Thanks to our immune system, we are able to deal in a more efficient way with a disease that we have already had, or against which we have been vaccinated. It can be empowered by its adaptive mechanisms to reinforce its capacity of response to future threats. This ability is due to the fact that the immune system keeps track of the pathogens or malignant cells it has fought, which allows it to recognize and protect itself from them. Without immune protection, a simple scratch would be potentially fatal.
The threats are never-ending: bacteria, viruses, parasites, cuts, burns, dust, pollen and other allergens, chemical particles, etc. All of these pathogens are identified by our immune system as foreign to the body and therefore need to be neutralized and eliminated. Part of this system is innate; from our birth, we have immune cells that constantly patrol the blood and immediately react to an alert. The other is said to be acquired, because it develops adaptively by exposure to all kinds of pathogens. It operates on the second line and more specifically. In fact, our immune system is very much structured and its lines intervene in a well-established order to accomplish their respective missions.
Here are 8 facts to know about it.
1 – Well-functioning defense system
The skin, mucous membranes, lungs and urinary tract form the first barrier against external attack. Sweat and tears, typically, have an elimination function. Likewise, our nasal walls are lined with tiny, vibrating cilia whose wave-like motion constantly pushes out unwanted microparticles. If this is not enough to prevent infection, a second line of defense is put in place. White blood cells, capable of engulfing microbes, move to the site of the assault and quickly send chemical signals to their rearguard to call for reinforcement
2 – The inflammatory response
This reaction is part of a process called an inflammatory response; it corresponds to the widening of the blood vessels, which is necessary to facilitate the massive arrival of the fighting cells. It is therefore a transient and completely normal phenomenon, even if it is accompanied by signals which may appear worrying (heat, redness, swelling and pain).
The white blood cells that arrive first are part of the innate immune system and have therefore never before been exposed to pathogens. As a result, they are not very good at distinguishing the enemy and tend to aim wide. Surgical strikes are entrusted to white blood cells belonging to the acquired immune system, B lymphocytes and T lymphocytes. The B lymphocytes produce antibodies, that is to say proteins capable of pinpointing the enemy precisely in order to destroy it. T lymphocytes are responsible for cleaning the place by destroying infected cells without reaching nearby healthy cells.
Once their work is completed, a good number of the lymphocytes die, but those who survive keep a memory of their attacker, a precious faculty that science exploits for the development of vaccines.
3 – Sufficient sleep is vital to be more resistant
This relentless fight against infectious agents is sometimes unbalanced, especially in periods of insomnia, fatigue or stress. It is well known that a good rest is essential for the proper functioning of the body and the immune system. The different phases of sleep help the body to recharge its batteries, process and then store the information recorded throughout the day and somehow restore our memory. In addition, while we sleep, our body produces hormones that have a supporting effect on the immune system.
When our nights do not allow us to recover properly, our body is weakened, which predisposes it to infections. Moreover, there is sometimes a negative impact on weight, since sleep deficit tends to stimulate the secretion of the appetite-inducing hormone (called ghrelin), while inhibiting the satiety hormone (leptin). Chronic insomnia, persistent fatigue, scarring problems and/or recurrent infections (colds, cystitis, etc.) are signs likely to be linked to a weakening of the immune defenses and should therefore not be taken lightly. Preserving your immune system is of even greater importance as you grow older, as aging is naturally accompanied by a decrease in the performance of the body’s defense mechanisms against pathogens.
4 – Proteins aid in producing cells and enzymes which fight aggressions
What you eat affects how long you live and the way you feel every day. When discussing the immune system, we mustn’t forget to include protein-rich meals, as they are essential to support immunity. Protein-containing foods not only counteract lean muscle loss but also contain good amounts of zinc, which aids in production of white blood cells and works as co-enzymatic factor which fight against aggressive microbes and infections. There are 2 sources of proteins in the human diet: animal source and plant based. The plant-based protein is also essential to modulate inflammatory processes helping attenuate exacerbated response of our immune system. Sources of plant-based proteins are legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans) and they are also an excellent source of fibers and essential micronutrients vital for body balance and protection.
5 – Nutrition and gut health are your best allies
Nutrition is your primary protector. A diet rich in seasonal fruits and vegetables helps strengthen our immune system, while reducing the oxidative stress generated by the elimination of pathogens. Apart from Vitamin C which is of course key for the immune system, Vitamin E and Beta-carotene are also essential as antioxidant. Low levels of Vitamin D have been associated with worsening autoimmune diseases. If you are not able to get enough sunlight, you should ask for advice regarding D3 dosage. But also, the probiotics naturally present in fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, yogurt) or available in the form of food supplements are precious allies. Their consumption helps increase microbial diversity fundamental in fighting the proliferation of unwanted germs in the intestine. Protecting your digestive system therefore boosts your immune system. In fact, an increasing number of studies have established a link between a diverse microbiota and an optimal functioning of our immune defenses.
6 – Focused supplements into your routine
There are several well-known nutritional strategies such as the use of magnesium, vit.D and zinc supplements for immune system support However plants, as a fundamental source of bioactive extracts with therapeutic potential, and innovative compounds may also intensify immunomodulating effects when added to your regimen: Beta-glucans Complex, Curcumin Complex, Astragalus, Camu Camu for example. Each have their own specificities and natural powers to help boost immuno-protection, anti-inflammatory responses and shield from aggressors.
7 – Keeping physically active and emotionally balanced is a vital factor
Many epidemiological studies show that it is possible to promote the proper functioning of our immune system by taking care of our body, by eating a healthy and balanced diet, by practicing an adapted physical activity, by limiting stressful situations, and more. When your body is stressed, it lowers your immunity and can make you feel tired, sick, sleepless and anxious. Meditation, yoga, Qi gong and self-reflection are a great way to keep your stress under control. Also, regular and sustained exercise has a multitude of benefits including decreasing inflammation and improving immune regulation (physicians recommend to avoid high intensity exercises if you have low immunity though).
8 – You should cherish your immunity all year long
It is obviously desirable to have good immunity at all times. But everyone goes through delicate periods of heavy physical, mental or intellectual solicitation. Release of cortisol (the stress hormone) affects equally the performance of our immune system. This increased immune stress often coincides with the start of a new season (influenza in winter, spring allergies, summer skin rash, …), but it can happen at any time of the year, depending on life events and of course on unique health situation like the Covid-19. It is important to have a year-long mindful approach to sustain your body with preventative efforts to promote efficient immune response for the time of contact with pathogens.
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