When it comes to the topic of immune defence, most people think of the classic vitamins such as vitamin C and D. Less well known is that amino acids – the smallest building blocks of protein – can also have a positive effect on the strength of our immune system. Not only in times of flu and coronavirus a good physical defence system is crucial.
Find out here what protein building blocks in this aspect can do for your health.
The human immune system and how it works
The body’s immune response is of great importance for our health and well-being. Two decisive functions are to be emphasized here:
- The defence system can eliminate and destroy foreign substances and microorganisms that have entered the body.
- It can also destroy the body’s cells that have become defective. This protects us from degenerated cells, which are characteristic of cancer.
The human organism’s defences are shaped by various organs, molecules and cell types. They form a complex network in which every physical system involved cooperates with the other functions.
Problems and disturbances in an immune reaction cannot only arise from the fact that the functions are not sufficiently fulfilled. An over-functioning of the immune system can also lead to disorders and diseases.
Allergies and the whole range of so-called autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatism, are due to an over-function. In this case, the immune reaction turns against substances that are harmless in themselves or even against the body’s structures.
Well-functioning defences are in good balance.
If you want to support this balance, your goal may be to achieve a balance between all functional areas. Not too much, not too little.
The build-up of the body’s defensive forces
One distinguishes as essential factors and components of the immune system:
- mechanical and biochemical barriers, which prevent or hinder the penetration of foreign substances and pathogens. The most important external barrier is our skin.
- Granulocytes, killer cells and T-lymphocytes, which as cells have important tasks in the immune defence. Some of these defence cells are organised in special organs such as the lymphatic system.
- certain proteins that, among other things, take on the function of messenger substances to control the cooperation of the systems involved. They also serve themselves to fight certain pathogens.
- some specific psychological immune factors.
The typical immune reaction
Although each immune response is somewhat specific, certain general processes can be identified for each immune response.
The first stage
If a pathogen penetrates the physical system because, as the current coronavirus, it has been able to overcome the first mechanical barriers of the skin and mucous membranes, the system carries out an initial test.
This determines whether there has already been a contact with this specific pathogen. If this is the first contact, certain cells such as macrophages begin their work.
These cells are part of a very primal form of our innate immune response.
Cells like macrophages take up the pathogens into their innards – scientists speak of them as “eating” pathogens. This is why macrophages are called scavenger cells.
The second stage
In a further step, the macrophages show fragments of the foreign pathogens on the cell surface to another part of the immune defence. This is the signal for the B- and T-lymphocyte cells to become active now.
Depending on the pathogen, these cells can either kill the invading foreign bodies or form specific antibodies. Antibodies render pathogens immobile because they attach themselves to them.
It is these antibodies that remain after the initial infection with a specific pathogen and thus form the “memory” of the immune system.
When does a pathogen make me sick?
Whether a pathogen causes illness for us depends largely on the state of our immune system. Typical cold symptoms in a flu-like infection, such as secretion of mucus from the upper airways, is our body’s response to the attack by pathogens.
The organism transports pathogens out of the body via the mucus-like rhinitis and sputum. Fever ensures that an immune response is more intensive through increased body temperature because the processes intensify overall.
The immune system is very complex. Various factors can harm the interaction of the physical areas involved.
Too strong an immune response can be dangerous
Problems can also arise if the reaction is excessive.
We can imagine such an exuberant reaction as follows: Our immune system is constantly and intensively at work. After all, it is also directed against its own body. Organ failure can be the result.
We know today, for example, that the high death rate from the Spanish flu of 1918 was caused by such an exuberant immune response. This is why this disease has affected and killed particularly many young people with a strong immune system.
Factors that strengthen and weaken the immune system
Various factors influence the immune response of the individual. It can be weakened by, among other things,
- wrong and inadequate nutrition,
- excessive luxury poisons,
- serious chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes,
- harmful environmental factors such as toxins and radiation,
- Age and/or
- an insufficient supply of micronutrients and protein.
Since factors such as stress and some chronic diseases cannot be controlled consistently, the supply of micronutrients and amino acids plays a special role in strengthening the immune response.
Amino acids that can support our immune response
Amino acids perform a variety of functions in the organism. Among others, especially the proteinogenic amino acids are the building materials of our body. The protein building blocks also function as messenger substances, as precursors of other building blocks and other important substances.
For a long time, their role in the immune defence was not recognised. Here, other substances such as vitamins initially attracted the attention of scientists and doctors.
Still, not all influences of amino acids on the immune system have been sufficiently researched.
What we do know is that amino acid deficiencies can weaken our physical defences.
Some of the building blocks are particularly important for the defence systems in the human body.
From arginine to glutamine
It is particularly important that we supply our body with the essential protein building blocks. Essential amino acids cannot be produced by our organism itself and must be supplied continuously with food.
The 8 essential building blocks are
- and Valin.
These 8 amino acids are particularly well absorbed by our body and are effective in many areas regarding our health, including the immune system.
They also play a special role in the immune defence:
The connection between a strong immune system and the health of the intestinal mucosa is at least rudimentarily known to most people.
The intestine is one of the organs that are firmly integrated into the defence system of our organism. Here, it is certain microorganisms that co-determine our immune response.
The amino acid arginine can help to keep the cells of the intestinal mucosa healthy. This amino acid also activates the thymus gland, which is also part of the body’s defence mechanism.
Finally, arginine plays an important role in the body’s nitrogen cycle. Here it contributes to the formation of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is essential for the health of the cardiovascular system.
A healthy cardiovascular system correlates with a strong immune system. Arginine is particularly linked to the amino acid lysine.
Both amino acids should, therefore, be taken in sufficient quantities.
This substance influences the maturation of lymphocytes and is also needed for the formation of an antioxidant in the liver.
Antioxidants fight free radicals. Free radicals are aggressive oxygen molecules that damage cells. They are therefore held responsible for several diseases and degenerative changes.
Scientists associate free radicals, for example, with the ageing processes in the skin and chronic inflammation. A surplus of free radicals, which are produced, for example, by intensive solar radiation or other external influences, also weaken the immune reaction.
It is therefore important, especially in times of flu, that antioxidants are available in sufficient quantities in our organism.
Glutamine is needed for the formation of lymphocytes. We need lymphocytes to form antibodies. Glutamine is naturally found mainly in our muscles. Intensive physical exertion, which in individual cases may also be excessive and thus stressful, can weaken our immune system.
The reason for this is that the muscle cells no longer contain sufficient glutamine and glucose. Glutamine also influences the health of the intestines.
This amino acid also participates in the formation of antibodies and antioxidants.
Many other amino acids affect the immune system, such as taurine, theanine, threonine and the substance carnitine, which is formed from amino acids.
Various studies have looked into the immunological significance of amino acids.
Ensuring a good supply of proteins during flu season
If you ensure a good supply of amino acids and important micronutrients such as vitamins during the flu season, you can strengthen your resistance.
You also support the body’s defence system if you are particularly sensitive to negative factors such as
- inadequate nutrition and
- the excessive intake of stimulants.
Everything that strengthens your healthy well-being also benefits your resistance. Pay particular attention to your daily intake of amino acids. Perhaps a supplementary intake with one or the other special amino acid or as an amino acid complex is also useful.