Building a strong, intelligent immune system should not be just a seasonal, or occasional, effort. In addition to destroying viruses and germs, immune defenses also handle toxins, allergens, cancer cells, and numerous other aspects of defense and repair. For the body, immunity is more than a full-time job. It’s a constant state of vigilance, and can easily be thrown out of balance, leading to serious health problems. That’s why we need to make immune support a central part of our daily health routine.
What makes a strong and healthy immune system?
When functioning optimally, the immune system acts as our personal firewall and defense against viruses and other pathogens. But our immune system is a highly intricate network of complex biological mechanisms that scientists are still learning about. However, in integrative medicine, we do know this: Immunity must be balanced, trained and optimized—not boosted—in order to keep us healthy, regardless of the season. A well-trained immune system can be achieved by following a healthy, whole foods diet; receiving adequate rest and hydration; practicing healthy stress relief, and supplementing with powerful immune-supporting herbs and nutrients. The more we can do to support our immunity, the stronger it will be when we need it most.
Nourishing the Immune System
The immune system is an excellent example of the inter-relatedness of different biological mechanisms. Immune cells need nourishment to thrive. However, it’s not enough to eat the right foods and supplements — the body also needs optimal digestion to absorb the nutrients, and a strong circulatory system to deliver nutrition to immune cells. Sluggish circulation can have detrimental effects, such as poor tissue oxygenation, a condition known as hypoxia. Oxygen-depleted, hypoxic tissue boosts inflammation and oxidative damage, creating a fertile environment for acute and chronic illnesses including cancer growth.
Circulation is just one example of how the body’s systems work together. Cell-to-cell communication is another. Poor cellular communication, hindered by sluggish circulation, chronic inflammation and other factors, can impair the immune system’s ability to adequately respond.
Once we think of the immune system as part of a larger integrated system, we can structure our diet and supplements to support total-body immunity.
How The Immune System Defends Your Health
The immune system is made up of many different cell types, each one performing specific protective tasks, like soldiers in an army.
- Lymphocytes are white blood cells that destroy foreign particles and microbes and produce cytokines — signaling molecules that control other immune cells.
- Our first line of defense, macrophages are immune cells that engulf and digest foreign particles and abnormal cells. They also communicate danger by activating T-cells.
- T-cells, also called T-lymphocytes, handle a wide variety of immune system tasks, including attacking diseased cells, communicating with other immune components and bridging innate and acquired immunity.
- Natural Killer (NK) cells attach to microbes or tumor cells and inject them with chemicals that destroy them.
- Neutrophils are the most abundant type of white blood cells. Among other things, they respond to bacterial infection, migrating toward the inflammation.
- Cytokines are proteins that carry intercellular communications, reacting to infection or foreign bodies.
Auto-Immune Disease and Cytokine Storms
We rely on the immune system to quickly attack invaders and abnormal cells, but we also count on it to protect healthy cells. When the immune system is in overdrive, however, it can’t distinguish between friend or foe — between healthy cells and harmful invaders. When the immune system goes overboard, it can lead to cytokine storms and autoimmune diseases.
The solution is to support a fine-tuned, balanced immune response with anti-inflammatory diet, supplements, and therapies to help nourish, train, and harmonize the immune system.
Medicinal mushrooms and modified citrus pectin are powerful allies in this balancing approach.
Medicinal Mushrooms—Total Body Immune Balancing Support
While medicinal mushrooms are known for their ability to promote the immune system, that’s only part of the story. Essentially, numerous species of medicinal mushrooms function to modulate the immune system and train it to respond appropriately. Whether the risk is a microbe, a foreign body or an unhealthy cell, immune response must be highly discriminating, and many medicinal mushrooms aid in this selectivity.
One of the key active ingredients in mushrooms is a group of complex carbohydrates called beta-glucans, which nourish macrophages, neutrophils and other immune cells. Beta-glucans attach to immune cells and significantly increase their functionality and force against any possible threats.
Medicinal mushrooms also work to enhance communications between cells, which is essential in coordinating attacks against invaders. They also protect immune cells from some of these same harmful invaders and support other aspects of immunity and overall health. From a holistic perspective, mushrooms educate and empower the entire immune system, not just the aspects that protect us from cold and flu.
In addition to providing vital immune support,1 extensive research demonstrates that medicinal mushrooms offer a number of other beneficial health effects. They provide antioxidant protection; lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol; modulate blood sugar; protect vital organs; remove toxins; aid digestion; fight inflammation and protect against radiation damage, among other proven benefits.
There are more than 270 varieties of medicinal mushrooms. In particular, I recommend a botanically-fortified mushroom formula that combines the following mushroom species: Coriolus, Ganoderma, Agaricus, Cordyceps, Umbellatus and Maitake. These species of mushrooms provide comprehensive immune support while supporting multiple key organs and systems including neurological health, circulation, antioxidant activity, and much more.
Modified Citrus Pectin for Immune Health
Modified Citrus Pectin (MCP) is citrus pectin that has been enzymatically modified to allow maximum absorption and bioactivity throughout the body. The specific molecular characteristics of MCP give it multiple therapeutic properties, including a profound impact on immunity and other aspects of long-term health. Published research on MCP shows that it dramatically increased T-cytotoxic and NK cell activation and improved NK cell functionality against leukemia, in human blood samples.
Another reason that MCP is so beneficial for regulating immunity is because of its relationship with the protein galectin-3. This naturally occurring biological molecule is directly implicated in problems relating to acute and chronic inflammation and fibrosis—including cytokine storms that result from overreaction to viruses.1,2
Because MCP has a natural affinity for galectin-3, it can bind to and block excess amounts of this protein, thus helping to treat and prevent inflammatory and degenerative disease process, as shown in a fast-growing body of scientific literature. Modified citrus pectin is also proven in clinical studies to remove toxic heavy metals from the body without affecting essential minerals. This comprehensive spectrum of total-body health benefits makes MCP one of the most important daily supplements for protecting and promoting long term immunity and overall health.3
Additional Immune Support Tips
- Zinc is an important nutrient because it supports numerous immune and enzymatic functions. Selenium is also very beneficial. L-Carnitine, an amino acid, preserves cellular mitochondrial function which is essential for healthy immune function.
- It’s also very important to drink plenty of filtered water and get enough exercise daily. Take a brisk walk outdoors, do yoga, go for a jog, and be sure to stay hydrated.
- Happiness is another great immune regulator, so make time for doing things that bring you satisfaction and joy. Healthy stress relief exercises such as mindful meditation or deep breathing are shown in multiple studies to reduce immune-suppressing stress hormones and boost mental and emotional wellbeing.
- Lastly but perhaps most importantly, it’s critical to get adequate sleep. The body needs plenty of down time to recharge and repair. Going to bed at the same time each night, preferably before 10 PM, is essential in regulating and maintaining immunity.
All of these measures will help ward off viruses, but it won’t happen overnight. Just as you wouldn’t run a marathon without extended training, you don’t want to face aggressive pathogens and germs without a well-trained immune system. Once you develop a robust immune routine, the beneficial effects will become clear, with greater energy, vitality, and overall wellbeing—no matter the season.
(1) Hetland G, Johnson E, Bernardshaw SV, Grinde B. Can medicinal mushrooms have prophylactic or therapeutic effect against COVID-19 and its pneumonic superinfection and complicating inflammation? [published online ahead of print, 2020 Jul 13]. Scand J Immunol. 2020;e12937.
(2) Garcia-Revilla J, Deierborg T, Venero JL, Boza-Serrano A. Hyperinflammation and Fibrosis in Severe COVID-19 Patients: Galectin-3, a Target Molecule to Consider. Front Immunol. 2020 Aug 18;11:2069.
(3) Eliaz I, Raz A. Pleiotropic Effects of Modified Citrus Pectin. Nutrients. 2019 Nov 1;11(11):2619.
(4) Caniglia JL, Asuthkar S, Tsung AJ, Guda MR, Velpula KK. Immunopathology of galectin-3: an increasingly promising target in