The immune system and how to strengthen it

The immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues and organs that together participate in the body’s defence against microorganisms and their toxins as well as the body’s own altered and rejected cells. When the immune system is weakened, the body becomes more susceptible to pathogens, infections and its complications. The role of the immune system is not limited to defending the body against infections: in conjunction with the neurological and endocrine system, it ensures the overall functioning of the human organism.

Prior to the onset of the current pandemic, people visited pharmacies to ask chemists for advice on immunity-boosting supplements only after observing the first symptoms of a disease, mainly during the season of respiratory infections. However, during the pandemic, a significant portion of the population became aware of the importance of having a strong immune system and maintaining it through a healthy diet, sleep hygiene, stress reduction and exercise to help the body’s defence against pathogens.

In most cases, the factors that weaken the immune system are: stress and exhaustion, poor eating habits, smoking, insufficient or excessive levels of physical activity, poor sleep hygiene and excessive alcohol consumption. The first symptoms of a weakened immunity are: tiredness and lack of energy, frequent bacterial and viral infections, canker sores, skin changes (eczema, worsening of psoriasis), delayed wound healing etc.

Therefore, in order to boost immunity, it is first and foremost necessary to provide a basis, which is:

  • Reduction of stress levels

Research has confirmed the hypothesis that stress and the immune system are connected. Specifically, immune cells have receptors for neurotransmitters and hormones that are secreted during stress exposure, such as norepinephrine, epinephrine and cortisol. Immune cells change their reactivity to the signalling of these neurotransmitters and hormones when exposed to stress. Persons with chronic exposure to stress, due to the nature of their work or life circumstances, find it difficult to eliminate stressors from their lives. However, certain steps can help the body adapt to stressors: exercise, meditation and hobbies are some of the recommended ones.

  • Sleep hygiene

According to the National Sleep Foundation, lack of sleep has a similar effect on the immune system as stress. The importance of getting adequate sleep in terms of quantity and quality is an indisputable factor that affects immunity. Sleep allows the body to regenerate and recover, it improves mood, reduces irritability and improves cognitive functions.

  • Healthy diet

Adequate intake of proteins, vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants enables the immune system’s defensive mechanisms to function properly. Sufficient fluid intake (1.5 L) allows the body to function normally and detoxify, while supplying the mucous membranes with the necessary level of moisture to keep the anti-pathogen barrier functional. Given that so many of us have a busy lifestyle, sometimes it becomes impossible to continuously maintain a balanced diet, which is why the use of food supplements is recommended in case of nutrient deficiency.

Combination vitamins and minerals

Food supplements containing vitamin C, B vitamins, zinc, beta-glucan, vitamin D, propolis and Echinacea are most commonly used to boost immunity.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant involved in the strengthening of the immune system, and since the body cannot synthesize it, it must be ingested through food or food supplements. Among its many roles in the body, vitamin C is involved in the synthesis of collagen, a building block of the skin, hair, nails, cartilage, mucous membranes and blood vessels. It is also essential for the absorption of iron. The best way to utilise vitamin C is to take it in a form that is most similar to the one found in nature or together with a bioflavonoid complex. Vitamin C protects against damage caused by oxygen radicals, increases T-cell capacity, reduces the effect of histamines on leukocytes and increases the activity of natural killer cells. Additional intake of vitamin C reduces the duration of colds and relieves symptoms, and also has antiviral properties.

B vitamins

These vitamins are involved in all metabolic functions and are essential for energy production, reduction of exhaustion, nervous system health and psychological functions. They can have direct and indirect effects on immunity. Their intake ensures that the body is supplied with energy while keeping the nervous system healthy to help combat the effects of stress.


Studies have confirmed that additional intake of zinc at the first symptoms of respiratory infections shortens their duration and alleviates symptoms. This effect is more prominent in combination with vitamin C and the Echinacea purpurea extract. Zinc keeps the immune system strong by increasing leukocyte production, neutrophil count, antibody production by B-lymphocytes, and T-lymphocyte activation. It is essential for the proper functioning of macrophages, cytokine production and phagocytosis.

Beta-glucan is a structural polysaccharide obtained from isolated cell walls of yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), some Shiitake and Maitake mushrooms, and barley and oats. When choosing a food supplement, it is important to pay close attention to the raw material: it should be of high purity and quality. Beta-glucan contributes to the normalisation of blood glucose and cholesterol levels and thus has a protective cardiovascular effect and role in the prevention of diabetes. Although beta-glucan is one of the safest immunomodulators, caution is advised when administering it. Its use is not recommended in persons with autoimmune diseases, persons treated with immunosuppressants, during pregnancy and lactation, and in children under the age of one.

Propolis has long been used to boost immunity and relieve cold and flu symptoms. It contains more than 200 various substances produced by bees and plant-derived compounds, with flavonoids as the most prominent phytonutrients. Propolis has anti-inflammatory, bacteriostatic, antiviral, antitumor, antiseptic and antioxidant properties. The effect of propolis on pathogens can be direct or indirect, i.e. mediated through an immune response. Propolis may also demonstrate synergistic effects with antimicrobial agents.

Echinacea has traditionally been used in Indian medicine, and its immunostimulatory action was confirmed in in vivo and in vitro studies. Echinacea is one of the few plants whose effectiveness in the treatment of colds and flus has been confirmed by clinical trials that justify its use as an immunostimulant. The bioactive compounds in Echinacea are unique to the plant and work by preventing microbes from entering healthy cells. It contains the antioxidant phenol and alkylamides. Extracts made from fresh plants are considered to be the most effective, particularly from the species Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea pallida. Their roots and leaves are used as a starting material for the manufacture of the herbal preparation. Echinacea therapy administered at the earliest symptom of disease should be intensive and short, but the duration of treatment should not exceed eight weeks. Echinacea is not recommended for use in autoimmune diseases, tuberculosis, rheumatoid arthritis, during pregnancy and lactation, and in patients treated with immunosuppressants.

As an excellent service provider, Marti Farm can assist you in the placing of food supplements on the market through obtaining a decision on the application of food supplements to the monitoring program. In addition, Marti Farm has the required expertise to assist you with everything you need in the process of notifying the relevant competent authority of the placing of your food supplement on the Croatian market. If you require assistance or are interested in collaboration, we invite you to connect with us.

In conclusion, the immune system is a complex and highly functioning system that protects the body from diseases, so it should be preserved by practicing healthy habits and a healthy lifestyle at all times, not just when disease occurs. By boosting our immunity, we are increasing the chances that the organism will respond to an infection in the best way possible, even if the infection does occur.

Tanja Manzin,  MPharm / Senior Pharmacovigilance Associate

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Short company name: Marti Farm Ltd.
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