On the whole, your immune system does a remarkable job of defending you against disease-causing microorganisms. But sometimes it fails: A germ invades successfully and makes you sick.
Is it possible to intervene in this process and make your immune system stronger? What if you improve your diet? Take certain vitamins or herbal preparations? Make other lifestyle changes in the hope of producing a near-perfect immune response?
The idea of boosting your immunity is enticing, but the ability to do so has proved elusive for several reasons.
The immune system is precisely that — a system, not a single entity. To function well, it requires balance and harmony. There is still much that researchers don’t know about the intricacies and interconnectedness of the immune response. For now, what they do know is that there are proven direct links between lifestyle and enhanced immune function.
Follow these 6 simple strategies to increase your immune system defence:
1. Eat the right foods
Overhaul your diet to ensure it’s high in nutrient-dense foods such as wholegrains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and controlled portions of fish and meat.
Cut out sugar, which raises insulin levels in the body, suppressing the release of immune-friendly hormones. Eating this way will ensure you get maximum vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to support your immune system.
2. Stay hydrated
Water trumps food where all living things are concerned, and many experts believe dehydration is the cause of many immune-related ailments. Water is important for nutrient absorption and helping to transport oxygen around the body. It also regulates you body’s temperature and removes toxins from the body.
In cold weather good hydration will keep your mucous membranes lubricated, to prevent viruses and bacteria from getting in. Cut out caffeine and keep alcohol to a minimum. In small amounts alcohol can increase levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA), the protein chemical used by the immune system to fight disease, but too much has a diuretic effect.
3. Keep active
Regular moderate exercise, such as walking or swimming, can protect your body from illness. Just 30 minutes’ aerobic exercise five times a week is shown to stimulate those cells, macrophages, that attack bad bacteria in our bodies.
Don’t overdo it, though. Strenuous workouts can stress your body, leaving you run-down and more susceptible to viral infections.
4. Manage stress
Stress can dampen your immune system by as much as 60 per cent. Set time aside to focus on relaxation. A study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine suggests people who meditate produce more antibodies to fight infection. Meditation increases activity in the areas of the brain related to positive emotion.
Socializing with friends can be just as beneficial. Studies show laughter and even the anticipation of a fun time can boost the activity of your immune cells. People who are unhappy are three times more likely to suffer with colds.
5. Sleep tight
A bad night’s sleep can leave your immune system prone to attack. As night falls, your body releases melatonin, which helps your body prepare for sleep. Not only does this hormone ensure you fall into a deep sleep, it’s also a potent antioxidant used to support your immune system.
While you’re asleep, your body’s healing process gets to work. Less than seven hours’ sleep a night can double your chances of catching a cold.
6. Get frisky
Sleep isn’t the only way to boost your immune system from under the covers – sex helps too. During sex, the brain produces happy chemicals that stimulate the production of IgA. Cuddles or a loving touch can have the same effect.