- What is the immune system
- How does the immune system work
- What you can do to improve your immune system
According to the Centers for Disease Control, viruses continue to wreak misery in 41 states. Your body's immune system is designed to protect you from, or get rid of, infection. It is made up of a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs in your body.
What is the immune system?
The immune system comprises:
- bone marrow
- the thymus, a gland in your upper chest
- white blood cells, which fight infection
- lymph, a milky fluid carrying white blood cells
- the lymphatic system, a network of tiny vessels that carry lymph around the body
- lymph nodes, small lumps in your groin, armpit, around your neck and elsewhere
- the spleen, an organ under your ribs on the left
- mucous membranes, like the lining of the inside of your mouth.
The lymphatic system allows immune cells to travel between tissues and the bloodstream. The lymphatic system contains lymphocytes (white blood cells; mostly T cells and B cells), which try to recognize any bacteria, viruses or other foreign substances in your body and fight them.
How does the immune system work?
The skin and mucous membranes are the first line of defense against bacteria, viruses and other foreign substances. They act as a physical barrier, and they also contain immune cells.
When your skin has a cut, microbes can enter and invade your body. The cut triggers certain immune cells in the bloodstream that try to destroy the invaders.
In an infection, white blood cells identify the microbe, produce antibodies to fight the infection, and help other immune responses to occur. They also 'remember' the attack.
This is how vaccinations work – vaccines expose your immune system to a dead or weakened microbe or to proteins from a microbe so that your body can recognize and respond very quickly to any future exposure to the same microbe. (Immune system myth: Many vaccines have health risks. Immune system fact: Nearly everything we do involves some level of risk. The risk of dying in a car accident is one in 6,700. The chance of drowning in the bathtub is one in 840,000. But the risk of a serious reaction from a vaccine is small by comparison: one in a million for the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, or DTaP vaccine, for example. And yet most of us don't hesitate to take a bath or ride in the car).
However, keep in mind that other viruses cause respiratory illness: parainfluenza viruses, adenoviruses, coronaviruses, rhinoviruses….not to mention bacteria such as Streptococcus.
Even though your world teams with infectious microorganisms, most of the time, you’re reasonably healthy, right? Thank your immune system, which defends you from disease-causing microbes. Now, step beyond gratitude to optimize the function of that system.
What you can do to improve your immune system
Following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies such as these:
- Get enough sleep and manage stress. Sleep deprivation and stress overload increase the hormone cortisol, prolonged elevation of which suppresses immune function.
- Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.
- Avoid tobacco smoke. It undermines basic immune defenses and raises the risk of bronchitis and pneumonia in everyone, and middle ear infections in kids.
- Drink less alcohol. Excessive consumption impairs the immune system and increases vulnerability to lung infections.
- Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds, which will provide your body with the nutrients your immune system needs. A study in older adults showed that boosting fruit and vegetable intake improved antibody response to the Pneumovax vaccine, which protects against Streptococcus pneumonia.
- Consider probiotics. Studies indicate supplements reduce the incidence of respiratory and gastrointestinal infections. Fermented milk products have also been shown to reduce respiratory infections in adults and kids.
- Catch some rays. Sunlight triggers the skin’s production of vitamin D. In the summer, a 10-15 minute exposure (minus sunscreen) is enough. However, above 42 degrees latitude (Boston) from November through February, sunlight is too feeble and few foods contain this vitamin. Low vitamin D levels correlate with a greater risk of respiratory infection. A 2010 study in kids showed that 1200 IU a day of supplemental vitamin D reduced the risk of influenza A. However, a 2012 study that involved supplementing adults with colon cancer with 1000 IU a day failed to demonstrate protection against upper respiratory infections.
- Go for the garlic. Garlic is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent and immune booster. Because heat deactivates a key active ingredient, add it to foods just before serving.
Content and references provided by Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology/Allergy and Everyday Health by Linda B. White, MD.
I hope you found this information valuable and you will share it with others. The more who know how to strengthen their immune system, the less risk we all will endure. As always, if you want help with your safety and health programs, contact us today for a dialogue. Be safe and spread the word...............Isabel