How does the immune system work?
Every day the body is exposed to numerous viruses and bacteria. Nevertheless, we only become sick sometimes, and some people fall sick more regularly than others. The reason for this is difference in susceptibility. Some immune systems are more strong and effective than others. Stronger immune systems are more able to fight off the infections, while weaker ones are not. People with weaker immune systems are more likely to fall sick more often, and these people take much longer to recover. Any sign of an infection is an indication that the immune system has failed to defend against a virus or bacteria.
How can I boost my immune system naturally?
Taking preventative measures to ensure a healthy and strong immune system is the key to remaining healthy, rather than acting only after the immune system is under attack. Building a strong immune system involves diet, exercise and life style changes. These include:
-Sleep hygiene – As the immune system does a lot of its repairing and rebuilding while the body is resting, sleep is extremely important. Lack of sleep depleted the immune system and leaves the body vulnerable to catching infections. Sleep is particularly important when there is an infection. It takes a lot of energy for the immune system to fight off the infection, and sleep is vital to ensuring the immune system can do its job effectively.
-Stress reduction – As stress can drain the body of essential nutrients that help prevent infection, maintaining a stress-free life style is very important. Try to avoid or minimise stress in both work and home environments and in times of unavoidable high stress, using stress reduction strategies (e.g., relaxation exercises) is advisable. Exercise is a very effective way of managing stress.
-Diet – Avoiding foods high in sugars and fibres (e.g., white bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits) and refraining from consuming too much alcohol is important as these foods are low in immune boosting nutrients and even block absorption of some of these nutrients (i.e., zinc), depleting the immune system. In addition to changes to diet and life style, taking natural supplements that specifically boost the immune system can also help to fight off infection. If already sick, these natural supplements can help fight the inflection, reduce the length of the sickness and prevent it from reoccurring. Some of the most helpful immune boosting supplements include:
-Zinc – Zinc is one of the most important trace minerals. Researchers have identified hundreds of enzymes in the body that are zinc-dependent and as such, zinc is vital to maintaining a healthy immune system. Importantly, zinc is involved in the production of anti-bodies. Anti-bodies allow the body to recognise past infections and protect the body against these. Maintaining a diet high in zinc is important, and if zinc deficient, oral zinc supplements should be taken to restore zinc levels.
-Iron – Low iron levels is a risk factor for poor immune function and regular blood tests to check iron levels is important, particularly if you are at risk due to diet and life style. For example, females lose a lot of blood during menstruation and may become deficient as a result. Similarly, vegetarians who do not consume a lot of iron-rich foods (i.e., red meat) may also be a risk. In these cases, iron supplements should be taken and iron levels should be checked at regular intervals.
-Vitamin C – This is perhaps the most well-known nutrient associated with boosting immune function and protecting the body from infection. Research has shown Vitamin C to be involved in increasing the activity of white blood cells and inhibiting the growth of viruses. It is most effective when combined with other nutrients such as nicotinamide and hesperidin.
-Probiotics – Probiotics or “healthy bacteria” help support healthy immune function. These bacteria live in the digestive system and along with helping support digestion, they produce nutrients that the body is unable to produce on its own.