East-West College of Natural Medicine,
665 Orpheus Ave.,
Encinitas, CA 92024, USA.
Most antigens, particularly viruses, enter the body through the mucosal epithelia where they are carried by afferent lymphatics to regional lymph nodes for presentation to the immune system. Although they share immunological similarities, immune processes that protect the mucosa are distinct from innate and acquired immunity. The barrier formed by the intestinal mucosa is the most studied, with its microenvironment having a marked influence on both local and systemic immune responses. A healthy microenvironment and resilient neighboring tissue provide protection against inflammation known to dampen mucosal immunity, promote carcinogenesis, contribute to systemic inflammatory processes, and result in autoimmune diseases. Numerous natural substances improve this microenvironment and thereby enhance immunity against microbial infections. Since mucosal immunity forms the first line of defense against many commonly transmitted pathogens, restoring and maintaining mucosal immunity is critical for disease prevention and intervention. This article discusses the nature of mucosal immunity and its relationship to viral infections and other conditions, and reviews natural compounds that help restore mucosal immunity.