So winter & immune season is here (in Australia)
Even I was fondled by a slight cold over the past week. And I have no one to blame but myself (even though I slapped and told off the boys at work for not covering their mouths or noses when they sneezed or coughed, LIKE BRO COME ON).
I’m also happy because last year I didn’t get sick once, and I was religiously taking my medicinal mushrooms like the mycelium minx I am. And this year and sick season I have been LAZY AF about taking them, and so I’m like happy because it shows its not placebo and that I need to drink my babies on the regular.
in this blog we’re going to break down;
1. Our immune organs
2. The types of immunity we have
3. What compromises our immunity
4. And how certain foods, herbs and adaptogens upgrade and support our immune system
1. Our immune organs
Our skin is our first line of defence, it protects us from external invading pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, airborne pathogens and other scary shit I honestly don’t want to think about. We have a layer of sebum – an acidic oil that prevents the tunnelling of baddies inside. Hence why keeping our skin moist and un-damaged is vital to a healthy immune system and us.
Our stomach has our stomach acid, which is built to kill bacteria and parasites upon entrance. It’s like an acid pool in case things come down our throat. Bye bye. PS mouth breathing also increases the introduction of airborne pathogens into us, as our nose has villi, hairs and mucus membranes that trap and prevent antigens (another name for pathogens) getting in. Same with our ears and earwax. Its all built in to stop shit getting in. And also conveys how having low stomach acid can interfere with our immunity.
Same with our lungs, we have mucus membranes that can trap pollen, dust particles enabling us to cough em out.
Our spleen and thymus, often forgotten organs that no one even talks about, store and produce immune cells – also called white blood cells or leukocytes.
Our lymph nodes create and store lymphocytes, our tonsils are a collection of lymphocytes located in the throat and the appendix also houses immune cells. Which makes me sad that I got my tonsils taken out at 17. Like bye immune cells, ill miss you.
2. Types of Immunity
The two branches of immunity include; innate and adaptive.
Innate is non-specific, it’s present from birth, and is what we all share as human beings. Innate immunity includes our skin, our stomach, our gut, our lungs, nasal passage, as well as our spleen, thymus, appendix and lymph nodes. It involves physical barriers, mucus membranes and inflammation.
Our innate immunity begins to build when we’re in the womb, growing and stealing all our mums nutrients. It’s her immune system that’s also directly passed onto us, through her antibodies being passed through the umbilical cord and thus, building our own adaptive immune system.
And then our adaptive immune systemlike goes to school and they’re taught what to attack, how to attack and keep a memory of how to do it in case a baddie comes back next time.
Our adaptive immune system that’s triggered when pathogens get past our innate immunity, and is what causes the ‘flu like symptoms’ that we experience when we do get sick; the fever, the aches, that’s all our immune system saying WE’RE KILLING SOMETHING, JUST HOLD ON. So on that note, you also want to have a fever, you want to sweat it out, you don’t want to take anti-inflammatories when you’re sick, you want the inflammation.
Essentially our adaptive immune system is specific – meaning it will only attack and kill that for which it is instructed, unlike our innate which just kills whoever.
Within our innate immune system we have some key immune cells;
Macrophages engulf aka eat the pathogen, and release toxic chemicals directly to kill it. Savage. They also form from monocytes.
Neutrophils are usually the first responders on site and like macrophages, ingest and kill bacteria and fungi in the same manner. Oh and they make pus
Basophils contain and release histamine – a compound that’s involved in allergic responses, such as itchiness, runny nose, itchy eyes
Dendritic cells detect pathogens and present them to the immune system cells like “hey guys, look what I caught”. They exist in our respiratory mucus membranes and GI tract (mouth to butthole).
Mast cells, like basophils contain granules that release histamine and are involved in allergic responses.
NK (Natural Killer) cells are like special ops and are able to find and kill virally infected cells and activate macrophage and dendritic cells to come help, upgrading the immune response. These cells are also able to identify cancer cells early on in their development.
And then we have our adaptive immune system cells, who can be further split into humoral and cell mediated immunity – which essentially just divides our B-cells and T-cells’ functions.
B-cells originate from our bone marrow, and their primary action is to create anti-bodies or immunoglobulins (IgG’s) – proteins that can form into plasma cells or memory cells.
Their formation (or maturation) into plasma cells occurs upon exposure to a foreign invader. Antibodies are highly specific and specialised immune cells, creating a kind of “lock and key” model, as they will only attach to that specific antigen in which it is coded for. Think of them as special ops, they have their target, and will only fire upon that specific invading enemy.
Each of the immunoglobulin’s that our bodies create, has specific unique characteristics and differing functions, for example IgE antibodies are responsible for allergic reactions, and IgA station themselves in our mucus membranes protecting the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract.
This is often how food allergies are tested for, they look for immunoglobuins within our blood for specific foods, like we know IgE usually signals an allergy to milk proteins in dairy products.
So essentially, plasma cells (mature B-cells) are exclusive with whom they do and don’t recognise. But when they do recognise their tagged antigen (pathogen) they set off a chain of reactions that calls into action additional players of an immune response.
B-cells are defined as being part of our humoral immune response, meaning that they secrete antibodies that defend against extracellular pathogens – meaning they are not yet inside our cells.
T-Cells originate also in our bone marrow, but mature in our thymus.
They directly attacked virus infected human cells, and similar to B-cells and their antibodies, each T-cell attacks a specific antigen. Unlike B-cells, T-cells are ready to go with their specific targets locked in, they don’t need to mature into another cell to attack. T-cells are further split into Nature Killer T cells (NKT’s), T-Helper cells and Regulatory T-cells.
NKT’s as their name suggests, do the actual killing of the infected cells. These NKT’s migrate to the site of infection, and inject toxic chemicals to the infected cell, causing it to die. It’s these immune cells that hunt down and destroy the cells infected with viral DNA or bacteria that’s assimilated into our own cells, such as HIV, EBV and chickenpox.
Helper T-cells (Th cells) also do as their name suggest – they assist their cousins, the B-cells to produce antibodies, and assist NKT’s in their attack.
And then regulatory T-cells (Tregs) have the crucial role of letting the T-cells that the invasion and enemy has been killed, and its time to pack up and go home. The threat has been taken care of. Without regulatory cells, our body would keep employing and searching for infected cells, which can turn into autoimmune conditions as well as an over active immune system that would drain us of our energy.
T-cell’s are defined as being part of our cell mediated immunity, who defend against infected cells.
3. What compromises the immune system
With 90% of our immune system located just outside our gut lining, there’s a pleather of behaviours and influencers* that can compromise our immune system.
Stress is a sure way to suppress immune function. The stress response triggers the fight of flight response, which sees the shutting down of digestion, halting blood flow to that area, as well as a cascade of chemical messengers suppressing immune activity. Additionally, when we’re stressed we’re not absorbing nutrients, weakening the immune system. Stress can be both conscious (we’re aware) and unconscious, and can appear in the form of air and environmental toxins and pollutants, the ingredients in our beauty, body, hair and skin products, work stress, relationship stress, financial stress, traffic and time stress, overthinking about the future and worrying, a lack of sleep is stressful, just to name a few.
A lack of sleep is additionally immune-suppressing. When we sleep our body cleans up toxic metabolites that’s a by product of energy creation and just general cellular functioning. When we sleep, T-cells and pro-inflammatory cytokines are released. And a lack of sleep is a stressor on the body, down regulating immune activity, with cortisol being anti-inflammatory in essence, and inflammation is a key part of an immune response, we need inflammation as it triggers the migration of immune cells.
Eating a nutrient poor diet, that lacks the minerals, vitamins, enzymes, antioxidants that our immune system needs to function at its best. This also interferes with the balance of bacteria within the gut that determine and signal inflammatory mediators and messengers (cytokines). A nutrient poor diet can look like one thats high of processed and packaged foods, with little to no fresh vegetables or fruit, a keto diet that lacks colourful variety of F&V, restrictive weight loss or post-operation diets, if you have had a lap-band or gastric sleeve surgery, fussy kids and adults, vegans who only eat processed vegan foods, if you experience autoimmune or a pleather of food allergies/intolerances that prevents you from consuming a variety of plants.
Alcohol and drugs – naturally suppress the immune system through disrupting the mucus membranes and killing beneficial bacteria, along with either a lack of exercise or too much exercise, which suppresses the immune system.
How to Overcome
So prioritisting sleep, whether its through setting up a regular routines and sleep time, turning your room into a sleep sanctuary, dulling devices before bed, listening to binaural beats and sleep music (I like Brain.FM app) or assisting your slumber with magnesium and sleep herbs such as passionflower, valerian, zizyphus or melatonin/GABA/tryptophan.
Managing stress in your life, through delegating, automating, asking for help, changing habits or through adopting adaptogens such as Reishi, Ashwaganda, Rhodiola, as well as magnesium and B vitamins to help buffer the physiological response.
Upgrading your nutrition and foods you eat, incorporating lots of vegetables and plants, as they’re the rich sources of micronutrients and antioxidants, and encourage the population of beneficial gut bacteria, and getting to the core reason of why you’re unable to consume a nutrient rich diet, and this is where a nutritionist (like me hehe) or naturopath can really help guide & support you.
4. Key Immune Foods & Spices
- All citrus – rich in Vitamin C that helps to produce collagen thus supporting our skin, gut lining, mucus membranes to protect us from antigens.
- Nuts and seeds – rich in Vitamin E which helps to enhance the production of B-cells
- Probiotic foods; helping to maintain healthy microbe levels as 90% of our immune system is located right outside our gut lining.
- Ginger – anti-microbial, warming spice, anti-fungal, supports digestion
- Garlic – contains allicin and boosts white blood cell production, anti-fungal/microbial/ biotic
- Cayenne pepper – rich in vitamin A, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxdant
- Cinnamon – anti-viral, anti-fungal
- Turmeric – potent immune & gut herb and anti-inflammatory
- Bone broth – rich in amino acids and is gut-loving
- Camu Camu / Kakadu Plum – highest source of vitamin C on the planet
- Cruciferous vegetables – rich in antioxidants and B vitamins
- Oregano – super anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial
- Vitamin C– acts as an antioxidant proteting cells from damage and oxidative stress produced when immune cells kill pathogens, as well as stimulates the production of leukocytes like macrophages and dendritic cells.
- Vitamin A– helps to maintain healthy and strong physical barriers, such as skin and mucosal membranes.
- Vitamin D3- helps the maturation of monocytes into macrophages and stimulates cytokine production.
- Vitamin E– is an antioxidant and helps NK cell cytotoxic activity.
- Zinc– is an antioxidant, helps to maintain physical barriers and also modulates cytokine release and T-cell formation.
- Olive Leaf
- Oregano oil
- Maitake Mushroom
Products I love;
- Meadow & Marrow bone broth
- Teelixir Chaga, Reishi, Maitake or Immune Defence
- ATP Science Resilience
- Ethical Nutrients Zingles
- Ethical Nutrients Immune Defence OR Fusion Immune
- Healthforce Vitamineral Earth https://www.healthforcesuperfoods.com/shop/products/immune-support/earth.html
- Thorne Phytogen https://www.thorne.com/products/dp/phytogen-reg-60-s
- Organic Olivia Soothe your Throat Spray https://www.organicolivia.com/product/aloe-echinacea-soothe-your-throat-spray/
- Thorne D3 10,000 IU
All my love xoxoxo
7. Winston, David & Maimes, Steven. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Inner Traditions Bear and Company
8. Powell, Martin. Medicinal Mushrooms - A Clinical Guide. Mycology Press. Kindle Edition.
9. Isokauppila, Tero. Healing Mushrooms. Prentice Hall Press