What Is The Immune System
One of the greatest health benefits we can enjoy is learning to develop and to maintain a strong immune system. The immune system is a collection of special cells, organs, and substances that defend the body against infection and illness. It monitors the body at the cellular level and attempts to rid it of anything unfamiliar and intrusive to the body.
You may already know this but any substance that enters the body which the immune system does not recognize is known as an antigen. When an antigen enters our bodies, the immune response is triggered and the attack to get rid of it begins. Our immune system has the ability to destroy anything containing a particular antigen including, germs, viruses, and cancer cells.
It is safe to say that without our immunity we wouldn’t be around too long because it is a tireless warrior protecting our health. There are bacteria and viruses everywhere and our immune systems continuously fight all types of bacteria, viruses and various parasites in order to protect the body from potential harmful effects that their presence in our bodies can cause.
We also use our immunity to fight and kill cancerous cells that can pop up in our systems and while of course it is not always successful as people still get cancer because there are other factors beyond just immunity that can affect the bodies response to cancer, it is a fact that those with a poor immune system are at greater risk of succumbing to cancer than individuals who take care of their immune system but cancer is not the only health threat we face on a daily basis.
It is therefore of great importance to invest time taking care of our immune system health. Thankfully, some of the ways in which we can do this are also beneficial in other ways to our overall health.
What are some ways we can maximize the effectiveness of our immune system to stay as healthy as possible? Here are just a few tips that I know are certainly helpful in building up the immune system:
- Get immunized. Every year, you are given the opportunity to get an influenza shot. This “shot in the arm” will literally boost your immunity against the likely influenza viruses floating around through the winter months. Older people should get the Pneumovax vaccine, which prevents pneumonia caused by pneumococcal bacteria.
- Eat balanced meals. Now, eating healthy meals as daily habit for me poses a real challenge and I am by no means the role model here so I do eat health consciously even if my meals are not as balanced as I would love them to be on a daily basis. I have discovered ways of making up any shortfalls in diet by adopting a more holistic approach to overall health and reinforcing good health and eating habits over negative ones. More balanced eating simply means getting enough nutrition through the meals, fruits vegetables and nuts and seeds that we consume.
There are nutrients in these foods that act as antioxidants, scavenging your body for oxygen free radicals that can damage cellular systems. The problem though is that much of the fruits and vegetables gracing our grocery shelves are increasingly nutrient-deficient as a result of the commercial farming methods used. The continuous impoverisation of our farming soils through the proliferate use of pesticides and other questionable farming methods that have now become common place and acceptable is a whole new topic for a separate blog which I will address hopefully soon.
Organic produce is best but can be quite expensive and most regular income homes might find it beyond their pockets to stick to organic produce. When I suffered from serious ill health issues many years ago, I engaged the services of a natural herbalist who put me on an uncompromising organic food regime and for four years, I only purchased the highest grade of organic fruits and vegetables delivered weekly to me by a local organic store. As you can imagine it was pretty expensive but my health was seriously at stake then and I was determined to regain full health. Later, I will share some tips on how you can maintain good immunity even if you cannot afford to go organic.
- Stay away from tobacco smoke. If you are a smoker please try and commit to quitting. There is help available I you search for support groups in your area and online forums. I know people who smoke that have lived long and even outlived people with healthier lifestyles but that is not the norm. Documented research shows that smoking is extremely toxic to health and significantly increases the risk of lung and other cancers. Smoking is also extremely aging on the skin.
Tobacco smoke unarguably ruins immunity even if you aren’t the actual smoker. Kids have an increased risk of getting middle ear and lung infections when repeatedly exposed to second-hand smoke. Adults are more prone to getting bronchitis and pneumonia when exposed to tobacco smoke. The toxic ingredients in smoke lessen your ability to fight off all kinds of infections.
- Cut down on alcohol. UK government’s unit guidelines state that there are no safe levels of alcohol consumption. Unit guidelines are the same for men and women and both are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units per week. I am not a regular drinker and I have no idea what 14 units of alcohol actually looks like. Please feel free to contribute to this article by dropping me a line if you know what constitutes 14 units of alcohol and I’ll provide the update in the subsequent blog.
The risk of developing a variety of serious conditions including cancer, increases with any amount of alcohol consumed on a regular basis. Excessive alcohol intake also leads to an increased risk of getting infections from a poor immune system. Pulmonary infections are particularly likely to happen in heavy drinkers. Alcohol intake on a regular basis is also aging to the skin and heavy drinkers tend to look older than their age. Because alcohol is dehydrating to the body it is always advisable to consume plenty water throughout the day to rehydrate the body and to detoxify the body from the harsh effects of alcohol.
- Take probiotics. The benefits of taking probiotics on a daily basis cannot be overstated. I came to discover how necessary probiotics are for optimum digestive health and general immunity several years ago and I take these religiously both from food sources and also supplementally. Probiotics are one of the best things to reach mainstream medicine and it’s a topic to devote to a separate article of its own as there is a lot to explain about its immense benefits which many people overlook due to the lack of awareness.
Probiotics consist of living spores of healthy bacteria or living organisms themselves. They colonize the gut and displace the “bad bacteria” that can make you sick. With probiotics, you can have a healthier gut immune system and can avoid gastrointestinal upset from bacteria or fungi in the gut. Probiotics are found in some yogurts as well as in capsule form. I will devote time in a later blog to explain its benefits and the best food sources and supplements for probiotic health.
- Eat garlic. Garlic is one of the oldest and most cultivated culinary spices in the world. It is a perennial plant with numerous health benefits as well as being an antimicrobial and antiviral agent. Garlic belongs in the same food category as onions, spring onions and shallots and has a strong pungent smell when used or ingested. It boosts the immune system in a general way but because it is inactivated by heat it is best taken on its own or by adding to foods just before serving the food. Garlic may also be taken in supplement form. Many will be familiar with the home remedy of garlic, ginger, lemon and honey brewed as a drink and taken warm to relieve, colds and flu. Garlic is an excellent source of Vitamin B6, Manganese, Selenium, Vitamin C and a host of other important minerals.
- Build Up on Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin required by the body for the absorption of calcium. It is widely believed from some research that Vitamin D inhibits or prevents the formation of cancer in the body. The body produces Vitamin D from the absorption of the suns UV rays however many people in sun-challenged climates tend to be deficient in Vitamin D particularly in the winter months and this can negatively impact on immunity. You can get Vitamin D with exposure to the sun or you can take a Vitamin D supplement as it is a bit of a challenge to get sufficient levels of Vitamin D solely from food sources. Some food sources for Vitamin D are: salmon, eggs, fortified milk, Shitake and Maitake mushrooms etc. It is worth having your Vitamin D levels checked periodically until you find a dosage of Vitamin D that brings your level into the normal range. In the summertime, just ten to fifteen minutes of sunlight per day can be a big benefit to your immune system.
- Take Vitamin C. Vitamin C is indispensable in building the body’s immune defense and for ensuring proper functioning of body. The vast benefits offered by Vitamin C are too numerous to mention here and I will devote further articles to explain more about this amazing nutrient. Vitamin C reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. It also helps in reducing cholesterol, it helps the body fight off infection, improves circulation and is a powerful anti-aging nutrient.
- Eat Shitake and Maitake Mushrooms. Studies have shown that really concentrated extracts of these types of medicinal mushrooms have enhanced the immune system of women who have breast cancer. While eating the mushroom alone hasn’t been studied, it may have a beneficial effect on the immune system of otherwise healthy people.
- Immune Supporting Herbs. There are tons of immune-supportive herbs out there too numerous to mention. Some well-known ones are Echinacea, Ashwagandha, Eleuthero (otherwise known as Siberian Ginseng), Astragalus, Curcumin, Ginger, Ginkgo Giloba, Gotu Kola, Cat’s Claw, Ganoderma (bitter mushrooms) etc. These have been used in Chinese medicine for centuries to prevent infection and to maintain a strong immune system. They can be found at most reputable health food stores around you. There is a lot more valuable information to be shared on an even wider range of immune boosting herbs and I intend to do so in later blog articles. I am eager to share my own experience of using many of these herbs on a regular basis.
There are many more factors that determine levels of immunity which are beyond the scope of this article. The ones listed here are just a few tips. I think that it is in all our interests to continue to strive towards improving our immunity levels as it makes such a hugely positive difference to our state of health and well-being. If you have other tips on immunity from your own personal experience and knowledge that you would like to share, please feel free to drop me a line and I would be very happy to share this in further updates to this topic and perhaps you could even send me a full article on this or other relevant health topic and I’ll post it on this forum with your name and details! Wishing you great health and immunity!
From my heart to yours, always