Immune system supplements boost the body’s immune system – our main line of defense against harmful bacteria, viruses, and other infectious agents. Although they are mostly taken to ward off cold & flu infections, immunity supplements can also help with allergies, autoimmune, and inflammatory conditions. This glossary page describe some of the common terms and concepts relevant to immune system function and supplementation.
Adaptive Immune System
The subdivision of the immune system that is activated against pathogens that can overcome the innate immune system. The adaptive immune system consists of B and T lymphocyte cells and antibodies, and provides specific responses to specific pathogens. It is able to “remember” a pathogen, allowing the immune system to respond more effectively each time it is encountered; this is also why vaccination is so effective.
Proteins released by the immune system in response to antigens – substances capable of causing an immune response and harming the body. Each antibody is made to respond to a specific antigen.
A term used to describe processes or compounds that kill or slow the growth of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms.
Natural and man-made compounds that help prevent damage to cells caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS), a natural byproduct of chemical reactions. Antioxidants such as vitamin C and glutathione play an important role in proper immune system function, primarily through protecting immune cells from oxidative stress.
A condition where the immune system attacks the body’s own cells, resulting in autoimmune disorders such as lupus, type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. It’s not yet entirely clear what causes autoimmunity, but certain immune system boosters can help alleviate it.
Protein molecules such as interferon and interleukin that are secreted by immune cells and control the body’s immune response. Specific cytokines can promote the proliferation (growth and division) of specific immune cells, enhance immune cell activity, promote or reduce inflammation, and control over aspects of the immune system.
Immune cells whose role is to take antigens (compounds capable of stimulating an immune response) from potential pathogens and present them to other immune cells that have the corresponding receptor, resulting in the appropriate response.
A condition that occurs when the immune system is severely weakened or completely unable to protect the body from illness. Most cases of immunodeficiency are caused by serious health conditions such as HIV.
The immune system’s reaction to the presence of pathogens or substances considered harmful. An underactive immune response can make you susceptible to illness, whereas an overactive one can cause allergies and in worse cases autoimmune disorders. Some immune system boosters help normalize the immune response, keeping it from under or overreacting, while others can stimulate it without causing any actual harm.
Also known as SIgA and IgA, this is an antibody that plays a key role in mucosal immunity. IgA is secreted by the tear glands, salivary glands, the respiratory system, the gastrointestinal tract, and other mucous membranes around the body.
Part of the immune response that protects the body from pathogens, damaged cells, or other harmful conditions, and promotes healing. A large number of illnesses and health disorders can cause acute or chronic inflammation. Reduction of inflammation is one of the most common mechanisms utilized by immune system supplements.
Innate Immune System
The subdivision of the immune system consisting of cells and molecules that are always present and ready to respond to infection. The innate immune system involves epithelial barriers (cells that line hollow organs and tissue, as well as skin), several types of white blood cells, and blood proteins.
A single-cell layer in the intestines that helps protect the gut from toxins and pathogens. Disruption of this barrier appears to be involved in the development of inflammatory and autoimmune disorders.
Also known as white blood cells, these cells mediate the major functions of the immune system. White blood cells are present throughout the body, and are specialized into many different types, including lymphocytes, neutrophils, monocytes, basophils, and eosinophils. Some immune system boosters affect the activity of white blood cells.
A an important subdivision of the immune system that carries lymph, a clear-to-white fluid containing white blood cells. The lymphatic system includes lymphatic vessels, lymph nodes, and other tissues.
One of the major types of white blood cells that are found in particularly high concentrations in lymph. Lymphocytes are further subdivided into natural killer (NK) cells, T cells, and B cells.
A type of white blood cell that digests potentially harmful substances such as microbes through a process called phagocytosis.
A substance that helps break down and clear mucus. Mucolytics are mostly used to help with chronic airway conditions.
Natural Killer Cells
A type of white blood cell that kills virus-infected and other dangerous cells by releasing toxins.
The most abundant type of white blood cell and the first to respond to infection. Neutrophils can ingest pathogens and release enzymes that kill them.
An illness-causing microorganism such as a virus, bacterium, or fungus. The immune system identifies and neutralizes pathogens.
The engulfing of bacteria and other harmful substances by specialized white blood cells. Immune cells that perform phagocytosis are called phagocytes, and include macrophages, monocytes, neutrophils, and dendritic cells.