Your immune system has a big job. It’s the main line of defense for protecting your body against disease and disorder. There are ground troops (like white blood cells) to fight off harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites. And there are the parts that help your body by generating a healing response to trauma and infection. Sometimes, however, there’s a breach in the perimeter. A germ invades, successfully attacks, and you end up with an illness. The system is weakened, or depleted, or not functioning correctly. Sometimes it’s just because the invader was overwhelming.
Boosting your immune system
It seems like the sensible thing to do is keep your immune system healthy – to do what you can to keep your body’s defenses strong. The question is, how do we do that? The immune system is not a single thing – it is a system, composed of mucous membranes, lymph nodes, tonsils, thymus, spleen, bowels, bone marrow, cells, and even skin. They all work in conjunction with each other and work best when everything is in balance. While we don’t know everything there is to know about its intricacies, researchers have observed cause and effect of specific behaviors and activities which seem to either weaken or strengthen our body’s immune response.
Healthy living can help
Your body is a complex organism, and every part of it – including your immune system – works better when you keep things balanced with healthy living practices.
When we include plenty of vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables in our diet, we provide the nourishment needed to support our immune system functions. Our bodies absorb nutrients better when we get them directly from whole foods, but bolstering our diets with supplements can be helpful for restoring balance when there are gaps in our diets. It’s good to consult with a physician or wellness coach when starting a supplement regimen because ‘more’ is not always ‘better’.
If there is a fountain of youth, it might be exercise. Regular exercise is good for your heart health, and it lowers blood pressure, helps you maintain a healthy weight, and protects you against a variety of diseases. Good circulation allows immune system agents to travel where they’re needed, quickly and efficiently.
Getting enough water and staying hydrated is also good for your immune health because water helps your body’s lymph glands. And remember not all liquids are created equal – beverages like coffee, soda, and caffeinated tea can dehydrate you. Besides drinking water, foods like cucumbers, celery, and watermelon also help with hydration levels.
Obtaining enough sleep is good for your brain and your body. The amount of sleep you get also effects your immune system; studies show that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to get sick. The optimal amount for adults is seven to eight hours per night.
We all know the risks of tobacco smoke to the respiratory system, but we may not understand it also undermines our basic immune defenses, leaving us more vulnerable to bronchitis and pneumonia, among other things.
If you drink alcohol, keep it to a modest amount. Drinking excessive amounts not only impairs your immune system but has also been shown to contribute to dementia.
It’s easier said than done, to keep stress to a minimum. Stress is tied to a lot of illnesses, including gastrointestinal disorders and heart disease. When we live in a chronic state of stress, it increases the amount of cortisol (the “fight or flight” hormone) our bodies produce, and over time this can suppress immune function.
You can help your immune system on the front lines by washing your hands frequently, especially during cold and flu season. It’s also a good idea to wash meats and vegetables before cooking and eating.
Do supplements help?
The number of supplements available is staggering, and there’s no end of bottles and jars that claim to support your immune system. Here again, it’s best to talk to a physician or health and wellness coach to get the right thing – in the right amount. Supplements on the market are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as food, not drugs, so they don’t evaluate supplements for their effects on your body. Also, some supplements may have side effects you should be aware of.