What You Need to Know About Your Immune System
Do you know what one of the most overlooked ways to support your immune system is? Find out by joining us for the first in a series of videos exploring human health featuring info and tips from Dr. Susan Mitmesser, who heads our scientific research program for Nature Made® and nurish by Nature Made®
Read the full transcript below
Daniel: Hi, my name is Daniel and I work in communications for Nature Made® and we are launching a new video series to do a deeper dive into human health and also talk about how nutrients can impact our overall health and wellness. Joining me today in our first video is Dr. Susan Mitmesser, she leads our scientific research at Nature Made® not only for our portfolio of products but also in support of nurish, which is our new personalized vitamins and supplements subscription service. Thank you, Susan, for joining us. I’m really excited about this.
Dr. Susan: Yes, I’m excited to be here thanks. Nice to see you - even though it’s not in person.
Daniel: We were talking about where to start this conversation and it seems to make the most sense to dive into the immune system because obviously I think that’s not of mind for everyone right now but I have a feeling that most people don’t really know a lot about it. Just to kind of take a step back and lay some foundation for people, in terms of what our immune system is and what it does I figured the best question to start with is, WHAT IS IMMUNITY?
Dr. Susan: The word immunity really just means the ability to resist something, which is a pretty simple definition, but when you think about it in a biological sense, its our bodies’ ability to prevent itself from an infection or a disease. Really what that boils down to is a complexity of organs and tissues and cells all working together with one common goal to really prevent things from invading your body.
Daniel: So, when I think about the Respiratory system or the Cardiovascular system, I could probably name a few things in there that are really key to that. What I don’t really know are the different parts of the immune system. Maybe you could share more information in terms of what parts of our body actually comprise our immune system.
Dr. Susan: I would start to think about the immune system in two primary parts – one part being the innate immune system and the complimentary party being the adaptive immune system. Think of the innate immune system as guards that are preventing invaders from coming into your body. Think of it as a barrier – your skin is part of the innate immune system; you have an acidic PH in your digestive tract and that is part of the innate immune system – it’s acidic enough that it actually kills pathogens going down your GI tract. So those are all parts of the innate immune system, the guards that are not allowing things in.
Dr. Susan: Complimentary to that is the adaptive immune system. Those are the things that if an invader gets in, gets passed the guards, the innate immune system first recognizes it as foreign, foreign object in the body. Then, it produces chemicals and things like white blood cells that fight and kill the invader. Then thirdly, it actually has a memory. So, your immune system has a memory in that it almost tags – think of it like a tag – on the foreign invader on your body, it tags it with an antibody. So, next time if your body sees that same foreigner or invader, your body knows how to respond to it because it was tagged and has previously seen it so your immune cells can attack it a bit differently and more robustly.
Daniel: So, if I had a particular Flu strain one year and the next year I was exposed to that again, it got in my body, my body would not only recognize it, but it would be able to fight it more effectively than if it had never encountered it before, is that the idea?
Dr. Susan: Yes, absolutely. So, your body has seen it, so it’s almost primed your immune system. It has an idea of what the DNA is and so it can react a bit differently. Absolutely, you got it.
Daniel: So, one thing that I’ve always heard from people and even myself I guess, but I’ve always heard people talk about their regime around supporting their immune system. Some people are like ‘that’s why I drink orange juice everyday’ or ‘the minute I feel sick, I take echinacea.’ Is there any truth or fact behind that? Can you share some details in terms of what’s the best way to approach supporting your immune system?
Dr. Susan: A lot of people do think of it as seasonal, right? Your immune system works in seasons and like any well operating system, it’s working, constantly running and it’s very efficient. So, it’s working all the time. Your immune system is not seasonal at all. It works every day, all year long and it doesn’t take a vacation. So, you need to remember that all the stuff that you do on a daily basis – your eating, your exercise, your environmental exposures all affects your immune system. So, making sure that those are well in place and you’re priming your immune system to fight when it is attacked by an invader, you’re primed and ready to go.
Daniel: So, it’s basically like you’re feeding those guards that never go on vacation.
Dr. Susan: Exactly. Well, the guards as well as the soldiers inside because you want to make sure they’re both very heavily armed.
Daniel: So, it’s really about bolstering your immune system continuously. Not moments and peaks and valleys. The best way to approach that is to really make sure you’re supporting that on a regular basis.
Dr. Susan: Right because if your immune system is fighting things all the time. Everything that you expose it to, it’s fighting all the time. And if it’s using the energy to do that and it doesn’t have the right components to do that on a consistent basis then, when you are bombarded with something that really gets passed the guards and get in and the soldiers are having to do their work, then it doesn’t have the robustness or all the things that go into the complexity of producing the white blood cells, making sure they multiply and provide antibodies to tag them and remember them.
Daniel: Wow. I guess I never thought of the immune system as being that complex. I don’t know why, but I guess I never really paid attention to it. Is it your immune system that’s responding to things as benign as pollen during allergy season?
Dr. Susan: It is. It is. That’s actually a good example of part of the innate immune system, the barrier function. So, when you are exposed to an allergen and you have a response, a lot of times it produces a mucus and that mucus is really to help you get rid of the allergen that has gotten into your nasal cavity for example and is helping to expel that, so that’s a barrier function. You just described innate immunity.
Daniel: That was actually really helpful. I never thought about mucus being a good thing.
Dr. Susan: Mucus is your friend. It’s there for a reason!
Daniel: So, you should be bolstering that immune system on a regular basis. In terms of nutrients, what are the key nutrients to help do that?
Dr. Susan: There are probably a couple that you’re most familiar with. Vitamin C is often associated with immunity. So, that’s an antioxidant and when the white blood cells release the chemical and they start fighting the invaders, Vitamin C comes along and it helps with that process. Vitamin E is another antioxidant which most people kind of forget about, but Vitamin E is heavily involved in the immune system. Vitamin A and Vitamin D. A lot of times people think about Vitamin A only for visual acuity or working with your retina, but it’s heavily involved in the immune system. And finally, my favorite is Zinc. Zinc is really involved and critical for a well-functioning immune system.
Dr. Susan: You need all of them collectively to have a well-functioning immune system. But Zinc I think is the one that is least recognized as helping with the immune system.
Daniel: That’s really interesting. I honestly hadn’t really heard about Zinc before. I think I only heard about it in the last year. I got sick probably in December and I remember reading up and Zinc was on the list of things.
Daniel: So, we talked about nutrients, we talked about how the immune system works and that idea of how you support it. Aside from the nutrient piece, there are other ways to support your immune system. What is the one that people often overlook in your opinion?
Dr. Susan: I would have to say sleep. Sleep is many times overlooked as how it affects the overall body and all of your systems, right? Remember, we sleep to restore our bodies, to repair our cells. It’s especially important for your immune system so your cells have time to repair, your body has time to recover. So, if you don’t have proper sleep there is very much is a correlation to the affect on your immune system. So, get plenty of sleep. Don’t skip the sleep.
Daniel: There’s such a debate about what’s the right amount of sleep? I typically seem to get between 6-7 and I feel rested, but I know a lot of people are a lot about 8 and I almost feel too tired after a certain amount of sleep.
Dr. Susan: Well, we are going to have a session on Sleep Hygiene in which I hope to address that very question.
Daniel: Oh, perfect. We made a note, will put a pin in that question for the next one. We’re going to dive a little bit more into our next video on how all of those nutrients work in the body to support the immune system, we’ll get into more details there and that’s it. This was really fun talking to you.
Dr. Susan: Thanks for having me. I really enjoyed the engagement. Thanks for the discussion, I loved it.
Daniel: Thank you everyone for tuning in for this. If you’re interested in learning more, we’re going to have more videos coming out.
This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.