Immune Function

The immune system is truly an army, with Infantry, Special Forces and even an Intelligence division. Communications employs tens of thousands of different codes carried on the cytokines which also connect it to each and every organ function of the body at large. In fact, the immune system is so specialized and complicated it seems like a miracle that it functions as well and smoothly as it usually does!

“You are what you eat” is never more true than when it comes to the immune system.

Deficiencies in the two most basic components of nutrition, calories and protein, can compromise immunity. Adequate nutrition is needed to maintain cell division, production of cytokines and antibodies, integrity of the skin and mucus membrane barriers and activity of the thymus gland.  Just as important but harder to see is the effect of individual nutrients.

The foot soldiers of the immune system are cells like neutrophils and macrophages which are primed and ready to respond immediately to damaged cells as well as any invading organism or foreign substance. Their action is swift and highly effective but it comes with a price. Highly reactive oxygen compounds are used and the generated oxygen free radicals can damage the immune system cells themselves or other healthy cells around them.

The function of antioxidants is to protect against this friendly fire. Vitamins C, A and E as well as selenium, copper and zinc are all critical players here.  Their antioxidant actions get a further boost from antioxidants naturally present in the diet such as resveratrol, bioflavonoids, alpha lipoic acid, curcumin, N-acetyl-cysteine and other polyphenols present in brightly colored fruits.

The amino acid L-glutamine is critical to the function of all arms of the immune system. Bioactive whey is a particularly rich source of L-glutamine and other essential amino acids.

The intestinal tract has a key role to play in maintaining immune system function throughout the body. In order to qualify for classification as a probiotic, an organism must interact with the intestinal lining in a way that benefits immune function. Among those benefits are supporting activity of immune cells throughout the body, normal counterbalancing of inflammation and maintaining healthful levels of IgA antibody to protect the intestinal tissues locally.

Components of food can also support bodywide immunity by gently stimulating normal immune system activity. These include arabinogalactan, mannanoligosaccharides and fructooligosaccharides.

A variety of herbs have been documented to support normal immune function, particularly in times of stress.  The most valuable are those that favor a strong balanced immune response.  Some of the most useful are Echinacea, Siberian Ginseng, Pau D’Arco and Astragalus.

The immune system is perhaps the most intricate and complicated function in the body and its activity is literally a matter of life and death.  Keeping it healthy depends on the same basic nutrition as all other body organs do.  A high quality balanced diet plus boosting of key nutrients such as antioxidants and herbal support will keep it performing well.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD




About Dr. Kellon

Graduate of University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. Owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions,, industry and private nutritional consultations, online nutritional courses. Staff Veterinary Expert at Uckele Health and Nutrition .
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