The immune system acts as the body’s defense against bacteria. It is a constellation of cells, proteins, tissues and organs whose purpose is to recognize any harmful microbes and destroy it accordingly. Our immune system is broadly categorized into two groups. The first group is the innate immunity. It is non specific and acts as the first line of defense. Composed of cells such as neutrophils, macrophages and monocytes, it has the potential to destroy pathogens; however, it does not confer long lasting immunity. When defeated, it passes the work of destroying the pathogens to the adaptive immunity, the second group of our immune system, by activating it. The adaptive immune system is very specific. It is composed of T cells (cellular immunity), antibodies (these are proteins secreted in response to the foreign organisms also called antigens and the type of immunity antibodies provide is called humoral immunity) and natural killer cells. The adaptive immune system not only destroys the offending microbes but also creates a back up memory so that in case of a re-infection, the body has no hurdles in clearing the infection.
Why the body’s immune system has to constantly produce newer types of antibodies and other immune cells to fight the pathogens if the microbes are the same?
This is due to the fact that microbes keep evolving and change continuously over time. Survival for the fittest is a phrase which applies even to microbes. In an effort to survive, they keep undergoing genetic reformation. This has led to the emergence of super bugs which do not respond to treatment as required. To be able to withstand a super infection, the body needs to arm itself with super immunity. Read on to find out what all factors are harmful for you immune system and how easy it is to bring up your immune status.
Stress: ‘Stress is not good for your health’. All of us have heard this at least once in our lives. Psychological stress is indeed capable of modifying various features of the immune system. Studies that have been conducted have provided understanding into how this occurs. Acute stress such as when one is sitting for an exam suppresses the cellular immunity but has no adverse effect on the humoral immunity. In chronic stress situations, both the cellular immunity and humoral immunity are adversely affected. Moreover, advancing age increases the vulnerability to immune changes secondary to stress. (www.ncbi.nlm.gov/pubmed)
Even children are not spared from this reality. Experiences during early life shape the development of the brain. Adverse experiences affect the development of those areas of the brain that are responsible for integration and regulation of hormonal and immune responses. People who suffered neglect, abuse or loss during childhood have higher levels of stress hormones and increased counts of inflammatory chemicals in their body. Their susceptibility to contract infection is thus increased. (www.cdc.gov.cfs.news/features/child)
Hence, aiming to live a stress free life is not only good for your piece of mind but also go a long way to boost your immunity.
Exercise: The benefits of exercise have been reiterated over and over. Does exercise benefit our immunity? Does it have any adverse effects on our immunity?
The answer to the above questions is that exercise does a lot of good to our immune system.
- During physical activity, blood flow is increased to all areas of the body. This translates to faster delivery of white blood cells to peripheral body parts.
- Increase in temperature of the body that occurs during exercise does not favor the growth of micro-organisms.
- Physical activity helps to flush out microbes from the lungs and decreases the chances of getting disease.
- Exercise also reduces the levels of stress related hormones, which in turn decreases the chances of getting disease.
However, not all types of exercise benefit the body’s defense systems. Short periods of exercise do not alter the immune cell numbers. However, the story is different for prolonged endurance exercises. Studies have revealed that endurance exercises have detrimental effects on immunity. It results in impaired neutrophil function and lowered mucosal antibodies. In a nutshell, moderate exercise boosts the immune system, while endurance exercises do more harm than good. (www.ncbi.nih.gov/pubmed/10910293).
Probiotics: Termed the ‘good bacteria’, probiotics are harmless live bacteria, which are added in foods and assist in boosting the processes of the digestive system and also boost the gut immunity. They prevent overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut and help in maintaining the delicate balance between the good and the bad bacteria. This is paramount for the normal working of the digestive system. Examples of Probiotics include the lactobacillus and bifidobacterium species. Our gut is lined by a mucosal surface from start till the end. Ig A is a type of antibody present in the mucosal surfaces of the body. Its function is to prevent any microbes that are present on the mucosal surface from gaining entry into the bloodstream.
Probiotics help to boost the gut immunity in a number of ways:
- Probiotics down regulate the numbers of pro-inflammatory chemicals that are present in the gut.
- They decrease the levels of the Ig E antibody. This antibody is responsible for producing allergic reactions. As a result the probability of getting allergic reactions from food reduces.
- Probiotics improve the function of the Ig A antibody, which aids in fighting off any pathogens that manage to sneak into the gut.
Probiotics can be sourced from yogurt, soy, miso and any other cultured beverage. Supplements containing live bacteria are also available at retail outlets. One can also boost the numbers of good bacteria naturally by eating prebiotics. Prebiotics are foods that when taken, increase the number of good bacteria in the gut because they act as food for them. Any food rich in fiber such as whole grain carbohydrates, asparagus, brussel sprouts and apples qualifies as a prebiotics. (www.health.asda.com>Home>Nutrition>Nutrients)
Herbal supplements: Use of herbal supplements is also another viable way of boosting body’s immunity. Chinese herbal supplements such as rose geranium, gonaderma tsugae, codonopsis pilosula etc have immune boosting capabilities. Research has shown that these herbs have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties and immune-modulatory functions. One study showed that when the herbs were used during chemotherapy, they increased the number of neutrophils and other white blood cells. (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed)
Natural ways to boost immunity: Lastly, choosing a healthy lifestyle is on the frontline when it comes to increasing immunity. For this to be achieved you should refrain from smoking and consuming alcohol in excess. You should also strive to maintain your blood pressure within normal ranges and adhere to a low fat diet. Appropriate washing of hands and ensuring that food is well cooked also go a long way in increasing the immunity levels.
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