Your body is an intricate fortress equipped with a remarkable defence system known as the immune system. This intricate network of cells, tissues, and molecules works tirelessly to safeguard you against invaders. In this article, we'll embark on a journey through the immune system's inner workings, and explore how the synergy of tonic herbs and medicinal mushrooms can empower this natural shield.
Understanding the Immune System
Imagine your immune system as an army, vigilant and ever-ready to identify and neutralise threats. Its primary mission is to distinguish between "self" and "non-self." Non-self entities, like bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances, are recognised as invaders and trigger an immune response.
Recognition - When a foreign invader breaches your defences, specialised cells called immune cells act as sentinels. They scout and identify these intruders based on distinctive markers.
Activation - Once identified, immune cells trigger an alarm by releasing chemical messengers called cytokines. These messengers rally other immune cells to the site of invasion.
Attack and Elimination - Different types of immune cells collaborate to neutralise invaders. Macrophages engulf and digest foreign particles, while killer T-cells target infected cells directly.
Adaptation - The immune system possesses memory cells that "remember" previous encounters with specific invaders. This memory allows for a swifter and more effective response upon subsequent exposures.
To learn more about the immune system, we recommend giving our podcast episode ‘How To Turn Your Immune System On with Dan Sipple’ a listen!
Enter the Heroes: Tonic Herbs and Medicinal Mushrooms
Tonic herbs and medicinal mushrooms function as trusted allies, enhancing the immune system's natural capabilities and promoting overall health. Let’s explore how they support your immune system, both through a Western and Taoist lens.
Medicinal Mushrooms & Beta-Glucans
Medicinal mushrooms are unmatched in their ability to build immunity and adaptability within the body and are among some of the world’s most prized tonic herbs.
Medicinal mushrooms are full of polysaccharides (including beta-glucans) as well as other bioactive substances like triterpenes, lipids and phenols that induce cell division (mitosis) and activate the cells that comprise the immune system.
One of the easiest ways to understand how mushrooms can help with this is based on their ability to feed and nourish the extracellular matrix and fascial system of the body. Although this area still needs greater study, what we know is that the polysaccharides within various medicinal mushrooms contribute to increasing the health and integrity of the fluid space that surrounds the cells and flows through the body’s tissues. It would appear that polysaccharides are an effective medium for regulating cell-to-cell communication and transfer, and ensuring pathogens are not able to pass through this space freely and disrupt cell metabolism. This allows the matrix of the body to maintain unity and immunity.
These cells are located in the skin, digestive system, bloodstream and fascia of the body. One of the first sites of immune action is the primordial immune receptors within the human gut tissue that specifically recognise mushroom beta-glucans, with their uniquely high molecular weight. From here a very complex action of the immune system occurs including stimulation and normalising of immune function. This is the ‘adaptogenic’ quality of the mushrooms.
The structural characteristics of beta-glucans are also crucial to their immune-boosting effects. The size, shape, and branching of the beta-glucan molecules influence their ability to interact with immune cells and activate immune responses. For example, research has shown that beta-glucans with higher molecular weights are more effective at activating immune cells and eliciting an immune response than those with lower molecular weights. Medicinal mushrooms are a rich source of beta-glucans, with some containing up to 50% beta-glucans by weight. Dive deeper into beta-glucans in our article 'What Are Beta-Glucans & How Do They Activate Immunity?'
Some of the most commonly used medicinal mushrooms that contain beta-glucans include reishi, shiitake, turkey tail, chaga and cordyceps. We love working with these herbs individually but always return to our tried and true, Mason’s Mushroom's blend and Mushroom M8 Capsules which contain 8 of the world’s most renowned medicinal mushrooms that we formulated to be immunological powerhouses, supporting the body to return to harmony through normalising the nervous and hormonal systems as well as regulating the Qi of all major organs. If you want to dive a little deeper into our hero blend, Mason’s Mushrooms - read our article ‘Everything You Need To Know About Mason’s Mushrooms’.
Gut Health & Immunity
There are very primordial immune receptors within the gastrointestinal tissue that specifically recognise the beta-glucan content of medicinal mushrooms, with their unique higher molecular weight. These polysaccharides are unable to be digested and broken down by our digestive enzymes, and thus, act as prebiotics to the bacteria that exist within our microbiome. From here a very complex activation of the immune system occurs including stimulation and activation of often atrophied aspects of the immune system, keeping in mind that up to 75% of the immune system is housed in our gut!
Chinese Medicine, Wei Qi & Qi Herbs
Through the lens of Chinese Medicine, the Lungs are responsible for the body's defence against external pathogens. It's seen as the first line of defence, helping to regulate the opening and closing of pores to prevent pathogenic invasion. The Lungs govern the circulation of our ‘Wei Qi’ or ‘protective Qi’ which can be translated to our ‘surface immunity’ or ‘defensive energy’. Think of it as an innate armour or protective barrier that resides on the surface of your body.
Protecting us against external invasion, Wei Qi is Yang in nature, and circulates on the surface between the skin and muscles and works to warm the body, supplying the skin with the energy to defend the body against any climatic or pathogenic forces (viruses and bacteria) that would otherwise penetrate the skin and cause disharmony.
The Spleen is another organ system that plays a role in our immunity. Holding a vital role in digestion and the transformation of food into Qi and Blood, a well-functioning Spleen supports strong immunity by producing the body's postnatal Qi. If the Spleen's function is compromised due to poor diet or lifestyle habits, it can also impact the immune system.
This is when Qi herbs come to the rescue, they nourish and strengthen the Lungs and circulation of Wei Qi, as well as support the Spleen and digestive system. The Qi herbs we love to work with the most are Astragalus and our QI Blend. Dive deeper into our QI Blend in our article ‘QI Blend: The Incredible Benefits - Energy, Vitality and Animation’. Medicinal mushrooms are also considered Qi tonics, so we love combining these two forces to offer the body ultimate protection and powerful immune potentiation!