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  • Writer's picturejuliakimd

Building a healthy immune system

We are all genetically predisposed to certain health conditions, and there are certain things we cannot change, such as our age and sex, which affect whether or not we are more susceptible to certain diseases, or more robust in fighting things off. Of paramount importance to good immunity is our nutritional status and lifestyle choices, as well as the amount of stress we are under, from whatever source.

Parts of the immune system

The tonsils are one of the first parts of the immune system that pick up foreign invaders, and send out a message to white blood cells to start preparing to fight the foreign pathogen (bacteria or virus).

White blood cells are the warriors in our blood who fight the invaders head on. They are made in the bone marrow but mature in the thymus gland, where they are taught how to respond to the foreign invaders, much like going to school to learn. However, our thymus gland decreases in size from when we reach puberty until when we are elderly, and is slowly replaced by fatty tissue over time. This is why exposure to bacteria and viruses during our childhood is of paramount importance, so that our ‘white blood cell school’ can recognise and teach our white blood cells the right way to fight disease for the rest of our lives.

Our lymphatic system is crucial to the immune system and runs adjacent to every blood vessel, even the tiniest blood capillaries. The lymphatic capillaries contain lymph, a clear liquid for transporting blood cells and other substances to fight infection, and even produce antibodies, as well as to assist with detoxification, which is removal of the dead bad pathogens as well as dead good warriors who lost their lives in the 'war', and also other debris in the form of metabolites that form during the process of destruction. It is very much like a war!

How to build it up

A healthy diet is critical to maintaining health and keeping disease at bay. Make sure you get plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, but don't always get the same fruits and veggies. You need to ensure that you rotate them - eating seasonal food is good, but eating the same things will mean you only get the vitamins and minerals in those foods rather than the array that nature has to offer. Always eat the rainbow, that is, eat the reds, oranges, purples, whites, yellows and greens of as many different fruits and vegetables as possible. Eating the suggested 5 a day is well and good, but this should be the minimum. It should be 1 cup full, more if possible.

Making smoothies containing vegetables, nuts, protein and fruits are a great way to increase intake of nutrients. Add oats, seeds and protein powders, and even a dash of herbal tea can help increase nutrient density.

A healthy gut wall lining is also imperative - 70% of the immune system lies in the gut below the 1-3mm thick lining, and if your gut wall is compromised, so is your immune function and response. If your gut wall is permeable - meaning that it lets substances through to the blood stream and immune system just below - then you will get an immune response, and not a proper/good one!

Additionally, the microbiome live on your gut lining, and without a diverse microbiome, there is a poor immune response. The microbiome feed on the diverse array of colourful fruits and vegetables that you eat, so this is also why it is crucial to do this.

Supplements can help, such as vitamins A, C, D, and a good vitamin B-complex, as well as zinc and iron. Probiotics can be included to assist the immune system, but also make sure you eat prebiotic foods, too, which is the rainbow of colours in fruits and vegetables. Cutting out sugar is also really important, because sugar feeds bacteria, and not the good kind of bacteria!

Keep alcohol intake moderate as it depletes zinc, vitamin B's, and most minerals and vitamins, making the body much less equipped to deal with infections or disease.

Exercise is also important to keep lymph flowing around the lymphatic system. Just like exercise improves blood flow around the body, the lymphatic capillaries also need the lymph to have good circulation. Stagnant lymph can also cause a poor functioning immune system, and although lymphatic drainage massages are good for this reason, making sure you get adequate exercise is just as good. In addition, exercise increases endorphins and improves mental health, and a healthy state of mind is something that definitely keeps you healthy on all levels.

Herbs are amazingly underrated for immune support. They can improve immune function, and help regulate the immune response – some herbs increase immune function, whereas some suppress it. The latter are useful for those who have over-active immune systems, as we see in autoimmune conditions. Often there are a few other actions in one herb which cover the immune system and the associated symptoms with a certain condition, which might require a different action. For example, echinacea is an excellent immune herb that also happens to have an anti-microbial action, which will help to clear the bacteria or viruses. This is but one example - there are too many to name here!

If you get sick often or have recurrent bouts of illness, or if you would like to learn more how to boost your immune system, please contact me!

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