Your immune system is a network of cells, organs, proteins and antibodies that work to protect you against bacteria, viruses and parasites. The immune system keeps a record of every microbe it has ever defeated, in the form of white blood cells. This means that if a microbe was to enter your body again, these white blood cells can destroy the microbe before it can multiply and make you feel sick. For example, you can only catch chickenpox once!
However, some infections like the flu and the common cold have many different strains. The white blood cells you’ve developed only work for one particular strain, which is why you can suffer from the flu over and over again.
So how can you support your immune system?
There are simple lifestyle changes that can support your immune system and cell function, and keep your body running correctly.
- Sleep is closely linked to a healthy immune system. Whilst you are sleeping, your body can focus its energy into cellular activity rather than movement or high brain activity. It is recommend that adults have at least 6 hours of sleep each night, the optimum time being 8 hours. Any less could result in your body not having adequate time to create white blood cells. This is also why you tend to sleep more when you are feeling sick, as your body knows it needs time to repair!
- Whole plant foods such as fruit, vegetables, seeds and nits are rich in vitamins and antioxidants, These antioxidants help decrease inflammation caused by unstable compounds called free radicals. Free radicals can be found in pollution, cigarette smoke and industrial components, and can attack the cells in your body and cause high levels of inflammation. This inflammation can lead to chronic diseases such as cancers, heart diseases and even Alzheimers!
- Fibre is also essential for maintaining a healthy immune system. Fibre feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut, known as gut microbiome. Having a robust gut microbiome can help keep harmful pathogens from entering the body through your digestive tract. Find fibre in wholegrain, broccoli, carrots and beans.
- Probiotics found in yoghurt, fermented foods and supplements are essential for a healthy immune system. Probiotics are found in your digestive tract and can help your cells differentiate from healthy normal cells to invader harmful cells.
- Moderate exercise is vital to keep your body healthy. Although prolonged, intense workouts can suppress your immune system, moderate exercise can give it a boost. It can reduce inflammation and provide energy for your cells to regenerate and repair, as well as removing any harmful bacteria from your lungs. You should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week to ensure a healthy body and immune system.
- Stress and anxiety can affect your immune system. Stress can increase the cortisol levels in your body. Cortisol is responsible for creating the ‘fight or flight’ mode, meaning all unessential body processes are put on hold until the threat is dealt with. High levels of cortisol from continuous stress can prevent the immune system from working properly, as the body still thinks there is a threat to deal with first. Stress can be reduced with daily meditation. Meditation, even for just 5 minutes, can give your mind and body time to relax and refocus, reducing any stress you may feel.