The immune system: Our great protector

Our body’s immune system protects us from disease and infection. It is a complex and integrated system of cells, tissues, and organs located throughout the body that has specialized roles in defending both foreign invaders (viruses, bacteria, fungi, allergens) and abnormal cells (cancer cells).

The key features of the immune response including stimulate the inflammatory to signal immune cells and antibodies to the site of injury or infection, engulf and destroy invading organisms, and ramp up production of immune cells and proteins to respond accordingly. It is well established that malnutrition and deficiencies in micronutrients weaken the immune function. At a minimum, getting the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for micronutrients is necessary for the immune system to function properly. Also, nutritional supplements can significantly enhance our immune system to optimal levels.

What are autoimmune diseases?

The immune system must recognize foreign invaders and abnormal cells and distinguish them from the body’s healthy cells. Autoimmune diseases happen when the body mounts an immune response against its own tissue instead of a foreign invader. The immune system can become the body’s worst enemy itself by attacking normal cells and tissue, and how the disorder manifests depends on which part of the body is under attack.

Common autoimmune diseases list:
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – The immune system produces antibodies that attach to the linings and joints. Immune cells will attack the joints and cause inflammation, swelling, and pain.

  • Multiple sclerosis – A disease in which the immune system attacks nerve cells and causes nerve damage disrupts communication between the brain and the body.

  • Type 1 diabetes mellitus – Immune system destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This results in high blood sugar levels in the body.

  • Celiac disease – Ann immune reaction to eating gluten creates inflammation that damages the small intestine’s lining.

  • Lupus – An inflammatory disease caused when the immune system attacks the connective tissue of our body. It can affect the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, lungs, and nerves.

  • Inflammatory bowel disease – Include Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, an overreaction of the immune system in the bowel, causing abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, and fever.

  • Graves’ disease – Ann immune system disorder that causes the thyroid gland to produce too much thyroid hormones. Symptoms include anxiety, enlarged thyroid, bulging eyes, weight loss, and weakness.

  • Vasculitis – The immune system attacks and damages blood vessels, which causes vessel walls to thicken and narrow, cutting off blood supply to tissues and organs.

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Nutritional treatment and prevention of autoimmune diseases

No one really knows for certain why the immune system literally turns on “self”. Medical treatment for any autoimmune disorder is aimed at reducing the immune system activity by using anti-inflammatory drugs and immunosuppressive drugs. Sometimes replacement therapy is needed, as is common with type 1 diabetes and hypothyroidism.

In a review article on autoimmune diseases reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, the authors pointed out that oxidative stress is the underlying cause of every autoimmune disease. Several studies also have documented the fact that the root cause of autoimmune disorders is oxidative stress. They found out the antioxidant levels in persons with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, MS, Crohn’s, and scleroderma are significantly decreased. Low antioxidant levels also been shown to increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

Nutritional supplementation would be ideal for patients with autoimmune diseases. Not only can supplements optimize the natural antioxidant defense system, but also can enhance our immune system and help control the inflammatory response. Let’s take a look at nutrients associate with immune system in depth.

Vitamin C

Immune cells accumulate and concentrate vitamin C and then quickly use it up during an active immune response, because vitamin C can protect immune and nearby cells from damage by reactive oxygen species generated by immune cells. Vitamin C may increase the production and function of certain immune cells that help engulf and kill foreign invaders. In addition, vitamin C also has the ability to regenerate vitamin E and handle the excessive free radicals within the plasma.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D limits certain aspects of the acquired immune response, playing a protective role and potentially reducing the risk of autoimmune disease and tissue transplant rejection. Vitamin D has been associated in the development of certain autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes mellitus, MS, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is an important antioxidant in cell membranes, where it functions to protect cells from oxidative damage. Vitamin E improves the functional activity of immune cells (especially T-cells) by protecting their cell membranes and reducing the production of immunosuppressive factors which is released in great quantities during a stress reaction.


Supplementation with precursors of glutathione (N-acetyl-L-cysteine, selenium, and B-vitamins) have shown significant enhancement to the overall immune system, because this antioxidant enzyme protects immune cells from oxidative damage.


Just about every aspect of our immune system needs zinc. It is required for the growth and development of immune cells, synthesis of antibodies, and a structural and functional component of proteins and enzymes critical for normal immune function.

Essential fatty acids

The two most important essential fatty acids are omega-3 and omega-6 classes. Our body turns omega-3 fatty acids into prostaglandins that are primarily anti-inflammatories. Omega-6 fatty acids become prostaglandins that are primarily inflammatories. The generally accepted optimal ratio of dietary intake of omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids is 4:1. Several studies have shown significant clinical improvements in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, heart disease, MS, and almost any disease that involves inflammation when they consume these essential fats as supplementation in right ratio.

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