We all get sick from time to time – it’s nature’s way of helping us build up our natural immunity so that we can defend ourselves against disease-causing microorganisms. However, getting sick during this process is never fun for anyone, especially when you already have a fairly busy, stressful schedule. So, the bigger question is: Is there a better way to help build your immune system naturally?
Fortunately, there are different ways to help boost your immune system naturally by adding vitamins and supplements into your diet and making other lifestyle changes to help swing your health into a more positive direction. But before we dive into how to achieve this goal, let’s first talk about the immune system and the role it plays in helping your overall health.
The Immune System 101
Learning about the immune system is hopefully something you learned early on in school when learning how your body fights off germs. However, there’s definitely no time like the present to learn something new or refresh your memory on what the immune system actually does, especially in today’s society where immunity is talked about often in terms of going through a global pandemic.
The immune system, according to Nemours Children’s Health, is “the body’s defense again infections. The immune system attacks germs and helps keep us healthy.” More specifically, the immune system has many cells and organs working together to protect the body. White blood cells in particular play an important role in the immune system. When your body sense foreign substance, which is known as antigens, the immune system works to recognize them and try to get rid of them.
B lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell, are triggered to create antibodies when they sense foreign substances in the body. “These proteins lock onto specific antigens. After they’re made, antibodies usually stay in our bodies in case we have to fight the same germ again.” So, when someone gets sick with a disease, such as chickenpox, our antibodies make it so that we usually won’t get sick from it again.
Antibodies, however, can lock onto an antigen, but cannot destroy it without help from your T cells. Your T cells help destroy antigens that have been tagged by antibodies or cells that are infected or somehow changed. Antibodies can also neutralize toxins that are produced by different organisms and can activate a group of proteins that help kill bacteria, viruses, or infected cells.
And, according to Nemours Children’s Health, the human body has three types of immunity called: Innate, adaptive, and passive.
- Innate Immunity: This immunity is something that everyone is born with; for example, the skin acts as a barrier to block germs from entering the body and the immune system recognizes when certain invaders are foreign and could be dangerous.
- Adaptive Immunity: We develop adaptive immunity when we’re exposed to diseases or when we are immunized against them with vaccines.
- Passive Immunity: This type of immunity is “borrowed” from another source and only lasts for a short time; for example, antibodies in a mother’s breast milk give a baby temporary immunity to diseases that the mother has been exposed to.
Although your immune system takes a while to develop, there is a method to its madness. It may seem like you are constantly sick or spiking a fever, but most of the time, it’s your body fighting off antigens that don’t belong there. And, luckily there are ways that you can make it work more efficiently or give it a healthy “boost”, so to speak, by implementing more natural approaches with your lifestyle.
Ways to Strengthen Your Immune System
As with many health-conscious decisions we make in our lives, choosing a healthy lifestyle is always a great start. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “Following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward naturally keeping your immune system working properly.”
Per Harvard Health, not only does your body benefit from being more health-conscious, but also your immune system can function better when you try participating in these strategies for better health:
- Don’t smoke
- Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation
- Get adequate sleep
- Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly
- Try to minimize stress
- Keep current with all recommended vaccines; Vaccines prime your immune system to fight off infections before they take hold in your body
Research has also shown throughout time, people who eat better meals with better, healthy ingredients also have better immune systems. However, there is little known that certain food types, such as eating too much sugar, has any adverse effect on the immune function. In trials where animals were used, some evidence suggests that they have micronutrient deficiencies, such as deficiencies of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and other vitamins, which can alter immune responses. However, again, there is not enough research to show that similar deficiencies are in humans. But if you feel that maybe your diet lacks the nutrients that it needs, sometimes you can supplement with a daily multivitamin or mineral supplement.
Per Healthline.com, they believe sleep and immunity are “closely tied.” And in fact, they say that when you don’t get enough sleep, you have a higher chance of getting sick. Adults should aim at getting seven or more hours of sleep each night, which will help you build natural immunity in the long run. Also, as a way to allow your immune system to better fight illnesses, you might notice that you sleep more during this time.
When you start looking at supplements or products in the store that claim to boost or support immunity, Harvard Health says to make sure and look at all the facts first. “In fact, boosting the number of cells in your body – immune cells or others – is not necessarily a good thing,” they write. Your body is continually generating immune cells and can even sometimes produces more cells than needed. But it’s not really understood “how many cells or what the best mix of cells the immune system needs to function at its optimum level.”
It’s also good to know that as we age, our immune systems before less responsive, which in turn makes us more vulnerable to infections and more cancer. So, while some people age better than others, the elderly as a general whole are more likely to contract infectious diseases and possibly even die from them. Respiratory infections, such as the flu, COVID-19, and pneumonia are some of the highest leading causes of death in people over the age of 65 around the world. Although no one can exactly pinpoint what happens, some scientists believe that it may correlate with a decrease in T cells and being able to fight off infections.
So, the next time you feel like you may want to look into boosting your immune system, try some of these natural approaches and see what happens. No one enjoys being sick, but being sick and building immunity is a part of being human. And living a healthy lifestyle and making health-conscious decisions can help improve your overall wellbeing, as we as increase your immune system.