What the immune system actually does
The immune system is the body’s defence against infections and consists of many cells and organs that work together to protect the body. When the body senses foreign substances, known as antigens, the immune system works to recognise the antigens and get rid of them.
The immune system is a complex framework made up of many organs, cells and chemicals that fight microbes which cause infection in the body. Some of the main parts of the immune system are the white blood cells, antibodies, the lymphatic system, the spleen and the bone marrow.
As well as the immune system, the body has several other ways to defend itself against microbes, two of which include the lungs and the digestive tract. The lungs defend by trapping microbes in the mucous (phlegm), the mucous is then moved upwards by cilia (small hairs), allowing the foreign particles to be coughed out. The digestive tract also has a mucous lining which if harmful microbes enter, the acid in the stomach can kill most of.
The Impact of a weak immune system
A weakened immune system can impact the body in a number of ways. Constant colds or if you struggle to get over a cold or get frequent infections, such as ear infections, sinusitis or pneumonia can all indicate a weak immune system.
Chronic stress also contributes to weakening the immune system, as stress decreases the body’s lymphocytes, the white blood cells that help fight off infection. The lower your lymphocyte levels, the more you are at risk for viruses and infections.
Digestive issues could indicate a compromised immune system, as around 70% of your immune system is located in your digestive tract. The beneficial microbes that live there defend your gut from infection and support the immune system. Low amounts of these beneficial gut microbes can leave you at risk to viruses as well as chronic inflammation, which if left untreated could also lead to autoimmune disorders.
If your wounds are slow to heal, this is another piece of evidence that you could have a weakened immune system. If you cut or burn yourself, your body works to protect the wound by sending nutrient rich blood to the injury to help regenerate new skin. This process depends on healthy immune cells. If your immune system is sluggish, your skin can’t regenerate, and wounds linger and can take much longer to heal.
Feeling tired all the time despite getting enough sleep can also be a sign of a weak immune system, as the health of the immune system has a direct effect on your energy levels. This is due to your body trying to conserve energy to fuel your immune system so it can fight off germs.
How you can support the function of your immune system
If your immune system needs some attention, a holistic approach will be the most effective solution. This means addressing lifestyle factors such as minimising stress, getting enough exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and getting enough quality sleep. In addition to nutritional factors, such as eating a balanced diet, so your nutritional intake is sufficient to replenish your immune system.
A healthy balanced diet is important for every system of the body, including the immune system. There are many nutrient rich foods packed with vitamins, fibre and antioxidants that can help support a healthy immune system. Some of these nutrient rich foods include bell peppers, blueberries, whole grains, beans, kale, sweet potatoes, nuts and fish.
We also mentioned the importance of a healthy gut in maintaining a strong immune system, and plenty of research indicates that a diverse gut microbiome is key in developing our immune system. Gut bacteria also train our immune cells to determine which bacteria are our friend or foe, as not every germ is bad for us! Increasing our intake of fermented foods is one way to help keep our gut microbiome healthy and diverse.
If your diet isn’t providing you with the nutrients you need, supplements such as vitamin C, zinc, B vitamins and probiotics can offer additional support to your immune system, although should not be totally relied upon over addressing deficiencies through food first where possible.
One supplement that is highly recommended in helping support the immune system as it’s not readily available from food is vitamin D, which we mainly receive through our skin from sunlight. It’s particularly important during the winter months when it is much harder to get enough sunlight to keep our stores replenished.
Possibly one of the most relaxing ways of boosting your immune system is by getting regular massages, as they help to increase the number of immune cells. As well as helping to support the immune system, massages can also help relieve stress and promote better sleep if this is a problem area for you. Both of which also support a better functioning immune system.
There is plenty you can do to support your immune system, and if it just seems like too much or you don’t know where to start, it is advisable to seek the help of a holistic health coach or nutritionist to guide and support you along the way.
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