If you’ve noticed that you’re often sick, feel fatigued or have other importuning symptoms you can’t figure out, it may mean your immune system is weakened.
Normally, your immune system does a remarkable job of defending you against disease-causing microorganisms. But sometimes it fails, a germ invades successfully and makes you sick.
The immune system protects the body from possibly harmful substances by recognizing and responding to antigens. Antigens are substances (usually proteins) on the surface of cells, viruses, fungi, or bacteria. Non-living substances such as toxins, chemicals, drugs, and foreign particles (such as a splinter) can also be antigens. The immune system recognizes and destroys, or tries to destroy, substances that contain antigens, as well as cancer cells, distinguishing them from the organism's own healthy tissue. This causes an immune response, with the goal of restoring normal function.
Most people believe that when they get sick, their symptoms are a sign that they have a virus or an infection. Well, your symptoms are actually a sign that your body is fighting back against the infection or virus, triggering an immune response.
The immune system is incredibly complex and is precisely that — a system, not a single entity. To function well, it requires balance and harmony. It has to be strong enough and sophisticated enough to fight off a variety of illnesses and infections, but not so strong that it overreacts unnecessarily — causing allergies and other autoimmune disorders. Too much of an immune response is just as bad as too little response.
If the immune system malfunctions and mistakes self for non-self, it may attack the body’s own tissues, causing an autoimmune disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto thyroiditis, or systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus).
So, is it really possible to intervene in this process and effectively "boost" your immune system? What if you improve your diet? Take certain vitamins or herbal preparations? Make other lifestyle changes in the hope of producing a near-perfect immune response?
Attempting to boost the various 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. Which cells should you boost, and to what number? So far, scientists do not know the answer.
But despite its complexity, there are everyday lifestyle habits you can focus on to help give your immune system what it needs to stay in balance, and to fight off an infection or illness without triggering an immune disorder.
Healthy immune system warriors need good, regular nourishment. Whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are rich in nutrients and antioxidants that may give your body upper hand against harmful pathogens.
In addition to providing your immune system the energy it needs, a healthy diet can help ensure you're getting sufficient amounts of the micronutrients that play a role in maintaining your immune system, including:
The antioxidants in these foods help decrease inflammation by combatting unstable compounds called free radicals, which can cause inflammation when they build up in your body in high levels.
Meanwhile, the fiber in plant foods feeds your gut microbiome, or the community of healthy bacteria in your gut. A robust gut microbiome can improve your immunity and help keep harmful pathogens from entering your body via your digestive tract.
Moreover, fermented foods are rich in beneficial bacteria called probiotics, which populate your digestive tract. These foods include yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and natto.
A flourishing network of gut bacteria can help your immune cells differentiate between normal, healthy cells and harmful invader organisms to keep your immune response balanced and accurate.
For one thing, stress is difficult to define. What may appear to be a stressful situation for one person is not for another.
But one thing for sure is that stress can lead to lowered immunity and make you more prone to illness, and particularly long-term stress promotes inflammation, as well as imbalances in immune cell function, that is why it's extremely important to understand how stress affects your health — including the impact it has on your immune system.
During a period of stress, particularly chronic stress that is frequent and long-lasting, your body responds by initiating a stress response. This stress response, in turn, suppresses your immune system — increasing your chance of infection or illness.
Activities that may help you manage your stress include meditation, exercise, journaling, yoga, and other mindfulness practices. You may also benefit from seeing a licensed counselor or therapist, whether virtually or in person.
Don't overlook hydration. With age, your body begins to lose the urge to drink, as it does not signal thirst adequately so we tend to drink lesser fluids. But water plays many important roles in your body, including supporting your immune system.
A fluid in your circulatory system called lymph, which carries important infection-fighting immune cells around your body, is largely made up of water. Being dehydrated slows down the movement of lymph, sometimes leading to an impaired immune system.
Dehydration can also cause headaches and hinder your physical performance, focus, mood, digestion, and heart and kidney function. These complications can also increase your susceptibility to illness.
Regular exercise is one of the pillars of good health. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases.
Just like a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy, balanced immune system.
It contributes directly by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently. Moderate exercise may also reduce inflammation and help your immune cells regenerate regularly
If you suspect your diet is not providing you with all the micronutrient your body needs — maybe, for instance, you don't like vegetables — taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement may bring other health benefits, beyond any possibly beneficial effects on the immune system. If you experience any deficiencies on your vitamins and minerals ask your doctor if taking a supplement might help.
Here are a couple of suggestions from our experts:
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