Your immune system consists of several different organs and structures within the body, all designed to protect you. When it works properly, the immune system can adequately discern between your own healthy tissue and any negative elements. Important components of your immune system include the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, and white blood cells (both lymphocytes and leukocytes).
Unfortunately, the immune system can sometimes have trouble staying strong, particularly if your lifestyle habits are sub-optimal. Stress, poor diet, smoking, UV exposure, and not getting enough sleep can all contribute to immune system stressors. Furthermore, as you age, your immune system’s ability to keep you healthy tends to decline.
Some ideas to promote your immune health and healthy aging:
Colostrum is the 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 and minerals).
Colostrum is also used as a nutritional supplement for balancing and enhancing digestive health. It does so by addressing the factors contributing to intestinal permeability and by acting as a prebiotic to feed the beneficial gut bacteria. The potential benefits of bovine colostrum come from its diverse range of bioactive components known to help promote a healthy immune function. Some of the most prominent components include:
- Glycoproteins – Glycoproteins are proteins bound to sugars.
- Cytokines – Colostrum contains several cytokines, including interferon, interleukins, and lymphokines. These compounds play roles in intercellular communication and the regulation of immune responses.
- Immunoglobulins – Immunoglobulins can help support your healthy immune system. High-quality colostrum is composed of at least 25 percent immunoglobulins.
- Lactoferrin – Lactoferrin is an iron-binding protein with multiple physiological properties.
2. Vitamin C
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is an essential vitamin that your body cannot produce on its own, which means that it must come from foods and supplements. While it plays a prominent role in the biosynthesis of collagen, L-carnitine, and various neurotransmitters, vitamin C is also an active component in a healthy immune system.
Studies show that vitamin C can help stimulate the production and function of leukocytes (white blood cells), particularly lymphocytes, neutrophils, and phagocytes, which can support cells. 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, so any excess amounts consumed are excreted via urination and not stored in the body’s tissues. This is also why you need a constant supply of it every day. Fortunately, 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 better absorption and increased bioavailability.
The recommended daily amount of vitamin C in adult women is about 75 milligrams, and about 90 milligrams per day for adult men. Research suggests that a higher intake of vitamin C is required for optimum reduction of health 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. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin found in a few foods but is mainly produced by the body when your skin is directly exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Vitamin D is best known for its synergistic relationship with calcium; it promotes calcium absorption in the gut and helps maintain 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. Lower vitamin D levels have frequently been linked to an increased rate of susceptibility to health concerns.
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. Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, it has a harder time leaving your body and is stored for later use. Generally, the average person gets enough vitamin D from sun exposure and fortified foods. However, like vitamin C, it has been suggested that a daily D3 regimen can promote good health.
Probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich foods introduce live bacteria into the microbiome (a community of microorganisms) of your gut. Probiotics are beneficial to your health and help the digestive system break down foods and absorb nutrients. Probiotics have also been found to potentially help support general immune functions and promote a healthy inflammatory response.
While your gut generally maintains a balance between good and bad bacteria, certain environmental factors can reduce the number of probiotics in your system and cause an imbalance. The good news is that probiotics can be found in a variety of foods, mainly those that have been fermented or cultured with live bacteria. Common probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
5. 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 hinder your immune system making it easier for you to get sick. Nicotine also causes blood vessels to constrict, making it harder for oxygen, vitamins, and nutrients to reach parts of your body, which in turn, makes it more difficult for wounds to heal.
6. Manage Stress
While temporary stress is fine (and in some cases good for you), ongoing research suggests that prolonged stress actually has a profound impact on your immune system. Studies show that prolonged stress is often associated with suppression of both cellular immunity and humoral immunity, contributing to an inhibited immune response. While the exact mechanisms still require further research, hypotheses suggest that stress may alter patterns of cytokine secretion.
To counteract these effects, find constructive and healthy ways of managing and reducing your stress. This includes exercise, hobbies, meditation, breathing exercises, and consulting a counselor or therapist.
Along with these tips for optimizing health, make sure that you exercise regularly and maintain a diverse and balanced diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables to fuel your immune system.