How to increase immunity and get sick less

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Robert Maurer
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How can you increase your immune defenses? This is a fundamental question, since your immune system does an important job defending you against pathogenic microorganisms. But sometimes it fails: a virus/bacteria overcomes your immune defenses and makes you sick. Is it possible to prevent this from happening? In theory, by following the correct directions and making the right lifestyle changes, you can maximize your immune defenses, greatly reducing your risk of getting sick.


What can be done to increase immune defenses?

The idea of ​​improving the immune system is very tempting, but the ability to do so is elusive for several reasons: The immune system is, in fact, a system. To function well, it requires balance and harmony between all the organs that compose it. There is still much research to be done behind the intricate and interconnected aspects of the immune system. For now, direct relationships linking lifestyle to immune system effectiveness have not been scientifically validated.



However, this does not mean that the effects of lifestyle on the immune system are not important and should not be studied. Researchers are currently exploring the effects of exercise, diet, age, psychological stress, and other factors on the immune system response in both humans and animals. In the meantime, general strategies can be applied to maintain excellent health and support the immune system.

The immune system in action: above, a phagocyte (neutrophil) chasing down a bacterium to kill it.

Healthy ways to strengthen the immune system

Your first line of defense against illness is a healthy lifestyle. Following general guidelines for a healthy lifestyle is the "best first step" you can take to keep your immune system strong and healthy, naturally. Every part of your body, including your immune system, works better when supported by healthy strategies like the following:




  • Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Get enough sleep (7-9 hours a night)
  • Try to minimize stress
  • Exercise regularly
  • keep a healthy weight
  • Drink alcohol in moderation
  • No Smoking
  • Take precautions to prevent infection, such as washing your hands often and cooking food thoroughly.

Boosting the Immune System: The Unhealthy Way

There are countless products on drugstore shelves that claim to boost or support the immune system. But the concept of boosting the immune system ultimately has no scientific value. In fact, increasing the number of cells in your body, whether they're immune cells or otherwise, isn't necessarily a good thing. For example, athletes who undergo "blood doping," that is, pumping excess blood to increase the number of red blood cells and thus enhance performance, are at increased risk of heart attack.

Trying to stimulate the cells of your immune system is particularly tricky, because there are countless types of cells that respond to different pathogens in very different ways. Which cells should you increase and how much? Until now, scientists have never known the answer. The truth, however, is that the body continues to generate immune cells, in different amounts for each type, and that they are eliminated autonomously from the body (apoptosis) when they reach the end of their life cycle. No one knows what the right combination of immune system cells is to make it work at its best.

age and immune system

Older people are at higher risk of infection

As we age, our immune response begins to decline, leading to a higher chance of infection and tumor development. With the increase in life expectancy in developed countries, the incidence of diseases due to old age has also increased.




Although some people age in good health, the conclusion of many studies is that, compared to the younger population, older people are more prone to infectious diseases and, more importantly, more likely to die from them. of them. Respiratory infections, influenza and especially pneumonia are among the leading causes of death in people over 65 years of age worldwide. No one knows for sure the causes of this phenomenon, but some scientists have observed that this increased risk is related to the decrease in T cells, probably due to the progressive atrophy of the thymus, a lymphoepithelial organ present in the neck, which progressively reduces its functionality with age. Other scientists, on the other hand, hypothesize that all this is due to a decrease in the activity of the bone marrow, which becomes less efficient in the production of stem cells from which the cells of the immune system originate.

The reaction of older people to vaccines also showed a reduction in the immune response to infections. For example, studies of flu vaccines have shown that the vaccine is much less effective in people over 65 years of age than vaccines in healthy children. But despite this reduction in effectiveness, influenza and pneumonia vaccines were able to significantly reduce the rate of illness and death in older people.

There appear to be connections between nutrition and the immune system in the elderly. A surprisingly common form of malnutrition, even in the most developed countries, is a lack of micronutrients (ie vitamins and minerals) in the diet. This nutrient deficiency is very common among older people, as they tend to eat less and with less variety. An important question is whether or not dietary supplements can help an older person maintain a healthy immune system. To get a correct answer to this question, older people should consult a nutritionist with experience in geriatrics, because even small changes in diet can have serious repercussions in older people.




Diet and immune system

Like all body functions, the immune system begins in our stomach. A healthy immune system requires good, regular nutrition. In fact, people who live in poverty and are undernourished are much more vulnerable to infectious diseases. However, there are still few relevant studies directly linking the effects of diet with the immune response.

Instead, there is scientific evidence on how various macronutrient deficiencies, such as zinc, selenium, iron, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E, alter the immune response in animals. For humans, however, these deficiencies still need to be investigated.

So what can be done? If you suspect that your diet does not provide all the micronutrients you need, for example because you do not eat vegetables (because you do not like them), taking a multivitamin and mineral salts supplement could bring you several health benefits and therefore also improve response immune. On the other hand, taking high doses of a single vitamin has negative repercussions on the body. "More" does not always mean "better".

Stress and immune system function

Modern medicine has begun to appreciate the close relationship between the body and the mind. A staggering array of ailments, including stomach pain, migraines, and even heart disease, are linked to the effects of emotional stress. Despite the enormous difficulties that this entails, scientists are actively studying the relationship between stress and the functions of the immune system.

However, most scientists studying the relationship between stress and immunity do not focus so much on sudden, short-lived stressors, but rather on chronic stress due to long-lasting situations, which can be caused by friends , family, colleagues, constant challenges. and long periods of pressure.

Despite the inevitable difficulties in accurately measuring the relationship between stress and the immune system, scientists are making progress.

Related: Goodbye Anxiety: 7 Books That Will Tell You How To Stop Worrying

Can Catching a Cold Cause a Weakened Immune System?

There is no mother who has never said: "Put on a jacket or you will catch a cold!" But it's true? Until now, researchers studying the correlation between cold and the immune system believe that normal, moderate exposure to cold does not have a negative impact on the ability to respond to infections. Many doctors and experts agree that winter is the time for colds and flu not so much because people get cold, but because they spend a lot of time indoors, in close contact with other individuals with whom they exchange microbes.

In people immersing themselves in cold water, sitting naked in sub-zero temperatures, and performing activities in places with critical temperatures, scientists have found mixed results. For example, researchers have documented an increase in upper respiratory tract infections in cross-country athletes who exercise vigorously in the cold, but it is not yet known whether these infections are due to low temperatures or other factors, such as intense exercise and dry air.

A group of Canadian researchers reviewed hundreds of medical studies on the subject and concluded that moderate exposure to cold has no harmful effects on the immune system.

Boosting immune defenses: is exercise good or bad?

Regular exercise is one of the pillars of a healthy life. It improves the functionality of the cardiovascular system, lowers blood pressure and helps control body weight, preventing a whole series of diseases caused by a bad lifestyle. But can exercise help boost immunity? Like diet, exercise contributes to an individual's overall health and thus helps keep the immune system functioning. Exercise can also contribute directly to the improvement of immune defenses, since by promoting blood circulation it allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move freely throughout the body and carry out their work efficiently.

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