The last two years have shined a powerful spotlight on something most of us used to take for granted: our immune system. So, what is immunity anyway? And can we really boost it to protect ourselves from threats like COVID-19?
First off, what is our immune system and how does it work? In short, the immune system is your body’s defense against infection. This defense, though, isn’t only one thing but rather an arsenal of weapons the body uses to fight off germs that can do us harm. White blood cells are the leading force that fights infections and these include neutrophils that gobble up bacteria and B and T lymphocytes, which remember past invaders and destroy them. When B lymphocytes detect a threat (called an antigen) from a virus or bacteria, they make antibodies that lock onto it and remember it for the next time — that’s why, for many diseases like chicken pox, you usually only get sick from it once.
By the way, that’s how vaccines work: A vaccine (or immunization) introduces a small amount of harmless virus into the body to trigger an antibody reaction so that if and when the real virus strikes, the body’s immune system is ready to attack.
While the body’s immune system has evolved over millions of years to protect us, the reality is it’s not perfect. Sometimes things can go wrong or, as in the case of COVID-19, it can be caught by surprise if it encounters an enemy it’s never seen before.
That’s why vaccines are so useful. But, are there any other ways to boost your immunity and give your body a fighting chance? You’ll find a ton of claims online or even from relatives and friends, swearing by miracle medicines they believe boost their immunity but the truth is very few of these have actually been proven to work effectively. Still, there are some basic healthy living strategies that do ensure your immune system is working at its peak strength. These include:
· Don’t smoke: Smoking makes the body less successful at fighting disease and can compromise the immune system’s balance.
· Eat a healthy diet: Eating a low-fat, plant-based diet and maintaining a healthy weight can strengthen your immune defenses. Studies show that fruits and vegetables provide nutrients, like beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E, that boost immune function. Vitamin D may also reduce the risk for vital infections, including respiratory tract infections and zinc – from foods like nuts, seeds, beans and lentils – can boost white blood cell production.
· Watch your alcohol consumption: While moderately drinking wine or beer can have health benefits, high amounts can suppress a variety of immune responses.
· Sleep well: While you’re sleeping, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, which help to fight infection and inflammation. If you’re sleep-deprived, your body may produce fewer of these proteins and put you at risk.
· Reduce stress: Long-term stress and anxiety releases chemicals that decrease your body’s lymphocytes, those white blood cells that help fend off infection.
· Get your vaccines!: Whether it’s your latest COVID-19 booster, or vaccines for the flu, hepatitis and other common diseases, make sure you give your body a fighting chance against whatever threats come its way.
What strategies do you have to strengthen your body’s immune defenses? Please share your experiences and ideas with the Shop Talk blog community.
Did you know: Good hygiene
The first line of defense in avoiding infection is to stop if from ever entering your body. That means doing your best to wash your hands regularly and especially after you’ve been in contact with others. Also avoid sharing dishes, glasses and utensils that have come into contact with others (Source)