The immune system can ward off more than just pathogens. Here you can find out how the immune system works, how it affects our health and how to boost your immune system.
Exhaustion and a weakened immune system are unpleasant phenomena in everyday life. If there is a long-term lack of energy, this should be checked by a professional. Often a lack of nutrients and vitamins is responsible.
What weakens the immune system?
Extreme tiredness, apathy and increased susceptibility to infections – these are often indicators of a gross imbalance in the body. The reasons for this can be varied. Negative stress and a rushed lifestyle, in any case, have a negative impact on body and soul. We know well that we should eat healthily and exercise several times a week.
Often, however, it takes some effort to persuade ourselves to go for a run. That can also be the case if it does not become a daily routine. Lack of exercise, fast food, and sugar weaken our immune system.
Why is a healthy immune system important?
We are constantly surrounded by billions of germs in our environment. Most are harmless, and some are even useful. Others can cause illness. Our immune system ensures that we can distinguish one from the other and protect ourselves from pathogens. It recognizes friend and foe and prevents germs from entering the organism. This is a remarkable achievement because there are countless variants of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.
But the body’s defense does not always work perfectly. Sometimes pathogens can overcome the immune system. Overreactions lead to allergies or autoimmune diseases. Below you will find information about how this complex defense system works and how to boost your immune system quickly and naturally.
The function of the immune system
We often only realize what our immune system does every day if we get a cold or another infection and when we find ourselves googling on ‘how to boost your immune system’. But the immune system does more than protect us from pathogens. It also fulfills other vital tasks.
Tasks of the immune system
- Protection against pathogens: The immune system prevents the penetration of germs and the multiplication of unwanted bacteria. It protects us from infectious diseases.
- Regulation of the body’s bacterial flora: Our body is covered with bacteria, both internally and externally. Especially in the intestine, intestinal bacteria in the form of the intestinal flora play an important role. But did you know that other organs have microflora? For example, the lungs are colonized by bacterial flora, the composition of which differs between healthy and lung patients. The immune system helps regulate bacteria throughout the body.
- Detection of cancer cells and defective body cells: mistakes happen again and again during cell division. The body’s cells are also exposed to free radicals and harmful substances from the environment, which can lead to cell damage. The immune system recognizes damaged cells and destroys them. For example, the development of cancer is prevented.
- Wound healing: In the event of injuries, the immune system not only kills invaded viruses and bacteria but it also directly helps to rebuild the injured tissue and stimulates healing (1).
A perfect combination: specific and non-specific defense
Our body is always and everywhere surrounded by countless microorganisms. Our body is ideally adapted to this. The first hurdle for bacteria, viruses and other potential invaders are external barriers such as skin and mucous membranes (more on this below). If pathogens overcome these barriers, they encounter two different mechanisms in the body, which work together in a sophisticated way and recognize and destroy a large part of the germs before they can lead to disease: the specific and the non-specific defense.
Nonspecific (innate) immune defense
The nonspecific or innate immune defense is not directed against specific pathogens but attacks everything that is recognized as foreign to the body. Inflammation and fever inhibit the growth of the pathogens. Certain immune cells, such as the phagocytes (macrophages), break down invaded germs. In addition, certain substances of the immune system are released to protect against pathogens (complement system, interleukins).
Specific (acquired) immune defense
The specific or acquired immune defense can specifically recognize various pathogenic germs. Different types of cells perform different tasks. Different types of lymphocytes, which belong to white blood cells, are particularly important (see below).
The components of the immune system
The various components of the immune system are fine-tuned and complement each other. Various defense cells, messenger substances and organs ensure that pathogens are recognized and warded off or that defective body cells are destroyed.
The mechanical barriers
Pollutants, germs, and pathogens are prevented from entering the body by various hurdles. Skin and mucous membranes protect the body surfaces that have direct contact with the environment. The mucus on the mucous membranes, the protective acid mantle of the skin and the acidic environment in the female vagina make these barriers particularly effective. The tear film in the eye, our saliva, sweat, and nasal secretions contain the enzyme lysozyme, which attacks the cell wall of certain types of microorganisms (more specifically, they are gram-positive bacteria).
If pathogens penetrate through the respiratory tract, the cilia and the mucus in the bronchi of the lungs ensure that they are transported outside again. In the stomach, gastric acid kills invaded pathogens. The urine flushes out invaded pathogens from the urethra.
The immune cells
There are a large number of immune cells that contribute to the defense against pathogens. I would like to give just a few examples here since the topic is very complex. If you want to know more about it, feel free to leave me a comment under the article.
Lymphocytes play a particularly important role. As killer cells, you attack pathogens. Other types of lymphocytes form antibodies that fit into the lock like a key on surface structures of intruders and initiate their degradation. Still, other lymphocytes are transformed into memory cells, which ensure that the next contact enables a faster and more effective immune response. In this way, you can become immune to diseases you have already gone through and this is also the mechanism by which vaccinations work. Macrophages (phagocytes) and a number of other cell types also belong to the immune cells.
The humoral immune defense
The word “humoral” means “concerning body fluids”. One speaks of the humoral defense when it refers to defense substances that can be found in the blood, in the lymphatic fluid or in the tissue fluid.
These primarily include the antibodies. Certain messenger substances (the interleukins, which belong to the cytokines) also play a role in the activation of the immune cells. The immune response is supplemented by the so-called complement system, a group of more than 30 proteins. The complement marks the surface of foreign cells, attacks their cell walls, triggers inflammatory reactions as a defense and attracts phagocytes.
These organs belong to the immune system
Numerous organs are involved in immune defense, which form immune cells, where a particularly large number of immune defense cells accumulate or which fulfill other, very special functions in the immune system.
The lymphatic system
The lymphatic system or lymphatic system is probably the most important component of the immune system. It is made up of the lymph channels and lymph nodes, as well as various lymphatic organs:
- Lymphatic system and lymphatic fluid: Like the bloodstream, the lymphatic system runs through the entire body as a network. Fats and components that are too large for the blood vessels are transported in the lymph fluid (lymph). Bacteria and degraded pathogens are also disposed of with the lymph.
- Lymph nodes: In the armpit, groin, intestine and other body regions, the lymphatic vessels converge in the small, bean-shaped lymph nodes. These act as a filter and clean the lymphatic fluid of foreign substances, cell debris, and pathogens. There are numerous immune cells that take care of the breakdown of the filtered out pathogens.
- Spleen: The spleen is only around 11 centimeters long and weighs a maximum of 200 grams. It filters old and damaged cells from the blood and removes microorganisms. Lymphocytes from progenitor cells also mature in the spleen.
- Lymphatic pharynx ring: The tonsils, which you may have already felt painfully with tonsillitis, as well as the tonsils, tubes, and tongues intercept pathogens that penetrate through the mouth or nose.
- Thymus: In the thymus, which lies above the heart, the immune cells mature in children. This maturation later moves to the spleen and lymph nodes. From puberty, the thymus is gradually converted into adipose tissue.
- Bone marrow: The precursors of most blood and immune cells are formed in the bone marrow.
Intestine and appendix
In recent decades, researchers have increasingly found out what role the intestine plays in the immune system. Today we know that the intestinal flora is important for the defense against infections. The intestinal flora, immune system, and hormone system communicate closely with each other (2).
The appendix has long been considered a superfluous appendage of the colon. There is a small protuberance in the appendix, the appendix, which is inflamed during appendicitis. Today we know that the appendix and the appendix have important functions.
They serve as a safe haven for bacteria in the intestinal flora. From there, they can repopulate the intestine after having diarrhea or taking antibiotics. You can find more interesting information about the intestine and appendix in the book “Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Under-Rated Organ”, which is listed in the book tips section below.
Of course, the brain is not an organ that belongs directly to the immune system. However, the psyche has a major impact on our body’s defenses. Stress, psychological problems, and fears weaken the immune system. Conversely, a disturbed immune system can also affect the psyche. Whether someone gets depressed or not always depends on many factors. For example, depression can be related to the intestine.
Furthermore, new research results show that constant activation of the immune system, e.g. due to chronic inflammation, leads to the release of cytokines (messenger substances of the immune system) and could thus contribute to the development of depression (3) and bipolar disorders (4).
Immune system disorders affect our health
The immune system does not always work properly. A weakened, but also an excessive immune system can have serious consequences for our body. There are a number of diseases that are triggered by disorders in the immune system. This includes congenital immunodeficiencies in which the immune system is not functioning properly. The immune system is also affected by diseases such as AIDS. A too strong or misguided immune response can lead to diseases such as allergies and autoimmune diseases.
You can read here more about allergies and why allergic diseases are becoming more common. But we ourselves can also strain the immune system through our lifestyle. But how do you know that your immune system is weak and what can affect your immune system?
When the immune system is weakened
If your immune system is weakened, you may notice that you are more susceptible to colds, coughs and runny nose. Impaired immune systems can make you feel tired and exhausted. Difficulty concentrating can also happen. The causes can vary widely from person to person and often several factors come together.
The following points can cause your immune system to not work optimally:
- Too little exercise
- Permanent stress
- Insufficient regeneration (sleep, relaxation)
- Not enough sunlight
- Low-nutrient diet (some minerals and vitamins are essential for the function of the immune system)
- Nicotine, alcohol and environmental pollutants strain the immune system
- Impaired intestinal flora (for example due to poor nutrition or antibiotics)
You can influence most of these points yourself and thus strengthen your immune system, feel fitter and prevent infections.
Why are enzymes important for the immune system?
Enzymes are protein molecules that trigger and regulate all metabolic processes in the human organism. Unnoticed, 200 million chemical processes take place in the body every day with the help of various enzymes that are specially produced for the respective process. It has been proven that most diseases and a weak immune system are associated with a lack of the body’s own enzymes.
This deficit is also responsible for premature aging and reduced cell energy. Already at birth, we are equipped with a body’s own enzyme depot. To maintain this, natural food should serve as a source of essential enzyme components.
Lack of enzymes makes you susceptible to diseases
Around 80% of people worldwide suffer from a lack of nutrients and enzymes, which is accompanied by symptoms such as susceptibility to infection and fatigue. Digestion problems, skin irritation, and poor concentration can also indicate reduced enzymatic activity. Nutritionists pointed out more than 25 years ago that heavily processed and contaminated foods are the main cause of most diseases of civilization.
Food that is irradiated, heated, sterilized and preserved contains only a few vital enzymes and has almost no vital substance content. In addition, pesticides and artificial fertilizers are used, which strain and harm our organism.
Health means full enzyme activity
All vital processes in the body are regulated by enzymes. The removal of poisons and free radicals (e.g. through autophagy ) is just as much a part of the sphere of activity as the unlocking of blocked nerve lines. Furthermore, enzymes regulate the acid-base balance, the hormone system, wound healing, and pain relief. They are instrumental in the healing process of various infectious diseases and the fluidity of the blood.
Of course, digestion would not be possible without enzymes. But above all, enzymes are extremely important for our immune system. So how to boost your immune system, strengthen the body’s defenses and the natural enzyme depot while increasing energy?
How to boost your immune system naturally?
There are a number of things you can do to boost your immune system. However, this also includes the will to rethink lifestyle, change behavior and invest energy in health. But it’s worth it. Because all of the following tips not only strengthen the immune system but also promote many other aspects of our physical and mental health.
The psyche and the immune system are closely related. Stress, in particular, is a psychological factor that affects the body’s defenses. It is always dangerous when there is permanent (chronic) stress. The body is constantly on alert and releases stress hormones. These increase the risk of many illnesses, for example, heart attack or stroke. But the immune system also suffers. According to statistical data, every second person stressed. One in five complains about permanent stress.
There are several ways to reduce stress: Whenever possible, you should reduce stress factors. What causes constant, intense stress may not be the right way in your life. Often, stress cannot be avoided. Then it often helps to shift priorities and to integrate breaks, sports, massages, social contacts, beautiful experiences or recovery times into the daily routine. Relaxation techniques also help.
I myself have had particularly good experiences with autogenic training, which requires a little practice but is very effective in achieving deep relaxation in a short time.
The cells of the immune system can only fully perform their protective functions in the presence of certain factors (cofactors). Some vitamins and certain minerals serve as cofactors.
What are minerals?
Minerals are inorganic substances that the human body needs for many functions. They play a role in the water balance, the nervous system and as cofactors in numerous physiological processes, among other things – including immune defense. Depending on the concentration in the body, minerals can be divided into two groups:
- Quantity elements (sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium)
- Trace elements (zinc, iron, iodine, fluorine, selenium)
Since the body cannot form minerals itself, they have to be taken in regularly and in sufficient quantities from outside.
Three trace elements are particularly important for the immune system: zinc, selenium, and iron.
- Zinc: Zinc helps immune cells to quickly find harmful attackers and effectively eliminate them. It also increases the number of certain defense cells and thus leads to better protection. Zinc is mainly found in whole grains, meat, shellfish, and dairy products. Good to know: The body has no large zinc stores. Therefore a continuous supply of the trace element is particularly important. I personally can highly recommend the zinc lozenges from Immune Defence – they have a pleasant taste so that even children or people who do not like to swallow big capsules can take them easily. Check it out here!
- Selenium: The main function of selenium is to support antioxidant processes. Selenium is present in nuts (e.g. Brazil nuts) and in certain fish species (e.g. herring, redfish). Buy Selenium Supps on Amazon!
- Iron: Iron supports the phagocytes and is also an integral part of antioxidative processes. Iron occurs mainly in animal offal (pork liver, liver sausage), but also in wheat bran, chanterelles or dark chocolate. You can purchase Iron supplements on Amazon too!
Build up the intestinal flora
The intestinal flora is closely related to the immune system, as described above. To strengthen the intestinal flora, it is advisable to take a variety of active bacterial strains, so-called probiotics. If you buy a probiotic, make sure you have a minimum dose of 5-10 billion germs a day. An effective preparation contains several bacterial strains of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria and should not contain unnecessary additives such as dyes, gelatin, etc.
It should also be labeled as gastro-resistant so that the bacteria really get into the intestine. A suitable, very high-quality preparation is New Rhythm Probiotics, which I can only recommend from my own experience. For extensive regeneration of the intestine, other measures are important, which I have summarized in the article on intestinal rehabilitation.
Fasting for the immune system
Regular fasting cures and interval fasting can stimulate the immune system sustainably and also bring about a positive change in the microbiome, i.e. the intestinal flora. Fasting is an effective preventive measure against a wide range of diseases such as infections, some cancers, dementia and many more (6).
Sport and regular exercise
The immune system also suffers if we don’t exercise enough. So, if you are questioning yourself about how to boost your immune system, you definitely need to put exercise on your to-do list. It does not have to be a high-performance sport, but regular exercise stimulates all processes in the body – including the immune system. It is ideal to promote endurance, strength, and flexibility in equal measure. This works best (at least for me) when the sport is also fun. So go for a swim if you don’t like jogging. Or meet friends for sports or join a club if you don’t like doing sports alone. Are you missing the time or is it difficult to stick to fixed appointments due to professional or family obligations? Then you also have the opportunity to incorporate regular sports exercises at home. For example, there are great YouTube instructions with different workouts.
Regular exercise also stabilizes blood pressure. This is important because high blood pressure in old age can lead to dementia, among other things.
Fresh air and sunlight
Fresh air, changing temperatures and the rays of the sun boost the immune system. Outdoor sports are therefore twice as effective and it is worth switching to jogging and cycling instead of treadmills and ergometers. The sun stimulates the formation of vitamin D, which is important for our immune system. Researchers were able to show that vitamin D mobilizes the killer cells and thus effectively combats pathogens (7). In our latitudes, in particular, it is therefore important to use the sun in the warm season. If vitamin D deficiency is proven, a doctor can prescribe vitamin D supplements as support. Personally I can recommend the Pure Encapsulations Vitamin D. In addition, sunny weather also has a positive effect on the psyche – which in turn is good for the immune system.
An unhealthy diet also weakens the immune system. Fresh and natural foods and a menu with lots of fresh, preferably unsprayed fruits and vegetables provide all the important vitamins and minerals that our immune system needs. Fruit, vegetables, and nuts also contain many cell-protecting antioxidants that relieve the immune system. Many people feel better and more vital with the concentrated vital substances from smoothies. What many people often forget: Drinking enough is also part of a healthy diet, preferably still water.
Herbal products, food supplements and enzymes
Herbal immune stimulants and natural remedies such as Rosehip, Echinacea, Aloe Vera or Ginseng, which stimulate the self-healing powers, can provide an additional boost for the immune system.
Common enzyme preparations usually have only a few different types of enzymes and are also difficult to absorb by the body in undigested form. With the help of so-called cascade fermentation, the body is able to digest enzymes from fruits, nuts, and vegetables in such a way that they can be optimally absorbed in the form of a liquid essence and thus strengthen the immune system.
The circulation and immune system can also be boosted by a visit to the sauna. Alternatively, Kneipp treatments or alternating cold and warm calf showers are a good way to get the body going.
Avoid stress and sleep well
Pollutants strain the immune system. Some of them can be easily avoided, for example by not smoking. Regular or excessive alcohol consumption also affects the immune system. Lack of sleep is also a burden on the immune system. The need for sleep differs individually (genetically). Try to make sure that you can sleep as long as possible so that you feel fit and well-rested the next day. No matter if it is 6, 7 or 8 hours for you.
Alternative healing methods
Even if the effects have not been scientifically proven, many people report that alternative treatments such as acupuncture, Reiki, energetic healing methods or autologous blood treatment have a positive effect on their immune systems.
The most beautiful way to strengthen the immune system: more laughter
Laughter has many positive effects. It relieves stress and increases your well-being by releasing happiness hormones. We need hundreds of muscles in the face and body to laugh. This is how we get the whole body going when we laugh. The oxygen supply in the brain improves. A positive attitude to life, serenity, and happiness also ensures a healthy immune system.
Recommended books about the immune system
If you are curious about how to boost your immune system and want to dig deeper here are a few recommended reads!
- The Microbe Factor by Dr. Hiromi Shinya
- Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Under-Rated Organ by Giulia Enders
- Vitamins: Life’s Hidden Miracle by Andreas Jopp
So, I hope I was able to answer the question of how to boost your immune system. Do you have any questions about how to boost your immune system or would you like to share your own experiences with us? Leave a comment below!
Mahdavian Delavary B, et al. Macrophages in skin injury and repair. Immunobiology. 2011; 216: 753-762.
Purchiaroni F, et al. The role of intestinal microbiota and the immune system. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci 2013; 17 (3): 323-33.
Dowlati Y, et al. A Meta-Analysis of Cytokines in Major Depression. Biological Psychiatry 2010; 67 (5): 446-457.
Brietzke E, et al. Comparison of cytokine levels in depressed, manic and euthymic patients with bipolar disorder. J Affect Disord 2009; 116 (3): 214-7.
Michalsen A, Li C, Fasting therapy for treating and preventing disease – current state of the evidence. Research compliment medicine. 2013; 20 (6): 444-53.
By Essen MR, et al. Vitamin D controls T cell antigen receptor signaling and activation of human T cells. Nat Immunol 2010; 11 (4): 344-9.