The idea of “boosting” your immune system is an understandably appealing concept—who wouldn’t want a supercharged immune system that goes above and beyond to keep you healthy? The reality, however, is a bit more complex.
First, your immune system doesn’t need to be boosted. It’s an incredibly balanced system that, when operating as it should, does a good job of keeping you healthy. Balance is key: Too much of an immune response can actually be harmful, for example, with an allergic reaction, eczema, or allergic rhinitis.
On the other hand, certain lifestyle factors can interfere with the immune system staying robust, efficient, and responding as quickly as it should as can happen as a result of a poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, or after excessive alcohol consumption. This is where adequate support for your immune system is important, to help you deal with the stresses of everyday life.
So what’s the best way to support your immune system? It starts with how your immune system actually works.
Your immune system, explained
The immune system consists of two main components—the innate and adaptive immune systems.
The innate immune system is the first line of defense against pathogens and other harmful microorganisms. It includes physical barriers, such as the skin and mucous membranes, that act to prevent entry of pathogens into the body (the ‘host’). These cells coordinate a fast-acting response to foreign bodies, by either engulfing or digesting pathogens, or by stimulating an inflammatory response. As the innate immune system responds in the same way to all pathogens, it is often referred to as the “nonspecific” immune system.
In contrast to the fast-acting innate immune system, the adaptive immune system is slower to respond. Its response, however, is highly specific. The adaptive immune system consists of B and T cells that recognize specific proteins called antigens on the surface of a pathogen, and form antibodies against them.
How can I support my immune system?
Supporting your immune system isn’t always easy, but it is pretty straightforward. Focus on managing stress levels, get regular exercise, maintain a healthy weight, don’t smoke, be mindful of your alcohol intake, get the right amount of sleep, and eat a nutritious diet.
Additionally, micronutrients are important: Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is an antioxidant crucial for iron absorption, bone health, and immune function. It supports the normal development and function of immune cells, the inflammatory response, promotes collagen synthesis, and protects cell membranes from damage caused by free radicals. Zinc is critical for the body’s immune function and inflammatory response, and the development and differentiation of immune cells in the innate and adaptive immune systems.
Zinc is also important in controlling oxidative stress and regulating inflammatory cytokines, and its homeostasis is critical for sustaining proper immune function. Selenium is a potent antioxidant that plays an important role in immune health. It helps lower oxidative stress in your body, which targets inflammation and supports optimum immune response for both the innate and adaptive immune systems.
Elderberry benefits for the immune system
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) includes anthocyanins, which are plant-based pigments with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting properties. Elderberries also contain vitamins A and C, potassium, folate, calcium, and iron.
So, the key takeaway here is that while you can’t boost your immune system, you can certainly be proactive in supporting it!