The immune system is a collection of special cells, organs, and substances that defends the body against infection and illness. It monitors the body at the cellular level and attempts to rid it of anything unfamiliar.
Any substance that enters the body that the immune system does not recognize is known as an antigen. When an antigen enters our bodies, the immune response is triggered and the attack to get rid of it begins. Our immune system has the ability to destroy anything containing a particular antigen, including, germs, viruses, and cancer cells.
It’s safe to say that without our immunity, we wouldn’t be around too long because it is a tireless warrior protecting our health. There are bacteria and viruses everywhere, not to mention helminths (worms) and tiny mites that carry infection and our immune systems continuously fight all types of bacteria, viruses and various parasites.
We also use our immunity to fight and kill cancerous cells that can pop up in our systems and while of course it is not always successful as people still get cancer, those with a poor immune system get cancer at higher rates than individuals who take care of their immune system.
It is therefore of great importance to be sure and take care of our immune system health. Thankfully, some of the ways in which we can do this are also beneficial in other ways to our overall health.
What are some ways we can maximize the effectiveness of our immune system to stay as healthy as possible? Let’s look at a few:
- I get immunized. Every year, you are given the opportunity to get an influenza shot. This “shot in the arm” will literally boost your immunity against the likely influenza viruses floating around through the winter months. Older people should get the Pneumovax vaccine, which prevents pneumonia caused by pneumococcal bacteria.
- Eat well. This means getting enough nutrition through fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds. There are nutrients in these foods that act as antioxidants, scavenging your body for oxygen free radicals that can damage cellular systems. Research has shown that increasing the number of fruits and vegetables in your diet can improve the ability of immunizations to “take hold.”
- Stay away from tobacco smoke. Tobacco smoke ruins immunity, even if you aren’t the actual smoker. Kids have an increased risk of getting middle ear infections and lung infections when exposed to second hand smoke by way of parents or family members smoking around them. Adults are more prone to getting bronchitis and pneumonia when exposed to tobacco smoke. The toxic ingredients in smoke lessen your ability to fight off all kinds of infections.
- Cut down on alcohol. Those who excessively drink alcohol have an increased risk of getting infections from a poor immune system. Pulmonary infections are particularly likely to happen in heavy drinkers.
- Eat probiotics. Probiotics are one of the best things to reach mainstream medicine. Probiotics are found in some yogurts as well as in capsule form. They consist of living spores of healthy bacteria or living organisms themselves. They colonize the gut and displace the “bad bacteria” that can make you sick. With probiotics, you can have a healthier gut immune system and can avoid gastrointestinal upset from bacteria or fungi in the gut.
- Eat garlic. Garlic is an antimicrobial agent in and of itself. It boosts the immune system in a general way but is inactivated by heat. For this reason, you should add garlic to foods just before serving the food.
- Get vitamin D. Many people in the Northern Hemisphere are deficient in vitamin D and this can negatively affect immunity, particularly in the winter months. You can get vitamin D with exposure to the sun or you can take a vitamin D supplement. As some people need a lot of vitamin D and others don’t need as much, have your vitamin D level checked periodically until you find a dosage of vitamin D that brings your level into the normal range. In the summertime, just ten to fifteen minutes of sunlight per day can be a big benefit to your immune system.
- Eat shitake and Maitake mushrooms. Studies have shown that really concentrated extracts of these types of medicinal mushrooms have enhanced the immune system of women who have breast cancer. While eating the mushroom alone hasn’t been studied, it may have a beneficial effect on the immune system of otherwise healthy people.
- Immune Supporting Herbs. There are tons of immune-supportive herbs out there and probably yet to be developed. Some important ones are eleuthero, Asian ginseng, astragalus, and American ginseng. These have been used in Chinese medicine for millennia to prevent infection and keep the body healthy. They can be found at health food stores everywhere and even at certain pharmacies.
- Echinacea tincture. Echinacea is good for respiratory infections, especially when taken early in the course of the infection. Make a tincture yourself or get one from a reputable herbalist.