In recent years, there has been a significant rise in the popularity of immunity-related natural health products, a trend that became more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us turned to both physical stores and online platforms, looking for supplements to boost our immune defenses with the aim to ward off illness. But how much do we know about the immune system? In this blog, we are going to answer some of the most common questions people have regarding our immune system, who’s at risk, and what we can do to boost it.
What is the immune system?
Our immune system is made up of several organs and cells that work together to fight off germs. When germs invade our body, they can make us sick (which is something we try to avoid!). Some key components of our immune system are:
- White blood cells: These vigilant cells constantly scan our body for pathogenic bacteria and viruses, launching attacks to neutralize and eliminate them. There are many types of white blood cells, each performing distinct functions. Some circulate through our bloodstream, while others are located in specific organs.
- The lymphatic system: Serving as our body's waste disposal mechanism, the lymphatic system is a combination of vessels, ducts, organs, and tissues responsible for draining, collecting, and filtering a fluid known as lymph. Lymph consists of fluid from our blood that leaks into tissues.
- Lymph nodes: Scattered across the body, lymph nodes are small glands found in regions such as the neck, armpits, and groin. Their role involves filtering out harmful substances that have collected within the lymph (waste products, bacteria, and even cancer cells). These organs contain a special type of white blood cells called lymphocytes.
- Spleen: Functioning as a warehouse for white blood cells, the spleen plays a pivotal role in immune response and surveillance.
- Bone marrow: Nestled within the core of our bones, the bone marrow produces and houses blood cells, including red blood cells, plasma, and white blood cells, which are subsequently released into the circulatory system to fight off infections.
- Antibodies: These proteins bind to parts of pathogens, marking them for other immune cells to destroy.
Why is it important to support our immune system?
Having a healthy and strong immune system will help our body fight off invading bacteria, viruses, and parasites, as well as some diseases. One of the most notable benefits of having a healthy immune system is the reduction in the frequency of getting sick.
How do we boost our immune system?
Improving our immune system involves adopting a combination of healthy lifestyle practices and habits. But it doesn't happen overnight - consistent efforts over time can help support and improve our immune system's effectiveness. Some strategies to consider are:
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables every day
- Avoiding alcohol consumption (or use in moderation)
- Exercising regularly
- Washing your hands frequently
- Getting enough sleep
- Managing your stress
Additionally, another method to enhance our immune system involves the using dietary supplements that contain immunomodulatory compounds. These compounds, derived from natural sources, may have the ability to trigger, inhibit, regulate, or enhance our body’s immune response to pathogens and harmful substances. Some examples of these natural substances are:
- Ginseng: The dried roots of various species of Panax (Panax ginseng, Panax japonica, Panax quinquefolium) have been used in Asian cultures for millennia to treat mental stress, regulate blood sugar, alleviate fatigue, and to bolster immune function1.
- Elderberry: Since the 1600s in Europe, the fruits and flowers of the Sambucus nigra plant have been used for their antiviral properties and immune-enhancing potential. Traditionally, they have also been used to alleviate common symptoms associated with colds, fevers, coughs, nasal congestion, and mucous production2.
- Echinacea purpurea: A botanical remedy, Echinacea purpurea has historically been used to address the common cold, coughs, bronchitis, and inflammation of the upper respiratory system3.
- Turmeric: Extracted from the rhizome of Curcuma longa, turmeric has been used for more than 5,000 years in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. Its active components, curcumins, serve as potent anti-inflammatory agents, antioxidants, and immunomodulators4.
Vitamins and minerals: Certain micronutrients can function as immunomodulators by acting on the immune system. Some of these nutrients are5:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
Who’s at risk of having a weakened immune system?
People that have a weakened immune system usually fall within 4 categories:
- Innate Weakness: Some people are affected due to congenital conditions like severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). These individuals, typically children, often need to live in sterile environments and are constantly vulnerable to infections from bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The primary cause of this condition is due to their inability to generate certain types of white blood cells.
- Immune System Disorders:
- Contracting diseases like AIDS/HIV can significantly weaken the immune system.
- Temporary weakening of the immune system can occur from the use of medications such as chemotherapy or anti-rejection drugs following organ transplantation.
- Infections, like the flu, mononucleosis, or measles, can also impair the immune system temporarily.
- Hyperactive Immune Response: Some people have an overactive immune system which mistakenly reacts to ordinarily harmless environmental substances (allergens). Some examples of these conditions are asthma, eczema, and rhinitis.
- Autoimmune Afflictions: Certain individuals have immune systems that incorrectly target their own body, resulting in autoimmune disorders like type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus.
In addition to these categories, the immune system's effectiveness can also be weakened by factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and a diet lacking in nutrient-rich foods.
Our immune system acts as our body’s guardian, continuously working to maintain our good health and wellbeing. By embracing a holistic approach that includes healthy lifestyle choices, proper nutrition, adequate rest, and stress management, we can empower our immune system to function optimally. Herbaland’s Immune Boost Gummies for Adults and Immune Bears Gummies for Kids have the finest blend of immunomodulatory elements (including vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, Echinacea purpurea, and elderberry fruit extract) to help strengthen our immune system and prepare us for the arrival of the flu and cold season.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Dr Katia Caballero, Herbaland R&D
My name is Dr. Katia Caballero, I have a PhD in Human Nutrition and experience in the fields of food science, biotechnology, and clinical nutrition. I currently work at Herbaland Naturals as a Research and Development Technician, looking to find new and innovative ways to make gummies healthy, nutritious, and fun.
- Das, S., Bordoloi, R. & Newar, N. A Review on Immune Modulatory Effect of Some Traditional Medicinal Herbs. J. Pharm. Chem. Biol. Sci. 2, 33–42 (2014).
- Mitroi, C. L. et al. Elderberry-functional product (review). J. Agroaliment. Process. Technol. 28, 268–272 (2022).
- Percival, S. S. Use of echinacea in medicine. Biochem. Pharmacol. 60, 155–158 (2000).
- Kadiyska, T. et al. Herbs and plants in immunomodulation (Review). Int. J. Funct. Nutr. 4, 1–11 (2023).
- Mitra, S. et al. Exploring the Immune-Boosting Functions of Vitamins and Minerals as Nutritional Food Bioactive Compounds: A Comprehensive Review. Molecules 27, (2022).