The immune system is quite amazing. It’s always at work, 24/7, year after year. It monitors your whole body and acts in countless ways to support your wellness. But what is the immune system exactly? Are there ways you can boost and care for this precious resource—your personal wellness? Read on for our guide to immune essentials and natural approaches to staying well.
What is the immune system?
The immune system is a network of cells, tissues, and organs that patrol your body for foreign substances and environmental stressors, then work to neutralize them. Healthy immune function includes both physical barriers, such as skin and mucus, and specialized cells that monitor, attack, and more.
For example, several types of immune cells continually travel through the bloodstream and tissues surveying and responding when appropriate. If reinforcement is required, complex signals activate more immune cells. Together, the body’s army of immune cells execute one of the most impressive biological defensive strategies in nature. The immune system even has its own kind of memory about issues it’s already encountered. The strategy of vaccination is a way to implant a memory in the body’s immune system.
A healthy immune system is one that is neither over-stimulated nor under-stimulated. Various factors can contribute to immune imbalance: stress, lack of sleep, inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption, lack of exercise, or excessive exercise.
Immune System Diseases
If the immune system is out of balance, problems may occur. A poor or imbalanced immune response can cause issues that range from mild allergic reactions to serious immune deficiencies or autoimmune diseases. Consult with your healthcare practitioner if you need help with immune function challenges.
Importance of Gut Health
It is said that 70% of immune response is in the gut. This statistic refers to the fact that the tissue lining the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is highly specialized to sort through and respond to tremendous numbers of microbes and substances every moment of every day. The gut is actually the largest area of the body to encounter outside materials. It’s also the site of a lot of microbial activity—those tiny living organisms that help us break down food and absorb nutrients. So it makes sense that when you help your GI tract stay balanced and happy, you’re also helping your immune defenses. The gut is so sensitive and hard-wired into our whole-body wellness that it’s sometimes called our “second brain.” Take care of your second brain, and you’re also nourishing your immunity overall!
Foods to Eat to Support Your Immune System
Did you know that eating a lot of processed foods, saturated fats, salt, and sugar can actually chip away at effective immune response? We pay a lot of attention to medications and germ-stopping, but keeping your body fortified with nourishing food can be one your first defenses against many immune challenges.
Start by eating the rainbow. Prioritize colorful fruits & vegetables in your diet, because they’re bursting with antioxidants and vitamins. The following types of foods can help with immune support, too.
Fermented or probiotic foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurt, and kefir can be important inner helpers because they are alive. They bring millions of helper microbes to your active inner community, the microbiome. A healthy microbiome is linked to better digestion, enhanced immune response, and production of certain enzymes and vitamins.
Foods High in Vitamin C
Vitamin C helps the body produce white blood cells. A deficiency in this common nutrient can mean you are more likely to get sick. The body doesn’t make its own C, so you can get immune-boosting Vitamin C-rich foods by eating citrus fruit (oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, etc.), kiwifruit, strawberries, bell peppers, and dark greens like broccoli and kale.
Healthy Fats & Oils
Giving your body a supply of healthy fats, particularly Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA & DHA), helps support healthy inflammation response and activates healthy immune cells. Olive oil, flax seed oil, and 100% wild Salmon oil can be great sources of these fats.
Herbs & Supplements to Boost Your Immune System
No matter what your dietary intake, a supplement regimen can build reliable nutritional support into your day and help support your body’s natural immune response.*
The immune system needs certain nutrients to do its job—including the powerful antioxidant best known as Vitamin C. Get the most out of each Vitamin C tablet with a formula carefully crafted for absorption. Like Immune Defense Vitamin C + Elderberry, made with fermented C so you can really absorb the good stuff, or our Vitamin C+ gummies crafted with Vitamin C from organic acerola cherry.
Backed by modern science and centuries of traditional use, Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is an excellent addition to an immune supplement pantry. You can take Elderberry year-round to build up benefits for overall wellness, or start taking it at the first sign of an immune challenge. Check out our Essential Guide to Black Elderberry for more on the benefits and uses of this revered superfruit.
Often under-recognized for its vital role in immune support, recent research shows that Vitamin D levels can make a difference in immune response. This fat-soluble vitamin is called the “sunshine vitamin” because it’s synthesized by the body when sunshine hits the skin. However, covering the skin, wearing sunscreen, or generally staying indoors can affect your ability to make your own D. Try supplementing with well-absorbed Vitamin D3 tablets or delicious Vitamin D3 gummies to support a healthy, responsive immune system.*
Since gut-health is so intimately tied to immune health, you get 2-for-1 benefits when you take a supplement designed to keep your gut healthy and happy. Look for a convenient one-daily probiotic supplement, such as Probiotic All-Flora™ that is expertly formulated for advanced digestion and immune support, made with 10 billion CFU clinically studied strains that work together to help you feel your best.*
Zinc is a mineral that keeps the body’s immune cells in good condition so they can quickly and effectively deal with invaders. The body doesn’t store Zinc, so it’s a great idea to take a Zinc supplement. New Chapter’s fermented Zinc complex provides an activated form of Zinc that is 1.6 times better absorbed than non-fermented zinc gluconate. You can also get Zinc from animal-based foods such as shellfish and red meat.
Mushrooms contain polysaccharides (such as beta-glucans) that help regulate the body’s immune response.* Beta-glucans are one of the most researched components of mushrooms and have been shown to play a significant role in activating cells that are part of the immune system's first line of defense. Don’t go for any old grocery store ’shrooms, you want high-quality, identity-assured medicinal mushrooms like Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum Ling Zhi), Shiitake (Lentinus edodes), and Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor).
Healthy Habits for Your Immune System
There’s one more important way to help your hardworking immune system stay in fighting form. Healthy lifestyle choices are key for balanced immune function.
Regular physical activity helps the body stay strong and energized.* The World Health Organization’s physical activity recommendation, for example, is that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week, and do muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days per week.
The old saying goes, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” We can’t guarantee the wealthy part, but getting enough sleep definitely helps you to stay healthy and resilient. Sleep is the body’s chance to strengthen and reinforce systems, kind of like a thorough pre-flight check before you start your waking day. Aim for the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night. If you’re not getting those sweet, restorative zzz’s, check in with your healthcare provider or work on improving your sleep naturally.
Water supports lymphatic system health, which is part of the immune system. A rule of thumb is to drink 8 glasses of water a day, though some people may need more or less than that. If you don’t love chugging H2O, try infusing a bottle of water with cucumber or mint. Water kefir is a great way to get hydrated and consume probiotics at the same time.
Getting run down by stress can deplete the body’s defenses. Like getting enough sleep, managing stress well can support a responsive, resilient immune system. What works for you? Sometimes self-care such as meditation, gentle stretching, or taking a walk can help you switch gears and start to reduce your stress response. If you’re having long-term stress challenges, talk to a healthcare professional.
The Bottom Line
The immune system is an incredible network that’s on the job in your body right this minute. Understanding how it works and what helps keep it ticking can help you stay healthy and well.
When it comes to bringing you high-quality ingredients for immune function, New Chapter ® formulates supplements with the finest berries, nutrients, mushrooms, and herbs that your body can recognize and use as food. It’s all part of New Chapter doing wellness well, so you can do you!