How to boost your immunity?
For most of us, the reality only dawns when the winter season rolls around: our bodies could benefit from a little extra attention once in a while. In summer, our main focus seems to be getting “beach body ready” but when the days get shorter and the temperatures start to drop we realise that our immune system is quite an important necessity to have.
If these past atypical years have taught us anything, it is that strengthening our immune system is not a seasonal thing to consider, but rather something with day-to-day priority. An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but there is something more to boosting your immunity.
How does the immune system work?
The immune system is your body’s natural defence system. It is a sophisticated network of cells, organs, vascular systems and more that collaborate to defend your body against outside threats. Working as a single unit, they battle disease-causing agents such as viruses, bacteria, fungi and pathogens that seek a path into our bodies in a variety of different ways. Not to sound ominous, but these invaders are everywhere around us. Luckily, in most of the cases, our immune system knows just what to do with the threats.
When our body comes into contact with something our immune system doesn't recognize, the complex network activates. Our immune system has two levels of defence, that work together to get rid of any external threat.
- The non-specific or innate immune system: this acts as a general protection against pathogen infections, microbes and others who try to enter your body through your skin. You were born with this immune system, that’s made up out of phagocytes and barriers. A few examples are your skin, cough reflex and even mucus, which traps bacteria and small particles.
- The specific, adaptive or acquired immune system: when one slips by, or enters the body in another way, this second line of defence detects and neutralises the pathogens by producing white blood cells and proteins. These antibodies track the antigens and destroy them before they can reproduce. This process can be triggered immediately when the antigen first enters the body. In addition, it can also be activated preemptively or more rapidly through administering vaccines.
The immune system identifies more antigens than we can even fathom. More so, it has the ability to create exactly what it needs to eradicate nearly all of them. When functioning properly, this elaborate system can keep health conditions, from cancer to a common cold, at bay. As we age, however, the immune system gradually becomes impaired. Our immune system takes care of us, so why not return the favour?
Factors that influence the strength of the immune system
Let’s be honest: we are all in it for the long run. However, it’s only natural that our immune system will get weaker at some point. Half of the battle against diseases is won by taking care of your immunity, while lengthening your health span and biological age in the process. There are a variety of factors that determine how well our build-in defence mechanism performs. A vitamin-packed diet followed by 7-9 hours of sleep and plenty of activity should at the very least put you on the right track.
Sweet is sour
It might be time to make your life sweet without using sugar. Nowadays, a lot of adverse properties of sugar are widely recognised, but did you know that it can also inhibit the growth of cells in your immune system? This makes it easier for the microorganisms to incubate in your body. Try fresh fruits and vegetables, high in nutrients and immunity boosting vitamins (we’ll get to this later on) as a tasty and healthy alternative to the rebel that is sugar. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to stay hydrated!
Immunity is a true sleeping beauty. A lack of rest may not only leave you fatigued throughout the day, it can also leave you vulnerable to illnesses and infections. Sleeping 7 to 9 hours a day keeps your main organs in prime condition. Your body uses the well deserved shut-eye as a means of healing itself by releasing antibodies which fight diseases. It’s hard to measure the true impact of the protective effect of sleep on the immune system. For now, we only know for sure that a good night of rest boosts our immunity to a max.
Don’t worry, be happy
“When you worry, you make it double.” Bobby McFerrin had it right all along in his legendary song. When your body is under constant stress, the hormones that are being released weaken your immune system. Which in its turn makes you more prone to diseases of all kinds. Managing your stress is one of the keys to longevity, whether it is by meditating, yoga, exercising, religion, spiritualism or even just laughter. Already, numerous studies have shown the benefits of frequent laughter. So you never know: laughter might in fact be the best medicine.
Start moving (forward)
It’s no secret that regular exercise is good for your health and your immune system. Physical activity can not only boost your immune system itself, it can boost the other influential factors as well. It helps you sleep easier, reduces stress and makes you feel fitter. Exercising doesn’t mean that you need to start pumping iron on a daily basis, follow elaborate fitness programs or run a marathon every week. If your daily routine contains 20 minutes of movement, of getting your heart rate up, it increases the functioning of your immune system. While it’s not entirely known what all the benefits are to our defence systems, scientists have already proven better working white blood cells, the release of endorphins and antibodies and a healthier blood circulation.
How supplements can boost your immune system?
Our world is not a sterile one. We’ve learnt that the hard way over the past several months and years. Every single day, we are exposed to an array of harmful microbes that continue to transform to make our lives more difficult. Therefore, understanding which vitamins boost our immune system is imperative. Getting those straight from the source is always the best way to do this. Eating highly nutritional foods can help your immune system fight off illness.
But vitamin supplements are a great way to help fill in the gaps in your diet. Many of us struggle with maintaining a balanced diet, be it because of environmental, time, social, health or any other restrictions. And even if you eat healthily, it’s still quite possible to have some nutritional deficits. Supplementary vitamin intake may help to ensure your necessary everyday dosage. But do we know which vitamins boost the immune system? Let’s take a look at 5 vitamins and how they help you build up your defences.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to C this one on top of this list. Vitamin C has been praised for decades as the go-to source for benefitting your immune system, and health in general. Even more so, a lack of it can make you more susceptible to diseases, which makes it particularly important during a pandemic. Fortunately, the occurrence of vitamin C in foods is so widespread that actual supplements will only be necessary when prescribed by your doctor. These foods include bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, oranges and similar citrus fruits, strawberries and tomatoes. A daily intake of this health booster is essential though, as your body does not store it or produce it itself.
Vitamin B3 or niacin plays a key role in your body by synthesising two coenzymes that are involved in over 400 chemical reactions, mainly for cell reproduction and the nervous system. It also plays a big part in the immune system by reducing inflammation. This way, vitamin B3 reduces tiredness and fatigue. Just like vitamin C, your body does not contain any traces of it. Niacin can be found in poultry, fish and grains, but is taken in mostly through nutritional supplements.
Vitamin D is mostly known for being produced by our bodies due to exposure to the sunlight. Its main purpose is absorbing and retaining calcium and phosphorus, two significant components of our bones. It’s important to our immune system because it can reduce the chances of cancer cell growth, it helps control infections and it reduces inflammation. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to muscle deterioration, joint pain and osteoporosis and has a large impact on your longevity. In fact, studies have begun to show that people with vitamin D deficiencies are at a higher risk of getting infected by the COVID-19 virus. Of course, we get most of our vitamin D through the sun, but that’s not always a possibility. However, this can be remedied by taking D3, a vitamin D supplement that maintains the necessary nutrition levels and gives your immunity a well-needed boost.
Vitamin E is required for the proper function of many organs in the body, like the brain, skin and reproductive system. Its main role is acting as a powerful antioxidant by fighting off infection. It does this by neutralising loose molecules called “free radicals”, which play a role in many diseases. By doing so, Vitamin E enhances the immune system and prevents clots from forming. It is found mainly in oils, nuts, seeds and some leafy greens. Though supplements may differ from the actual biological vitamin E, it can help people who are allergic to the natural food sources in which it can be found.
You might not have heard of sulforaphane yet and while technically not a vitamin, you’ll definitely want to get familiar with its benefits. It’s a natural plant compound, rich in sulfur, and is mostly known for its antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Recently, there are quite a lot of studies that suggest the positive effects of the antioxidant in cancer prevention and even treatment. Sulforaphane can be found in cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Broccoli sprouts are particularly enriched in sulforaphane.
To attain a strengthened immune system, we must dedicate ourselves to an overall culture of health. While there is no standard approach to longevity, information such as this is vital in reminding you that you have what it takes to live a full and wholesome life. And while nutrition certainly plays an influential role in building a strong immune system, if you want to maximise your chances of avoiding infection, you may need to tackle other facets of your lifestyle as well. Sleep well, reduce your stress, add necessary vitamins to your diet and start exercising. So take good care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live.