Part-3 by: Jonathan Vellinga, MD
Without a healthy immune system, it is difficult for your body to fight off viral and bacterial infections. Luckily, there are many things that you can do to help your immune system function at optimal levels. To help you understand how your immune system works, and what steps you can take to support it, we have been posting a series of articles. In the first article, we discussed the 5 Pillars of Health, and the actions you can take to keep each pillar strong. In the second article, we provided a very basic overview of how your immune system works, to give you a basis of understanding for the rest of the series. In this article, we are going to discuss the five goals we target to strengthen the immune system.
Enhance barrier integrity: improve the lining of our respiratory tract, gut, blood-brain barrier, and skin.
Skin makes up a majority of the barrier. It creates a physical barrier and is also home to a host of microorganisms that protect your body from viruses and bacteria (1). Specific cells that live in the skin create antimicrobial peptides, which not only kill microbes, but also form a chemical shield over the skin.
The lining of your respiratory tract and digestive tract are another large part of the barrier defense. Parts are lined with cells that help sweep foreign substances away and produce mucus that traps germs so they can be destroyed and removed. Mucus also contains immune cells, antimicrobial peptides, and healthy microbes that works to protect your body from pathogens.
You can enhance the physical barrier by cleaning your hands and face regularly. In doing so you will wash away many of the germs that sit on your skin. As you may already know, a quick rinse will not do the trick. Be sure to wash well, for at least 20 seconds. If your hands become dry from frequent washing, it is important to use a moisturizer. Dry skin can crack and allow germs to enter through the cracks.
You can protect your respiratory barriers by keeping your distance. The closer you are to people as they cough, sneeze, speak, or even breathe, the greater exposure you will have to their germs. When you are exposed to just a few pathogens, your immune system can fight them off pretty easily. However, when greater numbers enter your body, your chances of becoming ill are increased.
While many people remember this as they are in public, it is also important to remember it at home. If someone in your home is ill, be sure to wash your hands frequently and try to keep your space to reduce the number of germs that enter your body.
Since the skin and the linings of your respiratory tract and digestive system make up such a large part of your body, if they are not cared for it can negatively impact your health. Environmental toxins that are consumed, breathed, or that come into contact with your skin, can cause much more harm than you realize. It is important to protect this vital barrier defense from environmental toxins.
Many nutrients can support and improve the barrier defense. Vitamin D and Vitamin C are two examples of nutrients that are vital to the health of your skin and immune function within the skin (2, 3).
Increase production of antimicrobial peptides: small amino acid linked chains that fight against infections.
Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are found in secretions covering the skin and mucosal surfaces and in neutrophils (a type of white blood cell). Most AMPs work as potent antibiotics, neutralize pathogenic toxins, contribute to the chemical skin barrier, and regulate the immune response which includes modulating inflammation (4, 5). They “are also thought to trigger and coordinate multiple components of the innate and adaptive immune system” (6). As you can see, AMPs are vital in the function of your immune system