Your Immune System
Think of your body as a castle. Your immune system is like the moat surrounding the castle that keeps out foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses and harmful chemicals. Keeping your defenses functioning is a complex job that requires a series of communications.
Your immune system is a protective network of cells, tissues and organs, all working together to identify and destroy harmful substances. There are three main lines of defense: physical barriers such as your skin; non-specific inflammatory responses, in which blood flow changes bring chemical substances to injured areas; and specific immune responses, which occur when your body learns to recognize certain invaders and eliminate them if they return.
The key to efficient immune response is your body’s ability to distinguish between your own cells and those that are foreign. When immune defenders encounter cells or organisms with “outsider” characteristics, they quickly launch an attack. Symptoms such as fever and fatigue are indications that your immune system is fighting off an infection.
It’s also important to help your immune system help you. While your body is naturally primed to fight the germs you’re exposed to, there are some simple ways you can help strengthen your immune system.
Here are a few strategies to help boost your resistance.
Get enough rest: Missing out on deep sleep has been linked to a laundry list of health issues, including those that result from an impaired immune system. Studies show that your T cells go down if you’re sleep deprived, while inflammatory cytokines go up, increasing your risk of bacterial infection. Put another way, sleep deprivation suppresses immune system function.
How much sleep do you need?: Sleep experts agree that most people need at least seven hours of sleep a night to function at their best. Create the right bedroom environment by turning off your TV and computer. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Avoid caffeine after lunch and minimize alcohol consumption within six hours of bedtime.
For extra help to relax and improve the quality of your sleep, we suggest Schiff® Melatonin Ultra. It contains melatonin, the brain compound that signals your body to initiate sleep. By age 70, our bodies only produce 25% of the melatonin they did at age 20. Taking melatonin at bedtime helps promote healthy levels to encourage normal sleep patterns.
Exercise: If you’re having trouble finding motivation to exercise, consider this: In one recent study of more than 1,000 adults, people who exercised at least five days a week had 43% fewer upper respiratory tract symptoms than those who exercised one day a week or less. Even when they got sick, frequent exercisers reported symptoms that were one-third less severe.
Researchers don’t know exactly how exercise improves immunity but have several theories:
- Helps flush bacteria out of your lungs, decreasing your chances of catching a cold, flu, or other airborne illness.
- Speeds up antibody and white blood cell response. Faster-circulating blood may also activate hormones that warn immune cells of intruding bacteria or viruses.
- Raises your body’s temperature, which may prevent bacterial growth and allow your body to fight infection more effectively.
- Slows down the release of stress-related hormones that increase the chance of illness.
The sunshine vitamin: If you’re spending less time outdoors this season, you may not be getting enough Vitamin D. It’s often called the “sunshine vitamin” because sun exposure causes your body to make it. It’s believed to play a key role in boosting your immune system by triggering and arming your body's “search and destroy” T cells.
Schiff® Mega-D3® provides 5000 IU of Vitamin D3—the most powerful form of Vitamin D. In addition, Mega-D3 contains Resveratrol and Red Wine Extract, key nutrients that support areas of health that often decline with age. With Mega-D3, you get the health benefits of red wine without the alcohol and calories.
Practice good hygiene: Remember to practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often with antibacterial soap, and wipe down gym equipment before and after you use it. Carry a personal sanitizer in your purse or pocket and keep one in the car. And if your grocery store offers sanitizing wipes for the cart, use them!
Stay hydrated: Even if you don’t feel thirsty, it’s important to drink six to eight glasses of water a day. A well-hydrated system delivers oxygen and nutrients to your cells, while flushing out bacteria and other harmful substances. If you’re traveling by plane, drink plenty of water to help moisten nasal passages. Otherwise, the plane’s dry air can cause tiny fissures that increase your chances of catching an infection.
Take helpful supplements: Your immune system works hard to keep you healthy. A core component is balancing harmful against beneficial bacteria in your intestines, because 70% of your immune system exists in your digestive tract. Digestive Advantage® creates an optimal environment for your immune system by providing daily helpful bacteria called probiotics. And unlike other probiotics, Digestive Advantage® is specially formulated to withstand your stomach’s hostile gastric environments.
To support your immune system when it’s under stress, try Airborne®. The key ingredients in Airborne® products have been shown to support the immune system.* Airborne contains a proprietary blend of Vitamins and minerals and is an excellent source of zinc & selenium.
Immune System Organs
In looking at the organs that make up your immune system, let’s start with the skin. It’s your body’s largest organ, protecting your internal organs from harmful substances. When you get a cut, that line of defense is temporarily breached.
Next are the lymphoid organs. They produce lymphocytes (B cells and T cells), the small white blood cells that are key players in immune function. They’re found throughout your body in the following areas:
- Lymph Nodes: Located in your neck, groin, underarms and abdomen, these small, bean-shaped glands produce and store infection-fighting cells as well as lymph, the clear fluid that carries cells where they’re needed.
- Thymus: Located behind your breastbone, this small organ produces T cells (“t” is for “thymus”). When activated, T cells transform from harmless immune cells into killer cells that seek out and destroy invaders.
- Spleen: Located in the upper-left part of your abdomen, it filters the blood and stores red and white blood cells.
- Bone Marrow: This yellow tissue in the center of your bones produces immune cells including B cells, white blood cells that produce antibodies.
As you probably know, your blood has both red and white blood cells. Your white blood cells (also known as leukocytes) are a powerful ally in keeping you healthy and serve as an important line of immune support.
Here are ten interesting facts about these tireless fighters:
- White blood cells live a short life of only a few days to a few weeks.
- A drop of blood contains an average of 7,000 to 25,000 white blood cells.
- They’re produced in bone marrow as generic leucocytes and can later become different types of leukocytes.
- They act like independent single-cell organisms, able to capture invaders and wipe them out.
- There are several different types of cells. Some fight infection-causing invaders, along with outsiders like smoke and dust. Others produce antibodies, special proteins that help destroy foreign materials and “remember” how to make them the next time they enter your body.
- Leukocytes, known as T cells, have a “split personality.” Some help control immune responses while others function as killer cells.
- Immune system soldiers crawl swiftly along the sides of blood vessels, moving like millipedes. Cells create tiny “legs” that attach and detach within seconds, allowing them to zip along while keeping a good grip on the vessel sides.
- White blood cells are able to identify proteins that indicate which cells are “you” and which are invaders. Special molecules tell them where to cross the blood vessel barrier so they can reach damaged tissue.
- In bone marrow, white blood cells outnumber red blood cells 2:1. But in the blood stream, there are about 600 red blood cells for every white blood cell.
- Your own leukocytes help maintain immune function but in donated blood they serve no purpose, according to the American Red Cross.
The old saying goes that an army marches on its stomach, and the same is true for your immune system. Feed your “warriors” well and they’ll be in fighting condition for years to come.
Healthy eating starts with incorporating fruits, veggies, fish and whole grains into your diet. They’re crucial elements of the Mediterranean diet, which is recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It’s based on the traditional cooking of countries such as Greece, whose residents average at least six servings a day of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.
Olive oil is another important addition to your diet. Research shows that it contains Vitamin E and antioxidant fatty acids that help bolster immune function against external attacks and are involved in regulating inflammation. Try cooking with extra virgin olive oil instead of unhealthy saturated fats such as butter.
You can further enhance your body’s natural resistance to harmful substances by adding the following foods to your diet:
- Avocado: Rich in soluble fiber, it boosts the production of interleukin-4, the protein that stimulates infection-fighting T cells.
- Beyond Oranges: Papayas, red peppers, strawberries, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts all have more Vitamin C than citrus fruits. The vitamin supports the production of white blood cells and antibodies, including one that coats cell surfaces to prevent harmful substances from invading them.
- Cranberries: Another good source of Vitamin C.
- Farro: Rich in Magnesium and B vitamins. Magnesium supports the formation of antibodies, which help immune cells recognize pathogens in the body. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.
- Garlic: Naturally anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral, garlic supports the reproduction of infection-fighting white cells, promotes natural killer cell activity and the efficiency of antibody production.
- Ginger: Loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.
- Leafy greens: Plant-based phytonutrients protect cell membranes from environmental pollutants that are trying to attack them. Green veggies contain powerhouse vitamins A, C, E along with zinc and magnesium. Vitamin A supports the function of white blood cells, while Vitamin E helps widen blood vessels and prevents clotting inside them. Vitamin E also supports the production of natural killer cells and enhances the production of B cells, the immune cells that produce antibodies.
- Halibut: High in omega-3s, which supports the activity of B cells, halibut is a good source of magnesium, B vitamins and selenium, all shown to support natural killer cell activity.
- Red peppers: Loaded with vitamins A, C and E.
- Whole grains: Provide zinc and Vitamin E. Zinc supports the production and function of white blood cells. It also supports the release of antibodies from B cells.
We’ve all heard that stress can make us sick, but what does that really mean? Read on to learn more about stress, how to cope with it, and how it affects our lives, our moods, and our immune health.
What is stress?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Office of Women’s Health) defines stress as ”a feeling you get when faced with a challenge.” The American Institute of Stress states that “stress is difficult for scientists to define because it is a subjective sensation associated with varied symptoms that differ for each of us.” However, there are certain things that most people experience as stressful, such as:
- The death of a loved one
- Loss of a job
- Financial worries
- Major illness or injury
Simple ways to reduce stress
So, how exactly can you begin to reduce the stress in your life? Try these simple tips to get started:
- Breathe. Close your eyes for a few moments and take slow, deep breaths.</li>
- Get outside. Take a step out, look up at the sky and breathe.</li>
- Lie down on your back and close your eyes for five minutes. An eye pillow makes this even more relaxing.
- Read a novel. Being in another world can take you away from your stress for a while.
- Turn off the TV. It may seem relaxing, but too much stimulation can over-excite your nervous system and make it harder to de-stress.
- Exercise. Go for a short walk or make time for your favorite work-out routine.
- Make a list if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Cross off each item as it’s accomplished.
- Give a hug, get a hug. Connecting with those you love is a simple way to reduce stress.
Eat well, sleep well
When you’re stressed, it’s tempting to eat comfort foods. You should treat yourself from time to time, but too much fat, sugar, caffeine and alcohol can actually cause more stress. This is because caffeine and sugar can put your body on alarm, while fatty foods and alcohol are known to disrupt sleep.
Try to keep a routine of getting the amount of sleep you know you need (usually 7 to 9 hours). That may not always be possible, especially if stress wakes you up at night or prevents you from falling asleep, but it’s important.
To help you sleep better when you’re under stress, consider Schiff® Melatonin Plus. Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland that sets your body’s biological clock and initiates sleep. Darkness stimulates the pineal gland and causes it to produce more melatonin, but that production is stopped by daylight. Taking melatonin at bedtime helps to promote healthy sleep patterns.*
The stress-reducing power of nature
Connecting with nature is a powerful de-stressor. Whether it’s a beach, park or your backyard, pick your favorite spot and head out for a walk. If you can’t, look at pictures and close your eyes and imagine you’re there. Sometimes, simply looking at the sunlit sky, the moon or the stars helps us connect with the world and makes us feel better. Also, if you have a pet, don’t forget that animals are a part of nature that we can connect to every day.
Get the support you need
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the stress in your life, it’s time to reach out and get support. Start with those you trust and ask their advice, then consult with professionals who know how to help manage stress. It can be someone at your place of worship, your doctor or a therapist. Just be sure to take care of yourself.
Better immune health starts at home, particularly in the kitchen. If your own kitchen is often filled with family and friends, they may be bringing in unwanted visitors like dirt and bacteria. Maintaining a clean kitchen is one way to help keep everyone healthy and avoid spreading food-related illness.
Keep it clean: Wash countertops and sinks often, especially after handling raw meat. Scrub dishes, cutting boards and utensils with hot and soapy water. Don’t forget to wash your hands.
Dry thoroughly: Use paper towels or a clean, dry cloth to dry your dishes. Never use the same towel to dry up after wiping your counter.
Wash your produce: You don’t need to buy special cleansers to keep a healthy kitchen. However, do rinse fruits and veggies under water to remove dirt, and scrub when necessary. Rinse meats and poultry before cooking, too.
Separate raw and cooked foods: Whether defrosting, marinating or prepping raw meat, always keep it away from other foods. Again, it’s especially important to clean the cutting board used to prepare raw meat before you put cooked food on it.
Avoid raw eggs: Check shells before buying to make sure there are no cracks. Even then, there’s still a chance of contamination, so cook eggs thoroughly before eating.
Defrost safely: It’s always best to defrost poultry, meat and seafood in the fridge to keep them at a safe temperature (below 40ºF). The USDA warns against running meat under hot water or leaving it on the counter. If you’re pressed for time, thaw in the microwave or submerge an airtight bag in cold water. Just be sure to cook defrosted foods right away.
Be careful with marinades: Marinades are a great way to add flavor and tenderness, but do it in the fridge. If you want to use leftover marinade for a sauce or gravy, make sure to boil it before adding other ingredients.
Know when it’s done: You can’t always tell by looking, so use a meat thermometer to be sure. The USDA recommends cooking beef, pork and lamb to 145ºF. Ground meat should be cooked to 160ºF and the minimum for poultry is 165ºF. Use the 1/10 rule for fish: Ten minutes total cooking time for every 1-inch, measured at its thickest part.
Party smarter: Put perishables away after two hours, an hour in hot weather. When storing leftovers, keep your fridge between 40ºF and 32ºF, and your freezer at 0ºF.