Boosting The Immune System

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

This relates to the way some people think of boosting the immune system via diet. First, we need to understand what the immune system really is because people seem to talk about if as if it’s a sagging muscle that needs to be lifted in some way.


The immune system involves interferons, chemokines and interleukins – signals that stimulate/activate certain cells.  There are antibodies like IgE, IgM, as well as IgG and IgA which have 7 subtypes in total, and all 7 have a preference for parts of different pathogens. There are blood components like cells called lymphocytes, neutrophils, macrophages, eosinophils, monocytes, and more.


This army of cells has specific roles that work together as a team. From sounding the alarm when a foreign substance (could be bacteria, could be an allergic response in which the body has identified incorrectly, etc) to rushing in to destroy the enemy (or perceived enemy), to the sweeper cells which clean up the debris, and finally to the eager macrophage cells that eat up that debris.


The immune system also involves things like the cilia, iron metabolism which of course, is affected by nutrient metabolism as a whole. Keep in mind, too, that the immune system response to bacteria is different from that to a parasite or virus. And it involves tissues and organs, and even after mentioning the above, I haven’t touched the complexities of this system! Nor would I want to since I’m not an immunologist, but the courses I took got into enough detail that it made my head spin (fascinating as the lessons were)



So, when you ask how to boost your dog’s immune system, please understand that you need to identify which part of it you feel needs to be boosted in the first place. And out of curiosity, how do you know when it’s been boosted, or for that matter, boosted enough, or too much? Now, ask yourself if diet can do it. The answer is no, not really. Diet needs to support health, and in turn the immune system performs well. A balanced diet is critical, exercise is important, and just like for people, sleep is necessary. Give the body these three things and the immune system will be fine.



Last question: do you really want to boost the immune system? An example of it being boosted comes by way of vaccinations. One reaction of a boosted immune system can be food allergies. Immune mediated hemolytic anemia is another, and there are many other examples of how a boosted immune system goes awry.We can support the immune system simply by feeding our dogs well, including  antioxidants, and that’s the best course of action because what we really want is a healthy *baseline* rather than boosting.