How can I boost my immune system?
OVERALL, YOUR immune system does a remarkable job of defending you against disease-causing microorganisms, but sometimes it fails. The idea of boosting your immunity is enticing, but the ability to do so has proved elusive for several reasons.
The immune system is precisely that, a system, not a single entity. To function well, it requires balance and harmony. There is still much that researchers do not know about the intricacies and interconnectedness of the immune response.
Researchers are exploring the effects of diet, exercise, age, psychological stress, and other factors on the immune response, both in animals and in humans. In the meantime, general healthy-living strategies make sense since they likely help immune function and they come with other proven health benefits.
According to Dr Shanique Hibbert, medical doctor at Thomas Medical Centre, your first line of defence is to choose a healthy lifestyle. Following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward naturally keeping your immune system working properly.
Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies such as the following:
- Do not smoke
- Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation
- Get adequate sleep
- Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly
- Try to minimise stress
- Keep current with all recommended vaccines. Vaccines prime your immune system to fight off infections before they take hold in your body.
“Attempting to boost the cells of your immune system is especially complicated because there are so many different kinds of cells in the immune system that respond to so many different microbes in so many ways,” Dr Hibbert said.
“The body is continually generating immune cells. Certainly, it produces many more lymphocytes than it can possibly use. The extra cells remove themselves through a natural process of cell death called apoptosis some before they see any action, some after the battle is won. No one knows how many cells or what the best mix of cells the immune system needs to function at its optimum level,” she added.
Like any fighting force, the immune system army marches on its stomach. Healthy immune system warriors need good, regular nourishment. There is some evidence that various micronutrient deficiencies, for example, deficiencies of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E alter immune responses.
Modern medicine has come to appreciate the closely linked relationship of mind and body. A wide variety of maladies, including stomach upset, hives, and even heart disease, are linked to the effects of emotional stress. Despite the challenges, scientists are actively studying the relationship between stress and immune function.
“For one thing, stress is difficult to define. What may appear to be a stressful situation for one person is not for another. When people are exposed to situations they regard as stressful, it is difficult for them to measure how much stress they feel, and difficult for the scientist to know if a person’s subjective impression of the amount of stress is accurate,” Dr Hibbert said.
Regular physical activity, she said, helps you feel better, sleep better, and reduce anxiety. Combined with eating well, physical activity can help a person maintain a healthy weight.
Following the physical activity recommendations for your age provides immediate and long-term benefits. For example, being physically active helps protect you from the flu. Emerging research also suggests that physical activity may potentially benefit immunity.
Eating well means emphasising plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and fat–free or low–fat milk and milk products. Eating well also means limiting saturated fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars.
Eating well provides multiple nutrients that support optimal immune function. Be aware, however, that too much of some vitamins and minerals can be harmful. Talk to your healthcare provider if you think you need nutritional supplements.