Our immune system does an excellent job of defending us from disease-causing microorganisms. However, even this system is flawed, and it fails sometimes. A germ successfully invades your body and makes you fall sick. At this point, we consider if it is possible to intervene in this process and figure out ways to boost your immune system, like trying to improve our diet, taking vitamin supplements or herbal preparations, making lifestyle changes, etc. with the hopes of producing an almost-perfect immune response.
What can you do to Boost your immune system?
Although the idea of boosting your immunity by making a few changes in your lifestyle sounds enticing, the ability to do so has proven to be elusive for quite a few reasons. The immune system is not a single entity; it’s an entire system composed of series of processes. In order to function well, it requires balance and harmony. The intricacies and interweaving of the immune response still remain a mystery to researchers, and there are no scientifically proven direct links between one’s lifestyle and enhanced immune function. The effects of diet, age, exercise, psychological stress, and other factors believed to be connected to the immune response in both animals and humans continue to be explored. However, there’s no harm in taking up a few general healthy-living tips to give your immune system the upper hand.
Your first line of defence is turning over a new leaf and choosing to lead a healthy life. The best way to start is to follow good-health guidelines, to make sure your immune system is strong and healthy. This would make sure that other parts of your body, and not just the immune system, would function better if bolstered by healthy-living methods you choose to adopt. Here are a few pointers to get you started:
- Eat a balanced diet, with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Refrain from smoking.
- Consume alcohol in moderation.
- Take the necessary steps to avoid infection, like washing your hands frequently.
- Try to minimise stress.
Increasing immunity in the healthy way
There is no dearth of products in supermarkets and other stores that claim to boost or support immunity. However, the notion of boosting immunity does not make a lot of sense scientifically, since boosting the number of cells in your body (immune cells, or even others) is not necessarily good. Trying to boost your immunity is complicated since there are different kinds of cells that respond to different microbes in different ways. There is no answer when it comes to how many cells or the best mix of cells required for the immune system to function optimally.
The link between the immune system and age
As we grow older, our immune response capability reduces, contributing to more infections and the risk of cancer. Although life expectancy in several developed countries has significantly increased, the incidence of age-related health conditions has increased as well. The elderly are more likely to contact infectious diseases and die from them. Leading causes of death in people over the age of 65 include influenza, respiratory infections, pneumonia and now, the coronavirus. This could be because this increased risk correlates with a decrease in T cells, possibly because the thymus atrophies with age and produces fewer T cells to fight infections. Scientists are also interested in whether the bone marrow loses its efficiency and produces fewer stem cells, which become cells of the immune system. Studies of influenza vaccines have shown that the vaccine is less effective for people over 65, when compared to healthy toddlers. Despite this inefficacy, these vaccinations have lowered the rates of sickness and death in older people when compared to those who have not been vaccinated. Older people should consult their doctor on whether dietary supplements would help them maintain a healthier immune system, so that they can avoid deficiencies and micronutrient malnutrition.
How your diet and your immune system are linked
Good, regular nourishment is synonymous with a healthy immune system. People who live in poverty and are malnourished are more likely to contract infectious diseases. It is uncertain as to whether the increased risk of disease is caused by the malnutrition’s effect on immunity. There is very little evidence that various micronutrient deficiencies (like deficiencies of iron, zinc, folic acid, and vitamins like A, B6, C and E) alter immune responses, and the impact of these immune system changes on health is yet to be assessed. If you suspect that your diet is not satisfying all your micronutrient needs, taking multivitamin and mineral supplements every day may bring other health benefits, even if it is not beneficial for your immune system. This regular method is better than taking megadoses of a single vitamin, since more does not always mean better.
Is it possible to Boost your Immune System with herbs and supplements?
Any store or pharmacy nowadays will have bottles of pills and herbal concoctions that claim to “boost immunity” or support your immune system. While some preparations can alter a few components of immune function, there is no evidence so far that they better protect against infection and disease. Trying to prove that a herb or any other substance can effectively enhance immunity is a very complicated process.
How are stress and immune function connected?
Stress is difficult to define, since what could be a stressful situation for one person need not be for another. When people are exposed to a situation they regard as stressful, it is difficult to measure how stressed they feel, and it is also difficult for a scientist to quantify a subjective impression of stress. They can only measure things that reflect stress, like the rate of heart beats. Scientists try to study constant and frequent stressors (chronic stress), which are induced by relationships with family, friends and co-workers, or struggles to perform well at the workplace. Investigations on whether ongoing stress takes a toll on the immune system are currently underway. This is in spite of it being difficult to perform “controlled experiments” in human beings, since only one factor can be changed. This kind of control is just not possible, especially in human beings, since there are so many other things affecting the person at the time of measurement of levels.
Does being cold mean you have a weak immunity?
Exposure to moderately cold temperatures does not actually increase your susceptibility to infections. This means that not wearing a jacket does not always make you catch a cold. During winter, people spend more time indoors and are in closer contact with people, hence making the transfer of germs very easy. The influenza virus stays airborne longer when the air is cold and humidity is low, therefore making winter the “cold and flu” season. Even though this seems like a definitive answer, scientists continue to study this in different populations, due to the extensive number of external factors in the environment. A group of Canadian researchers have concluded that there is no need to worry about moderate exposure to cold temperatures, and that it does not have a detrimental effect on the human immune system. However, don’t let this stop you from bundling up when it’s cold outside- especially if you feel uncomfortable or if you are going to be outdoors for a long period, increasing the risk of hypothermia or frostbite.
Is exercising good or bad for your immunity?
One of the most important aspects of healthy living is regular exercise. It not only keeps you fit, but also improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure and protects you from a host of diseases. It also helps you naturally keep your immune system healthy. Exercising frequently promotes good blood circulation, allowing your cells and other components of the immune system to perform efficiently. Like a balanced diet keeps you healthy, exercise also contributes to good health, and in turn, a healthy immune system.