Immune Health- what does it really mean?
What our immune systems do
Our immune systems are a hugely complex operation. Our immune defences take different forms- from barriers that we can see, such as skin and those little hairs inside our nose, to the huge array of clever processes that go on beneath the surface.
Our gut has 70% of our body’s immune system contained within it but our whole body works together to fight off invading bugs and respond appropriately when we come into contact with something that is ‘bad for us’.
How does it work?
This goes on all day every day without us ever realising or giving it too much thought.
We generally become aware of our immune system when we start to become unwell with an infection or perhaps have an allergy. From the milder ( but irritating) end of the spectrum like hay fever all the way through to the scary and severe reactions that can come with anaphylaxis to nuts or something similar- these are both examples of our immune system at work.
We generally don’t think about our immune systems, because, like so much of our amazing bodies, it does the job for us. The warning signals go to the right places causing cells to respond, team up and fight back with the appropriate level of response.
That response varies depending on the threat and our body’s requirement to react- it might be a rash to something on our skin or a fever and sore throat and cough when a potent bug has got through some of our lines of defence to cause symptoms of a viral or bacterial infection that makes us feel unwell.
This is a normal functioning healthy immune system- something most of us have fully operational most of the time
Think of it like an army. Our Immune system works as a fully armed group of different types of immune fighting soldiers to keep us healthy.
Different things at different times can either trigger our immune response by requiring the troops to assemble and get to fighting. The whole army may be needed sometimes- perhaps for a serious infection or severe allergy response. Other times less force will be needed.
Sometimes the armies have to work in different ways such as if you have had chemotherapy or a type of treatment that works but by attacking your own immune system to get results to help you get better in the longer term.
What affects our immune system?
Some chronic conditions such as having diabetes or some immune suppressing medications can have a big impact on the way some of our tools can be used to fight infection.
This is why sometimes people in these groups can have a harder time fighting infections.
To have our immune system working at their best every day and when we really need it, ideally we want all our troops to be fully armed with the most powerful of weapons or tools
Whilst those with immune affecting conditions can have a tougher time with infections, even for those of us without these, some challenges we face in daily life can blunt those tools and in turn, blunt our immune response.
It is so important that I will say it again
Things we do everyday can affect our body’s ability to have an optimal immune response and fight infections.
What things? Chronic stress ,poor sleep or a diet deficient in nutrients can impact our immune systems ability to mount the best response they can.
What can we do to help our immune system?
SO can you ‘optimise’ or ‘boost’ an army fully armed with the best and sharpest of weapons aka a perfectly working immune system – Probably not.
But if you think there are someways that you defences may be less than sharp looking at ways to help support your immune system is really important.
In everyday life AND when there is increased risk from infections.
What can you do to help your immune system
- Sleep- your brain and body super power and essential to a healthy immune system
- Manage stress- for more tips on this see:
- Exercise- regularly and small amounts are enough to get started
- Vitamin D- it is very hard to have an immune system operating at its best if your vitamin d levels are low
- Nutrient rich foods -think as many different colours of fruit and veg as you can- a variety of colours helps with antioxidants and the health of your immune system’s army found in your gut known as the microbiome
- Reduce alcohol- alcohol affects the bacteria in your gut, too much and too regularly this can affect your immune response. And also affect your sleep ( see 1)
- Don’t smoke
- Live cultures- probiotic sources such as kefir and fermented foods help your healthy gut bacteria thrive.
- Think nutrient support – diet is the best source of all vitamins and minerals always but sometimes we need a little extra support such as vitamin d.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list but some ideas to think about to help you help your immune system be at its best
Dr Clara Russell