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How you can strengthen your immune system and remain healthy

14.03. 2022

Our immune system does a remarkable job in defending us against pathogens. But sometimes it also fails: a disease germ successfully penetrates the body and you get sick. Is it possible to intervene in this process and strengthen the immune system? Can changes in our diet be of any help? Should we take vitamin supplements or change our lifestyle? In this article, we will explain how you can strengthen your immune system so that you would not be often ill.

 

Strengthening the immune system: how does the immune system work?

Our immune system responses to foreign particles properly in almost every situation. Our immune cells come from the bone marrow and thymus. They respond to intruders through the lymph nodes, spleen and mucous membranes.

This means that they first come into contact with the mouth, intestines, lungs and urinary tract.

The innate and adaptive immune responses

Our innate (natural) immune system is our non-specific first line of defence.

  • This includes the following:
  • physical / structural barriers (such as the nasal mucosa), chemical barriers (such as stomach acid) and protective cells (such as our natural killer - NK - cells, and white blood cells that can destroy harmful intruders)
  • => this immune system develops when we are young 
  • The adaptive (acquired) immune system
  • This type of immune system consists of highly specialized cells and processes. It starts functioning when the innate immune system has been overcome. The adaptive immune system helps us fight infections by preventing the deposition of pathogens and destroying microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria.
  • T and B lymphocytes are specialized white blood cells that mature in the thymus and bone marrow.
  • This level of efficiency of the immune system is achieved due to its memory effect. If you have fought a pathogen once, you will defeat it more efficiently and faster next time. 

 

Strengthening the immunity system – how?

Every part of your body, including the immune system, will work better if you protect it from avoidable factors or if you support it by following these tips:

Proper sleep: sleep and immunity are closely related. In fact, insufficient or poor sleep is associated with a higher susceptibility to diseases. Sufficient rest can strengthen your natural immunity. The body needs rest to gain new energy. If the body is permanently stressed, the immunity system efficiency decreases.

Eat more complete foods: Complete plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes are rich in nutrients and antioxidants that help fight harmful pathogens.

The antioxidants in these foods help reduce inflammation by fighting free radicals that can cause inflammation in your body if their concentration is high.

Chronic inflammation is associated with a variety of medical conditions, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and some types of cancer.

In addition, fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients, such as vitamin C, which can shorten the duration of colds or even prevent the development of a disease.

Eat more healthy fats: Healthy fats, found in olive oil and salmon, for example, can boost your body’s immune response to pathogens by suppressing inflammation.

Healthy fats are highly anti-inflammatory and are associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In addition, such anti-inflammatory properties can help your body fight harmful pathogenic bacteria and viruses. 

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon and chia seeds, for example, also have anti-inflammatory effects.

More physical activity: Although prolonged intense physical activity may suppress the immune response, adequate exercise may be supportive of the immune system.

Regular sports reduce inflammation and help immune cells regenerate faster.

Examples of adequate exercise include fast walking, regular cycling, jogging, swimming and moderate hikes. 

Keep yourself hydrated: Adequate hydration does not necessarily protect against germs and viruses, but prevention of dehydration is important for your overall health.

Dehydration can cause headaches and affect your physical performance, concentration, mood, digestion, and heart and kidney function. Such side effects can eventually weaken your immune system.

To prevent dehydration, it is best to drink 2-4 litres of liquids (preferably water). You can check this by monitoring the urine colour. (The healthy urine colour is light yellow). 

As you can see, you can strengthen your immune system or keep it at a normal level by introducing even the smallest of changes.

Strengthening the immune system - influencing factors

The immune system and age

With increasing age, our ability to respond to the immune system decreases, which in turn contributes to more infections and diseases. 

Compared to younger people, older people are more likely to have infectious diseases and more likely to die. Respiratory infections, influenza, the COVID-19 virus and especially pneumonia are one of the leading causes of death in people over the age of 65 worldwide. Age-related cell loss is one of the factors why this happens. A possible reason is the thymus, which atrophies with age, leading to lower T cell production to fight infections. 

Nutrition and the immune system

There also seems to be a link between a diet and immunity. One form of malnutrition, which is surprisingly common in rich countries, is known as “micronutrient malnutrition”. Micronutrient malnutrition, which is a condition when a person is deficient in some essential vitamins and trace elements, can be a reason to weaken the immune system. A large part of the population does not consume the recommended amount of vitamins and minerals. The body must therefore fight the symptoms of constant deficiency. 

For example, a lack of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid and vitamins A, B6, C and E is associated with an increased risk of infection.

What you can do then? If you suspect that your diet does not cover your overall need for micronutrients, there are 2 options. 

The first and definitely more effective and better method is to change your diet so that you would eat more fruits and vegetables. A generally balanced diet is very often underestimated. 

The second method would be to take multivitamin and mineral supplements. It is less complicated, but the extent to which doses of these products have beneficial effects on health has been discussed over and over again. Some kind of overdose usually occurs because the amount of vitamins and minerals in combination with the amount of food consumed is too high. The use of large amounts of vitamins is more counter-productive and may potentially lead to health problems. 

Immunity function and stress

It is well known that a number of diseases are associated with emotional stress, including stomach problems and even heart diseases. 

If you are often exposed to situations that are stressful for you, it will weaken your immune system in the long run. However, short-term stressful situations should not weaken the immune system. It is in particular the permanent and more frequent   stress - also called chronic stress – that has a harmful effect on the immune system. 

We at the Clever fit Kotva fitness studio hope that we have helped you with this article, and we wish you a pleasant workout.