You’ve no doubt heard a lot about the immune system, and while you know it’s important, you might not be sure exactly what it is or what you can do to strengthen it. Here’s some information to answer both of those questions. You can boost your immune system with these at-home remedies.

But first, let’s discuss the immune system in general.

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What It Is

In a nutshell, it is comprised of proteins, organs and cells. Its purpose is to protect the body from harmful invaders, such as bacteria and viruses, by neutralizing them and then removing them. It also helps protect the body when its own cells undergo transformations due to a health issue.1 Immune system cells circulate throughout the bloodstream as well as the lymphatic system.

You don’t even know it when your immune system is working the way it should, and that’s a good thing. If you did notice it, you’d probably be doing so because of the wrong reason – you’re sick. When something compromises this critical system that can lead to serious problems, such as infections as well as diseases and allergies.

In order for the immune system to do its job, it has to be able to tell the difference between our own cells and cells that are present due to some sort of invading substance or organism. These are known as antigens, and they comprise many harmful proteins found in the surface of pathogens such as viruses, bacteria and fungi. When the immune system detects these cells, it relies on its “memory” in order to defend the body. But it’s critical that the immune system doesn’t mistake harmful cells for our own cells, which also have surface proteins. If it does, that is what is referred to as an “autoimmune” disorder.

The immune system is really impressive, because it always has to adapt so it can fight pathogens that also change over time. The immune system is divided into two parts. One is known as the “innate” immune system, and it provides general defense against harmful invaders. The “adaptive” portion of the immune system hones in on certain pathogens that the body has previously encountered. These two parts work together to fight pathogens and substances that mean us harm.2

How to Strengthen It

There are a lot of products you can easily find in your local grocery or health food store that can strengthen your immune system to help protect you from health issues. Here are just a few of them.

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· Elderberry – The elderberry plant has been used for thousands of years for its medicinal properties. Hippocrates was one of the first to realize its potential in helping to fight problems such as inflammation, the flu, colds, and others. According to one study, participants were given elderberry extract within two days of starting to develop symptoms associated with the flu. Their recovery time was an average of four days faster than other participants who were given a placebo.3

· Probiotics – These are products designed to increase the number of beneficial bacteria in the body, helping to offset the effects of harmful bacteria. One of the conditions probiotics are designed to address is known as “leaky gut,” which has been associated with autoimmune disorders and a weakened immune system. Leaky gut is a condition where the lining of the intestine becomes porous, allowing food molecules and toxins to enter the bloodstream instead of being transported from the body in the form of waste. Probiotics fortify the body with beneficial bacteria that help improve digestion, reducing the effects of leaky gut.4

· Ginger – Ginger is another substance that has been renowned for its medicinal qualities for thousands of years. One of its many benefits is helping to strengthen the immune system. It is not only known to attack harmful microbes, it can also reduce inflammation.5

· Vitamin D – Vitamin D, according to studies, is essential to helping reduce the risk of infections due to its ability to enhance the functioning of both the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system.6 One particular study that involved nearly 900 participants showed that those with a vitamin D deficiency were more susceptible to infections of the upper respiratory tract than those who have normal levels.7

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· Oregano – The spice that helps give spaghetti a kick can also help kick-start your immune system. It contains several compounds, namely thymol and carvacrol, that fight viruses, fungi, and parasites.8 Research also shows that oregano oil can inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria.9

· Ginseng – This is yet another plant that has long been known to help the body’s immune system and its ability to fight infections. Scientists believe it does so by helping to regulate different types of immune system cells and also through anti-microbial properties that help protect the body against viruses and harmful bacteria.10

 

Other Ways to Boost Your Immune System Naturally

In addition to taking probiotics and including the above components into your diet, you should also take a close look at what you eat in general. Over-consumption of certain foods, such as those high in carbohydrates and fat, can have a negative effect on your body’s ability to stave off infections. Maintaining a balanced diet and easing off of processed foods will not only help your overall health, but it will also help your immune system.

In addition, you already know that you need to get a good night’s sleep in order to feel your best and stay mentally sharp, but doing so could also help strengthen your immune system. Sleep is a great time for the body to produce the white blood cells needed in order for it to do its job.

But if you are considering any changes to your diet in order to boost your immune system, talk to a doctor first. This is especially the case if you are planning to take any sort of supplement, because there is a chance it could interact negatively with certain medications. Stay on the safe side and make sure you won’t run the risk of suffering any adverse effects.

Sources:

1. “How Does The Immune System Work?”. PubMed Health. N.p., 2016. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

2. Charles A Janeway, Jr et al. “The Components Of The Immune System”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

3. Zakay-Rones Z, et al. “Randomized Study Of The Efficacy And Safety Of Oral Elderberry Extract In The Treatment Of Influenza A And B Virus Infections. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2004. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

4. NP, Ashraf. “Immune System Stimulation By Probiotic Microorganisms. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2014. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

5. Nafiseh Shokri Mashhadi, Mohammad Reza Mofid. “Anti-Oxidative And Anti-Inflammatory Effects Of Ginger In Health And Physical Activity: Review Of Current Evidence”. PubMed Central (PMC). N.p., 2013. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

6. Aranow, Cynthia. “Vitamin D And The Immune System”. PubMed Central (PMC). N.p., 2011. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

7. Ginde, Adit A., Jonathan M. Mansbach, and Carlos A. Camargo. “Association Between Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Level And Upper Respiratory Tract Infection In The Third National Health And Nutrition Examination Survey”. N.p., 2008. Print.

8. Rodriguez-Garcia I, et al. “Oregano Essential Oil As An Antimicrobial And Antioxidant Additive In Food Products. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2016. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

9. P, Saeed. “Antibacterial Activity Of Oregano (Origanum Vulgare Linn.) Against Gram Positive Bacteria. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2009. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

10. Kang, Soo-Won, and Hye-Young Min. “Ginseng, The ‘Immunity Boost’: The Effects Of Panax Ginseng On Immune System”. N.p., 2012. Print.