Immune System Supplements – How To Boost Your Immune System With Supplements, Especially Against Coronavirus
Table of Contents:
1. What is ‘immune system’?
2. What are signs of a weak immune system?
3. Supplements and vitamins to boost the immune system
4. Other healthy ways to strengthen your immune system
5. The immune system’s role in fighting coronavirus or COVID-19
Have you ever glanced at your absent colleague’s workstation and wondered why the person is often on sick leave? Ever wondered why some parents’ children are often catching the flu or falling sick? There is a logical reason for this, and it is linked to our body’s immune system.
Supplements are linked to the immune system as well. Being a complex and extensive system, we need to choose the right immune system supplements for the best outcomes.
We must also take note of supplement dosage recommendations and the dosing intervals to prevent any unwanted effects. Supplements can be in the form of a whole food, liquid, capsule or pill.
What is ‘immune system’?
Our immune system can be described in varied ways. Some call it ‘a multi-level defence network against potentially harmful bacteria, viruses and other organisms’. Others, ‘a balanced network of cells and organs that work together to defend you against disease [by stopping] threats like bacteria or viruses from getting into your body’.
In essence, the immune system is our body’s best natural defence mechanism. It defends against bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms (pathogens) that can cause diseases. It consists of special organs, cells and chemicals that fight infection (microbes).
The main parts of this system which actively fight infection are: the white blood cells, antibodies, complement system, lymphatic system, spleen, thymus and bone marrow. The spleen produces the antibodies, while the bone marrow produces the white blood cells.
White blood cells course through our body, constantly on the lookout for foreign invaders (microbes). When an infection occurs, the cells find and destroy the microbes by launching an immune attack. This essentially stops the microbes from multiplying and making you ill.
This intricate process of defending the body involves antibodies. What the antibodies do is recognise substances (antigens) on the surface of microbes, or in the chemicals they produce, and mark the microbes as being foreign.
The antibodies then mark these antigens for destruction. Many cells, proteins and chemicals are involved in this immune attack.
The immune system remembers every microbe it has defeated. Therefore, it can recognise and destroy the same microbe if it invades the body again.
We can support and boost this vital defence mechanism with supplements and vitamins. There are ways to maintain our immune system at its optimum level and to detect if ours is weak, or weakened.
Ensuring that our immune system remains healthy is paramount, especially now with the rapid spread of the potentially deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
What are signs of a weak immune system?
Generally, our body’s age, the environment and our lifestyle all impact on our immune system. There are clear warning signs of a weak, or weakened, immune system that we can look out for.
1. Susceptibility to infections, i.e. being at a higher risk of experiencing frequent infections.
As our body ages, this may also weaken our immune system, thus making us more prone to illness. This is why the elderly are more vulnerable to sickness.
In some cases, the illness may be more severe and/or harder to treat (blood disorders, e.g. anaemia; inflammation of internal organs, e.g. pneumonia, bronchitis and meningitis; and skin disorders). This complicates our recovery.
2. Digestive issues
Our environment and lifestyle also affect our immune system in more ways than we realise. We may be highly stressed due to a stressful work, study or home environment and suffer from digestive issues.
We might constantly feel tired and fall sick due to a poor diet or sedentary lifestyle; the list goes on.
Supplements and vitamins to boost the immune system
The consequences of a compromised immune system can range from mild to severe. If our immune system is weak or slightly compromised, we might often catch a flu (but still recover). However, if our immune system is severely compromised, the flu may end up becoming life-threatening.
Thus, we simply cannot afford to take our immune system for granted. How can we boost our immune system? Simple; one way is to take supplements and vitamins, wisely.
There are various supplements to boost our immune system, but the few main ones are:
- Probiotics: These keep our digestive tract healthy by maintaining the good bacteria in our gut. Thus, they enhance digestion, reduces cholesterol levels and improves immunity.
Studies discovered that probiotics provide therapeutic benefits against diseases, such as viral infections, eczema and allergies. Natural sources of probiotics include fermented food (yoghurt, cultured milk drinks, kimchi).
- Zinc: Zinc has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits which are important for immunity. It also boosts white blood cells in the body which fight pathogens. Zinc supplements may also help to fight off viral-induced respiratory infections.
Natural sources of zinc are nuts (peanuts, pecans), beans (baked beans), meat (beef, pork), fish and other seafood (crab, lobster, oysters), and dairy products.
- Elderberry: Elderberry contains anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting benefits. It helps to modulate immune function in the body, reduce the duration and severity of respiratory illness and fight viral infections. Elderberry syrup—a common supplement—helps to fight flus, colds and bacterial sinus infections, and promote recovery.
- Turmeric: This yellowish root has an active compound (curcumin) which reduces inflammation, boosts antibody responses and modulates immune function in the body. Turmeric powder can be added to cooking, but a more potent source of its immune-boosting benefits is turmeric supplements.
- Garlic: Another immune-boosting food, it can be added to food or taken as a supplement. Garlic contains antiviral benefits that may decrease the severity of symptoms in flus and colds. It enhances antibody production in the immune system. It also assists the body in clearing out viruses and other infected cells (by supporting the process of phagocytosis).
The most common vitamins touted as the best immune system support supplements include:
- Vitamin A: It supports two immune functions in the body: humoral immunity and cellular immunity. Humoral immunity is the effective response to antigens that are stimulated by antibodies in the immune system. Cellular immunity is the release of small proteins—called cytokines—that fight pathogens).
Commonly known for its benefits to eyesight, few people realise how significant vitamin A is for cellular immune responses—involving the structure and proper signalling of certain immune cells. Vitamin A also helps in the production of white blood cells. Carrots, spinach, broccoli, dairy products, eggs and cod liver oil are rich sources of vitamin A.
- Vitamins C and E: They are effective antioxidants that help to destroy free radicals and boost immunity. Like the elderberry, vitamin C can reduce the duration and severity of symptoms; in this case, for colds. A diet lacking in vitamin C may result in a weak immune system. Both vitamins C and E help white blood cells to regenerate and work efficiently.
Vitamin C is available in many fruits and vegetables, especially citruses, guava, kiwi, parsley and bell peppers. Vitamin E can be found in various nuts (peanuts, walnuts, almonds), spinach, broccoli and sunflower oil.
- Vitamin B6 (B complex vitamin): It is an important nutrient for strong immune system defence, especially as we age. It boosts white blood cells in the body, thus plays a key role in fighting pathogens.
Vitamin B6 also prevents heart disease and hormonal imbalances, among other benefits. Chicken, salmon, tuna, liver, eggs, fortified cereals and multivitamins are rich sources of vitamin B6.
- Vitamin D: Known for its crucial role in calcium management and bone density, it is also essential in preventing the risk of autoimmunity and susceptibility to infections. Autoimmunity is a condition where the immune system mistakenly targets healthy cells, instead of pathogens.
Vitamin D also acts as a receptor for immune cells to assist with cell signalling. This helps the immune system to communicate effectively during an infection. Salmon, tuna, sardine, egg yolk, fortified cereals and plant-based milk, and fish oil capsules all contain vitamin D.
Other healthy ways to strengthen your immune system
Certain dietary and lifestyle changes can complement our efforts to boost our immune system naturally, besides taking the right supplements and vitamins.
1. Eat healthily
Eating the right food contributes to a healthy immune system. Apart from consuming foods that are rich in the recommended vitamins and minerals, we could also eat more healthy fats. These include omega-3 fatty acids, found in chia seeds and fatty fish (salmon), and olive oil.
Omega-3 fatty acids enhance cellular membrane health, which increases its optimal structure and function in our immune system. They also serve as signaling molecules (omega-3 fatty acids help in the production of cytokines that fight pathogens).
The anti-inflammation benefits of both healthy fats help the body to fight harmful bacteria and viruses. Thus, consume these healthy fats adequately to maximise their immune-boosting properties.
2. Drink enough water
Staying hydrated is essential, as the aim is to prevent dehydration. Dehydration causes other health complications—among others, hindered heart and kidney functions, physical performance and digestion, affected mood and concentration, and headaches.
These complications, in turn, may increase the susceptibility to illness. So, snack on hydrating foods, e.g. watermelon and cucumber. Drink adequate amounts of water; moreover, water is free of sugar, calories and additives.
On the contrary, beverages containing caffeine, high sugar contents, and alcohol should be kept to a minimum. Too much caffeine causes dehydration, and a high sugar intake increases the risk of diabetes. Meanwhile, excessive alcohol leads to respiratory infections and impaired immune responses.
3. Rest and relaxation
Similarly, sleep deprivation and lack of exercise may also increase the susceptibility to illness. Therefore, getting enough rest and sleep, and keeping active with moderate exercise are highly recommended to strengthen natural immunity.
Moderate exercise includes brisk walking, light hiking, jogging, cycling and swimming. It not only reduces inflammation, but also helps immune cells regenerate regularly.
Managing our stress levels can definitely help to keep our immune system functioning properly. Prolonged and chronic stress levels can trigger inflammation and imbalances in immune cell function.
They may also suppress our immune system which makes it ineffective. Alleviate those stress levels using suitable calming activities, be it meditation, gardening, yoga, or listening to a podcast.
The immune system’s role in fighting coronavirus or COVID-19
Being the body’s first defence mechanism against pathogens, our immune system works hard to repel possible infections and diseases. It protects our body against germs that we are exposed to through coming into contact with contaminated surfaces, or inhaling or ingesting these germs.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) is more than just a respiratory illness. Science has unearthed findings that the virus not only affects the lungs, but also impairs other vital organs (the heart, circulatory system and kidneys). The virus also harms immune response by depleting virus-fighting T cells in parts of the body, as discovered in severely ill COVID-19 patients.
Supplements that can boost the thymus glands—the source of new T cells—could remedy this situation. This will then enable COVID-19 patients to generate new T cells faster than the virus can destroy them, especially patients over age 40 whose thymus glands no longer function as effectively.
The immune system is the cornerstone of prevention of infections and recovery. We need to actively safeguard our immune system to enable it to continue keeping us safe and healthy. This is inevitable in the wake of such grim COVID-19 discoveries and the constant reports of new cases and deaths globally.
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