The immune system is one of the most vital components of a well-functioning body, as it helps to identify and destroy any potential dangers before they can cause widespread impairment throughout the body. Whenever you’ve found yourself getting better after an illness, large or small, you have your immune system to thank, as it has neutralized the threat so that you can get back to your normal life.
We’ve gathered some of the most interesting facts about the immune system to help you better appreciate what happens behind the scenes when you recover from the sniffles.
1. The immune system is comprised of nine different organs
In addition to the spleen and lymph nodes, the most well-known parts of the system, there is also the mucus membranes, tonsils, thymus, spleen, bowel, bone marrow, and skin.
2. An adult human has approximately 800 lymph nodes throughout the body
(National Institutes of Health)
We’re more familiar with the lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, and groin, but these nodes are found at the convergence of every major blood vessel. Their role is to filter lymph, a white fluid that drains from blood vessels and is rich in white blood cells.
3. You actually have two different immune systems
(National Library of Medicine)
There are two subsystems that work together to keep you healthy: the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system. The innate immune system develops a response to any pathogen that it finds, no matter how dangerous it may actually be; this subsystem is presumed to be responsible for food allergies, as it doesn’t know the difference between shellfish and salmonella.
On the other hand, the adaptive immune system has specialized responses to specific bacteria or viruses that it has encountered before, whether through fighting it before or through getting a vaccination. Your body remembers every infection it’s faced, and it will quickly shuffle through its ID cards and develop a plan of attack for whatever bug comes its way.
4. The average person encounters over 60,000 germs every day
(Courtney Medical Group)
Microbes are everywhere, including in the air, soil, water, and inside our own bodies too. In fact, most of the healthy cells in our body are actually microbes, particularly in the intestines. They work in harmony with our own cells to digest food, where we and the microbes benefit from the transaction.
5. Only about 1 to 2% of the germs a person encounters are potentially dangerous
(Courtney Medical Group)
Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology at New York University and author of The Secret Life of Germs, notes that the vast majority of pathogens that a person encounters regularly are completely harmless; however, it’s the immune system’s job to find and destroy those amongst a sea of other potential dangers.
With so much to do, it’s no wonder that the immune system can begin to flag if it’s overworked or in an environment jam-packed with germs. This is why many individuals – including those with healthy immune systems – may choose to take an immune support supplement that will help give their immune system what it needs to do its best. These supplements include both zinc and beta-glucan, both important ingredients for the proper functioning of your immune system.
6. A health adult needs 8-11 mg of zinc per day
(Harvard Medical Center)
Zinc is a trace mineral that is used by over 100 cell types, including those in the immune system. It helps to create DNA, build proteins, heal damaged tissue, and improve immune response to threats. Still, you only need a small amount: men need 11 mg a day, and women need 8 mg. Pregnant or nursing women should up their intake to 11 mg or 12 mg so as to impart benefits to the child as well.
Zinc is most plentifully found in animal protein, including shellfish, beef, poultry, and pork; it is also found in smaller amounts within legumes, nuts, seeds, grains, and fortified breakfast cereals.
7. They also need about 250 mg of beta-glucan a day for improved immune response
Beta-glucan is a soluble fiber, meaning that it absorbs water and produces a type of gel within the intestines, slowing digestion and improving nutrient uptake. It also excites immune cells, which boosts their performance and helps them eliminate more threats.
While research varies on exactly how much beta-glucan a person should take each day, it’s noted that 250 mg per day is enough to generate the immunostimulating effect. For those looking to control their blood sugar, 3 to 15 grams per day is recommended.
As many people get beta-glucan from their diet, supplements do not need to have large amounts of it in order to be effective. Common dietary sources of beta-glucan include rye, barley, wheats, oats, and certain types of mushrooms, including shiitake and maitake mushrooms.
8. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week for optimal immune responses
All the things that you do on a daily basis to stay in shape – eating high quality food, getting enough exercise, and sleeping well – are also very important for your immune system. Exercise in particular is important, as it energizes the immune system so that it can function properly. You should aim for 150 minutes, or two and a half hours, of moderate intensity exercise every week to reap the most benefits. This can include brisk walking, bike riding, water aerobics, dancing, hiking, or mowing the lawn.