.
2. Vitamin C
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is an essential vitamin your body cannot produce it on its own. You must rely on foods and supplements. While it plays a prominent role in the biosynthesis of collagen, L-carnitine, and various other neurotransmitters, vitamin C can also help your immune system.
Studies show that vitamin C can help to stimulate the production and function of leukocytes (better known as white blood cells), particularly lymphocytes, neutrophils, and phagocytes, which can protect cells from oxidative damage. Phagocytes have also been shown to help produce and release cytokines. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, helping to neutralize cellular damage from harmful free radicals.
Vitamin C is water-soluble, meaning that excess amounts of it are excreted via your urine and not stored. This is also why you need a constant supply of it every day. Thankfully, vitamin C is readily available in a variety of foods, both naturally and fortified. Some foods rich in vitamin C include:
- Oranges, grapefruit, and other citrus fruits
- Brussels sprouts
You can also get your vitamin C via oral supplements, but it should be noted that many supplements contain forms of vitamin C that are not well-absorbed by the body. Taking a supplement with liposomal delivery is ideal because it transports the vitamin C further down the G.I. tract so that (1) it will not upset the stomach and (2) the antioxidant capacity will not be expended before it can reach the small intestine. The result is increased bioavailability.
The recommended daily amount of vitamin C in adult women is about 75 milligrams, while adult men should take about 90 milligrams per day. Research suggests that a higher intake of vitamin C is required for optimum reduction of chronic disease risk in nonsmoking men and women. Researchers have suggested that the RDA be revised to 120 mg vitamin C per day. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, higher doses can be therapeutic and range from 200 to 1,000 mg/day.
3. Boost Your Immune System with Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin found in a few foods but is mainly produced within your body when your skin is directly exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Vitamin D is best known for its relationship with calcium, mainly helping calcium absorption in the gut and maintaining calcium concentrations in the blood to keep bones healthy and strong. Vitamin D keeps bones from becoming porous and is necessary for normal bone growth.
Along with its function in bones, vitamin D plays a large role in modulating immune responses. Prior to the discovery and use of antibiotics, vitamin D was commonly (and unknowingly) used as a treatment for infections. Lower vitamin D levels have frequently been linked to an increased rate of infection.
The best food sources of vitamin D are the flesh of fatty fish and fish liver oils, but you can find it in smaller amounts in beef liver, egg yolks, and cheese. As vitamin D is fat-soluble, it has a harder time leaving your body. Generally, the average person gets enough vitamin D from sun exposure and fortified foods.
Probiotics refer to introducing live bacteria into the microbiome (microorganisms) of your gut. Unlike disease-causing bacteria, probiotics are beneficial to your health and help your digestive system break down foods, absorb nutrients, and fight off infections. Probiotics have also been found to help support general immune functions and reduce inflammation.
While your gut generally maintains a balance between your good and bad bacteria, certain environmental factors, like antibiotics, can cause an imbalance, heavily reducing the amount of probiotics in your system. Thankfully, probiotics can easily be found in a variety of foods, mainly those that have been fermented with live bacteria. Common probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
5. Lastly, Stop Smoking
Cigarettes have long been known to contribute to heart disease, stomach problems, and various forms of cancer, so it’s not a surprise to learn that smoking can also weaken your immune system. The tar and other chemicals in cigarettes can keep your immune system from effectively fighting off infections, making it easier for you to get sick. Nicotine also causes your blood vessels to constrict, making it harder for oxygen, vitamins, and nutrients to reach parts of your body, which makes it harder for wounds to heal.
Along with these health-boosting tips, make sure that you exercise regularly and maintain a diverse diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables to fuel your immune system.