What is Your Immune System? When you are healthy and humming along happily you may not even know much about your immune system until illness strikes. Your immune system is your body’s built-in defense system against illness and infection. The main purpose of your immune system is to protect your body from viruses and bacteria. Your immune system works by recognizing the difference between your cells and alien cells. Allowing your immune system to destroy any that could be potentially harmful. A robust and properly functioning immune system helps you go about your daily life as you encounter germs. Without a healthy immune system, you could pick up infections and infectious diseases more easily and the effects could be serious – even fatal. Your immune system is made up of a physical barrier – skin keeps bacteria at bay. Tears and saliva have an antibacterial effect to neutralize invaders. Mucus lines your nostrils and is in your lungs working to catch germs from entering your bloodstream. The population of bacteria in the human body is greater than the number of cells in the whole body. The gut houses most of our good bacteria. A healthy gut has lots of friendly bacteria to ward off the bad bugs. The gut flora is home to 70 to 80 percent of your immune system cells. The lymph system carries water, food and oxygen to your cells and removes waste. Lymph tissue includes bone marrow, spleen, thymus and lymph nodes. The bone marrow produces the disease fighting white blood cells that produce antibodies to fight off bad bacteria and viruses. The spleen removes damaged cells, and the thymus is where bacteria fighting T-cells mature. Lymph nodes are designed to detect bacteria or infection in cell fluid and remove them. The world is teaming with infectious microorganisms and most of the time you’re reasonably healthy. Thank your immune system, which defends you from disease-causing microbes. Making Your Immune System Stronger. A strong immune system is paramount in staying healthy and protecting you from potentially disease producing bacteria and viruses. The effects of your lifestyle on the immune system are intriguing, Modern researchers are exploring what helps to enhance our immunity. They are finding many ways to maintain, and enhance your immune system, lets look at the major areas. Regular Exercise is good for you and is shown to support immune function, reducing the chances of colds and other diseases. This known pillar of healthy living improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. Exercise contributes to immunity by allowing the cells and substances to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently. Be careful of over-doing, prolonged exercise such as a marathon may have the opposite impact. Overtraining may lead to minor illness or other problems. Start slowly, pace your exercise, consult a trainer and gradually condition your body. Sleep a good night’s slumber is “beauty sleep” for your immune system. Research tells us that we need between 7-9 hours of sleep to give the body time to repair, recharge and rejuvenate your mind, body and spirit. Protein cytokines are produced during sleep to stimulate and coordinate white blood cell activity to fight infection and inflammation. Cytokines are a large group of proteins, peptides or glycoproteins that are secreted by specific cells of immune system. Cytokines are a category of signaling molecules that mediate and regulate immunity, inflammation and hematopoiesis. Sleep deprivation is associated with a lower immune system. Lack of sleep may also increase the risk of heart disease. Vaccines have been shown to be less effective in a sleep deprived person. Hydration is important, water is essential for life. The body is 60% water and you constantly lose fluid mostly through urine and sweat. Mild dehydration may be caused by not consuming enough. Exercise, or heat are among other reasons. Dehydration can have negative effects on both your physical and mental performance. The more water you drink, the better your kidneys operate in flushing out any unwelcome toxins through urination – and your immune system is not weakened by firefighting elsewhere in the body. The brain also gains a boost from water, though – regular hydration produces melatonin, among other chemicals, which will help you sleep. As any insomniac knows, not getting enough quality sleep can be a real blow to the human immune system! Another way that drinking water boosts the immune system is through the production of lymph. The lymphatic system is a network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials. The primary function of the lymphatic system is to transport lymph, a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells, throughout the body. Lymph fluid runs throughout the human body, with a very simple job – collecting bacteria from the body and transporting it to the lymph nodes, where that bacteria is destroyed. Think of a glass of water as a waterfall, cascading into your body – the more that you manage to consume and within normal guidelines, the more work your lymph nodes can do. Good Nutrition Like any fighting force, the immune system army marches on its stomach. A healthy diet is important for energy, feeling well, and supporting the immune system. The malnourished are most vulnerable to infections. Some foods are especially helpful in boosting the immune function in your body. Vitamin C is one of the important micronutrients known to be an immune booster, it is not stored in the body. Vitamin C must be consumed daily. Natural sources of vitamin C are always better tolerated by the body than artificially produced medical vitamin C. The following is a list of foods found to be high in vitamin C: 190 mg C = 1 cup chopped red pepper 134 mg C = 1 stalk broccoli 125 mg C = 1 guava 120 mg C = 1 cup chopped green pepper 97 mg C = 1 cup strawberries 80 mg C = 1 cup chopped broccoli (steam to get the maximum vit C) 79 mg C = 1 cup chunked pineapple 75 mg C = 1 cup of steamed brussels sprouts 72 mg C = 1 large white potato (baked with skins on preserves the most vitamin C) 65 mg C = 1 red chili pepper 64 mg C = 1 kiwi fruit 97 mg C = 1 large orange 40 mg C = 1 cup shredded raw red cabbage 37 mg C = 1 large wedge of cantaloupe 32 mg C = 1 large sweet potato (baked with skin on is best) Go for a variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables for the best nutrition and to build a healthy immune system. Garlic is not associated with vitamin C but is well known for its health benefits, one of which boost the immune system. It can be crushed, chewed or sliced to produce allicin, which is thought to give garlic its immune-boosting properties. One study gave 146 healthy volunteers either garlic supplements or a placebo for three months. The garlic group had a 63% lower risk of getting a cold, and their colds were also 70% shorter. Regularly eating garlic may help prevent the common cold or the flu. If you do get sick, eating garlic can reduce the severity of your symptoms and help you recover faster. Stress We have come to realize the close link between mind and body. A wide variety of maladies, including stomach upset, hives, and even heart disease are linked to the effects of emotional stress. Stressors in one person are often different in another person. When people are exposed to a situation they regard as stressful, it is difficult for them to measure how they feel, or for scientists to measure it. Objective factor such as heart rate, or blood pressure may reflect stress. Scientists are making progress in measuring stress by measuring antibodies, and other hormones produced. There is progress in the ability to measure the relationship of stress to immunity. Healthy Lifestyle Limit your intake of sugary foods. Advise from Web MD - Eating or drinking too much sugar will curb the immune system cells that attack bacteria. This effect lasts for at least a few hours after downing a couple of sugary drinks. Smoking harms the immune system and can make the body less successful at fighting disease. This increases the risk for several immune and autoimmune disorders (conditions caused when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's healthy cells and tissues). If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. Alcohol affects the way health gut microbes interact with the immune system. Alcohol also disrupts the gut barrier, allowing more bacteria to pass into the blood. Excessive drinking reduces the number and function of three important kinds of cells in your immune system–macrophages, T and C cells. Washing your hands properly can help prevent the spread of the germs (like bacteria and viruses) that cause these diseases. Love and health go hand and hand. Humans need that level of connection and being in a relationship can reap rewards. Scientific evidence show that relationships have positive effects on your health, especially your mental and physical wellbeing. Studies have shown that people in happy relationships have stronger immune function than those who are not. Aging results in a declining immune system. This makes the elderly more prone to infectious diseases, respiratory illness, and cancer. If you feel good today, thank your immune system and give yourself a pat on the back for looking after it!