Immunity is a major priority now and for good reason! Here are three truths you must know about immunity and your immune system:
1. What is the immune system?
The immune system involves multiple members that work together to defend the body against foreign invaders and abnormal insiders. In other words, our immune system protects us from external enemies (e.g., viruses, bacteria, fungi) as well as internal rogue cells (such as those that lead to cancer).
Immunity refers to our body’s capability to resist disease and infection. For instance, we all have a shared desire for immunity against the coronavirus.
2. How does the immune system work?
Our bodies have three lines of defence: physical barriers, innate immunity, and adaptive immunity.
- Physical Barriers: This first line of defence is made up of our skin and mucous membranes such as those lining the digestive and respiratory tracts.
- Innate immune system: This second line of defence is also called ‘non-specific’ immunity because it is our fast-acting general defence against harmful germs and substances that manage to breach our physical barriers. In many instances, our innate immunity is so effective and efficient that our adaptive immunity does not have to be activated.
- Adaptive immune system: This third line of defence is also referred to as ‘specific’, ‘acquired’ or ‘learnt’ immunity because it makes antibodies to fight specific invaders that the body has previously been exposed to. In cases where innate immunity is insufficient – e.g., an invader manages to escape the innate immune responses – the slower-acting adaptive immune system is triggered to respond.
3. Do ‘immuno-enhancing’ supplements really work?
Vitamin or nutrient supplements are sometimes necessary, and helpful – especially if we do not get enough of certain immunity-supporting nutrients in our daily diet. There are many supplements that claim to enhance immunity. It is important to separate fact from fiction; one way to accomplish this is to see what the science says. For instance, certain plants and fungi contain chemical compounds called β-glucans and triterpenoids – research reveals that these compounds have immunity-enhancing effects.
β-glucans are a class of polysaccharides or carbohydrates found in fungi, yeast, bacteria and certain cereals. Scientific findings suggest that β-glucans provide an immuno-regulatory function that goes beyond merely regulating immunity; instead, β-glucans are proposed to prime leukocytes, as opposed to merely activating them, to combat invading pathogens3. The source of β-glucans affects their structure which in turn influences their immuno-modulating properties. Research suggests that fungal β-glucans can directly activate and stimulate leukocytes (immune cells) responses3.
Ganoderma Lucidum (GL) contains various polysaccharides – including β-glucans4. In vitro studies, that isolated some of these GL glucans, found that GL β-glucans enhanced proliferation of B- and T lymphocytes, demonstrating immuno-stimulating activity 5,6. An animal study, proposed that oral supplementation of GL spores promoted unique gut microbiota structure (beneficial intestinal microorganisms) which stimulates immunomodulation activities to improve adaptive immunity balance7.
Inflammation is a natural immune response when we have an infection or injury. However, inaccurate activation or inability to switch off inflammation can damage healthy cells and lead to inflammatory diseases and cancer8. GL triterpenoids have anti-inflammatory activities8 and antioxidative effects that help protect cells from oxidative damage4.
An animal study suggested that supplementing with Ganoderma Lucidum spores oil had a multi-fold immuno-enhancing effect which occurs due to several mechanisms9:
- Increased phagocytosis of macrophages and cytotoxicity of NK cells
- Positive rearrangement of gut microbiota which alters gut metabolites
- Macrophages are immune cells that engulf pathogens (phagocytosis) and destroys them.
- NK (Natural Killer) cells are immune cells that kill tumour cells or virus-infected cells using agents that are toxic to these infected cells (cytotoxicity).
- Gut metabolites are small molecules produced by bacteria in our intestines. Different molecules can have either health-promoting or toxic effects. Some beneficial metabolites play an important role in regulating our immune system.
- InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne GI for Q and E in HC (IQWiG). How does the immune system work? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279364/. Published 2020.
- Abbas AK, Lichtman AH, Pillai S. Basic Immunology: Functions and Disorders of the Immune System. Fifth. St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier; 2016.
- Volman JJ, Ramakers JD, Plat J. Dietary modulation of immune function by β-glucans. Physiol Behav. 2008;94(2):276-284. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2007.11.045
- Yang Y, Zhang H, Zuo J, et al. Advances in research on the active constituents and physiological effects of Ganoderma lucidum. Biomed Dermatology. 2019;3(1):6. doi:10.1186/s41702-019-0044-0
- Benkeblia N. Ganoderma lucidum Polysaccharides and Terpenoids: Profile and Health Benefits. J Food, Nutr Diet. 2016;01(01). doi:10.19104/jfnd.2015.101
- Liu Y, Tang Q, Zhang J, et al. Triple helix conformation of β-d-glucan from Ganoderma lucidum and effect of molecular weight on its immunostimulatory activity. Int J Biol Macromol. 2018;114:1064-1070. doi:10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2018.03.054
- Su L, Li D, Su J, et al. Polysaccharides of Sporoderm-Broken Spore of Ganoderma lucidum Modulate Adaptive Immune Function via Gut Microbiota Regulation. Wang JH, ed. Evidence-Based Complement Altern Med. 2021;2021:1-15. doi:10.1155/2021/8842062
- Choi S, Nguyen VT, Tae N, et al. Anti-inflammatory and heme oxygenase-1 inducing activities of lanostane triterpenes isolated from mushroom Ganoderma lucidum in RAW264.7 cells. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2014;280(3):434-442. doi:10.1016/j.taap.2014.09.007
- Wu X, Cao J, Li M, et al. An integrated microbiome and metabolomic analysis identifies immunoenhancing features of Ganoderma lucidum spores oil in mice. Pharmacol Res. 2020;158:104937. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2020.10493
Disclaimer: This article is intended for educational enlightenment and is not designed to diagnose, treat, or cure. Every individual is unique – if you have any health concerns, do discuss them with a medical or health professional.
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