8 facts you don’t know about your immune system that can affect your health
Immune health is on a lot of people’s minds right now. If you are asking yourself how to boost your immunity, here are 8 game-changing things you might not know about your immune system — and 8 actions you can take right now to protect your immune health.
1. Immune health is gut health
It may come as a surprise that the gut is the largest organ in the immune system. In fact, 80% of the immune system is embedded in the core architecture of the gut! But it makes sense if you think about it. Since everything you eat and drink passes through your gut, it encounters more inflammation-causing food toxins, pathogens, and microbes than any other part of your body. What better place for your immune system to live than right on the front lines?
What are the elements of the gut immune system, also known as “mucosal immunity”?
- Epithelium. The epithelium is the surface layer of intestinal cells — the part of your GI tract that comes into contact with everything you eat and drink. Epithelial cells are the building blocks of the gut barrier and a key part of core gut architecture. They act as microbial sensors. When they sense an invader, epithelial cells send out an SOS to white blood cells (such as neutrophils, eosinophils, monocytes, macrophages, and T cells), readying your protective immune army.
- Lamina propria. Chances are, you’ve never heard of your lamina propria. This immune-dense layer of the gastrointestinal tract lies just underneath the surface layer of intestinal cells. You wouldn’t stand a chance against immune troublemakers without your lamina propria. That’s because the lamina propria manufactures and controls important immune cells like dendritic cells, macrophages, T lymphocytes, B lymphocytes, and plasma cells.
- GALT. Your gut-associated lymphoid tissue, or GALT for short, is a critical part of your body’s immune defense. It contains a large population of plasma cells, white blood cells made in the bone marrow that secrete antibodies in response to specific threats. There are more plasma cells in your GALT than in your spleen, lymph nodes, and bone marrow combined. Should a pathogen make it into your GI tract — from say, eating an undercooked burger — your GALT is ready to go to war.
- Peyer’s patches. Your gut — not your skin — is your body’s most sensing organ. It is a huge collector of information on the outside world. An important element of the GALT, Peyer’s patches continuously sample the contents of the lumen environment (the insides of your intestines) to check for pathogenic bacteria — similar to how you might regularly test your water for bad bacteria if you have a well. If there’s a problem with the sample collected by the Peyer’s patches, your lymphocytes go into action.
- Vagus nerve. The gut’s core architecture is full of vagal fibers that connect the gut with the brain, creating an internal information superhighway known as the “gut-brain axis.” If there’s something wrong in your gut immune system, your brain is the first to know. As a result, the vagus nerve is important for first-line defense against inflammation and disease.
Layers of the Gut wall and Lamina Propria
Symphony of immune activity in the lamina propria
Mucosal Immunity, Source: https://www.rndsystems.com/blog/intestinal-lamina-propria-cell-markers
Adaptive and innate immunity regulated in the gut
How the mucus membrane enhances immunity
2. Hydration matters just as much before we get sick as afterward
We all know that once we aren’t feeling well it’s important to stay well hydrated — especially if we’re running a fever. But did you know that hydration is important even before you get sick?
When you’re trying to fight off illness, hydration plays a critical role in immunity. The mucus membranes in your nose and mouth are best at catching and neutralizing bacteria and viruses when they have plenty of mucus. (Yes, mucus can be your friend.) And the two key ingredients of mucus are mucin (a gelatinous carbohydrate) and water.
When mucins are secreted by the GI tract, they’re quickly hydrated. This causes them to increase in size an astonishing 500 times to form mucus — but only if enough water is present. Additionally, when mucus turns to congestion, the only way to get it out is to thin it out. The process of thinning out and removing nasty congestion also requires water.
Action Item: Drink plenty of water! There’s no scientific basis for the recommendation to drink 8 glasses of water a day. The new advice is to simply be mindful of your thirst and to drink when you’re thirsty.
Too much cleaning can confuse your immune system.
3. You can be too clean
Good hygiene is a must for staying healthy, but too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. It’s true that we need to be extra-vigilant about frequently handwashing, and it’s important to avoid freestyle coughing or sneezing. People, cover your mouth and cough into your elbow.
That said, the immune system was designed to deal with an imperfect world. Our environment is rife with microorganisms…in the air we breathe, the surfaces we touch, and the food we eat. If things are too clean, the immune system doesn’t have the constant feedback it needs to operate optimally. It knows there’s background noise, and it’s trained only to go on alert when something spikes over the background noise. (Kind of like how the CIA must sift through lots of meaningless data to find genuine threats.)
When there is no background noise, your immune system either overresponds to everything or misinterprets real threats as the missing background noise and doesn’t respond at all. Either way, you don’t get the immune protection you need.
Action Item: Be careful, not crazy. Get awesome at basic hygiene, but don’t worry if everything around you isn't completely sterile. It doesn’t need to be, your immune system is smart enough to manage the complexity.
4. The gut-lung axis is a real thing
We used to believe that, except in the case of illness, the lungs were free of microorganisms. Wrong! It was recently revealed that not only do the lungs have their own small microbiome, it communicates with and is influenced by the gut microbiome. New studies confirm the immunological relationship between the gut and lungs.
Gut/ Lung Axis
Consider these discoveries:
- The use of gut bacteria-depleting antibiotics prior to a respiratory infection results in triple the levels of bacteria counts in the lungs and causes a 30% increase in recovery time.
- Gut bacteria have been found to control the inflammatory reaction in the lung.
- The production of a certain kind of T cells (Th17) is gut driven. These cells have been shown to be critical to the protection of mucus membranes (like those lining the gut and the lungs).
- The gut has been found to orchestrate “first responder” activity in the lungs and to be critical in supporting healthy respiratory function. This helps both defend the lungs against attack and support recovery from microorganism invasion.
Action Item: If you want to build your resistance, build your gut microbiome! Good gut bacteria love to eat polyphenols (found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, red wine, and extra virgin olive oil) and fiber (coincidentally found in many of the same foods as polyphenols), so feed them well.
5. Your microbiome is the training ground for your immune system
A baby’s immune system isn’t born knowing how to fight pathogens. It needs practice. And what does it practice on? Its own microbiome — that personalized collection of commensal microorganisms in the gut (native species of microorganisms that live there naturally, not probiotics.)
The microbiome teaches the immune system to differentiate between the normal, everyday signals of good bacteria (background noise) and the abnormal, alarm signals of pathogenic bacteria or injuries (real threats).
Action Item: Remember that your microbiome and core gut architecture are constantly evolving. Protect your gut health and provide the best possible training environment for your immune system by reducing stress, getting good rest and eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. And don’t forget to take your Previlli™!
How our microbiota trains the immune system in the gut and balances immunity
6. Stress makes everything worse, including your immunity
Stress can take a serious toll on your overall health. But did you know it can also depress your immune system?
Clinical studies show that a person’s stress level predicts how susceptible they’ll be to the cold virus: more stress equals less resistance. In fact, while acute stress (as in, a few hours) can temporarily enhance immune response, ongoing stress (as in, a few days-to-years) suppresses it. One reason is because as our stress levels rise, our cortisol levels rise too. That’s a problem, because this stress hormone decreases levels of infection-fighting white blood cells. Another reason is because chronic stress unfavorably alters the production of cytokines — small proteins that help direct immune system activity.
But even acute stress is ultimately bad for the immune system. That’s because acute stress enhances innate immunity (the kind you’re born with) at the expense of adaptive immunity (the kind you acquire with exposure to specific microbes). Short-term stress can also impact the makeup of your microbiota community, leading to gut dysbiosis (or microbial imbalance). And having out-of-whack gut bacteria has been shown to increase anxiety-like behavior and reduce coping ability, creating a vicious cycle. It can also affect mood, since the gut microbiota produces various feel-good neurotransmitters. For example, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) helps control feelings of fear and anxiety, while serotonin and tryptophan promote a good mood. There’s also evidence indicating gut bacteria have beneficial effects on mood and anxiety via the core gut architecture and the activity of the vagus nerve.
Action Item: Do what you need to do to reduce your stress levels: exercise, meditate, practice breathing exercises, make art…it’s different for everyone. Find your thing and make time for it.
7. Lack of sleep makes your immune system tired
Not getting enough sleep can wreak havoc on your body, and your immune system is no exception. Research shows that inadequate sleep makes it more difficult to fight off infection and increases your chances of catching a cold. In fact, one study found that people who slept less than seven hours a night were almost three times more likely to come down with a cold after being exposed to a cold-causing virus than those who got eight hours or more.
Studies show that the immune system is tightly controlled by the body’s circadian clock, meaning there’s a day-and-night rhythm to the body’s immune response. For example, certain infection-fighting white blood cells are more active at certain times of day than others. As a result, mice responded better to a parasite infection when exposed in the morning, but they fought a bacterial toxin better in the afternoon.
Action Item: To give your immunity the best chance at stomping out invaders, aim for at least eight hours of sleep per night.
Previlli™ is an all-new approach to immunity and gut health. It contains the following standout ingredients:
- PreforPro® encourages the growth of good bacteria and helps weed out bad bacteria. It also improves the efficacy of probiotics. Amazingly, this prebiotic starts working in just a few hours, so it can provide a quick boost to gut and immune health.
- Immunell™ supports cellular regeneration, reinforces gut barrier function, and improves immune response.
- Plant-based peptides support a healthy and balanced immune response and strengthen gut core architecture.
- Immune-loving polyphenols regulate important immune markers and act against harmful bacteria to boost immunity.
- Vitamin D also has a powerful dual function that supports both gut and immune health. Vitamin D and its receptors regulate the innate immune response to the microbiome.
- Selenium intake protects the microbiota during intestinal distress and dysfunction.