As we know, a well-functioning immune system is essential for good health and to live a vibrant life.
Our bodies' immunity, for the most part, functions quietly in the background by activating the so-called immune response, fighting infections, toxins, and inflammations caused by pathogens like bacterias, parasites, and viruses.
To avoid illnesses, it is therefore very important to ensure that our immune system is strengthened and can respond accordingly.
Poor nutrition, environmental influences, and lifestyle choices can weaken or compromise immunity. In a world where new infections such as the COVID 19 Virus are continually cropping up, having a robust immune system is vital.
Fortunately, it is possible to strengthen the immune system naturally by bringing focus to make six simple ways to strengthen one’s immune response:
- As much as you can, try to eat a Healthy Plant-Based diet
Eating healthy whole foods can contribute significantly to bolstering the immune system. Most vegetables, fruits, and nuts have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This means that they help the body to fight inflammation caused by free radicals or unstable molecules that otherwise destroy body cells.
Foods such as bananas, apples (the skin in particular), and artichokes are rich in fibre which provides the gut with much needed healthy bacteria to fight off infections.
Taking foods rich in vitamin C, such as kiwi, broccoli, lemons, and oranges, can boost immunity and reduce the severity of respiratory infections. Similarly, healthy fats such as olive oil and omega-three fatty acids help fight inflammation and decrease the risk of heart disease.
- As much as you can, try to get enough quality sleep
Never underestimate the importance of sleep! Skimping on sleep can significantly affect the immune system. When one is asleep, the body produces substances called cytokines, which are important for sending signals within the immune system. They also stimulate an immune response to inflammation and infections. Without adequate sleep, the body produces fewer cytokines, leaving one susceptible to infections.
Studies also show that a lack of enough sleep affects recovery from illness, including cold & flu. A good sleep regime is based on habit, where one needs to try to go to sleep at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, even on the weekends. To gain all these benefits, it is recommended that adults spend at least 7-8 hours asleep. Where this is not possible, one should aim to squeeze in one or two naps during the day, avoiding it to be longer than 20- 30mins or after 3 pm.
- Avoid stress build-up
Stress is something everyone feels at times, and in fact, it is proven that low-level stress can even be helpful or motivational. But, too much stress can affect our mood, body and immune system. When one is under severe pressure, the body produces cortisol, the stress hormone. Over time, cortisol reduces the number of lymphocytes or white blood cells that fight infection in the body.
During a stressful period, the digestive system does not perform at par either. This not only causes digestive problems, but the adrenaline released could result in stomach ulcers.
One of the body’s most common responses to stress is increased heart rate, which, over time, could lead to high blood pressure. Whilst easier said than done, taking control of the situation when you're feeling stressed is really empowering.
To manage stress levels, try meditation, yoga, or exercise. Spending time with friends and family or indulging in a favourite hobby can greatly reduce stress levels.
- Try to get regular exercise
Any form of exercise, be it running, walking, cycling, at-home exercises, fitness classes, can do wonders for the immune system. Studies show that disease-fighting cells are concentrated in certain parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes. During exercise, blood circulation increases, as does the movement of pathogen fighting cells.
When these killer cells roam the body, they can eradicate any lurking infections faster. Regular exercise keeps the immune system alert and on patrol, ready to fight any invasions.
Other than boosting immune response, regular exercise also lowers the occurrence and severity of upper tract infections, including the common cold and helps lift your mood.
- Avoid/ reduce alcohol intake
Aside from alcohol being directly linked to affecting the sleep quality, too much consumption of alcohol can damage immune cells in various body parts, making it hard to fight disease-causing pathogens. Alcohol destroys cells in the intestines, inhibiting the absorption of nutrients. It also disrupts the balance of gut microbiomes, the healthy bacteria that support the immune system in fighting off infections in the digestive tract.
When it comes to the respiratory system, alcohol impairs the functioning of immune cells, leaving one vulnerable to infections such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. More importantly, alcohol suppresses the efficiency of specialized immune cells that identify and attack specific pathogens.
To suggest avoiding alcohol altogether, for many, is not realistic. It is however advisable to moderate your alcohol intake to maybe a couple of times a week. People who have chronic illnesses should especially be vigilant about drinking.
- Stay hydrated
Dehydration can cause lethargy, headaches, grumpiness, and general physical decline.
Water is a natural immune booster that provides oxygen to the body, helping various systems to operate optimally. For instance, it helps the kidneys to flush out toxins, which can otherwise build up and slow down the immune system. As mentioned, the digestive system is crucial for health. Taking fluids helps to break down food and reduce constipation. It is advisable to stick to water compared to juices, as it is calorie and sugar-free.
The saying goes that by the time one feels thirsty, the body is already dehydrated. As such, it is important to drink plenty of water throughout the day. A useful trick for those not inclined to drinking plain water is to add a lemon or take water-rich foods such as watermelon, oranges, and cucumber.
A robust immune system plays a fundamental role in maintaining good health. Eating well, getting quality sleep, exercising, and staying hydrated can go a long way in boosting immunity.
Yet, due to lifestyle and environmental factors, the body might not be getting adequate nutrients required for a healthy immune system. Vitamin C, for instance, is crucial for protecting cells and blood vessels, yet it is not made in the body and must come entirely from food sources. Similarly, especially during the winter months, but even for some people in summer months, the body might not be able to make enough Vitamin D.
It is at this juncture that the need for supplements arises as an effective way to bridge the nutritional gap. This not only strengthens immunity but promotes overall health and wellbeing.
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