Have you ever noticed someone who easily gets sick, and will always catch whatever is going around when it gets to flu season? Or perhaps you've personally experienced the struggle of becoming unwell and taking a very long time to recover? Here are some insights into how our immune system combats disease and easy tips to try and support your body’s natural line of defence!
What is immunity?
Put simply, immunity is our body’s innate ability to identify and eradicate foreign substances that could be harmful and cause disease and infections in our bodies.
When our immune system is functioning effectively, it is one that you will likely be unaware of. However, when it is not working as it should, which may be because of weak immunity or inability to fight against aggressive germs, this is when you will notice yourself becoming ill. It is important to note that becoming ill is our body’s natural reaction to fighting disease. For example, to remove irritants and foreign substances that enter our air pathways such as our nose, our body stimulates the sneeze mechanism as a means to remove them and prevent them from causing harm to our bodies. However, our individual reactions towards germs and disease differ from one to another; while those with a stronger immune system may show milder symptoms to getting ill and recover quicker, those with weaker immunity may feel more ill from the same infectant and take longer to recover.
How does our immune system work?
Our immune system functions on multiple levels. As mentioned, immunity consists of identifying and eradicating potentially harmful substances. From the surface of our skin, to the outer layer of a single cell, our body is equipped with a diverse variety of ‘identifiers’ that detect any foreign substances, from dust particles to microbes such as virus or bacteria, which can enter through our nose, mouth, eyes, or any open wounds and other means which are connected to our inner body parts beneath the skin. Our body is able to create substances such as mucus and other excretions that serve the purpose of catching foreign substances and holding them in a sticky substance for the body to push out which could be by sneezing and coughing. This would also be the case when our eyes water or our noses become runny. At the level of organ tissue and blood system, there are also multiple cells and proteins that work to catch any harmful germs that get past the skin and mucus levels and make it into our bloodstream. White blood cells release antibodies and hormone-like substances which can detect any foreign particles and latch on to them to prevent them from attaching onto our cells that carry out our regular bodily reactions.
As you can see, our immune system is not one simple mechanism that takes part in one simple step to stop us from getting sick. There are many elements that can contribute and influence the way our body works to respond to germs and infections. While the way to maximising our immunity is not as straightforward as going from point A to point B, your best approach would be to aim for achieving a balanced healthy lifestyle. Here are several tips that can be implemented to better support our immune system in combating infections and preventing disease.
Tips to boost immunity and fight infections and disease:
Tip #1: Having a healthy and balanced diet
A healthy diet involves having a regular intake of a wide and well-balanced variety of nutrients in our everyday meals. This would include a good amount of macro nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats, and also a regular intake of micronutrients such as fibre and the necessary vitamins and minerals. Specific mentions include Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and Iron; while Vitamin C is one of the crucial nutrients to help fight free radicals and combat disease, Vitamin B6 and Iron both contribute to support biochemical reactions in the immune system.
Feel free to check out our exclusive “Medicines and Supplements A-Z” section, all reviewed by pharmacists in Hong Kong, in order to get expert insights into the individual nutrients to a balanced diet.
Tip #2: Getting adequate sleep
It is during our sleeping hours that our body carries out the most optimum processes to replenish and repair the necessary tissues and substances for our daily functions and also to support our immune system. During the night, our various organs take part in removing toxins and dead cell tissue and rebuilding tissue and forming new cells. While sleeping excessively will not necessarily mean you will no longer get sick, not getting enough of it may make us more vulnerable and prone to getting sick. Chronic sleep loss can also make us less responsive to flu vaccines, potentially making them less effective. Only when we have adequate sleep can our bodies prepare us well for the next day and effectively fight off disease, so be sure to get a good 7 to 8-hours shut-eye each night.
Tip #3: Reducing stress
Research has shown that stress can have an adverse effect on our immune health. It has been found that those who suffer from chronic mild depression tend to have a weaker immune response, and that stress-related immune changes can often occur in people who are elderly or those who are already ill. While neurotransmitters in our brain work to balance hormones and our moods, they are also responsible for delegating our other bodily reactions, which include those of our immune system. When we are under immense stress, the effectiveness of our neurotransmitters can be lowered and potentially make us more susceptible to becoming ill.
Tip #4: Regular exercise
Exercise is greatly related to our production of endorphins that contribute to balancing our moods and reducing our stress responses. During exercise, our bodies also benefit from stimulated blood flow that improves the metabolism of our bodies, whilst also removing toxins in our sweat. Other than improving our overall blood and heart health, it is also found that carrying out low to moderate amounts of exercise regularly helps us to be less prone to respiratory infections, and we are less likely to catch the common cold, flu or other infections that can spread through the air.
Tip #5: Exposure to sunlight
This may come as a surprise, but getting sufficient exposure to sunlight can also help to improve our overall health and boost our immunity. When we are exposed to the sun, the UV rays stimulate Vitamin D to be produced in our skin. Vitamin D is crucial for our bone health and the metabolism of necessary cells in our immune systems. In the past, Vitamin D has been used as part of the treatment of infections such as tuberculosis. Research has also shown that deficiency in Vitamin D is also linked to greater susceptibility to infections and disease. While Vitamin D is available as a form of a supplement, it may be most convenient for most of us to just make sure to step outside for a good 20-30 minutes each day and get our daily dose of Vitamin D.
Tip #6: Reduce drinking and smoking
Last but not least, it is best to maintain drinking alcohol to a moderate level and stop smoking to achieve a more effective immune system. Drinking excessively can cause great damage to our liver and affect our body’s ability to flush out toxins that may be taken in in our diet. A less effective removal of toxins from our body can cause great stress to our other bodily functions, thus weakening our immune system. Similarly, smoking causes great damage to our lung tissues and can also adversely affect our heart health and increase our risk of respiratory and heart diseases. When our respiratory system is weakened, we are more susceptible to respiratory diseases. This can also impact our heart health and thus also affect our overall health as the heart is what moves the blood that carries nutrients around our body to carry out our daily functions.
A healthy, balanced lifestyle is key to having good immunity and thus greater protection against infections and disease. We hope you found these tips interesting and helpful. Share it and subscribe to our newsletter for more!
This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.