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Ways to Strengthen Your Immune System

Your immune system is pretty amazing, but like any other system in the body, it will not run properly if it is not cared for and supported in the right manner. Keeping it strong and running efficiently is vital to protect yourself from pathogens like bacteria, viruses, parasites, cancer cells, and toxins.

There are a variety of ways to strengthen your immune system, but first and foremost, is the diet that one eats. The diet needs to be rich in animal protein, contain a moderate amount of fat, and be low in carb, to acquire the nutrients needed for optimal functioning.

Diet and Your Immune System

Animal protein provides the body with the amino acids it needs to form antibodies, which protect the body from yeasts, bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and other foreign substances that may be harmful to the body or result in disease. Additionally, protein is essential for the healing process at the cellular level, if invasion by an organism succeeds. Not enough animal protein and you will be more vulnerable to infections and illnesses of all kinds and your capacity to heal will be diminished. Low-starch vegetables provide the body with an abundance of vital vitamins, minerals and antioxidants needed for a healthy immune system.

Additionally, if there are not enough saturated fatty acids in the white blood cells, their ability to recognize and destroy pathogens like Candida yeast, bacteria, viruses and cancer cells is impaired. Fifty percent of a cells membrane consists of saturated fat; it is what provides integrity and stiffness to the cell. Medium-chain and short-chain fatty acids possess antimicrobial capabilities that can help protect us from pathogens like Candida and bacteria in the gut and properties that enhance immune function. Fat is also a transporter of our critical fat-soluble vitamins E, D, A and K and they assist in absorption of minerals.

Sugar inhibits the immune system and decreases the body’s ability to fight off foreign invaders like Candida, by inhibiting neutrophil activity (one type of white blood cell that ingests harmful microbes in the body, and a type of a phagocyte.) So this is another important reason that sugar needs to be removed from the diet.

Some foods like grains and legumes contain very high levels of toxic and sticky substances called lectins, which protect the food from predators, that the body cannot break down very well. Lectins attach to the lining of the small intestine, particularly the villi, which damages the gut lining and then prevents it from being repaired. This leads to inhibited nutrient absorption, impaired gut flora, and then penetration of the intestinal wall. This is called leaky gut or intestinal permeability.

This allows the lectins, as well as small fragments of undigested food, toxins, bacteria and yeast to enter the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, the lectins can attach to other organs and tissue within the body. When the immune system goes after the lectin, then it sees the organ or tissue that the lectin has attached to as a foreign invader and begins to attack itself, which results in high levels of inflammation and may lead to the development of autoimmune conditions.

Additionally, the impaired nutrient absorption results in nutritional deficiencies and the disrupted gut flora then allows other pathogenic microbes to gain the upper hand and run amuck. All this damage results in a large amount of resources being directed to this area, which means there are less resources available for basic growth and repair tasks. Lectins are also connected with leptin resistance, a condition that impairs the ability to regulate appetite and can lead to cravings for sugar and carbs and compulsive overeating, as well as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and obesity. They also have the ability to make cells divide, which may lead to cancer.

A similar scenario happens with the other foods. The gut lining becomes impaired by something (grains, legumes, bacteria, candida, poor diet) and leaky gut develops. Partially digested food particles make their way into the bloodstream. The body produces antibodies against what appears to be a foreign invader (food particles), this is called food sensitivity or food intolerance. The food particles attach themselves to other parts of the body, and the immune system attacks that part of the body. This attack results in inflammation in the gut and spreads to other areas of the body like joints and the cardiovascular system. So identifying any hidden food sensitivities you may have will improve immune function as well, but ultimately the primary goal in food sensitivities is to heal the gut. Food sensitivities are a symptom of impaired gut integrity, not a condition in and of themselves.

Lectins are associated with a wide variety of autoimmune disorders like, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s, multiple sclerosis, IBS, thyroiditis, fibromyalgia, colitis, and more. For the most part autoimmune conditions begin in the gut. For example, lectins and/or food particles attach to the thyroid then thyroiditis or Grave’s disease may develop, in the kidneys and kidney damage develops, on the pancreas and diabetes presents, and on the joints then arthritis presents.

Lectins, are essentially a low-grade pesticide that occurs naturally within the food to prevent other pests (including human beings) from eating the food. They produce a variety of negative effects on the gastrointestinal tract to deter you from trying to eat them again. It is a survival mechanism of the plant.

Many individuals have been able to make significant improvements in a wide variety of autoimmune disorders by following the Paleo diet and also eliminating eggs, nightshades, nuts and seeds, and restricting fruit intake, because this eliminates all foods that may prompt an immune response that results in inflammation and lead to autoimmune conditions. However, this needs to be in conjunction with other steps like addressing Candida overgrowth, biofilms, parasites, bacterial overgrowth, improving healthy bacteria in the gut and boosting immune function with some of the other steps we are discussing on this page.

Grains and legumes also contain proteins that are similar to bacteria and other microbes, so the immune system mistakes them for an invader and again attacks the body.

Both grains and legumes contain high levels of phytates, a substance that attaches to minerals like zinc, magnesium, iron, and calcium and make them inaccessible to your body, which results in deficiencies in these nutrients that are needed for a strong immune system.

It’s important to note here that whole grains may be even worse for you than refined grains, because whole grains contain higher levels of lectins, phytates, etc., that destroy the gut and prompt an immune response. So eating whole grain does not protect you from these negative effects. Neither whole grain or refined should be eaten.

Additionally one needs to be sure that the diet provides sufficient levels of zinc, selenium, and vitamin D, as these are critical nutrients for immunity and are often depleted in individuals with Candida or other microbial infections. Vitamin D can also produce antimicrobial peptides that defend the body against yeast, viruses and bacteria. Approximately 70 percent of the population may be deficient in vitamin D.

Other nutrients that are important for a strong immune function include magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, B6, B12, vitamin E, chromium, copper, iron, iodine, and manganese. If you are deficient in any of these nutrients, and many people are, then your immune function may be impaired.

For example, zinc is needed for the creation and activation of lymphocytes, vitamin A is needed for production of white blood cells as well and regenerating the mucosal lining in the gut, B6 is needed in the production of red blood cells, protein metabolism, and cell growth, while vitamin E stimulates B-cells (a type of lymphocyte that produces antibodies), B12 is essential for cell growth and maturity, manganese strengthens the cell wall and enhances natural killer cells and macrophages, and vitamin C is needed for both production and activation of immune cells. Insufficient levels of zinc can also lead to a weakening of the gut lining, which will also contribute to leaky gut. If you are not consuming adequate levels of these nutrients or you discover you have a deficiency, then they should be supplemented.

On the other hand, many pathogens use a variety of these nutrients for their own existence, which can be one of the reasons why you are deficient in the fist place. So one must be careful with supplementation when they have overgrowth of yeast or some kind of bacteria, because many nutrients can make the microbes and their biofilms proliferate. For example, iron, calcium and magnesium are food for a variety of organisms and are used in the formation of their biofilm. Candida yeast feeds on biotin and some other B vitamins. Lyme bacteria uses manganese for survival. Supplementation of some nutrients may need to be suspended until the microbes are more under control.

Your Gut and Immune Function

On the flip side, the presence of microbes like Candida or some other fungus, bacteria, or parasites in the gut inhibit immune function. Approximately 70 percent of the immune system is in and around the gut. If the immune system is in constant battle with Candida or another microbe, it gets worn out. Some microbes have acquired the capacity to force you to expel your zinc when you urinate, one of the most important nutrients needed for immune function, in order to intentionally deactivate your immune system. So impaired immune function can be both a cause and a result of Candida yeast, bacterial overgrowth or other pathogenic invasion.

Additionally, your healthy gut flora provides a physical barrier (in the epithelial) against microbes that may be trying to invade. It is the first line of defense against pathogens. If Candida or unfriendly bacteria has taken over most of the space in your gut, there aren’t many healthy microbes around to form a strong physical barrier. Your healthy bacteria compete with the bad guys for space and nutrients. However, some bad guys can live right along side the good guys. Your gut contains trillions of bacteria and an abundance of B cells, T cells and antibodies are present under the mucus lining.

Your healthy flora also communicate with your immune system via your lymph nodes and tells it which microbes are the good guys and which ones are the bad guys, so the immune system knows what to go after and they help govern the growth and formation of organs like the thymus that play a vital role in immune health. If your good guys are in low numbers because of yeast, unhealthy bacteria, parasites or other toxins, then immune function will suffer.

Healthy gut flora also aid with digestion, assimilation of vital nutrients, production of digestive enzymes, metabolizing lipids, breaking down cholesterol, and creating nutrients like biotin, B12 and vitamin K. If there are not enough good guys, you will become deficient in these nutrients. They are also important for stimulating phagocystosis and production of lymphocytes and antibodies, and produce hydrogen peroxide and natural antimicrobial substances called bacteriocins, which inhibit pathogenic activity; and they also produce organic acids that help maintain the right intestinal pH that will discourage growth of unfriendly organisms.

Additionally, some microbes like Candida yeast can also penetrate the walls of the small intestine, also causing leaky gut and allowing undigested food particles, toxins, yeast and bacteria to get into the blood stream, prompt an immune response and contribute to inflammation and autoimmune conditions.

Your small intestine and colon are lined with specially designed cells called enterocytes which die and are regenerated every few days. In the small intestine, enterocytes produce enzymes that break down your food, absorb nutrients from your food and help form the gut lining (barrier) that keeps invaders from leaving the gut. In the colon they absorb water and electrolytes. Additionally, enterocytes are involved in the immune process by regulating transportation of antigens and presenting antigens to the T cells. Enterocytes are formed inside the villi and then migrate to the tips of the villi where they shed off and new ones take their place. So essentially they are a vital part of your gut immune system.

Like all cells, enterocytes need a variety of nutrients to be formed, like protein, fat, vitamins and other nutrients, so your diet needs to provide your gut with these nutrients. Additionally, the healthy organisms in your gut are needed to direct the event. If the nutrients and the healthy microbes are not available, then enterocytes are not regenerated, which leaves the door open for the bad bugs to get the upper hand, and a weaker immune system.

More than ninety percent of the cells in the human body are not human, they are a variety of other microbes that have found our body to be a nice place to live. Microbes live on all mucous surfaces, our skin and our gastrointestinal tract. Most of the time we all get along and live in symbiosis and many of them are critical to good health. However, sometimes the body may become overwhelmed with a particular microbe and this is when problems arise. The good guys need to be around in sufficient numbers to keep the bad guys from proliferating too much and taking over.

So, clearly, it is important not only for immune function, but health overall to not only eradicate the bad guys, but increase the good guys simultaneously, by supplementing with probiotics and avoiding other substances that can destroy good microbes. Eliminating the bad guys without replenishing the good guys allows the bad guys to regain control.

Substances or factors that disrupt the healthy flora in your gut, include but are not limited to legumes and grains which we already discussed, as well as chlorine, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, NSAIDs, food additives and preservatives, pesticides and herbicides, artificial sweeteners, heavy metals, birth control pill, antibiotics, chronic stress, sugar, carbs, too much omega-6, insufficient nutrient intake, and lack of sleep. So all these things should be avoided to improve the health of the gut, and consequently, the immune system.

However, it’s important to be aware that probiotics are tricky. When you have a variety of issues going on simultaneously like Candida and bacterial overgrowth for example, what helps with one may make the other problem worse. It is possible to have too much bifidus or acidophilus. For example, a lot of people who have SIBO in addition to Candida, often feel worse with probiotics. People with SIBO typically do better with probiotics that don’t have lactobacillus. One alternative for SIBO people is called Prescript-Assist and so can Sacchromyces Boulardii. Prescript-Assist  is also highly beneficial even if you don’t have SIBO and helps many people with Candida. We have thousands of different species of healthy flora in our gut. You may need to try many different types of probiotics to find one that works well for you.

Although many people think a lot of fiber is a good thing, too much can actually be counterproductive. The byproduct of fiber fermentation can destroy your healthy bacteria, when in excess, and make microbes proliferate.

Chronic Stress

When we are under stress, high levels of cortisol are released as it is the primary hormone that helps us cope with stress. However, one of the functions of cortisol is to downregulate the immune system; because all resources must be directed to dealing with the stress at hand. Immune function may be reduced as much as fifty percent when we are under stress.

Additionally, stress hormones kill friendly flora in the gut, which we established above plays an important role in immune function. It also decreases digestive enzyme secretion and nutrient absorption and alters communication between the gut and the brain.

If one is consistently under stress, then immune function will be consistently suppressed. We are all dealing with a great deal of stress in our lives. Therefore, it is crucial that one tries to reduce stress as much as possible and engage in a variety of So stress management techniques on a daily basis.

Environmental toxins

Environmental toxins of all kinds, like those chemicals found in your dish soap, laundry soap, cosmetics, shampoo, air fresheners, pesticides, herbicides, carpet, colognes and perfumes, furniture, air pollution, paint, plastics and many more can suppress immunity or overexcite the immune system and result in autoimmunity.

Also, keep in mind that Candida yeast, bacteria and all other microbes emit a variety of toxins. Candida yeast emits more than 70 toxins alone. So toxins can be both internal and external.

All these types of toxins can inhibit or alter the immune system and white blood cells in a variety of different ways, leading to depressed immune function or autoimmunity. Natural killer cell activity may be reduced, macrophages and neutrophils may be inhibited, bone marrow can be poisoned, or self may be confused for non-self.

For example, a toxin can prompt an immune response in a similar manner as it does towards lectins and food particles that shouldn’t be in the blood stream.

Toxins also create free radicals that bind with cytokines, the chemicals the immune system uses for communication, thus inhibiting the immune system from telling cells to go after invaders and resulting in a decrease of immunity.

Additionally, your body produces a variety of its own metabolic byproducts that are toxins. The body has a built in detoxification system, designed to eliminate toxins, but with exposure to so many man made toxins, or from a microbe that has invaded the body, the detoxification system can become overwhelmed.

Furthermore, toxins are a form of stress. If there is exposure to high levels of toxins, there will be high levels of stress; which as we just discussed above lowers immune function.

Equally important in the toxin category is electrosmog. Electrosmog consists of invisible electromagnetic radiation fields emitted from electronic devices and wireless technology. EMFs can disrupt or impair many different types of cells in the human body, including brain, nerve and immune cells. They disrupt cell-to-cell communication and appear to make pathogens like mold, Candida, parasites, bacteria and viruses proliferate and emit more toxins. Not only that, they stimulate the stress response system and cortisol.

Although it is not possible to avoid all toxins, you can significantly reduce your exposures by eating organic and living an environmentally friendly lifestyle, which will minimize their impact on your immune function.

Too Much Exercise

Mild to moderate exercise is a vital element of strong immunity and good health all around. It gets our immune fighting cells circulating more throughout the body, enhances their ability to defend us against invaders and produces more macrophages. People who exercise regularly are consistently less susceptible to a wide variety of illnesses.

However, too much exercise produces free radicals, which decreases immune function and can make you vulnerable to disease. Additionally, too much exercise is also a form of extreme stress on the body, which as we discussed above also weakens the immune system. Immune function is significantly decreased in people who exercise too much.

You should get exercise on a consistent basis, but it should be mild and gentle, like walking or yoga.

Not Enough Sleep

The lack of sleep can inhibit the immune system in a variety of ways. It can decrease natural killer cells or reduce their activity and result in less granulocytes (another white blood cell that digests microorganisms), and we produce less antibodies. Additionally, the immune system seems to fight better when we are sleeping.

You should also note that sleep deprivation sets off the stress response system, which as we mentioned above, also reduces immunity.

Adrenal Fatigue

Cortisol is produced and released by the adrenal glands. Too much cortisol weakens your immune system, because the immune system is slowed down to deal with the stressful situation. However, not enough cortisol leads to an overactive immune system and autoimmunity. Therefore, if the adrenal glands are not working properly, as is the case in adrenal fatigue, this will impact your immune system.

When white blood cells attack self, it results in inflammation. Cortisol is the most powerful anti-inflammatory substance in the human body. It not only counteracts the effects of inflammation by reducing redness and swelling, but it also plays a vital role in modulating the immune response. It both activates the immune response when needed and prevents it from being to aggressive.

On the other hand, if you have recurring, severe or long lasting illnesses and diseases, like the flu, colds, pneumonia, etc. this is a form of stress that will drain your adrenal resources and lead to adrenal fatigue.

The adrenals can become compromised from a one time stressful event that is severe or extreme or it may be the result of a lot of little stressors that build up over time.

Immune System Boosting Supplements

There are a wide array of supplements that one may choose from to boost the immune system. Here are a few that I think are most beneficial. Especially if you are dealing with yeast overgrowth, bacteria, parasites and the biofilms that are associated with these issues.Beta Glucans

Beta glucan is a polysaccharide derived most commonly from the cell wall of baker’s yeast that has been proven in thousands of studies to have a powerful ability to enhance immune function by stimulating neutrophils and macrophages (two of your front line defenders). They are even effective against anthrax spores.

It binds with macrophages and phagocytes and stimulates them to destroy yeast, bacteria, etc., and stimulate cytokines which are chemical messengers that the immune system uses for cell-to-cell communication. For example, natural killer cells use them to give instructions to other white blood cells like macrophages to kill a particular invader.

When purchasing beta glucan it’s important that they have used the right purification process, so the product should say 1,3/1,6. If it does not say this, then look for another brand.

Beta glucan can help boost an underactive immune system or calm down one that is overactive, so its helpful in autoimmunity as well.Colostrum

Colostrum is a substance which comes from mother’s milk and is passed on to the child. Colostrum that is generated by cows is exactly the same as that produced by humans, except that it is more potent.

It is a rich source of immunoglobulins; antibodies that protect your body from harmful organisms like Candida, bacteria, viruses, etc., including IgA, IgD, IgE, IgG, IgM and have anti-inflammatory effects.

An antibody may flag a microbe like Candida or bacteria, so that another part of the immune system will see it and kill it, or it may neutralize it itself by impairing some part of the microbe that is needed for survival or invasion.

Colostrum has been found to contain antibodies to more than 19 different microbes including Candida, h pylori, E coli, salmonella, rotavirus, and staphylococcus, and polypeptides that can help boost an underactive immune system and downregulate an overactive one. It helps support functions in the thymus gland, which is an important gland in the immune system as white blood cells go there to mature.

It contains substances like lactalbumin which provide protection against viruses and cancer, and lysozymes which provide protection from bacteria and growth factors that stimulate normal growth of, regeneration and accelerated repair for bones, nerve tissues, cartilage, skin collagen, and injured or aged muscles, and supports lean muscle mass.

Colostrum also helps regulate the cytokines Interleukin 1 and 6, Interferon Y, and Lymphokines, which are chemical messengers used for cell to cell communication, alerting our immune system when there is an invasion of something foreign and directing the action.

Additionally, it contains another substance called proline-rich polypeptides which are substances that macrophages and T cells produce to control the function of cytokines (chemicals used for communication). They are a primary component of the inflammatory response and can modulate the immune system by either increasing activity when there is an invasion or by decreasing activity when the coast is clear. Thus they can help reign in an overactive immune system, which will also benefit those with an autoimmune disorder like lupus, rheumatoid, Crohn’s etc.

Colostrum and lactoferrin also help leaky gut by helping to eliminate the microbes that may be causing it, reducing inflammation and repairing the integrity of the mucosal lining.

Colostrum has been found to significantly enhance immune system activity when fighting off pathogens like yeast, h pylori the common cold and the flu.

Make sure your colostrum and lactoferrin are from free-range cattle so they do not have hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides. Both colostrum and lactoferrin should be taken in powder or liquid form, because it is activated by saliva in the mouth. One of my favorite brands of colostrum is Bioactive Colostrum.

Colostrum does contain a very small amount of lactose, but it is so minuscule that most lactose intolerant have no problem with it. However, another option to increase immunoglobulins and lactoferrin is called Xymogen IgG 2000 DF. It is dairy free and contains much higher levels of immunoglobulins and lactoferrin than traditional colostrum, as well as transferrin (another substance that mops up excess iron so microbes cannot access it). Xymogen provides all the same benefits as colostrum and lactoferrin and it is also a rich source of cysteine which will support glutathione levels, (needed for detoxification).

So if you are lactose intolerant or if you would like something a little more high powered for your immune system, you can check out Xymogen. It is available in both capsules or powder.

If you have an immune disorder, cancer, thyroid problem or other endocrine disorder, you should consult with your doctor prior to using colostrum.Lactoferrin

Lactoferrin is a substance contained in colostrum where it works as an antimicrobial by binding to iron and delivering it to cells, making it unavailable to many organisms that use iron for their survival and reproduction.

Thus, when supplemented in the human body, it can do the same for Candida, bacteria and other foreign invaders, thus helping to kill off the invader. Candida and other pathogens also use iron to build its biofilms that allows it hide from the immune system and travel throughout the body, thus, binding the iron inhibits growth and travel.

Lactoferrin stimulates phagocytes, macrophages, neutrophils, and lymphocytes like natural killer cells, all of which eat up Candida, bacteria and other harmful organisms.

It also contains a variety of substances that are poisonous to Candida yeast, mold and many types of bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, clostridia, and Klebsiella pneumoniae; inhibits viruses like HIV, herpes and h pylori, prevents cavities and disease of the eye and may even slow the growth of cancer. So not only will it enhance the immune system, but it will kill some microbes directly.

It has cytokine like abilities, which means it can be used in cell-to-cell communication in the immune system and can prevent harmful bacteria from penetrating the gastrointestinal wall and entering the blood stream.

Lactoferrin also has a powerful ability to reduce inflammation by regulating inflammatory cytokines like Interleuin-1 and Interleuin-6 and tumor necrosis factor alpha, chemicals that are produced by T cells.

Lactoferrin can be found in supplements by itself or it can be obtained by taking colostrum, which provides many other benefits. However, the amount of lactoferrin that is in colostrum typically isn’t enough, so it should be supplemented separately, in addition to the colostrum for more effectiveness.

Antioxidants and anti-inflammatories like vitamin C, vitamin E, CoQ10, omega-3s, and curcumin may be needed to reduce the inflammation that is caused from an unhealthy organism itself and from the substances that the immune system is releasing to fight off the organism.

Germanium and echinacea have a wide variety of benefits for the immune system as well, but echinacea should not be used long term or it can have a negative effect on the liver.

As you can see, the interconnection of immune function with the rest of the body and its role in our physical, mental and spiritual health is complex, multifaceted and one that cannot be overlooked. Taking the necessary steps to strengthen your immune system should be a component of all health care plans regardless of which condition you are addressing.

References for Ways to Strengthen Your Immune System

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Cytokines and Lactoferrin

The Skinny on Fats

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Gut Flora and Your Healthy Immune System

The Lowdown on Lectins

Snoeck V, Goddeeris B, Cox E. The Role of Enterocytes in the intestinal barrier function and antigen uptake. Microbes Infect. 2005 Jun; 7(7-8):997-1004.

Irwin M, McClintick J, Costlow C, Fortner M, White J, Gillin JC. Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, USA.Partial night sleep deprivation reduces natural killer and cellular immune response in humans. FASEB J. 1996 Apr;10(5):643-53.

Severe Sleep Loss Affects Immune System Like Physical Stress Does

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Adachi Y, et al. The effect enhancement of cytokine production by macrophages stimulated with 1,3 beta D glucan, grifolan, isolated from Grifola frondosa. Biol Pharm Bull 1994;17:1554-60.

Beta-Glucan Enhances Action of Immune Cells

Kilpatrick DC. Mechanisms and assessment of lectin-mediated mitogenesis. Molecular biotechnology 1999;11(1):

Cordain, Loren. The Paleo Diet, Wiley 2001.

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