Our Immune System
An effective immune system is able to interpret changes in the world around it and respond appropriately. This ever-important system is made up of a sophisticated network of cells, tissues and organs to protect the body from alterations in our environment – particularly from bacteria, and other pathogens.
From the moment we are born, our bodies are exposed to pathogens whose sole purpose is to live and replicate in a warm, moist and nutrient-rich environment. To stop their growth and replication, our immune system uses physical (such as the skin) and biochemical barriers (immune cells and antibodies) specifically target these pathogens and help to repair any damage they can cause.
Our immune system function is influenced by many different factors, including:
- How much sleep we get
- The foods we eat
- How often we exercise
- Our stress levels
This proves that we can support our immune system function in more ways than one. Fun fact: most of our immune cells are produced from bone marrow!
How do I support my immune system?
There are many ways we can support our immune system function in our day-to day lives. The food we eat, how much sleep we get, how often we exercise, and our stress levels can influence how our immune system works.
Some signs of a poor-functioning immune system are:
- Recurrent infections, such as colds and flus
- Poor wound healing
- A persistent sniffly nose, sore throat and/or cough
Here are 5 ways to support your immune system:
Lack of sleep can negatively impact our immune system’s response , making us susceptible to infection. As we sleep, specific proteins called cytokines, as well as some antibodies and immune cells, are manufactured that fight infection and inflammation in the body. Together, they prevent illness by destroying harmful pathogens.
Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking and jogging, helps increase the circulation of immune cells in the body. This helps the body be better equipped to deal with infectious pathogens.
3. Reducing stress levels
Although acute bouts of stress are normal in our day-to-day lives, prolonged stress is not healthy for our bodies for several reasons, particularly in relation to immune system function.
Those who are exposed to prolonged periods of stress are more susceptible to colds and can take longer to recover from being sick. This is because prolonged stress can cause inflammation in the body, which dysregulates immune system function. Ways to reduce stress includes mindfulness, practicing meditation and yoga.
4. Eating a varied diet
Every stage of the immune system’s response to infection relies on specific nutrients. As food is our main source of nutrients, it makes sense to ensure we are eating a varied diet in the aim of consuming as many beneficial nutrients as we can that support our immune system.
- Citrus fruits, berries and broccoli are rich sources of vitamin C, which helps reduce the time it takes to recover from colds and flus
- Eggs, meat, nuts and tofu are some examples of protein-rich foods – protein is essential for the proper functioning of the white blood cells that gulp up and destroy foreign pathogens in the body
- Herbs such as garlic and thyme have a long history of use in supporting immune system function, thanks to their antimicrobial actions throughout the body
There are supplements available which contain nutrients and herbs that are specifically formulated to support the immune system function day-to-day and there are also supplements specifically formulated to relieve the duration and severity of colds and flu. Make sure you see a health professional to determine what medicines/supplements are right for you.
Gombart, A.F., Pierre, A., Maggini, S. (2020), A Review of Micronutrients and the Immune System-Working in Harmony to Reduce the Risk of Infection, Nutrients 12(1): 236, PMID: 31963293 A Review of Micronutrients and the Immune System–Working in Harmony to Reduce the Risk of Infection
Morey, J.N. et.al (2016), Current Directions in Stress and Human Immune Function, Current Opinion in Psychology 5:13-17, doi: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2015.03.007
Nunez, K., Lamoureux, K. (2020), What Is the Purpose of Sleep? Healthline, cited on 15.03.2022, accessed from Why Do We Sleep? What Happens During Sleep? (healthline.com)