Healthy Immune System – Part I – An Overview

We’ve certainly been hearing and seeing plenty of reminders and warnings lately about the importance of frequent hand-washing and social isolation, and justifiably so! 

This Corona Virus has significantly interrupted our lives, and will continue to so for some time to come. The number of disruptions to daily routines and adjustments to social interactions is staggering already and continues to mount.

From the beginning of this public health scare, I, while making some changes in my own life, have also been wanting to proclaim the value of eating good, whole, unprocessed foods and otherwise living in a health-promoting manner as a way to safeguard against a virus attack.  Maybe changes in diet and lifestyle today won’t stem the tide of the viral onslaught of the next few weeks, but it will help us to be less vulnerable for the next big viral attack. For sure there will be one. A strong immune system is a good safeguard against its menacing power.

The immune system defends the body against infection.

Although it works effectively most of the time, it occasionally fails, and we become sick. When if functions properly it detects threats, such as bacteria, parasites, and viruses, and then responds to destroy them.

Are there ways we can boost our immune system and prevent illness? Can we enhance the way it functions? It’s an enticing idea, but not practical.

The immune system contains many different cell types that respond to different microbes in different ways. Health in that system requires balance and harmony among them.

The concept of “boosting immunity” actually makes little sense scientifically.  Which cells and how many of each do we boost? For now, there are no scientifically proven direct links between lifestyle and enhanced immune function. Hence there is not really an answer to this question.

Still, the effects of lifestyle on the immune system is intriguing and should be studied. Researchers do explore the effects of diet, exercise, age, psychological stress, and other factors on the immune response, both in animals and humans. While we wait for definitive answers, general healthy-living strategies are a good way to start giving your immune system the upper hand, and some defense against unwanted bacterial and viral infections.

What researchers do know is that the body continuously makes immune cells that are called white blood cells, or leukocytes, and it generates far more cells than are needed.  The excess cells destroy themselves through a process of natural cell death, called apoptosis. It is unknown what is the best mix of cells or optimum number for the immune system to work at its best.

There are some strategies for healthy living that benefit the entire body, including the immune system These strategies include, but are not limited to:

      Eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, especially dark leafy greens.
      Exercising regularly
     Quitting smoking and drinking only in moderation
     Getting enough sleep
     Avoiding infection by regular and thorough hand washing
     Reducing stress

Eating Healthy

Elsewhere I have written about the basics of a healthy diet. Click here for a quick summary, and  here  for a reminder about the importance of dark leafy greens.

I will talk more about food specific foods and the immune response in Healthy Immune System – Part II. Watch for it.

Exercising Regularly.

Just like eating a healthy diet, regular physical activity contributes to overall good health and, therefore, a healthy immune system. It is a pillar of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases.  Exercise promotes efficient blood circulation, which keeps the cells of the immune system moving so that they can effectively do their job.

One study revealed that just 20 minutes of moderate exercise stimulated the immune system, which, in turn produced an anti-inflammatory response. The investigators noted that their finding has encouraging implications for people with all manner of chronic diseases, including arthritis, fibromyalgia, obesity, diabetes, and Parkinson’s.

Some scientists are trying to determine whether exercise directly affects a person’s susceptibility to infection. One of the questions of exploration is whether extreme amounts of intensive exercise can cause athletes to get sick more often, or somehow impairs their immune function. Stay tuned for further developments. For now, it is reasonable to consider moderate regular exercise to be a beneficial arrow in the quiver of healthy living, and a potentially important means for keeping your immune system healthy along with rest of your body. See more about

Getting Enough Sleep

Chronic sleep deprivation may lower the response of the immune system and circulation of white blood cells, while adequate slow-wave sleep – or deep sleep – strengthens the immune system’s memory of pathogens that have previously been encountered. See more information about the importance of good sleep and ways to get it here and again here.

Reducing Stress

Stress is difficult to define. One person’s stress might be another’s nirvana. When people are exposed to situations they regard as stressful, it is difficult for them to measure how much s tress they feel, and difficult for the scientist to know if a person’s subjective impression of the amount of stress accurate

One study, though, discovered that anticipating a happy or funny event increased levels of endorphins and other hormones that induce a state of relaxation. Chronic stress can suppress the response of the immune system and its ability to fight disease. Therefore, reducing stress may help to prevent infections and other disorders.

Loneliness has also been pinpointed as a stressor. Lonely people were found to produce higher levels of proteins related to inflammation in response to stress than those who felt they were “socially connected.” Keep all that in mind these days as while you make our way through our current Covid-19 crisis. Stay socially connected as you self-quarantine.

Many questions remain about the function of the immune system. It is, however, clear that consuming a healthy diet, regularly exercising, getting adequate sleep, and reducing stress will go a long way to ensuring your immunity is maintained and, if not totally preventing illness, substantially lessening its effects.

And keep washing your hands thoroughly, refrain from touching your face, stay home if you are unwell, and avoid large crowds of people.

In part II next time I will address some additional aspects of having a healthy immune system. Meanwhile, stay well!

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