No doubt you’ve heard countless times from your parents and medical professionals that your immune system is important. Even if it’s never been mentioned outright, it’s been inferred. We all generally have an idea of what the immune system does – it fights infections and illnesses for us – but we may not have an in-depth understanding of exactly how it works and what it’s doing for us day-to-day.
How does the immune system actually work?
Your immune system recognises every cell that makes up your body. If it finds anything it doesn’t recognise, it attacks it. Sometimes it can get this wrong and attack harmless pollen particles (causing hay fever) or donated blood or organs. However, in general your immune system will be pretty good at this.
Your immune system can be divided up into two parts: innate response and acquired response. The innate response is the part that decides whether something is friend or foe. If it decides on foe, it tries to flush out the invader and this is generally what makes you feel feverish or snotty. The acquired response acts when the invaders have been recognised. It identifies which cells in your body can kill the invaders and then sends them in, much like a SWAT team. There are lots of claims online that things like getting more sleep, taking supplements and drinking more water can help to improve your immune system, but often, robust evidence for these quick-fixes can be hard to find. So, what does work?
A healthy lifestyle is your first line of defence
The best method for maintaining a healthy immune system is to keep yourself healthy by eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise. A varied diet will ensure you are getting all the vitamins and minerals your body needs in order to stay healthy. Certain vitamins and minerals contribute to the normal function of the immune system, including copper, folate, iron, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc. Some will be more helpful here than others, but that’s why a balanced diet is the best option here, as you’ll get a bit of everything.
Getting regular exercise is important for your immune system because it increases the activity of helpful immune cells in your body. Improving your circulation and getting your heart beating more sends these cells out to patrol the body, looking for potential problems. The NHS notes that adults between 19 and 64 require both aerobic and strength exercises. It also recommends at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week, in addition to separate strength exercises. Whilst both types of activity are important for general wellbeing, which is also important for your immune system, it’s the aerobic activity that will really get those immune cells moving about.
Your microbiota is on your side
I have mentioned in another blog that cultivating the good bacteria in your gut is essential to your overall health and wellbeing, but how does this relate to the immune system? Well, the microbiota in your gut can help to defend you from infection in more ways than one. For one thing, they take up space in your gut, so it’s difficult for disease-causing bugs to find anywhere to establish themselves. They also secrete toxic proteins that kill off potential infections, and, finally, they regulate the signals of our innate response (the one that flushes out invaders). Some scientists have suggested that the reason why you and your friend may react differently to the same infection is down to a difference in microbiota. One way to complement your microbiota is to take Forever Active Pro-B. It’s the perfect high-quality friendly bacteria supplement to assist with your diet and lifestyle goals (Code 610 Price £35.71).
Vaccinations can help prevent problems
We mentioned earlier that the acquired response identifies cells within the body that can attack and kill invaders, well, often this process can take a few days or longer to complete. Vaccines work by introducing your acquired response to harmless versions of the infection, so that your body produces antibodies and learns how to fight it. This way, if you ever come into contact with the disease again, your immune system knows how to fight it and acts a lot quicker.
It’s clear that there’s no quick fix for boosting your immune system. The only real answer is to eat well, exercise regularly, look after your microbiome and make sure you have the correct vaccinations. Not so surprising when you think about it, is it?