How to boost your immune system
The immune system
The immune system is perhaps the most important network of cells and proteins in our bodies. The main objective of the immune system is to fight against any infection.
The immune system develops and controls certain defence cells called the white blood cells, whose primary function is to defend the body from any bacterial infection or disease. These white blood cells are produced in the multipotent cells of the bone marrow.
Additionally, the immune system is like a data collection system. Once it defeats a particular virus, it records its information. When the bacterium again enters the body, the immune system can quickly recognise it and eliminate it.
There are certain things we can do, and certain food we can eat to give our immune system a boost. Similarly, some lifestyle choices and medical conditions can compromise the immune system.
What weakens your immune system
Without your immune system, your body will not have a defence system to fight against any infection or disease. This will lead to you constantly falling sick.
There are several reasons why your immune system weakens:
Immune system disorders
An immune system disorder is when your immune system does not function well. This causes a high vulnerability to infection and disease.
The most common cause of immune system dysfunction includes malnutrition, poor sanitary conditions, and human immune deficiency virus (HIV) infection, to name a few.
An overactive immune system
Your immune system may react differently to harmless substances in the air if you were born with certain genes. Your body may be sensitive to these substances causing allergies.
Some common allergies are:
- Asthma – Asthma is a common long-term inflammatory disease that affects the airways of the lungs. It is triggered by various irritants and substances in the air.
- Eczema – Eczema is a skin disease that causes redness, itchiness, and sometimes infections.
- Hay fever – This inflammation of the nose occurs due to an allergic response to allergens in the air.
- Food allergy – A food allergy is an unusual reaction to food which may include vomiting, swelling of the tongue, hives, and difficulty in breathing to name a few.
An autoimmune disease occurs when your body attacks itself. Instead of fighting bacteria and diseases, your immune system turns against you and attacks your healthy organs and tissues.
Some common autoimmune diseases are:
- Celiac disease- is a disease that is triggered by gluten in your food which causes your white blood cells to attack the villi that lines your small intestine.
- Lupus – Lupus is an inflammatory disease caused when the immune system attacks its tissue. It can affect the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs.
- Rheumatoid arthritis –As your immune system attacks the lining of your joints, it causes inflammation and joint damage. Rheumatoid arthritis usually occurs on both sides of the body, so if a joint is affected on one side of your body, it could also affect the same joint on the other side.
- Graves’ disease – Graves’ disease occurs when the thyroid gland, which is located at the base of your neck, produces more thyroid hormone than needed.
- Multiple sclerosis – Multiple sclerosis is a chronic illness brought on by your immune system attacking the myelin, the protective layer surrounding the nerve fibres.
- Type 1 diabetes – Type 1 diabetes is caused when your immune system attacks your insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas.
- Inflammatory bowel disease – Inflammatory bowel disease is a result of the immune system attacking bacteria or food in the gut, causing inflammation leading to bowel injury.
Before treatment can be administered, a blood test is conducted to determine your level of infection-fighting proteins in your blood, whether it is normal or not. These tests can also determine the number of levels of blood cells and immune system cells.
An irregular count of a particular cell can indicate an immune system deficiency.
Treatments include precautionary procedures, treating infections, improving the immune system, and treating the primary source of the immune problem.
The infections require swift and aggressive treatment with antibiotics. Some people may need to continue with a course of antibiotics to prevent infection and permanent damage to the respiratory system. Medication can be used to relieve pain, fever sinus congestion, and clear mucus in the airways.
Furthermore, treatment to boost the immune system may also include:
- Immunoglobulin therapy
- Interferon-gamma therapy
- Growth factors
- Stem cell transplantation
Allergy immunotherapy is seen as a long-term treatment for chronic allergy.
Allergy immunotherapy is a preventative measure undertaken for an allergic reaction to certain substances in the air or through other materials.
Allergy immunotherapy involves progressively dispensing an increasing dose of the allergen to the allergic individual. These allergy shots cause a diminishing sensitivity to the allergens and often lead to lasting relief, even after treatment has been concluded.
Additionally, food allergies can be prevented by avoiding foods that you are allergic to.
A severe allergic reaction may need an epinephrine injection.
Your allergies can also be treated with medication prescription and over-the-counter.
As the precise cause of an autoimmune disease is not known, there are no treatments to cure this condition.
However, a visit to your doctor can provide you with medication and drug prescriptions. It is also advisable to eat a well-balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
Some treatments of autoimmune diseases are:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs – This can minimise inflammation and pain.
- Corticosteroids – These can be used to treat an acute flare of symptoms.
- Immunosuppressant drugs – This is used to suppress the activity of the immune system
- Physical therapy – promotes mobility.
- Deficiency treatments – Example, insulin injections for diabetic patients
- Surgery – To treat a blockage caused by Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease of the digestive tract.
How to boost your immune system
You need to be healthy and well-nourished to fight bacteria and diseases. This does not mean that with a healthy immune system you cannot get infected, it simply means that your body will fight the infection quicker.
Some key nutrients that we obtain from food boosts the functionality of the immune system. Some of these key nutrients are amino acids found in protein-rich foods, vitamins and minerals including A, C, E, selenium, and zinc.
Some foods can boost your immune system:
- Oysters – These are a good source of immune-boosting zinc.
- Meat – For those that eat meat, try to have lean meat at least two to three times a week. For those that do not eat meat, make sure to have iron-rich legumes, wholegrain bread, cereals, and iron-rich vegetables such as spinach.
- Vitamin C – Fruits and vegetables including red capsicum, tomato, sweet potato, citrus, and kiwifruit.
- Zinc – This nutrient can be found in nuts and seeds, shellfish and meat.
- Fibre-rich food – This includes asparagus, leeks, onions, beans, lentils.
- Garlic – Can be eaten raw or taken in the form of capsules.
- Fluids – Drinking plenty of fluids can assist your immune system, for example, water, infused teas, or pure vegetable juices.
Some ways to boost your immune system:
- Don’t smoke
- Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables
- Regular exercise
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Drink alcohol in moderation
- Adequate sleep
- Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing hands frequently, and cook meats thoroughly.