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Our Immunity and how to boost it.


Your immune system is the body’s network of organs, tissues and cells that work in conjunction to keep you healthy; fighting off harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. It is the barrier between your body and anything that can enter you and make you sick. Within the Chinese medical framework, a few thousand-year-old practice that likes to simplify complex ideas, the immune system is a simple but functional idea that whether a contagion or climate-induced condition, it moves from the exterior to the interior depending on your wei qi, or “protective qi”. If your protective qi is strong you can ward off these illnesses or environmental factors reasonably easily, if it is weaker or the pathogen stronger you may get sick, and if the protective qi is very deficient, the disease factors may move into the interior levels quickly profoundly affecting functions of internal organs.

Where Western and Eastern medicine agrees in this matter is that your wei qi or immunity is enhanced by fresh air, good food and gentle exercise. With the winter months ahead and lots of sickness around I thought now was the time to delve into our immunity.


Understanding our immunity

Without our immune system, we wouldn’t have a way to fight the harmful things that can enter our bodies. Things that our system doesn’t recognise as our own are called antigens. The path of access to foreign antigens is often the areas open to the environment, our mouth, nose, and eyes, and all of these areas have mucous membranes or secretions that are the first line of defence in our immune system. The biome of our skin and our digestive tract also work in a symbiotic relationship to protect our interior. But if something enters our immune system is kicked into action.


There are two main branches of our immune system, the innate (non-specific) and the adaptive (specific), but both of these work closely together to wage war on these antigens.

Your first line of defence is the innate non-specific response that is immediate. It consists of physical, chemical and cellular defences against the pathogen. It mostly uses immune cells such as natural killer cells and phagocytes – job; wall off pathogen and eat it! Trap it in your lymph nodes to stop migration. As well, your body raises its temperature in a fever to increase the performance of those immune cells you need and place stress on the pathogen and infected cells. This is why it is important to manage a fever rather than pharmacologically reduce it just for comfort, it is there to help you to win the battle.


The second line of defence is the adaptive specific immune response. This, as the name indicates, is specific to the pathogen presenting. It is only supposed to attack non-self pathogens but sometimes makes a mistake and attacks itself, this is autoimmune diseases like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. The hallmark of a good adaptive immune system is the clonal expansion of lymphocytes. It is a rapid increase of the T and B lymphocytes that have the antigen receptor. So a few cells with this receptor become millions to go to battle for you.


Factors that influence immunity


Genetics - primary immunodeficiency disorders are present at birth and often inherited. Other certain genetic defects may block certain cells from defending the body or may stop the removal of toxic chemicals from the body. An immune disorder might be trouble fighting infections or having infections for a long time. Autoimmune disease symptoms may be aching joints, tissue destruction and inflammation. Frequent severe infections. Or trouble growing or gaining weight as an infant.



Age-related changes; your immune system definitely changes from infancy to old age. This impairment can occur as early as 35-40 years in some individuals. In your later years, B and T lymphocyte production is reduced in the bone marrow and thymus. And the function of the mature lymphocytes in the lymphoid tissue is diminished. Although this isn’t inevitable sometimes someone in their 80’s can have a more vigorous immune system than a younger person. This mostly comes in part due to nutrient deficiencies, a well-eating elderly person’s immune system will be better than a nutrient-deficient younger person's. As a general rule though the absorption and metabolism of the digestion system reduces with aging, causing nutritional deficiencies involving energy intake and intake of proteins, vitamins, trace elements and minerals. This has been shown by dietary intake data compared to blood nutrient concentrations. However, several well-designed studies have shown that a well-balanced diet together with appropriate nutrient supplements enhanced the immune response and reduced the chance of catching the common cold. Additionally, a study was done on the increase in fruit and vegetable consumption in people between the ages of 65-80 for 12 weeks prior to having a vaccination, this showed a greater antibody response to the vaccination. This links an achievable dietary goal with the potential improvement of immune function.


Lifestyle choices make a huge impact on our immune system, through nutrition, exercise, sleep, and reducing stress. We will look into these further as these are aspects we can all embrace.


Food to aid immunity


So I hope you realise now that making healthy food choices is like recruiting a microscopic army of nutrients that are trained to help your body fight off antigens. Let us go through what should be top of the list and why.

Greens

Greens such as spinach, kale, mustard greens, collard green, broccoli, bok choy and Brussel sprouts are packed with phytonutrients. They are rich in folate, calcium, and antioxidants. Folate is especially good for producing antibodies.



Onions

The Allium family along with shallots, scallions, leeks, garlic and chives are full of organosulfur compounds. These compounds have known benefits for immunity and are released when alliums are crushed or chopped. Onions also contain quercetin which has a powerful antibacterial-fighting ability, as well as prebiotic fibre feeding only the beneficial bacteria of our large intestine.


Beans

Beans, peas, and lentils are full of fibre and resistant starch (carbohydrates not broken down through digestion). The compounds from legumes can enhance your gut microbiome which is important because much of immunity begins with the health of your digestive system.




Mushrooms

Many mushrooms including the commonly eaten ones have been studied for their immune-modulating abilities. There is so much good evidence on this that they are supplements, additionally, studies have been done on them for the treatment of cancer.

Berries

Berries of all kinds are high in phytochemicals and vitamins that may help keep the immune system functioning at its best. They are fantastic for your digestive tract, support the immune system with beneficial microbiota. The compound in blueberries pterostilbene has been studied for its high antioxidant capabilities and the ability to lower inflammation and fight disease. Just note that all of these studies found you need the whole fruit not individualised compounds.


Vitamin C from citrus fruits, oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit have immune-enhancing antioxidants. And has been used for eons for treating infections.


Seeds

Seeds and nuts like chia, flax, walnuts and almonds are rich in disease-preventing nutrients.Fibre, healthy omega-3 fats, and micronutrients like vitamin E, iron, zinc and calcium. Zinc which is in pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and hemp seeds, is especially important in supporting immunity.


Beets are high in nitrates, which become nitric oxide in the body and open your blood vessels improving circulation and lower heart rate. Also contain betalains which can reduce inflammation.


Dragon fruit is a good source of fibre and prebiotics, awesome for gut health. They are also high in antioxidants and vitamin C which enhance immunity.


Purple veggies – purple cauliflower, purple carrots, red onion, eggplant and purple cabbage are loaded with antioxidants called anthocyanins which give them their colouring and aid cell rejuvenation. They prevent cancer, promote heart health and boost memory.


Zucchini contains compounds that improve digestion, slow the effects of aging, lower blood sugar and promote heart health. They protect the body against oxidated damage that can lead to disease.


Other lifestyle choices


Activity – moderate regular exercise. Lack of physical activity, excess sexual activity and overwork impair immunity.


Eating – Whole foods are always best. Avoid overeating, simpler food combinations strengthen immunity. Don’t eat late at night. Avoid too many intoxicants, and refined or chemically contaminated foods.


Environment – Sunlight clean, fresh air, and pure water strengthen the immune system.


De stress - Maintain an orderly, pleasant living and working environment. As we know stress is not good for our immune system. Stress and that feeling of fight or flight dysregulates our immune system and cause low-grade chronic inflammation.


Oral Health - When the immune system is working tirelessly to attack bacteria and fight infections in your mouth, your overall immune response is weakened, and then does not send as many immune cells to other parts of the body for repair. Its important to have regular dental appointments and maintain a brushing and flossing routine which keeps your gums and teeth healthy.


Other info - Supplements of synthetic vitamins and inorganic minerals are better for people who are stronger and robust. If you are weaker whole-food supplements are better try wheat or barley-grass concentrates, sea vegetables, chlorella, and spiralina are beneficial for long- term use.


The immune system is a remarkable defence mechanism that safeguards our health. But like everything in the body, we get what we put in. Healthy lifestyle choices aid our immune systems' resilience and promote our overall health and well-being. Knowledge and proactive measure are key to the power of immunity and living a healthier life.


Disclaimer - This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not substitute professional medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional for personalised guidance related to your specific health condition.

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