Distress, cold weather, flue and drugs, wrong diet, poor rest: these are some of the reasons why it is important to take care of our immune system! The above conditions cause our body to be more susceptible to infections, notably to all such diseases resulting from infective agents like bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites.
What is the immune system?
The immune system is for the human body the best defence against threats from the external environment such as viruses, bacteria and parasites. Our immune system can rely on various organs, tissues, cell types and glycoproteins to fulfil its protective function. Together, all these elements form a sort of “army” that gets active and attacks anything posing a potential threat to the human body.
The tissues and organs making up the immune system include the skin, the spleen, the tonsils, the bone marrow, the thyme and lymph nodes. The most “popular” cells of the immune system undoubtedly include white cells (granulocytes, monocytes and lymphocytes), whereas antibodies are the glycoproteins of the immune system.
Curiosity: mucus and gastric juices too are a powerful immune defence! They are the so-called natural immune barriers of the body, which collaborate with antibodies and lymphocytes to strengthen our protection screen against invading pathogens.
The enemies of our immune defences
The need to strengthen our immune defences rises whenever something weakens the body, making it more susceptible to infections. Below is a list of the most frequent causes.
Distress – Physical and psychological distress weakens the immune system because it is an excessive work load that makes it fatigued and less efficient.
Use of antibiotics – The human body hosts special bacteria in the intestine (otherwise known as “bacterial flora”) with which it establishes a symbiotic relationship: in exchange for hospitality these bacteria mitigate the proliferation of potentially pathogenic microorganisms that are normally present in some districts of our organism (e.g. Candida albicans) and modulate the immune system of the intestine. The excessive use of antibiotics can impoverish the bacterial flora, thus neutralising its ability to fulfil its functions. This is how pathogenic microorganisms like Candida albicans may take over and proliferate.
Sedentary lifestyle and inadequate night rest – Scientific studies have highlighted that people who lead a sedentary life and those who sleep little are likely to get sick more easily than people who have an active life style and sleep regularly, i.e. 7 to 8 hours each night. Based on this evidence, researchers have managed to establish a connection between immune system weakening and a sedentary lifestyle and poor night sleep.
Improper diet – An unbalanced diet and improper protein intake affect the production and functionality of glycoproteins that are a key part of our immune system.
Ageing – Ageing causes the immune organs producing white cells to become less efficient. This is an inevitable process of the human body and nothing can be done to contrast it radically. Hence the need to focus our efforts on the factors we can control.
How can our immune defences be strengthened?
The unanimous opinion of the medical and scientific community is that the best way to strengthen our immune defences is to live a healthy lifestyle so that our organism can work at best and more efficiently.
Below are some simple tips.
Follow a balanced diet. Take the good habit of eating fruit, vegetables, wholemeal cereals and yoghurt, possibly combine them with the intake of prebiotics and probiotics (live lactic acid bacteria) and try and limit food that is rich in saturated fats.
Do physical exercise. Sport helps strengthen the immune system, on condition that it is practised in a smart, balanced and excess-free manner. Physical exercise helps improve the function of neutrophils, which are the cellular components of white cells. It only takes 15 minutes per day, so no excuse!
Do not smoke and limit the intake of alcohol.
Sleep enough hours and regularly. During the night sleep hours, the human body processes the proteins that we intake through our diet and it uses them to fight potential pathogens. Take the good habit to sleep at least 7 to 8 hours, making an effort to do it at regular times. Your immune system will be thankful!
Keep your blood pressure under control.
Follow appropriate rules for personal hygiene.
When a healthy lifestyle is not enough, nature offers a wide choice of medical herbs with an immunostimulant and adaptogen action: Eleuthero coccus, Ginseng and Echinacea are the most common types.
Adaptogen means any substance, drug or herbal remedy, capable of non-specifically increasing the organism resistance to distress of any kind whatsoever, both at physical and psychological level. Various natural preparations (otherwise known as “drugs”) can be purchased at herbal shops which are specifically studied to strengthen the immune defences. These preparations have different indications so they must be selected based on the cause that has led to the weakening of the immune system.