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  • Writer's pictureElise Johnson

Explore and Strengthen Your Immune System

A group of individuals working in a community garden together. City skyline can be seen in the background.
Community Garden

Let’s explore our amazing immune system so that we can do our best to strengthen it! We know that the main goal of our immune system is to protect us from infection and disease. But, did you know that when your immune system is working properly it keeps a record of every single microbe it has ever defeated? It’s true! That means it can recognize and destroy the microbe quickly if it enters the body again. What an amazing body we have been given!


If your immune system is overwhelmed, it cannot do it’s job and protect you from illness. Our first line of defense is our innate immune response. It’s main job is to protect us against harmful invaders like bacteria and viruses. This first line of defense is made up of the following components:

- Antibacterial substances and enzymes found in your saliva and airways that can kill germs as they enter the body.

- Mucus in the lungs helps trap germs we inhale to be removed from the airways by hair-like structures called cilia.

- Stomach acid prevents germs that enter the body through food from going any further into our system.

- Harmless bacteria cover our skin and live in mucous membranes to attack germs. You can even find them in your ear wax! These barriers to pathogens are an essential part of immunity.

As the first line of defense, this immune response acts quickly to attack and destroy invading germs. We can help remove germs to prevent infections and thus help our immune system by frequently washing our hands with soapy water. Germs from unwashed hands can enter the body through food and by touching our eyes, nose, and mouth. These germs can also be transferred to others.

You can often hear my grandchildren and I singing “Happy Birthday to You” as they wash their hands. Singing the song twice as you wash your hands ensures that you have spent an adequate amount of time soaping up before rinsing.


I often talk about our lymphatic system when encouraging others to jump on a rebounder. Your lymphatic system is essential to the role of immunity. The primary lymphoid organs include the bone marrow and the thymus. They create special immune system cells called lymphocytes. The secondary lymphoid organs include the lymph nodes, spleen, tonsils, and certain tissue in various mucous membrane layers in the body. These organs are where the immune system cells do their job of fighting off germs and foreign substances.


Massage is a great way to help maintain the health of your lymphatic system. A specialized type of massage called lymph drainage can be performed by a specially- trained massage therapist. Using a series of gliding, compressing, stretching, and cupping motions over the client’s body, these light rhythmic movements stimulate the lymphatic system enabling the lymph to circulate through the lymphoid node system. Lymph fluid is a mixture of water, proteins, immune system components, waste products, and other remnants of cell metabolism.

Many people incorporate lymphatic drainage massage as part of their skincare and wellness routine due to its detoxification and esthetic benefits. Many report gaining relief from chronic pain, digestive problems, hormonal imbalances, skin conditions, allergies,

headaches, and a long list of other issues. You can find many massage therapists online teaching how we can support lymphatic drainage on our own. Just be sure they are specialized in this area.


A little organ known as the thymus plays a significant role in immunity. This little fella is part of the lymphatic and endocrine systems and is located behind the breastbone above the heart. Lymphocytes, also called T cells, mature in the thymus and perform many essential functions. For example, these cells coordinate the processes of the innate and adaptive immune systems.

Innate immunity attacks all invaders. The main purpose of the innate immune response is to immediately prevent the spread and movement of foreign pathogens throughout the body. However, there is a second type of immunity called the adaptive process. This one is more specific when responding to invading pathogens. Adaptive immunity evolves as we get older. It reacts in response to the different germs we are exposed to.

While the immune response of innate immunity is immediate, the adaptive immune response is not. However, the effect of the adaptive immune response is long-lasting, highly specific, and is sustained long-term by memory T cells. Both are vital in protecting us from illness.

Another important role of T cells is to constantly monitor the surfaces of all cells for changes as they move through the body. This process signals your adaptive immunity to danger.

Did you know that Vitamin A supports the thymus gland as well as stimulates the immune response? Did you know that Vitamin C also helps to maintain the size and weight of the thymus and can increase the number of T cells produced?


  • carrots, sweet potatoes, and winter squash


  • bell peppers, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts

Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and collard greens are good sources of both Vitamins A and C.


Located in the left upper abdomen, beneath the diaphragm is your spleen.

Some of its many roles include:

- Storage of various immune system cells

- Breakdown of red blood cells

- Storage and breakdown of platelets, which are responsible for the clotting of blood, among other things

The spleen is the largest secondary lymphoid organ and plays a significant role in filtering the blood, making it a major component of the immune system.

To eat for spleen health, be sure to crowd in the following foods:

- Veggie-abundant soups and broths

- Winter squash, carrot, rutabaga, parsnip, turnip, sweet potato, yam, pumpkin

- Legumes like garbanzo beans, kidney beans, adzuki beans, lentils, black beans, and peas

- Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds

- Seaweed and kelp

Spleen-healthy spices include ginger, pepper, cardamom, onions, garlic, cinnamon, clove, fennel, rosemary, sage, turmeric, thyme, horseradish, cayenne, and nutmeg.


Stress can have an adverse effect on our health in so many ways. For one, when we’re stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced, making us more susceptible to infections.

Did you know that the stress hormone corticosteroid reduces the number of lymphocytes and can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system? Additionally, common unhealthy coping behaviors brought on by stress, such as drinking and smoking, can have an indirect effect on the immune system.

It’s important to find ways to reduce stress throughout your day in order for your immune system to function optimally. A simple and fast-acting stress-relieving technique is intentional breathing, such as deep breathing. Deep breathing is our body’s built-in stress-relieving system. The process has been scientifically proven to affect the heart, the brain, digestion, and immune system. A simple deep breath immediately signals the brain to slow down and relax. As this message spreads throughout the body, a feeling of calmness takes over as muscle tension eases. Try setting yourself daily reminders to practice deep breathing. Throughout the day, and especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, stressed, or anxious, simply remind yourself to take a few slow deep breaths.


You already know how important sleep and exercise are to your health, but did you know they can improve your immune function? Did you know that your brain, for example, is more active while you are asleep than when you are awake? Sleep allows your body to regenerate. Many studies have shown an increase risk of dementia for those who do not get at least eight hours of sleep each evening.

But, did you know that while we sleep, we’re also strengthening our immune system? During sleep, our T cells increase, and the inflammatory cells decrease. Knowing that inflammation is the root cause of most diseases, we can clearly understand why a good’s sleep is so important to your health. When we’re sleep-deprived, the opposite is true, resulting in decreased immunity and an increase risk of diseases. This is why I recommend to all of my clients not eating within four hours of bedtime. Sleep is meant for regenerating and healing not digesting food.

Sleep quality and exercise go hand in hand. Exercise allows us to burn off excess energy, which can otherwise leave us feeling restless. Exercise also contributes to general good health, including a healthy immune system. Exercise promotes healthy blood circulation, which is necessary for the removal of toxins and the delivery of cells from one location to another. You know I have to mention the rebounder again! :)

Regular exercise allows your cells and substances of the immune system to move through your body freely to do their job efficiently. Adults need 7-8 hours of sleep each night. If you have trouble getting to sleep, try creating a calming nighttime routine. Some people enjoy taking a warm bath or a session of gentle stretching to signal the body that it’s time for rest. Avoid eating or drinking close to bedtime, as well as checking emails or other stress-inducing activities.

When it comes to physical activity, adults need at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week. Strength training with

weights or resistance bands is also recommended twice a week.


The foods you eat can significantly improve or hinder your immune system. Aim for a well-balanced diet that incorporates a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables every day. Eat the rainbow and always remember to add “just one more” vegetable or fruit to your plate.

The more color you can incorporate into your diet, the better your chances are of getting a variety of nutrients. To complete your balanced diet, opt for lean proteins such as lentils, fish, and chicken and complex carbohydrates like quinoa and brown rice.

To improve the function of your immune system, it is also recommended to prioritize your gut health. This can be accomplished by eating probiotic foods, which are foods containing live microorganisms.

Try incorporating the following fermented foods into your diet to increase your intake of natural probiotics:

- Unpasteurized sauerkraut and kimchi

- Tofu, miso, natto

- Kombucha

I truly hope you found this post helpful. If so, leave us a comment! I’d love to hear from you. Let’s have a conversation!

Until next time,

Be well,

Elise xo

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