School has started, and I know a number of my friends and family’s kids have already started to get sick - and because sharing is caring - it’s only a matter of time before everyone starts having symptoms. In this blog, I will be talking about 3 things that you can implement to Boost your Immune System, but first, let’s talk about the immune system.
Everyone talks about the immune system, but how does it work? The immune system is split up into 2 different parts: the Innate and Adaptive Immune System. The Innate System is the system that fights the infection first, it is the faster part of the immune system. It is made up of physical barriers (eg. skin, and GI tract, etc), defence mechanisms (eg. mucous, bile, gastric acid, sweat, etc), and a general immune response (eg. inflammation, complement system (where the pathogen is marked and then punches are holes into their membrane to kill the pathogen), and non-specific cellular responses). The Innate System is non-specific, and is the general response to foreign bodies (the “not you”) markers. It has a number of different types of white blood cells working for it (eg. macrophages, phagocytes, NK cells, etc.) (Khan Academy). The Adaptive Immune System, on the other hand, has fewer cells working for it, these cells would be the B and T cells, and it works with antibodies and cytotoxic cells. This response is slower to respond to a pathogen, and is more specific because your body builds up memories of a past pathogen and can create defence specifically for that pathogen - this is the system vaccines use to create immunity (Khan Academy).
I love medicinal mushrooms. They’re are absolutely amazing, and are able to regulate the immune system through their high concentrations of beta-glucan. Beta-glucan is able to work with the immune system and enhancing the immune cells that kill microbes, and clean up the dead cells (Akramiene D, et al). Mushrooms work on the immune system depending on what it needs - making it immunomodulating. Also, the way the mushroom is extracted can affect the way it interacts with your immune system. Alcohol extraction of a mushroom inhibits cytotoxicity. This means that it decreases the amount of toxins released in your body. Alcohol extraction can also affect the number of receptors on a cell surface. While water extraction enhances NK cell cytotoxic activity - NK cells are the cells that act like assassins, and are able to distinguish which cells have been sabotaged (by a virus or becoming a cancer cell), and kill them via apoptosis. Water extraction also stimulates the expression and production of cytolytic proteins, which allows it to kill cells by “cutting them" (Lu C, et al; Journal of Hematology & Oncology). These mechanisms allow mushrooms to support your immune system and help them fight pathogens more effectively and efficiently, to decrease the chances of getting sick or decrease the duration of the illness.
Vitamin C is known for its immune-supportive abilities, especially since several immune cells need it to function. It supports the external barrier that we all have (our skin), by protecting us from environmental stress by acting as an antioxidants (Ströhle A, et al). When taking vitamin C, it can be interesting to see what your bowel tolerance is. Bowel tolerance is the dose needed to make you have looser stools or diarrhea, because taking too much vitamin C can cause diarrhea. This is interesting to know because when you are sick (Ströhle A, et al), your bowel tolerance increases. This is amazing, since your immune cells sequester vitamin C when you are sick, and it is able to utilize it more because they are working harder, and need more of it (Carr AC, et al). Taking vitamin C as a preventative measure, and in conjunction with treatment(s) can help support your immune system during times where several people around you are getting sick.
Astragalus is one of my favourite herbs when it comes to immune system health. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is seen to be able to defend the Wei Qi (the defensive barrier around us), and as a result, prevent anything from coming into your body to cause illness. However, saying that, if you do get sick, it also doesn’t let anything back out, and as a result, you should stop taking Astragalus when you are sick. As a herb, Astragalus has immunomodulating, immune boosting, and anti-inflammatory effects - though the mechanism is unclear (Qi Y, et al; Guo Z, et al). It is able to modulate the immune system systemically and through the GI tract - where 70-80~% of the immune system is (Lim JD, et al). It’s long history and use in Asia, and recent and ongoing studies make it a very promising herb that you can implement easily into your daily routine for this cold and flu season as a preventative tonic.
For more tips on how to maintain and promote a healthy immune system, check out Back to School - Strengthening Your Little One’s Immune System.
~ Dr. Charmagne