What is the immune system?
The immune system is one of the most important mechanisms of the human body. This is because it’s the body’s natural defense against illness.
The immune system attacks and destroys invading pathogens to keep the body free from disease.
This vast network of cells, tissues, proteins, and organs fights off diseases and infections by identifying viruses, bacteria and parasites, and neutralizing these threats. It is constantly at work.
Once this defense system encounters a pathogen, it deploys an immune response to fight and kill it. The most important thing about this system is that it can distinguish the body's healthy tissue from foreign, disease-causing tissue.
Dead and faulty cells are also identified and eliminated by the immune system.
How does the immune response work?
The immune system can be activated by a lot of different organisms that the body doesn’t recognize. The substances that activate the immune response are called antigens.
Antigens include the proteins on the surfaces of bacteria, fungi, and viruses. When these antigens come into contact with the special receptors on the immune system cells, a whole series of processes are triggered in the body.
When the body is exposed to a disease-causing germ for the first time, the immune system usually stores data about the pathogen and how to fight it. Then, if the same type of germ invades again, the immune system recognizes it right away and starts fighting it sooner.
Diseases related to the immune system
The immune system is a very complex mechanism. This complexity means there are opportunities for disorders to disrupt the system.
Following are the different types of immune system disorders:
Immunodeficiency is the lack or absence of immune system cells in the body. Simply put, one or more parts of the immune system do not work properly.
Immunodeficiencies can be caused by a number of factors, including age, obesity and alcoholism.
In underdeveloped countries, malnutrition is a common cause of immunodeficiency.
In some cases, the condition is inherited.
Autoimmunity is a condition in which the immune system mistakenly targets and destroys the body’s healthy cells. In this case, the immune system is not able to distinguish between its own healthy cells and foreign pathogens or faulty cells.
The body’s cells also have surface proteins, called autoantibodies. But they are not the antibodies that should trigger the immune system.
When the immune system cannot distinguish its own tissues from foreign tissues, it attacks healthy, harmless cells in the body.
Autoimmune diseases include celiac disease, Type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Hypersensitivity is when the immune system overreacts to such a degree that it damages healthy tissues. An example is anaphylaxis, when the body’s response to an allergen is so strong that it can be life-threatening.
Immune System Boosters
Some people have strong immune systems, while others have weak ones. The good news is that you can strengthen your immune system through a proper diet and a healthy lifestyle.
Certain foods, supplements, and lifestyle changes will have a positive effect on your ability to stay healthy.
Herbs that boost the immune system
Many natural substances are known to boost immunity. Since ancient times, herbs and spices have been in high demand for both their healing properties and their ability to help people stay well.
According to the World Health Organization, over 80% of the world’s population uses herbal medicines and herbs as part of their primary healthcare.
Most of the preferred herbs are high in anti-inflammatory properties, which help bolster the body’s natural immunity. Most of these herbs and spices are relatively safe, compared to allopathic medicines like antibiotics, which can have serious side effects.
Here’s a list of herbs and spices that can help improve immunity:
1. Holy basil
Holy basil is a very old medicinal herb. Its leaves are rich in phytonutrients.
Basil is also rich in chlorophyll, vitamins and minerals, and eugenol. Eugenol is a bioactive compound with antifungal, antimicrobial, and antibacterial properties, which can help reduce stress and lower plasma glucose levels.
How to consume basil:
You can simply chew fresh basil leaves in the morning or infuse them in your morning tea. Just ensure that you wash them well in running water before using them.
Ginger is widely used in Indian cooking to add flavor to dishes. This popular spice has antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties.
Since ancient times, ginger has been extensively used for treating asthma, travel sickness, morning sickness, colds, coughs, nausea, arthritis, gastrointestinal complaints, and even depression.
How to consume ginger:
You can consume ginger in the form of tea by crushing it and boiling it with tea leaves in water. You can also take powdered ginger mixed with pulverized cloves, cardamom and caraway to cure digestive ailments.
Fenugreek is an herb that is popular in Ayurvedic medicine. It acts as an antioxidant to strengthen the immune system. It is commonly used as a herb, a spice, or even a vegetable.
In addition, fenugreek as a condiment to artificially flavor maple syrup or as a vegetal steroid.
How to consume fenugreek:
Fenugreek is rich in vitamin E. You can use the seeds as a preservative or the dried leaves for flavoring vegetable dishes, fish, and meat.
A traditional remedy for fever is herbal tea made with fenugreek, honey, and lemon. Sprouted fenugreek seeds can be added to salads for extra flavor, while fenugreek fiber can help treat constipation.
Garlic is another spice that is widely used in food. It has excellent antioxidant properties that are known to reduce stress and ease blood pressure-related ailments. It also helps enhance vitamin B12 absorption in the body.
For centuries, turmeric has had a respected place in Ayurvedic medicine because of its healing properties. It is commonly used in cooking various dishes in India.
Turmeric contains a bioactive compound known as curcumin, which acts as an anti-inflammatory agent.
How to consume turmeric:
A decoction made from grated ginger, tulsi (basil leaves), and turmeric is known to improve immunity when consumed on a daily basis.
Foods that boost the immune system
The following foods are great for your immune system:
1. Citrus fruits
Citrus fruits are packed with vitamin C, a crucial nutrient that helps you avoid illnesses like colds and coughs. Vitamin C is also known to boost your immune system.
That’s why most people reach for foods that are rich in vitamin C to treat symptoms of the common cold.
Vitamin C is known to promote the production of white blood cells. These cells are the soldiers of our bodies because they fight infections.
Some popular and readily available citrus fruits that you can include in your diet are grapefruits, oranges, clementines, tangerines, lemons, and limes.
Broccoli is loaded with vitamins and minerals. It is also packed with fiber, vitamins A, C and E, and many other antioxidants.
This vegetable is considered one of the healthiest on the planet due to its high nutrient content. These nutrients can also enhance your immunity.
Steaming is the best way to cook broccoli because it preserves more nutrients.
3. Bell peppers
Red bell peppers contain almost three times more vitamin C than an orange.
They’re also a rich source of beta carotene. Your body converts beta carotene into vitamin A, which helps keep your eyes and skin healthy.
Vitamin C also plays a part in keeping your skin and nails healthy.
Spinach is not just rich in vitamin C, it’s also packed with antioxidants and beta carotene. Both of these help increase the immune system’s infection-fighting ability.
Just like broccoli, spinach retains more of its nutrients when you don’t cook it too long.
If you lightly cook spinach, it will be easier for your body to absorb vitamin A from it. It also reduces the effects of oxalic acid, which interferes with the absorption of calcium and iron.
Yogurts that contain live and active cultures are great for your digestive health and overall well-being. These cultures and the good bacteria that are present in yogurt help stimulate your immune system to fight disease.
Reach for plain yogurt rather than flavored varieties, as they are loaded with sugar. You can sweeten plain yogurt yourself by adding fruit and a bit of honey.
Fortified yogurt is also a great source of important vitamins and nutrients, including vitamin D. This vitamin helps regulate the immune system.
When it comes to preventing and fighting off colds, vitamin E is the second most important nutrient after vitamin C. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that is key to a healthy immune system.
This is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it requires the presence of fat to be absorbed properly. Almonds are generously packed with both vitamins and healthy fats.
Supplements that boost the immune system
If your diet lacks the nutrients you require, you can make up the difference by using supplements.
The following well-known supplements can give a boost to your immune system:
1. Vitamin C
In terms of supporting the immune system, vitamin C is the most effective supplement.
It protects cells from the damage caused by free radicals by acting as an antioxidant. It also helps the body make collagen, aids in the absorption of iron from plant-based foods, and benefits the overall immune system.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that is essential for a healthy, fully functioning immune system.
Though referred to as a vitamin, it also functions as a hormone that takes part in many bodily functions. It also helps keep bones and muscles strong, and protects against respiratory infections.
Zinc is a mineral that is added to many supplements that are used to boost the immune system.
It is essential for immune cell development and for communication among those cells. It also plays a role in the inflammatory response, carbohydrate metabolism, glucose utilization, the production of insulin, and collagen synthesis.
Zinc is an essential nutrient for the formation of bone matrix. Additionally, it helps protect against respiratory tract infections and the common cold, and reduces the duration of such infections.
4. Vitamin A
Though mostly associated with vision, vitamin A is beneficial for more than just eyesight.
It also influences the body through the regulation of genes, helps maintain body and skin linings, plays a role in reproduction, and protects the overall defense mechanism of the immune system.
5. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is one of the most powerful antioxidants. It enables cells to interact with each other, boosts the immune system, and helps carry out other immune functions.
6. Vitamin B6
Also known as pyridoxine, vitamin B6 is an important nutrient that helps the body in many different ways.
This vitamin is involved in various metabolism-related enzyme reactions. It also plays a pivotal role in protein metabolism and performs several other roles related to the function of the immune system.
Our digestive system also carries out immune-related functions by protecting the body from microbes in our food that have the potential to harm us.
According to many researchers, probiotics are not only effective in supporting digestive health but contribute to overall immune health.
Essential oils that boost the immune system
Essential oils are not only great for your skin and appearance, but they are also great for your immune system.
The following are essential oils that can have an effect on immunity:
Lavender oil is an incredibly versatile oil that has many applications.
This oil is beneficial for immunity because it can help you get a good night’s rest. It’s commonly used for reducing stress, as well. Stress and lack of sleep are the two most common factors in lowered immunity.
Lavender oil is full of antioxidant properties, which can protect your cells from free radicals.
Eucalyptus oil is great for immunity because of its powerful antiviral and antibacterial properties. It can be an effective stimulant for both the body and the mind.
It’s used to treat respiratory illnesses and fight off a number of diseases, such as measles, flu, and chickenpox.
Lemon is particularly well-known for its aroma and antibacterial properties. It is also a powerful antioxidant, which is why it is highly beneficial to your immune system.
Lemon oil can also be effective in protecting the health of the liver.
Peppermint oil is incredibly effective in treating a number of health-related issues.
It has antibacterial and antifungal properties and is used for a range of issues that include ringworm, headaches, and digestive troubles.
Peppermint oil also helps protect your body against common illnesses such as colds, fevers, and the flu.
5. Tea tree
Tea tree is the most commonly used essential oil.
It is known to have powerful antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. These qualities make tea tree oil useful for fighting germs and illnesses.
As an immunostimulant, tea tree oil also has antimicrobial properties.
Lifestyle changes that help boost the immune system
In addition to your diet, your lifestyle plays a very important role in keeping your body and mind healthy.
Changes in your lifestyle can have a visible impact on your immune system.
The following are some lifestyle changes that you can implement in order to boost your immune system:
1. Exercise regularly
Doing moderate exercise is known to boost your immune system. Even though prolonged and excessive exercise can temporarily suppress immunity, light to moderate exercise is good for our overall health. Examples of moderate exercise include a brisk walk, cycling, jogging, swimming, and hiking.
Regularly engaging in moderate exercise helps reduce inflammation and promote cell regeneration, which strengthens the body's defense system.
2. Manage stress levels
Avoiding stress and anxiety is the key to having a strong immune system.
Stress promotes inflammation and causes an imbalance in cell function. Engage in activities that will help you reduce your stress levels.
These activities may include meditation, exercises, and art, such as painting, music, or pottery making. Creative pursuits are known to reduce stress levels and will keep your mind fresh and active.
3. Limit sugar intake
Added sugars and refined carbs are proven to contribute to weight gain and obesity.
Obesity can make your body vulnerable to disease. Decreasing your sugar intake can help reduce inflammation and aid weight loss, which will reduce your risk of chronic health issues. Limiting your sugar intake is very important for your immune system.
4. Get quality sleep
Sleep and immunity are closely related. Inadequate and poor-quality sleep can make your body vulnerable to disease by inhibiting the production of antibodies and cells that fight infection.
Getting adequate sleep allows your body to keep its defenses strong. If you do get sick, sleeping more will help speed your recovery.
To ensure that you get quality sleep, put away your electronic devices an hour before you go to bed, as the blue light emitted from your phone, TV or laptop screen may disrupt your body's sleep-wake cycle. Make sure that you sleep in a completely dark room, and exercise regularly.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs):
Q1 - What are the signs of a weak immune system?
A1 - The main signs of a weak immune system are high-stress levels, frequent colds, constant stomach problems, slow healing of wounds, prone to infections, exhaustion & fatigue, anemia, etc.
Q2 - How do you boost your immune system?
A2 - Boosting the immune system naturally requires patience and determination. Here are a few small changes you can make to improve your immunity. Don't smoke and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Exercise regularly and get adequate sleep. Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly. And most importantly, try to minimize stress.
Q3 - What are the immune system and its function?
A3 - The immune system plays a crucial role in protecting the body from infectious substances, germs, and cell changes that may make you sick. It is made up of a number of organs, cells, and proteins.
The key functions of the immune system of the body are-
- To combat disease-causing germs (pathogens) such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi, and to expel them from the body;
- To recognize and neutralize harmful substances from the environment,
- To fight disease-causing changes in the body, such as cancer cells.
Q4 - What are the 4 types of immunity?
A4 - 4 types of immunity are-
- Active immunity includes the release of antibodies by the body and the subsequent creation of memory cells.
- Passive immunity comes from the acquisition of antibodies from another source, so memory cells do not develop.
- Adaptive immunity is the defense against pathogens that are improving as we move through life. As we are exposed to diseases or vaccinated, we develop a library of antibodies to various pathogens.
- Immunization adds antigens or weakened pathogens to a person in such a way that the individual does not become ill but still produces antibodies.
Q5 - How do I test my immune system?
A5 - Blood tests can help decide whether you have normal levels of anti-infection proteins (immunoglobulin) in your blood. They can also calculate the levels of blood cells and immune system cells.
Blood tests will also assess whether the immune system reacts correctly and produces proteins that recognize and destroy foreign invaders, such as bacteria or viruses (antibodies).