Boost your immune system
The immune system is our body’s defense system against infectious viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. It works to keep these harmful agents out of the body and attacks those that manage to enter.
Viruses are infectious micro-organisms that require a living host to survive and multiply. When one enters your body, it invades and takes over cells, redirecting them to produce more of the virus.
When our bodies come under attack from a viral infection, such as the common cold a sophisticated defence is launched known as ‘the immune response’. Our immune system is designed to recognise the cells that make up our bodies and repel any foreign invaders such as viruses.
They do this by using a huge army of defender cells which consist of different types of white blood cell. We make around a billion of them every day in our bone marrow.
White blood cells called macrophages destroy germs as soon as they detect them. However, if a viral infection begins to take hold we fight back using a more powerful defence of white cells called T and B lymphocytes.
Antibodies are a special protein made by B cells. They bind to a virus to stop it from replicating, and also tag viruses so that other blood cells know to destroy them.
T cells have different roles to play. Some act as guard dogs that raise the alarm when they detect invading viruses; others kill virus-infected cells directly, or help B cells to produce antibodies.
Once the virus has been cleared, a small number of these specialist B and T cells persist and retain an accurate memory of the destroyed virus.
This means our immune systems are primed to prevent another infection from the same virus, without attacking the body’s own cells by accident. This is known as ‘acquired immunity’. Having a single infection with mumps during childhood will give you lifelong resistance, for example.
Our immune system is constantly working hard to fight off potentially dangerous invaders. Just eating and breathing exposes us to germs. Top functioning of the immune system is of paramount importance and the key to everyday health. As well as fighting off things like flu germs it is also busy dealing with the ‘big boys’ like potential cancer cells.
If there is one system that needs to function at its best, it is the immune system! There a few easy things you can do to boost your immune system;
- Avoid refined sugar. As well as other negative effects, in terms of your immune system sugar decreases its function. Avoiding sugar is particularly important if you’re feeling ill, but keeping it out of your diet in the long term will do wonders for your overall health. Watch out for those hidden sugars lurking in things like fruit juices. They are now everywhere, others to watch out for are low-fat products – they have to add in something to make it taste good.
- High fruit and vegetable diet.
- Move your body exercise doesn’t have to be painful. It can be fun. Try yoga, team sports, brisk walking, deep stretching. If you’re feeling adventurous rebounding on a mini trampoline is great for moving your lymph and getting blood pumping.
- Get plenty of rest and aim to have a regular sleeping pattern. If you’re tired your body will struggle to fight off illnesses. The value of good quality sleep on your health can’t be underestimated. Lack of sleep is a chronic problem in our modern world and is linked to a range of health problems including weight gain, poor memory function and inability to fight off diseases. Adults should get between 7-9 hours every night to allow your body time to restore your cells.
- Avoid stress. Although this is easier said than done, high levels of chronic stress are now known to negatively impact health. High stress levels results in high levels of the hormone cortisol. The body can deal with occasional acute stressors resulting in a short sharp rise of cortisol but long term stress and cortisol levels results in lowered amounts of a protein that is critical to signalling other immune cells. Without these reinforcements, the body is susceptible to contacting acute illnesses, and prolonged healing times. The body is also unable to mount an effective inflammatory response. Prolonged high levels of inflammation are often the underlying causes of many diseases.
- Supplements – we’ve all heard of taking vitamins to ‘boost the immune system’ but what exactly should we be taking to do this?
Of course each person is unique and the needs of the each individual vary but as a guideline the following supplements have been researched and found to potentially have a positive effect on the immune system, helping it attack virus such as the common cold, HIV, ME and many others. Clinical studies have even demonstrated the use of Vitamin C therapy in cancer patients.
- Vitamin C – Vitamin C tops the list of immune boosters for many reasons. There has been more research about the immune-boosting effects of vitamin C than perhaps any other nutrient. Vitamin C supplements are inexpensive to produce, and it is available naturally in many fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C increases the production of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies and increases levels of interferon, the antibody that coats cell surfaces, preventing the entry of viruses.
Vitamin C has intrinsic antiviral and antibacterial activity and is beneficial in general immunity boosting, helping to ward off or prevent colds and flus, assisting the healing of wounds, aiding the body in fighting infection.
Unlike most animals that produce their own vitamin C, the human body does not synthesize any. Whether for general immunity boosting or for the treatment of a specific condition, one requires more vitamin C than our contemporary diet supplies. The RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) is easily obtained from fresh fruits and vegetables. Higher dosages such as 500 milligrams to 5 grams per day have been proven to be beneficial in the prevention of colds and general immunity boosting. However, vitamin C dosage of over 1 gram can realistically only be obtained through supplements.
If you are experiencing cold symptoms, we suggest a dosage of 4 to 5 grams taken during the day. If this treatment is started in the early stages of a cold, it will often fail to develop. If the cold has already developed, this treatment will usually lessen the effect of the cold and speed recovery.
- Probiotic – Probiotics have been defined as live microorganisms that have a beneficial effect in the prevention and treatment of specific medical conditions. These microorganisms are believed to exert biological effects through a phenomenon known as colonization resistance, whereby the indigenous anaerobic flora limits the concentration of potentially harmful germs in the digestive tract. Probiotics have also been found to be of benefit in reducing the odds of catching a cold or flu. These friendly gut bacteria may also boost the immune system. Probiotics are of particular importance for those who have been on antibiotics
Echinacea- Echinacea is one of the top-selling herbal remedies throughout the world. It is also one of the oldest. Not only has this healing herb enjoyed long popularity, it also has been the subject of much scientific research. Echinacea is a native American plant that was recognized over a century ago as a natural infection fighter. It is an immunostimulant, a substance that boosts the body’s immune system. Unlike traditional antibiotics that kill bacteria directly, echinacea works indirectly, killing the germ by strengthening your immune system. While the entire echinacea story is still being researched, there is some evidence that it stimulates the body to produce more infection-fighting white blood cells, such as T-lymphocytes and killer white blood cells. It may also stimulate the release of interferons, one of the body’s most potent infection-fighting weapons. Interferon kills germs and also infiltrates their genetic control centre, preventing them from reproducing. Besides helping the body produce more infection- fighting cells, echinacea helps these cells to produce more germ-eating cells, called macrophages, and it helps these cells eat the germs more voraciously, a process called phagocytosis.. Echinacea also seems to search out and destroy some viruses, such as the common cold and flu viruses.
The best research on echinacea comes from Germany. Echinacea has been studied in Germany using double-blind, placebo-controlled studies and has shown that echinacea users experienced less frequent and less severe virus infections (colds and flus) by one-third to one-half compared to the group that took dummy pills (which interestingly also reported a decrease in severity of flu symptoms).
Most commonly people take echinacea on an ‘as needed’ basis when they feel the first signs of a cold coming on or if they have been exposed to a contagious viral infection.
- Vitamin D – .It has been found that vitamin D is part of a complex process in which T cells become ‘primed’ and help to fight infection suggesting that people with vitamin D deficiency are more susceptible to infection or that vitamin D supplements might boost immunity. Vitamin D – the ‘sunshine’ vitamin is one of the most common deficiencies today, especially in the UK where there is not much sunlight!
- Zinc – This mineral increases the production of white blood cells that fight infection. Zinc increases the number of infection-fighting T-cells, especially in elderly people who are often deficient in zinc, and whose immune system often weakens with age.