Our immune system, a true champion, is the backbone of our well-being. It tirelessly safeguards us against invaders like viruses, parasites, and bacteria, playing the role of a vigilant defender.
This remarkable shield possesses the ability to seek out and eliminate potentially harmful cells, eradicating any infected cells hosting viral DNA or bacteria. It possesses an innate intelligence to swiftly identify and expel bacteria, preventing the onset of illness.
The extraordinary might of our immune system is an intricate and captivating network, offering remarkable intelligence and resilience to keep our bodies robust and flourishing. Let's embark on a journey to explore its innate prowess.
Table of Contents
- Understanding the Immune System and its Organs
- The Intricacy of the Immune System
- Innate and Adaptive Immunity
- The Mighty Guardians: Exploring the Innate Immune System
- The Adaptive Immune System: Unleashing Targeted Defense
- Top 5 Immune-Boosting Superfoods: Natural Tonics for Optimal Health
- Success of the Immune System
- References and Studies
Understanding the Immune System and its Organs
Our remarkable immune system is intricately connected to our organs, serving as a shield against invaders. Take our skin, for example, which has a slightly acidic pH and a protective layer of oil called sebum. These defences prevent unwanted intruders from breaching its barriers.
In our gastrointestinal tract, thousands of immune cells reside, from the esophagus to the large intestine. Dendritic cells, found in the large intestine, play a vital role in detecting foreign invaders and alerting our body to trigger an immune response.
Did you know that 90% of our immune system lies just outside our gut, encased in a membrane that surrounds the intestines? This intricate system of bacteria and immune cells shields us from potentially harmful bacteria that might attempt to breach the membrane and enter our bloodstream.
The respiratory tract also plays a crucial role in our immune defence. Our nasal membranes and lungs are equipped with sticky mucus, which traps particles like pollen and dust, preventing their infiltration. This mechanism allows us to sneeze or cough them out, safeguarding our respiratory system.
Even our stomach contributes to our immune defence with its potent acid that can effectively neutralize parasites and bacteria upon contact.
Often overlooked, our spleen and thymus are organs integral to our immune system. They store and produce immune cells, also known as white blood cells or leukocytes.
Let's not forget our lymph nodes, which create and store lymphocytes, while our tonsils, located in the throat, house a collection of lymphocytes. The appendix, too, plays a role as it houses immune cells.
The Intricacy of the Immune System
As you can see, our immune system is a vast and intricate network of interconnected systems that work harmoniously to protect our health. Effective communication and coordinated immune responses rely on cytokines.
Cytokines, a family of glycoproteins, are produced by nearly all cells in our body, except red blood cells. They include familiar ones like TNF-α (tumour necrosis factor-alpha), IL-6 (interleukin 6), and IFN-γ.
These signalling proteins are released into the bloodstream and bind to specific receptor sites on target cells. This binding triggers various biological activities within the cell, such as activation, replication, or transformation into a different cell type. For instance, a B-cell matures into an immunoglobulin.
Remarkably, our immune system starts developing even before birth. Studies indicate that immune cells are present in the blood as early as 12 weeks gestation. The imprint of our mother's immune system and her dietary choices during pregnancy influences our own immune system. At birth, our plasma, which makes up most of our blood, already contains adult levels of immunoglobulin G (IgG), an essential antibody.
Support for our immune system continues through vaginal delivery and breastfeeding, providing us with our mother's antibodies and beneficial bacteria. While we are born with an intact immune system, our early life experiences and exposures further shape and enhance our immunity.
Innate and Adaptive Immunity
Our immune system comprises two main branches: innate and adaptive immunity. These branches host an array of incredible immune cells responsible for locating and eliminating invading pathogens, diligently protecting our well-being.
The Mighty Guardians: Exploring the Innate Immune System
When it comes to handling non-specific threats like bacteria, viruses, fungi, and inflammation, our innate immune system takes charge, acting as our first line of defence. It doesn't develop a specific memory of how to combat these threats.
Within this remarkable innate immune system, we encounter various vital immune cells:
Macrophages are like fearless warriors. They engulf pathogens and directly unleash toxic compounds to eliminate them. Additionally, macrophages produce cytokines, crucial chemical messengers that orchestrate an effective immune response.
Known for their prompt response, neutrophils are often the first to arrive at the scene. They contribute to the formation of pus and, like macrophages, engulf and destroy bacteria and fungi by releasing toxic chemicals.
Basophils, armed with histamine, play a role in flushing reactions such as a runny nose. They also release cytokines, signalling the need for additional immune support.
Eosinophils, similar to basophils, play a vital role in protecting against parasitic infections. They release various inflammatory mediators, helping to combat invaders.
Natural Killer (NK) Cells
Natural Killer (NK) cells possess the impressive ability to destroy virally infected cells and release cytokines, activating macrophages and dendritic cells, thereby bolstering the immune response. NK cells also exhibit early detection capabilities for cancer cells during their development.
Mast cells, involved in allergic reactions and parasite defense, release inflammatory mediators when triggered by invading allergens and pathogens.
Dendritic cells act as vigilant sentinels, detecting antigens and presenting them to other immune cells, like saying, "Hey guys, look what I caught!" They reside in our mucous membranes and gastrointestinal tract.
The innate immune response is swift, relying on the skin, mucous membranes, body temperature, pH levels, and various chemicals to combat invading threats.
The Adaptive Immune System: Unleashing Targeted Defense
Our remarkable adaptive immune system exhibits specificity and brings forth the creation of antibodies and memory cells that target and eliminate invading pathogens, as well as infected cells within our own body.
Within this intricate adaptive immune system, two key players take the stage:
Originating from our bone marrow, B-cells hold a vital role in our immune defence. Their primary task is to produce antibodies, also known as immunoglobulins (IgGs) – specialized proteins that can transform into plasma cells or memory cells.
When exposed to a foreign invader, B-cells undergo a maturation process and transform into plasma cells.
Antibodies are highly specific and specialized immune cells that follow a "lock and key" model. Each antibody attaches only to a specific antigen it is coded for. Think of antibodies as elite operatives: they have their designated targets and will only engage with those particular invading enemies.
Our body creates various immunoglobulins, each possessing unique characteristics and functions. For instance, IgE antibodies are responsible for allergic reactions, while IgA antibodies position themselves in mucous membranes, safeguarding the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts.
Plasma cells, the mature form of B-cells, are selective in recognizing their targets. Once they encounter the tagged antigen (pathogen), they trigger a chain reaction, summoning additional participants of the immune response.
B-cells are integral to our humoral immune response, as they secrete antibodies that defend against extracellular pathogens – those that have not yet infiltrated our cells.
T-cells, like B-cells, have their origins in the bone marrow but undergo maturation in a special gland called the thymus, nestled beneath our sternum, between our lungs. These versatile T-cells reside in major immune organs such as the spleen, lymph nodes, blood, and bone marrow.
T-cells possess the remarkable ability to directly attack human cells infected by viruses. Just like B-cells and antibodies, each T-cell targets a specific antigen.
While B-cells mature into antibodies upon exposure to invaders, T-cells are primed and ready with locked-in specific targets. T-cells can be further categorized into Natural Killer T-cells (NKTs), T-Helper cells, and Regulatory T-cells.
As the name suggests, NKTs carry out the task of killing infected cells. These powerful NKTs migrate to the site of infection and inject toxic chemicals into the infected cells, leading to their demise. These immune cells actively hunt down and destroy cells infected with viral DNA or bacteria that have assimilated into our own cells, such as HIV, EBV, and chickenpox.
Helper T-cells (Th cells) play a crucial role by assisting their B-cell counterparts in antibody production and supporting NKTs in their attacks.
Regulatory T-cells (Tregs) have a vital responsibility of signalling to other T-cells that the invasion has been eliminated, indicating that it's time to retreat. They ensure that the threat has been effectively neutralized.
Without regulatory cells, our immune system would continue searching for infected cells, potentially leading to autoimmune conditions or an overactive immune response, draining our energy.
T-cells are the backbone of our cell-mediated immunity, defending against infected cells, cancers, and transplanted tissues.
The innate immune response takes the lead when encountering an infection, triggering symptoms we experience during a cold or flu, such as aching bones, runny nose, congestion, coughing, sore throat, fever, and fatigue. These symptoms are indications of our immune system's activity, not the actions of the invading pathogen.
Following the innate response, the adaptive immune system kicks in to create long-lasting, memorized immunity against the invader. It's like the innate system captures the intruder, takes its mug shot, and presents it to the adaptive system, which then investigates and devises a plan to identify and efficiently eliminate the intruder from the body.
Each exposure to infection contributes to the training and enhancement of our adaptive immune system. That's why parents often encourage their children to be exposed to chickenpox and spend time outdoors—it builds their defence arsenal and can shorten the duration of potential infections.
While our body possesses an incredible and intelligent defence system, there are numerous herbs and spices that we can consume to support and enhance our immune system. This becomes crucial in today's society where stress and poor sleep are major factors that suppress our immunity.
Chronic stress depletes our energy and nutrients, shifting our body into survival mode and compromising our immune function.
Sleep plays a vital role in revitalisation, immune cell production, inflammation reduction, and detoxification processes that regulate the immune response.
Top 5 Immune-Boosting Superfoods: Natural Tonics for Optimal Health
Nature has provided us with an array of remarkable herbs that can effectively support and strengthen our immune system. Among the best immune-boosting herbs are Astragalus root, Chaga mushroom, Turkey Tail mushroom, Maitake mushrooms, and Reishi Mushroom.
These extraordinary tonics have been used for centuries and have proven their potency as adaptogens, enhancing overall immune function.
One group of compounds called β-glucans found in these adaptogens are recognized by our bodies and trigger an innate immune response, promoting the release of cytokines.
Adaptogens essentially modulate and optimize our immune response, leading to enhanced immunity.
Teelixir Astragalus root extract powder
Astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceus) contains immune-stimulating polysaccharides like astragalans 1, 2, and 3, as well as glucoronic acid. These components support both innate and specific immunity.
Studies have shown that Astragalus polysaccharides can increase the creation of T-cells, along with boosting cytokine activity within these cells.
Astragalus activates toll-like receptor pathways (TLRs), which are proteins located on the membranes of macrophages and dendritic cells. This activation enhances the body's ability to detect and mount an immune response, providing better protection.
Astragalus is also beneficial for lung health, acting as a lung tonic. It supports lung qi, maintaining the integrity of the respiratory tract and mucous membranes, thus defending against airborne pathogens.
Furthermore, Astragalus helps prevent immunosuppression often experienced during chemotherapy or when taking certain medications.
Teelixir certified organic wild chaga mushroom extract powder (Inonotus obliquus)
Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) contains betulinic acid, a triterpenoid compound that has been shown in studies to induce cell death, particularly in infected cells targeted by T-cells. Additionally, betulinic acid exhibits antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and potent antioxidant properties, making it a true immunity ally.
Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell present in our tonsils and lymph nodes, and the B-glucans in Chaga have been shown to increase their production. This mighty mushroom also supports the immune system during periods of suppression, such as during chemotherapy.
Research demonstrates that Chaga enhances immune activity by increasing the creation of immune cells, promoting the release of toxic molecules to support cell-mediated and humoral immunity. It enhances the activity of macrophages, boosts the release of cytokines, and activates signaling pathways to recruit more immune cells for combatting invaders.
Moreover, Chaga is a potent antioxidant, rich in superoxide dismutase, which scavenges free radicals and enhances our body's own antioxidant, glutathione. This helps reduce oxidative stress and further supports the immune system.
Incorporating these natural superfoods into your diet can provide a significant boost to your immune system, promoting optimal health and well-being.
Turkey Tail Mushroom
Turkey Tail mushroom (Trametes versicolor) contains polysaccharide components known as PSK (polysaccharide krestin) and PSP (polysaccharide peptide). These compounds have the remarkable ability to regenerate white blood cells and stimulate the activity of T-cells, macrophages, and NK cells.
PSP and PSK have been shown to induce cell death specifically in cancer cells while leaving normal cells unharmed. This highlights the precision and cellular intelligence of medicinal mushrooms.
Turkey Tail's high concentration of these chemicals gives it the ability to strengthen and stimulate both the innate and adaptive immune systems.
Moreover, Turkey Tail acts as a prebiotic, helping to balance the composition of our gut microbiome. Considering that 90% of our immune system resides in the gut, Turkey Tail's ability to support favorable bacteria adds another layer of immune support.
Maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa) contains beta-glucans that can enhance the production and activity of macrophages, supporting their phagocytic function.
Furthermore, Maitake boosts the production and release of NK cells and neutrophils, strengthening the innate immune system's ability to defend against bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi.
Maitake also regulates the release of cytokines such as IL-6 and IFN-γ, further supporting and enhancing the immune response while modulating inflammation and facilitating communication between the innate and adaptive immune systems.
Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is a revered tonic known for its immune-strengthening properties, stress reduction, and sleep improvement.
The immune-stimulating polysaccharides and beta-glucans in Reishi, along with bitter triterpenes called Ganoderic acids, enhance the activity of monocytes/macrophages and T-cells, supporting immune function.
Reishi can either downregulate excessive immune and inflammatory activity, which can be beneficial for individuals with autoimmune conditions, or stimulate the expression of inflammatory cytokines, thereby enhancing the immune response.
Reishi also activates B-cells and promotes the expression of various antibodies, including IgA, IgG, and IgM, supporting humoral immunity. Its polysaccharides stimulate the proliferation of spleen cells, cytokine expression, and macrophage activity. Toll-like receptors (TLRs) located on macrophage membranes help identify harmful bacteria in the bloodstream.
In the context of cancer cells, Reishi's triterpenes, Ganoderic acids, may be toxic to these cells, inhibiting their replication and inducing antibodies to aid in their destruction.
Additionally, Reishi has a beneficial effect on the body's stress response by reducing the release of stress hormones. This means that Reishi can further support the immune system by protecting and supporting the adrenals and the HPA axis.
Furthermore, Reishi acts as a calming adaptogen, soothing the nervous system and improving sleep quality while alleviating anxiety.
Incorporating these potent medicinal mushrooms into your diet can provide significant immune support while promoting overall well-being.
Success of the Immune System
The success of our immune system is crucial for our overall well-being, longevity, and the pursuit of our true purpose in life. Maintaining a balance between cell-mediated and humoral immunity is vital for the effectiveness and achievements of our immune system.
The fascinating thing about adaptogens is their ability to regulate innate, adaptive, cell-mediated, and humoral immunity. The more I delved into researching this topic, the more amazed I became by the complexity and precision of our immune system. It truly is a wondrous realm of intuitive communication and perfect equilibrium. It deserves our support and nourishment to ensure disease prevention and even the potential treatment of illnesses.
Understanding and nurturing our immune system can have a profound impact on our overall health and well-being. Let's embrace the complexity and intricacy of this remarkable defense system to promote a long and vibrant life.
Written by Eliza Hedley
Eliza is the millennial nutritionist– a health, mindset and abundance enthusiast obsessed with helping millennial's experience living at a higher level. Her relaxed new age approach and understanding of nutrition and wellness sees her empowering and coaching individuals to understand that their health is the ultimate asset. Upon experiencing first hand the power and place of tonic herbalism and medicinal mushrooms in everyday life, Eliza’s become an adaptogen fangirl and feels their utilisation in today’s world is essential for abundance and wellbeing.
References and Studies
- Winston, David & Maimes, Steven. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Inner Traditions Bear and Company
- Powell, Martin. Medicinal Mushrooms - A Clinical Guide. Mycology Press. Kindle Edition.
- Isokauppila, Tero. Healing Mushrooms. Prentice Hall Press