A Definition of the Immune System
The human body has a system of defense against viruses, bacteria, infectious organisms, and other invaders: the immune system. Our immune systems are always working to battle the invaders that could harm us and make us ill. In fact, the immune system is comprised of a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect our bodies from infection. The steps the immune system takes to ward off invaders is called the immune response.
While the immune system does its best to defend the body against invading organisms, it does not always work. Germs and other invaders succeed in making us sick. So, what can we do to help support our immune systems? It’s important to keep in mind that the immune system is a complex system, and there is not one proven method for making the immune system foolproof. However, there are some steps you can take to boost your immune system.
Lifestyle Changes That Boost the Immune System
Healthy lifestyles that follow general good-health guidelines are helpful for boosting the immune system. As Harvard Health points out, “every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies.” These strategies include not smoking; eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; exercising regularly; maintaining a healthy weight; controlling your blood pressure; drinking alcohol in moderation; getting enough sleep; avoiding infection by washing hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly; and getting medical screenings for your particular age group and risk category.
Reducing Stress to Boost the Immune System
Stress has harmful effects on your health, including weakening the immune system. Stress places demands on your body to the extent that your immune system suffers. Any time that your immune system is compromised, you are more vulnerable to colds and infections. There are various ways to reduce the amount of stress you have, including calming exercises, taking walks, socializing, listening to music, and getting into nature.
Nutritional Supplements and Diet to Benefit the Immune System
Of course, we know that people who receive proper, regular nourishment are less susceptible to infectious diseases than people who live in poverty and are malnourished. Harvard Health highlights research being conducted to determine whether micronutrient deficiencies in zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E alter the immune response in animals and humans. Taking a multivitamin on a daily basis can make up for micronutrient deficiencies and boost the immune system.
Researchers also have been investigating whether herbal supplements and herbs themselves benefit the immune system. The research has focused mostly on the elderly, children, and people with compromised immune systems and further studies are being conducted to determine how much herbal supplements and herbs boost the immune system. There have been some promising results from a few sources, including garlic and ginseng. Other foods that have been linked to boosting the immune system include echinacea, bell peppers, ginger, turmeric, and astragalus.
Boosting the Immune System with Probiotics
Researchers are finding that probiotics, or good bacteria that safely exists in your digestive tract, also benefit the immune system. Specifically, there is a link between good gut bacteria, such as certain bacteria that influences the development of T cells, and the immune system’s ability to fight off invaders. Dr. June Round, of the University of Utah School of Medicine, has conducted research that supports the theory that microbes in our gut are very important for our immune health.
Other research has focused on the benefits of probiotics to boost the immune system during flu season. Gale Malarkey of Prevention Magazine reported that research published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that athletes had approximately 40% fewer colds and gastrointestinal infections when they took a probiotic, as opposed to those who took a placebo. Specifically, probiotics containing Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Bifidobacterium longum boost the immune system and are helpful during cold and flu season.
Probiotics also have been helpful in boosting the immune system to ward off Clostridium difficile, or C. diff., an infection that causes severe diarrhea and sometimes life-threatening inflammation of the colon. When people take antibiotics, they are more susceptible to developing C. diff., but the research shows that the risk of developing C. diff. decreased by two-thirds when patients took an antibiotic in conjunction with a probiotic, according to Joshua Goldenberg, a naturopathic physician at the Northshore Family Practice in Kenmore, Washington.
Overall, there are certain lifestyle, dietary, and supplemental changes you can make to boost your immune system. If you want to make it safely through this coming cold and flu season, decide which immune-boosting steps you want to take to help protect your health.