When your immune system is challenged, particularly during the winter months, you become more susceptible to the colds, flu and infections. The innate immune system provides the antibodies, the complement system and leukocytes (for instance white blood cells). The innate immune system, also known as non-specific immune system and first line of defence, comprises the cells and mechanisms that defend the host from infection by other organisms in a non-specific manner. This means that the cells of the innate system recognize and respond to pathogens in a generic way, but unlike the adaptive immune system, it does not confer long-lasting or protective immunity to the host. Innate immune systems provide immediate defence against infection, and are found in all classes of plant and animal life. The white blood cells are formed in the blood marrow but are activated in the lymph glands and continually stimulated in an area of the intestines. Maintaining a healthy intestinal flora will have a significant effect on preventing and combating infections.
In simple terms, physical barriers prevent pathogens such as bacteria and viruses from entering the organism. If a pathogen breaches these barriers, the innate immune system provides an immediate, but non-specific response. If pathogens successfully evade the innate response a second layer of protection, the adaptive immune system, is activated by the innate response.
Microorganisms or toxins that successfully enter an organism encounter the cells and mechanisms of the innate immune system. The innate response is usually triggered when microbes are identified by pattern recognition receptors, which recognize components that are conserved among broad groups of microorganisms, or when damaged, injured or stressed cells send out alarm signals, many of which (but not all) are recognized by the same receptors as those that recognize pathogens. Innate immune defenses are non-specific, meaning these systems respond to pathogens in a generic way. This system does not confer long-lasting immunity against a pathogen. The innate immune system is the dominant system of host defense in most organisms.
Nutritional balances, hormones, stress, and energy levels are among the factors that influence the response of the immune systems. Primary defence includes the enzymes, mucus and acids found in the respiratory and digestive systems. As we age lower stomach acids tend to reduce that defence and also affect the proteins and enzymes absorbed to support the blood and lymph systems. Some medications also affect these defences. Most animals(except humans) can generate substantial vitamin C and during infection these levels rise. It is clear that maintaining vitamin C and zinc can support the immune system probably through their covalent interactions with enzymes. Lower levels of Vitamin D affect both general immune and auto-immune susceptibility. Lower sun exposure and ageing skin properties are common reasons for low levels of vitamin D in the older population. Beta glucans (found in the cell walls of oats) seems to reduce respiratory risks of infections. Allicin found in garlic has considerable antibacterial properties (NB most garlic supplements lose this component).
The body is first informed of an infection or pathogen when an area becomes inflamed and in order to respond rapidly to inflammation and produce anti-inflammatory compounds there is a requirement for sufficient essential fatty acids (omega 3 and omega 6).
Good immune health is dependent upon many factors, including a low sugar diet, adequate sleep and an intake of essential nutrients. There are times however, when your immune system may need a helping hand, such as during a cold or infection. About 70% of general front line immune protection is provided by an area within the intestines which reinvigorates the white blood cells and other leukocytes. If the intestines are compromised then so is our immune system. Auto-immune problems are often very sensitive to the condition of the intestinal flora. Ageing effects reduce our intake of enzymes and proteins, and Vitamins A and D are less absorbed and further compromised by low dietary levels of fatty acids.
In recent years a great number of reports have been published on the benefits to our immune system from having sufficient vitamin D and consuming enough Beta Glucans 3,6 which improve the respiratory performance in particular and risks from post-operative infection. The vast majority of the animal world generate vitamin C to protect against disease whereas humans depend on consuming foods for vitamin C. An equivalent levels for humans to that for other species would be about 3 grams per day. Common deficiencies in Zinc and Vitamin A increase the risk of viral and bacterial infections.
There are a wealth of herbs, vitamins and minerals that possess immune boosting qualities, and can help us both stay healthy and recover quicker if we do succumb to a cold or infection. Those who are susceptible to repeated infections or influenza should consider taking regularly food supplement complexes that involve Beta Glucans with other nutrients and/or herbs.