On a daily basis, we are constantly exposed to potentially harmful microbes of all sorts. Our immune system, a network of intricate stages and pathways in the body, protects us against them as well as against certain diseases. It recognizes foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other pathogens and takes immediate action, like in this video, where a white blood cell chases bacteria.
But as good as it may be, it is not perfect. Sometimes, this group of special cells, tissues, and organs doesn’t act the way it should.
If the immune system becomes weak, we are more at risk of various illnesses, including certain serious illnesses. So, it is important to recognize when it happens to provide help and support in a timely manner.
What are the signs of a weak immune system?
The general signs of a weak immune system include:
- Constant feeling of tiredness
- You easily catch colds and coughs
- Frequent tummy aches and diarrhea
- Stress level is sky-high
- Poor wound healing
- Frequent cold sores around the lips
- Frequent infections
- Sudden high fevers
- Muscle and joint aches
- Skin breakouts, boils, eczema
- Always on medication for one illness or the other
Signs of compromised immunity: frequent illness and slow recovery.
What is the difference between a weak immune system vs. being sick?
Can we separate the meaning of these two? Not entirely.
Many people walk around with weak immunity but do not feel sick. They feel constantly tired, and a quick nap usually brings relief. Then, there is that headache that occasionally springs up and goes away temporarily with a dose of paracetamol. Usually, many people do not ascribe being sick to these nagging symptoms, and most would ignore them as pointers to a weak immune system.
In fact, being sick is an expression of a weakened immune system that was unable to withstand the attack of an offending organism such as viruses, bacteria, or parasites.
What causes the weakening of the immune system?
The immune system may be weakened due to various factors affecting our life and our body.
- Older age: As we age, our internal organs may become less efficient, including immune-related. Organs like the thymus or bone marrow produce less immune cells needed to fight off infections. Aging is sometimes associated with micronutrient deficiencies, which may worsen a declining immune function.
- Environmental toxins (smoke and other particles contributing to air pollution, excessive alcohol): These substances can impair or suppress the normal activity of immune cells.
- Excess weight: Obesity is associated with low-grade chronic inflammation. Research is early, but obesity has also been identified as an independent risk factor for the influenza virus.
- Poor diet: Malnutrition or a diet lacking in one or more nutrients can impair the production and activity of immune cells and antibodies.
- Chronic diseases: Autoimmune and immunodeficiency disorders attack and potentially disable immune cells.
- Chronic mental stress: Stress releases hormones like cortisol that suppress inflammation (inflammation is initially needed to activate immune cells) and the action of white blood cells.
- Lack of sleep and rest: Sleep is a time of restoration for the body, during which a type of cytokine is released that fights infection; too little sleep lowers the amount of these cytokines and other immune cells.
How to determine that the immune system is weak?
A blood test can determine how well an immune system is functioning by looking at levels of immunoglobulins. Immunoglobulins are also called antibodies. When you are exposed to germs, your body makes unique antibodies that are specifically designed to destroy only those germs. The test will also compare your levels of white blood cells and red blood cells.
If you have any signs of weakened immunity, talk to your doctor, who can order such a test for you to detect any possible weakness in your immune system.
Other tests done for immune system disorders can include skin tests, biopsies, and prenatal/DNA tests:
- Skin tests are done to check for a reaction to a protein administered under the subcutaneous layer of the skin. A positive reaction of redness, inflammation, and warmth shows that T cells, one of the important white blood cells of the immune system, are working and the immune system is functioning correctly. A negative reaction, or no change in the skin, shows that there may be an issue with the immune system and T cell function.
- Biopsies take a tissue sample from the desired body part, usually lymph nodes, bone marrow, or lungs, to see if certain immune cells are present. A lack of immune cells could mean that an immune system disorder is present.
- Prenatal /DNA tests are done to confirm specific disorders. Since disorders are congenital or acquired, parents who have had previous children with immune system disorders can be tested in future pregnancies. Samples are taken from amniotic fluid, blood, or tissue from the placenta.
What can you do for your immune system?
Many products on store shelves claim to boost or support immunity. But the concept of boosting immunity actually makes little sense scientifically. In fact, boosting the number of cells in your body — immune cells or others — is not necessarily a good thing. For example, athletes who engage in “blood doping” — pumping blood into their systems to boost their number of blood cells and enhance their performance — run the risk of strokes.
Attempting to boost the cells of your immune system is especially complicated because there are so many different kinds of cells in the immune system that respond to so many different microbes in so many ways. Which cells should you boost, and to what number? So far, scientists do not know the answer.
What is known is that the body is continually generating immune cells. Certainly, it produces many more of them than it can possibly use. The extra cells remove themselves through a natural process of cell death called apoptosis — some before they see any action, some after the battle is won. No one knows how many cells or what the best mix of cells the immune system needs to function at its optimum level.
The immune system is precisely that — a system, not a single entity. To function well, it requires balance and harmony. There is still much that researchers do not know about the intricacies and interconnectedness of the immune response. For now, there are no scientifically proven direct links between lifestyle and enhanced immune function.
Researchers are exploring the effects of diet, exercise, age, psychological stress, and other factors on the immune response, both in animals and in humans. In the meantime, general healthy-living strategies make sense since they likely help immune function and they come with other proven health benefits.
While there is no magic “healthy pill,” there are tried-and-true ways to take your immunity superpowers up a notch.
Start with the basics: Wash your hands for 20 seconds, don’t touch your face, and take social distancing seriously when around anyone who seems sick. Only by doing these three things will you be well on your way to staying healthy.
Staying up-to-date on recommended vaccines, regular exercise, proper hydration, plenty of sleep, and minimal stress, if possible, will help you to build and maintain a strong, healthy immune system. And…
Do not forget that our immune system needs good, regular nourishment through a healthy diet and supplementation.
It would be awesome if one could boost their immunity overnight, but it takes almost 5 to 10 days for a healthy body to form antibodies against an invading organism. It can take even longer if your body’s system is not strong or kept strong in the first place. So… Take action immediately!
What supplements are good for immunity?
During the flu season or times of illness, people often seek special foods or vitamin supplements that are believed to boost immunity. Many dietary supplements claim to “support immunity” or otherwise boost the health of your immune system. How true is it?
Although some supplements have been found to alter some components of immune function, so far, there is no evidence that they actually provide protection against infection and disease. Demonstrating whether a herb — or any substance, for that matter — can enhance immunity is a highly complicated matter. Scientists don’t know, for example, whether an herb that seems to raise the levels of antibodies in the blood is actually doing anything beneficial for overall immunity.
As we mentioned above, boosting the number of cells in the body – whether they are immune cells or otherwise – is not necessarily a good thing. We do not want to ‘boost’ our immune system. An overactive immune system is not healthy (see information on signs of a compromised immune system below).
What we want is to support our immune system and to keep it working optimally.
Ideally, we should obtain optimal amounts of these micronutrients through a well-balanced diet — but this can be difficult to achieve.
Many people worldwide have nutrient deficiencies. In the United States, nearly
By performing a simple blood test, your doctor can help you to determine what kind of deficiency you have and help to choose the proper treatment. Please note that, unlike medications, supplements are not regulated or approved by the FDA.
Since experts believe that your body absorbs vitamins more efficiently from dietary sources, rather than supplements, the best way to support your immune system is to eat a well-balanced diet. (Are You Getting Enough Vitamins in Your Diet?)
What food supports the immune system?
As with most things in your body, a healthy diet is a key to a strong immune system. Eating enough nutrients as part of your diet is required for the healthy function of all cells, including immune cells. Certain dietary patterns may better prepare the body for microbial attacks and excess inflammation, but it is unlikely that individual foods offer special protection.
The immunity-boosting foods, or should we say immunity-supporting foods, are those that feed and support our microbiome (our gut) and nourish our bodies with the vitamins and minerals listed above. It should also be rich in polyphenols, a category of plant compounds that offers various health benefits.
Scientists are finding that the microbiome, an internal metropolis of trillions of microorganisms or microbes that live in our bodies, plays a key role in immune function. The gut is a major site of immune activity and the production of antimicrobial proteins.
The diet plays a large role in determining what kinds of microbes live in our intestines. A high-fiber plant-rich diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes appears to support the growth and maintenance of beneficial microbes. Certain helpful microbes break down fibers into fatty acids, which have been shown to stimulate immune cell activity.
These fibers are sometimes called prebiotics because they feed microbes. Probiotic foods contain live helpful bacteria, and prebiotic foods contain fiber and oligosaccharides that feed and maintain healthy colonies of those bacteria. Therefore, a diet containing probiotic and prebiotic foods may be very beneficial in terms of supporting your immune system.
- Foods rich in probiotics (Naturally fermented foods like Kimchi, Kraut, Yogurt, Miso, Tempeh, Kombucha, Sourdough, etc.)
- Foods that are high in prebiotics (organic fruits and veggies- asparagus, apples, artichokes, garlic, onion, cold potatoes, raw green beans, Jerusalem artichokes, slow metabolizing starches like beans, sweet potatoes).
- Foods rich in polyphenols (spices, berries, red fruits, broccoli and broccoli sprouts, mushrooms, green tea, dark chocolate, organic coffee)
- Anti-Inflammatory foods (turmeric, ginger, nuts, seeds, fish, olive oil, fruits, leafy greens)
- Foods that are high in zinc (oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, crab, lobster, whole grains, breakfast cereals, and dairy products)
Full of healthy probiotics, prebiotics, polyphenols, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, immunity-supporting recipes can easily be incorporated into our everyday diet.
In our previous post, we published a recipe for a very effective elixir of youth from rosehip. Here are 6 more recipes to strengthen and support your immunity.
- Apple tea: Cut into slices 3 medium-sized unpeeled apples, pour a liter of boiled water, cook for 10 minutes over low heat, insist for 30 minutes, add honey to taste, and drink as tea.
- Orange tea: 1 part orange peel, 1 part black tea, 1/2 part lemon peels. Pour boiling water over everything: for 60 g of the dry mixture – 1 liter of boiling water, add orange syrup to taste and insist for 5 minutes.
- Blackcurrant tea: Brew 6 teaspoons of black tea with 500 ml of boiling water, insist for 5 minutes, strain, cool, and combine with an equal amount of blackcurrant juice. Pour into cups and dilute by 1/3 or 1/2 with mineral water. Add sugar to taste.
- Cocktail for immunity: 200 g of water, 1 tbsp of honey, 1 tbsp of lemon juice, ginger (0.5 tsp, grated on a fine grater), and cinnamon on the tip of a knife. Mix everything up and drink, enjoying. Especially useful for those who sit at the computer for a long time.
- Salad for immunity: Kiwi – 2, 1 banana, 1 orange, 1 apple, 2 tangerines, walnuts – 2 tbsp. Chop everything, pour sour cream, and sprinkle with cinnamon.
- Mixture for immunity: Pass a glass of raisins, walnuts, and dried apricots through a meat grinder and add 2-3 tbsp of honey. Take 2 tbsp daily in the morning and evening before meals.
What about spices?
There is a number of spices that help us in fighting infections like cold and flu faster. These little spice jewels also help in protecting our immune system against illness.
Recently, it was determined a potential correlation between COVID-19 and spice consumption. The data from 163 countries, including total cases, total deaths, and total recovered, were analyzed. It was observed that there is a clear interrelated prevalence between the total number of COVID-19 cases per million population tested and the gram of spice supply per capita per day. Nations with lower consumption of spices per capita showed a greater number of COVID-19 cases per million population. Although the precise molecular mechanisms associated with spices and immunity are not completely understood, data shows that spice consumption plays a role in our ability to fight disease.
There are two major ways that spices play a role in our immunity:
- Anti-inflammatory: Prolonged stress from things like work, major life events, and relationship difficulties can trigger your immune system as low-grade inflammation, which wears on your body. Spices that are anti-inflammatory may help protect against this type of inflammation.
- Antioxidative: Spices contain antioxidants that protect your immune cells from harmful substances in the environment called free radicals. Free radicals can be defined as any molecular species capable of independent existence that contains an unpaired electron in an atomic orbital. are unstable atoms that can damage cells, causing illness and aging. Free radicals are created by pollution, cigarette smoke, radiation, medication, and even by your own metabolism, i.e. the process by which your body changes food and drink into energy.
The most effective ones are cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, coriander, and cumin. The peppers that lend spice to food are also very good for your health. They often contain a healthy dose of Vitamin C and Vitamin A, which help to support a healthy immune system. Spicy foods also have antibacterial qualities, helping you to fend off any budding infections in your digestive system.
Best of all, these spices will help you to “spice up” your healthy diet!
Which herbs help to support the immune system?
Herbs are powerful allies in building and supporting our immune systems. Generally, immune-supporting herbs fall into three categories:
- Immunostimulants: Generally used for a short period of time, immune stimulants are best used on a short-term basis. The best time is right as you’re starting to get sick, or anytime you’ve been exposed to an illness. Examples include:
- Echinacea (E. angustifolia, E. purpurea, E. pallida)
- Usnea lichen (Dolichousnea longissima, U. barbata and U. californica)
- Wild Indigo (Baptisia)
- Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
- Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera)
2. Immunomodulators (or Immune Tonics): Often used over a long period of time, immunomodulators are tonics for the immune system. They’re not meant to be overtly healing during acute illness, but rather to help balance your system and promote a healthy immune response. Examples include:
- Tulsi, or Holy basil,(Ocimum tenuiflorum)
- Astragalus (Astragalus propinquus, syn A. membranaceus)
- Codonopsis (Codonopsis pilosula)
- Elderberry (Sambucus nigra, S. cerulea)
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
- Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
- Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)
3. Antibacterial (antimicrobial) Herbs: While they may not directly impact the immune system, they are helpful in treating illness and maintaining health. While prescription antibiotics have their place, minor illnesses (or injuries) can be treated with anti-microbial herbs instead, such as:
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
- Clove (Syzygium aromaticum)
- Portulaca (Portulaca grandiflora)
- Tribulus (Tribulus terrestris)
- Sea Holly (Eryngium caeruleum)
- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
- Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium L.)
- Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare Mill.)
- Chamomile (Matricaria recutita; Chamaemelum nobile)
- Burdock (Arctium lappa)
- Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)
- Primrose (Primula rosea)
- Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
- Mallow (Corcho-rus olitorius)
- Garlic (Allium sativum)
- Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
The three primary ways to take the aforementioned roots and herbs are in the form of a brew, tincture, or distillation.
Do not forget about medicine mushrooms!
We already talked about the healing power of medicinal mushrooms in our previous post.
Many medicinal mushrooms have been shown in studies to have potent immunomodulating effects. All medicinal mushrooms contain powerful compounds called beta-glucans, which have been found to help fight inflammation and balance the immune system.
To use medicinal mushrooms for immune system support, you can add a blend of medicinal mushrooms to your daily regimen. Chaga, reishi, turkey tail, shiitake, maitake, lion’s mane, and cordyceps have all been shown to have immune-balancing effects and antioxidants, which fight free radicals in the body. You can find blends in tincture or powder form to add to a daily smoothie or tea, and you can also find mushroom blends in capsules. You also can cook with medicinal mushrooms, especially shiitake and maitake. You can find links to delicious recipes in our post on medicine mushrooms.
A Review of Micronutrients and the Immune System–Working in Harmony to Reduce the Risk of Infection
Immune-Boosting, Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Food Supplements Targeting Pathogenesis of COVID-19
Vitamin effects on the immune system: vitamins A and D take centre stage
Diet and Immune Function
The Influence of Nutritional Factors on Immunological Outcomes
Herbal Plants: The Role of AhR in Mediating Immunomodulation
Opportunities for Health Promotion: Highlighting Herbs and Spices to Improve Immune Support and Well-being
Antiinflammatory and Immunomodulating Properties of Fungal Metabolites
Did you know that about our immune system?
Our immune system remembers every microbe it has ever fought and defeated. This means that if a microbe enters the body for a second time, the immune system has a stored record that enables it to quickly recognize and fend off the microbe before it gets the chance to infect you.
Getting a fever means that your immune system is working. A rise in body temperature is a commune immune response that your immune system may deploy to kill certain microbes and trigger your body’s repair process.
The immune system doesn’t have one centralized location in the body like the heart or the brain. Instead, the cells that make up the immune system are produced in organs throughout the body, including the tonsils, lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, and adenoids.
Are you cursed with a runny nose and itchy eyes every spring? The immune system might be to blame! Allergies don’t affect everyone. They’re caused when your body mistakes something harmless, such as pollen or a type of food, as a pathogen. Your body launches an immune response against it, causing you to experience allergy symptoms.
The saying goes that laughter is the best medicine, and there’s truth to that. Laughter releases dopamine and other feel-good chemicals in the brain, all of which can help decrease stress. Twenty minutes of laughter a day may not keep the doctor away, but it may help keep your immune system working properly.
What else to expect from a compromised immune system?
In addition to fighting disease-causing pathogens
(the various bacteria, germs, and viruses) and neutralizing harmful substances from the environment, your immune system is combating changes in the body that can lead to disease.
When your immune system is on point, it is a lifesaver. But as good as it may be, it is not perfect. Sometimes, this group of special cells, tissues, and organs does not act the way it should.
If it kicks into action too often, you may get a condition like allergies, asthma, or eczema. Or if your immune system starts to attack your body instead of safeguarding it, you could have an autoimmune disorder like rheumatoid arthritis or type 1 diabetes. Other autoimmune conditions include celiac disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and psoriatic arthritis.
A lot of people don’t realize that one of the key immune system functions is maintaining a healthy dynamic of cell death and cell regeneration so that the body as a whole remains in as strong health as possible.
So, it is in your interests to do everything possible to keep your immune system efficient and well-functioning, for many more reasons than just the opportunity to not suffer from the common cold quite so often.
Recipes of Tibetian medicine to support the immune system and overall health
Tibetan tea products are classified into three main types: Kangzhuan, Jinjian, and Kangjian. The most popular type is Kangzhuan, i.e., brick tea. While the rest of the world moved on to infusing loose-leaf tea, Tibetans still make their tea by crushing a tea brick and cooking or boiling the tea. Finally, the tea is churned with other ingredients such as yak butter, salt, sometimes rice, orange rind, and spices.
Most Tibetan people who live outside of Tibet use Lipton tea or some kind of plain black tea. You can make your own butter tea (preferably from Kangzhuan brick tea, providing the most health benefits, which you can buy from The Herb Depot or another source).
- 2 heaping spoons of loose tea
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons butter (salted or unsalted)
- 1/3 cup half-and-half or milk
Materials needed: a large container with a tight lid to shake the tea.
- Bring 4 cups of water to a boil.
- Put tea in the water and let steep while the water is boiling for a couple of minutes.
- Add a heaping quarter of a teaspoon of salt.
- Strain the tea grounds.
- Add a third to a half cup of milk or a teaspoon of milk powder.
- Pour your tea mixture, along with two tablespoons of butter, into a container with a lid.
- Shake the mixture for two or three minutes.
Your tea is ready!
This Tibetan drink has rare qualities. It promotes:
- pressure reduction,
- improve vision,
- improve memory,
- removes cholesterol,
- strengthening immunity.
The mystery of this recipe was revealed in 1971, but they started talking about it recently. It was written on clay tablets in the 5th century BC. Now it has been translated into all languages of the world.
It is recommended to repeat the treatment with this drink only 1 time in 5 years.
- St. John’s wort
- birch buds
- Take 100 grams of each herb and mix thoroughly.
- Bring 0.5 liters of water to a boil.
- Put one tbsp of herb mixture.
- Turn off the heat and let stand for 30 minutes.
- Pass the drink through a strainer.
How to use:
Drink 1 glass with a teaspoon of honey in the morning and evening until the herbal mixture runs out.
This is one of the most famous Tibetan recipes for youth and well-being. It is believed that it is better to make tincture on a young moon but to finish on a waning one.
To make the tincture:
- Peel 350-400 grams of garlic – take beautiful cloves without specks and signs of damage, only fresh (sprouting garlic will be useless!)
- Finely smash with a wooden mortar or a wooden spoon in a porcelain or wooden dish until a homogeneous mass is obtained.
- Put 200 g of this mass, the one where there is more juice (from the bottom), in the glass jar.
- Pour 200 grams of medically purified alcohol. We do not throw away the top garlic, save it for dinner cooking!
- Close the glass jar and store it for 10 days in a dark cool place (not in the refrigerator).
- After 10 days, filter the liquid through several layers of gauze cloth into a clean jar and leave for another 3 days.
How to use
- Take drops using a pipette.
- Drip into cold milk (50 grams -1/4 cup).
The tincture should be used 3 times a day according to the scheme: starting in the morning of one day and bringing the amount from 1 to 15 drops.
- The first time 1 drop in milk, the second time 2 drops, and so each time, add another 1 drop.
- On day 5, you should get 15 drops for dinner.
- On the sixth day, begin to reduce the dosage: 15 drops in the morning, 14 drops in the afternoon, and then minus one drop each meal.
- On the eleventh day, drip 25 drops of the tincture into milk and start to consume 3 times a day until it is run off.
The application of tincture should be done 1 time in five to six years.
Tibetan medicine has restrictions on its usage. It is forbidden to use by children, pregnant and lactating women, and people who are prone to epilepsy due to the alcohol component of the tincture.
What is next?
In our upcoming posts, we are planning to publish new revival recipes that will help you to keep your immune system in good shape.
Be sure to check back!
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