What is the immune system? We have all heard about it. We know it is important. We know a lot of factors affect its function. But few people have an understanding of the complexity of glands, cells, enzymes and chemical messengers that comprise the immune system. As a result we tend to lump all immune functions together into what we casually describe as the immune system.
It is important to gain an understanding of the various components of the immune system and their functions. When we fail to distinguish the parts from the whole we have a more difficult task when we try to improve immune function. If we were to liken the immune system to an automobile we can see how we need to focus on what part of a car needs fixing. When a car is not running well, we analyze what is wrong and focus on fixing those specific components. We have a far better understanding of our cars than we do of our immune system and our lack of understanding or our lack of experience makes it difficult for the average person to make distinctions between all of the nutrients and/or other therapies available for immune system support.
There are many factors that can adversely affect immune function. Knowing that these various factors may have a role should lead you to examine your circumstances and hopefully make changes that can improve your health. The focus of this article will be the types of nutrients that will support your immune function. Some of the other factors you should be aware of include toxic chemicals in food, air and water, poor diet, extended or extreme stress and genetic factors.
The extent your immune function is compromised can run the gamut from the occasional cold or flu to the serious diseases of cancer and AIDS. Examples of a compromised immune system include frequent colds or flu, allergies, autoimmune or inflammatory disorders, candida, parasites or fungal infections, chronic fatigue, sore joints and muscles and eczema and psoriasis.
The immune dysfunction you experience and the degree to which you are affected can serve as a guide to choosing which nutrients to take.
Types of Immune Problems
Immune problems can range from the common cold to cancer. There are four categories of immune disorders and you will need to search for solutions that meet your needs.
1. Basic Immune Dysfunctions include viral illness such as colds and flu. Usually these viruses are transmitted quickly and can quickly overwhelm your immune system. When your immune system is healthy, you can usually recover quickly. If your immune system is weak you may struggle for weeks to recover or may even develop into more serious complication.
2. Chronic immune disorders include problems like asthma, allergies, and digestive disorders. The causes of these problems can be genetic, environmental, hormonal, and/or dietary. Chronic inflammation is often a component and these conditions can lead to more serious disorders.
3. Life-threatening immune disorders are deep-rooted and are sometimes incurable diseases. These conditions can include AIDS and cancer. Sometimes these conditions are the result of long term imbalances in the body related to nutrition, toxins, and stress.
4. Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system attacks the body itself. Autoimmune disorders are some of the most difficult to treat because the body is not able to turn off the immune response. Diseases included in this category include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, type 1 diabetes and asthma.
These different types of immune dysfunctions require different approaches. A healthy person who gets an occasional cold or flu has significantly different nutritional needs than someone with allergies and different than someone with cancer or rheumatoid arthritis. It is critical to remember that nutrients do not cure immune disorders. Nutrients support structure and function of the body. The more you understand the different components of immune function and the more you know about which nutrients affect those components, the more effective your nutritional program will be. It is also important to remember that our knowledge of immunity is still very new and we are still exploring and understanding how to affect immune function.
It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss all of the nutrients that you can use. The nutrients that will give you the best results depend on many diverse factors and the best approach requires careful considerations of these factors, such as age, genetics, condition or disease, seriousness, length of time, lifestyle and nutrition. If you lack the expertise to develop your program you should seek out an experienced resource to guide you.
Types of Immune Support Nutrients
What follows is a list of the types of nutrients that you may want to consider. Each type of nutrients offers specific benefits to parts of the immune system. You may be fortunate to have good health and a good constitution and may only need a few nutrients. On the other hand, someone with a seriously compromised immune system may use many of the nutrients listed.
Colostrum is the first fluid secreted by lactating mammals. It is full of immune cells and can boost your levels of antibodies and other immune substances.
Beta Glucan is a molecule that activates macrophages. Macrophages are cells that consume foreign substances and send out chemical messengers that stimulate other immune cells in the body. Beta glucan is extracted from yeast and mushroom.
Sterols are plant fats that help balance the T-Helper Cells. An imbalance in T-Helper Cells can cause an increase in allergies, inflammation, pain and autoimmune disorders.
Mushroom Extracts are becoming well known for their use as anti cancer nutrients. Mushroom such as maitake, reishi and shitake are sources of beta glucan.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids are found in flax and fish oils and are useful for many conditions including cancer and autoimmune disorders.
Enzymes have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and can also break down the cell walls of viruses and cancer cells.
Herbs have a broad spectrum of applications and many herbs are useful for stimulating immune function quickly. Herbs such as echinacea, goldenseal, and pau darco are wonderful for fighting colds, flu and infections.
Homeopathic remedies can provide powerful symptomatic relief with no side effects and no toxicity. Homeopathic remedies are very successful in fighting flu and sinus problems.
Vitamins and minerals are the foundation to any nutritional program and should be used by everyone with health problems. Vitamin C is particularly notable and should be used by everyone with any immune problems. Vitamin A is important for anyone with respiratory tract infections. Other nutrients include Vitamin E, Zinc and Selenium.
Glandular Extracts can be useful to stimulate thymus gland and/or adrenal gland activity. These glands produce powerful cells and hormones, which enhance immune function.
Food Extracts from foods such as cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables as well as antioxidants from tomatoes are powerful compounds for specific types of cells. There are many foods which contain phyto-nutrients.
Green Foods such as barley greens, chlorella and spirulina are packed with nutritional value and provide concentrated nutrition.
Probiotics are beneficial digestive bacteria, which manufacture immune substances as well as keeping bad bacteria, fungi and parasites under control.
The above list is not all-inclusive, but it is illustrative of the wide array of nutritional support that is available. Your challenge is to learn as much as you can about your body and what is going on and to apply that knowledge to choose a nutritional program that supports and nourishes those cells, glands and organs that are affected. If you are unsure of what nutrients to take, find a qualified resource to help guide you.
While there isnt one product that will help everyone, it is clear that a person who is properly nourished and uses quality nutritional supplements, consistently over time, will do better than one who is not. It is also helpful to remember that you can always modify or change your nutritional program and that over time you can try various products, potencies and combinations. Your body will tell you if you are on the right track. The results you get are the most important facto