Your immune system is your body’s in-built defense system against illness and infection. Its many different parts need to work in balance and harmony to protect your body from harmful germs and viruses. Think of the immune system as an orchestra. For the best performance, you want every instrument and every musician in the orchestra to perform at its best. You don’t necessarily want one musician performing on double speed or one instrument suddenly producing sound at twice the volume it usually does. You want every component of that orchestra to perform exactly according to plan.
The main purpose of your immune system is to protect your body from viruses and bacteria. Your body’s first line of defense is its physical barriers. If viruses and bacteria manage to break through, there are specialized cells that will jump into action. Your bloodstream and key areas of your body contain white blood cells that can fight and destroy the viruses and bacteria they find.
Without immunity, the viruses and bacteria would have free reign, and you’d be constantly falling ill. Your immune system works by recognizing the difference between your body’s cells and alien cells, allowing it to destroy any that could be potentially harmful. This usually works well but can cause problems if your immune system wrongly classifies some of your own cells and attacks them instead.
A robust and properly functioning immune system helps you go about daily life as you come into contact with germs, bugs, other people, and your environment.
It’s easy to take the immune system for granted because it does such a good job at keeping us free from infection around the clock! If you’ve got a healthy immune system, look after it and it will look after you.
There are several components to the immune system, but at a high level, it can classified into two categories.
This is a first-line defense from pathogens that try to enter our bodies, achieved through protective barriers. These barriers include:
This is a system that learns to recognize a pathogen. It is regulated by cells and organs in our body like the spleen, thymus, bone marrow, and lymph nodes. When a foreign substance enters the body, these cells and organs create antibodies and lead to multiplication of immune cells (including different types of white blood cells) that are specific to that harmful substance and attack and destroy it. Our immune system then adapts by remembering the foreign substance so that if it enters again, these antibodies and cells are even more efficient and quick to destroy it.
You can help your immune system do the best possible job of keeping you healthy by maintaining a healthy weight, controlling your blood pressure, not smoking, being active and choosing healthy foods.
No doubt you’ve either seen a product on store shelves or on TV commercials claiming it “supports,” “enhances” or “boosts” the immune system. What is important to make a note is that any food or drink that contains at least one nutrient – and there are many-- linked to immune function could make such a claim. So rather than getting your body used to multiple supplements it is safer and highly recommended to eat the foods that power up your immune system to keep you healthy.
Immunity is not something that can be built overnight and therefore healthy lifestyle with a consistent routine is the key.
For the immune system to produce protective immune cells it needs essential nutrients and hence diet has an extremely important part to play in building Immunity
A balanced diet consisting of whole foods and a range of vitamins and minerals, combined with healthy lifestyle factors like adequate sleep and exercise and low stress, most effectively helps in building a strong Immunity and primes the body to fight infection and disease.
Below are a few dietary guidelines that support building a strong Immunity
A deficiency of single nutrients can alter the body’s immune response. Animal studies have found that deficiencies in zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, D and E can alter immune responses. These nutrients help the immune system in several ways: working as an antioxidant to protect healthy cells, supporting growth and activity of immune cells, and producing antibodies. Epidemiological studies find that those who are poorly nourished are at a greater risk of bacterial, viral, and other infections.
Eating a good quality diet, as followed by a Healthy Eating Plate i.e. vegetables, grains, protein, fruit and some dairy, can prevent deficiencies in these nutrients. However, there are certain populations and situations in which one cannot always eat a variety of nutritious foods, or who have increased nutrient needs. In these cases a vitamin and mineral supplement may help to fill nutritional gaps. Studies have shown that vitamin supplementation can improve immune responses in these groups. Low-income households, pregnant and lactating women, infants and toddlers, and the critically ill are examples of groups at risk.
The elderly are a particularly high-risk group. The immune response generally declines with increasing age as the number and quality of immune cells decreases. Diet variety may also be limited due to budget constraints or lower interest in cooking for one person; poor dentition; mental impairment; or lack of transportation and community resources to obtain food.
A general multivitamin/mineral supplement providing the recommended dietary allowances (RDA) may be used in these cases, unless otherwise directed by one’s physician. Megadose supplements (many times the RDA) do not appear justified, and can sometimes be harmful or even suppress the immune system (e.g., as with zinc). Remember that vitamin supplements should not be considered a substitute for a good diet because no supplements contain all the benefits of healthful foods.
No supplement will cure or prevent disease.
With the 2020 coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, it’s especially important to understand that no supplement, diet, or other lifestyle modification other than physical distancing, also known as social distancing, and proper hygiene practices can protect you from COVID-19.
Currently, no research supports the use of any supplement to protect against COVID-19 specifically.
The design of our immune system is complex and influenced by an ideal balance of many factors, not just diet, and especially not by any one specific food or nutrient.
Below are few suggestions to maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle that can support building a strong immunity
Adopting a healthy lifestyle practice gives your immune system the maximum benefit to provide protection and seek out foods with natural nutrients.
A healthy body is not just about being healthy from the outside. A positive mindset is vital for the overall health and well-being. Research shows that positive thoughts reduce stress and inflammation and increase resilience to infection — while negative emotions can make you more susceptible to the common cold and flu.
Maintaining a balanced and healthy lifestyle and using natural ways to boost your immune system can help you achieve the goal of a healthy body.
With these little efforts and tweaks in your daily routine, you can ensure a healthy immune system.
While there’s no magic “healthy pill,” these are tried-and-true ways to take your immunity superpowers up a notch.
Stay Safe and Stay Healthy!
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