Boosting Immunity

The immune system is a network of cells, tissues and organs that work together to defend the body against attacks by foreign substances. These are primarily microbes; tiny organisms such as bacteria, parasites, virus and fungi that can cause infections. The human body provides an ideal environment for many microbes. It is the immune system’s job to keep them out and destroy them.

The immune system is amazingly complex. It can recognize and remember millions of different foreign substances. Once immune cells receive the alarm, they become activated and begin to produce powerful chemicals to destroy all the foreign substances.

Immunity to a disease is achieved through the presence of antibodies to that disease in a person’s system. Antibodies are proteins produced by the body to neutralize or destroy toxins or disease-carrying organisms. Antibodies are disease-specific. For example, measles antibody will protect a person who is exposed to measles disease but will have no effect if he or she is exposed to mumps.

Types of immunity:

There are two types of immunity: active and passive.

Active Immunity

Active immunity results when exposure to a disease organism triggers the immune system to produce antibodies to that disease. Exposure to the disease organism can occur through infection with the actual disease (resulting in natural immunity), or introduction of a killed or weakened form of the disease organism through vaccination (vaccine-induced immunity). Either way, if an immune person comes into contact with that disease in the future, their immune system will recognize it and immediately produce the antibodies needed to fight it. Active immunity is long-lasting, and sometimes life-long.

Passive Immunity

Passive immunity is provided when a person is given antibodies to a disease rather than producing them through his or her own immune system.

A new-born baby acquires passive immunity from its mother through the placenta. A person can also get passive immunity through antibody-containing blood products such as immunoglobulin, which may be given when immediate protection from a specific disease is needed. This is the major advantage to passive immunity; protection is immediate, whereas active immunity takes time (usually several weeks) to develop. However, passive immunity lasts only for a few weeks or months. Only active immunity is long-lasting.

Disease and immunity:

If immune system-related diseases are defined very broadly, then allergic diseases such as allergic rhinitis, asthma, and eczema are very common. However, these actually represent a hyper-response to external allergens. A normally harmless material such as grass pollen, food particles or pet dander is mistaken for a severe threat.

Immunodeficiency occurs when the immune system is not as strong as normal, resulting in recurring and life-threatening infections. In humans, immunodeficiency can either be the result of a genetic disease such as severe combined immunodeficiency, acquired conditions such as HIV/AIDS, or through the use of immunosuppressive medication. Some less common disease related to deficient immune system conditions are antibody deficiencies and cell-mediated conditions that may show up congenitally.

Autoimmunity results from a hyperactive immune system attacking normal tissues as if they were foreign bodies. Common autoimmune diseases include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus type 1 and systemic lupus erythematosus. Another disease considered to be an autoimmune disorder is myasthenia gravis.

Boosting your immunity:

We are continually exposed to organisms that are inhaled, swallowed or inhabit our skin and mucous membranes. Whether or not these organisms lead to disease is decided by the integrity of our body’s immune system. When our immune system is working properly, we don’t even notice it. But when the immune system is weak, we are at a greater risk of developing infections and other health conditions. Here are some ways to boost our immune system:

  • Vitamin C

Most people turn to vitamin C after they have caught a cold. That is because it helps build up your immune system. Vitamin C is thought to increase the production of white blood cells. This is the key to fight infections. Because your body doesn’t produce or store it, you need daily vitamin C for continued health. Almost all citrus fruits contain vitamin C (eg. orange, lemon and grapefruit). Vitamin C supplements contain a higher amount of vitamin C and can be easily available at a pharmacy. With such a variety to choose from, fast-acting vitamin C is preferred during sickness while slow release vitamin C is for year-round protection.


Pharmacist’s choice:


  • Garlic

Garlic is found in almost every cuisine in the world. It adds flavour to food and it is a must-have for your health. Early civilizations recognized its value in fighting infections. Garlic may also help lower blood pressure and slow down hardening of the arteries. Garlic’s immune-boosting properties seem to come from a heavy concentration of sulphur-containing compounds, such as allicin. It has been traditionally used to boost the immune system.

  • Probiotics

Because unhealthy gut is a major cause of food sensitivities, immune imbalance or a weakened immune system, it is important to consume probiotic foods and supplements. Probiotics are good bacteria/yeast that help you digest nutrients that boost the detoxification of your colon and support your immune system. Probiotic organisms may induce different immune cell responses. Supplementation of probiotics in infancy could help prevent immune-mediated diseases in childhood by improving the gut mucosal immune system and increasing the number of immune cells in the intestines.

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle:
  • Do not smoke. If you smoke, quit smoking.
  • Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low in saturated fat.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Control your blood pressure.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.
  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.
  • Get regular medical screening tests for people in your age group and risk category.


  1. Vaccines
  2. Live Science
  3. Dr Axe
  4. Healthline
  5. Harvard Health Publishing