What is the immune system?
Our immune system is our defence system, protecting us against disease by detecting and understanding pathogens (viruses, parasites, etc) and being able to know when an unwanted passenger has appeared on board. It is then capable of creating an antidote to the offender and works to rid us of it. It is a complex, sophisticated system which has subsystems all working hard and adapting in order to protect their host. Our immune system has a memory, once a certain pathogen has been dealt with once our body has the ability to learn and recognise the same pathogen at a later date; the basis of vaccination. An immune system’s core purpose is to maintain the integrity of its host.
We have to take good care of our immune system in order for it to return the favour; immune system disorders or deficiencies can result in life-threatening diseases. There are strong signals pointing towards a weak immune system, knowing your body and recognising such signs could potentially save you from suffering more than necessary. Build an awareness of your own body and how you function, recognise when outside factors affect you, know when to alter your diet or improve your exercise regimes, know when something is off kilter – listen to your body!
Signs of a weakened immune system
Infection: not just infection but repeated infections show that your immune system is not able to do its job of recognising the repeat offender (pathogen) and defending you against it.
Colds: The common cold should last approximately ten days at most, anything longer than this is a sign that your system is really struggling to fight it, it hasn’t been able to develop the necessary antibodies in order to rid you of your cold.
Fatigue: Our energy levels reflect the activity of the immune system. If you are constantly tired your immune system is letting you know that it too is suffering from fatigue.
Healing: If you have cut yourself your body sends warriors to repair the damage. Nutrient rich blood is brought to the affected area in order to heal the skin. If you notice that your healing process has slowed and cuts and wounds linger, your skin is failing to regenerate – this is a strong sign of a weakened immune system.
Lymph nodes: The glands found throughout our bodies swell when fighting off bacteria, and other foreign particles – you can locate a few in the neck, groin and armpits – if this swelling persists it could be indicative of a weakened immune system.
Digestion: If you suffer from nausea, diarrhea, ulcers, bloating, gas, or other digestive related troubles this could be a sign that the bacteria in your gut is unbalanced, thus causing your immune system to struggle.
Weight: Being overweight can cause serious stress on the immune system, and prevent it from functioning effectively when necessary.
We require balance and harmony in order to achieve an equilibrium as our immune system is exactly that; a system, not one thing but a collection of delicate, intricate, interconnected working cogs. To keep your immune system at its optimum strength we need to consistently maintain a healthy lifestyle, achieving everything on this list of guidelines would be a sure fire way to provide yourself with the best defence:
- Maintain a nutrient-dense diet: high in fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds.
- Avoid processed foods.
- Exercise regularly.
- Keep a healthy weight.
- Avoid bacteria.
- Get all the necessary daily vitamins and minerals.
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all: excessive consumption impairs the immune system and increases vulnerability to lung infections.
- Do not smoke: tobacco smoke undermines basic immune defences and raises the risk of bronchitis and pneumonia in everyone, and middle ear infections in kids.
- Get plenty of sleep: sleep deprivation increases the hormone cortisol, prolonged elevation of which suppresses immune function.
- Minimise stress: stress overload also increases the hormone cortisol, prolonged elevation of which suppresses immune function.
- Get at least 10-15 minutes of sun per day WITHOUT sunscreen. Vitamin D protects against respiratory infection
Extras for boosting immunity
Garlic: Garlic is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent and immune booster. Add it to foods just before serving as heats deactivates key properties. Raw is best.
Medicinal mushrooms: Fungi such as shiitake and maitake (sometimes sold as “hen of the woods”). A recent study showed that a concentrated extract of shiitake enhanced immune function in women with breast cancer.
Immune-supportive herbs: If you get recurrent infections, consider taking immune-supportive herbs such as Eleuthero, Asian ginseng, American ginseng, or astragalus.
Echinacea tincture: A good ally to have on hand when respiratory viruses overwhelm your defences.
Probiotics: Studies indicate that fermented milk products have been shown to reduce respiratory infections.
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