“A child who is protected from all controversial ideas is as vulnerable as a child who is protected from every germ. The infection, when it comes- and it will come- may overwhelm the system, be it the immune system or the belief system.”
― Jane Smiley

Brassica oleracea - 2 Firmount Road, Somerset West, Western Cape, South Africa [2014 ©]

Our immune system is an intricate, elegant and  complex mechanism of defense. It attacks foreign invaders that include illness-causing viruses and bacteria, fungi, and even cancer cells. This protection system comes built in when we are born but a lot rides on how well we care for ourselves. The best way to keep an immune system strong is to do all the things that keep it naturally strong, like exercise, eating right, and learning how to cope with stress. There are several ways in which we can empower our immune systems to keep us from harm or to unlock its healing potential in case of compromise.

Nutrition. The digestive tract essentially is an open-ended tube that begins at the mouth and ends at the anus. We can therefore say that the digestive tract is exposed to the outside at all times even though it is inside us and everything that we decide to put into our mouths and ingest has the potential to do harm. With this thought in mind, it is not difficult to perceive that the digestive tract carries a huge potential risk to our health and because of this, a large percentage of our immune system is present within its walls, ready to do battle with anything that is a threat. The food we eat and the beverages we choose to drink therefore play an enormous role in the functioning of our immune systems. What we eat and drink have both the potential to build or to harm, the choice is ours.

Sleep. Take note that this is the second most important factor in maintaining a strong immune system. With the advent of electricity, humanity has the ability to stay up way past dark and engage in activities that become detrimental to immunity. The sleep hormone melatonin, which is released by the brain on the stimulus of darkness, inhibits the growth of tumours and raises the concentration of infection-fighting antibodies in the saliva. On the other hand a lack of sleep lowers the levels of cytokine immune molecules in the blood, raising the risk of inflammation and infection. Sleep, and enough of it, is an invaluable tool to strengthen the immune system.

Exercise. This does far more than simply melt away a few pounds or build muscle, it boosts the immune system. It assists in two ways, firstly by flushing out viruses and bacteria through the lungs, skin and urine and secondly by speeding up antibodies and white blood cells throughout the body that enables them to identify and destroy marauding microbes more quickly than they might do otherwise.

Stress. Stress immobilises immune cells. A temporary stressor, such as cut, triggers the release of hormones that warn the immune cells to prepare for possible infection.Long term stress on the other hand suppresses the ability of the immune system to ward off viral, bacterial and parasitic infections. Stress needs to be managed and controlled for the immune system to be properly effective.

Mood. Emotions and linked to the brain and to the endocrine system which govern the functioning of the immune system. Your attitude will play a large role in determining whether or not immunity is healthy or compromised. It has been shown, for instance, that someone with a sense of humour will cope better with stress and increase the levels of an immune system protein called salivary immunoglobulin A which is the body’s first line of defense against respiratory illnesses. Relaxation techniques allow for active natural killer cells to proliferate, which help destroy viruses and tumours.

Environment. Every day we are exposed to a basket full of chemicals and products that affect our immune response. Airborne chemicals, chemicals added to the soils in which vegetables and fruit are planted, chemicals dumped in the rivers and oceans. Worst of all are the chemicals that we are enticed to bring into our homes under the pretext that they are beneficial to our health, such as anti-bacterial soaps and cleanser wipes. Not only do all these chemicals deny the immune system the opportunity to build up an anti-body arsenal to use in the future but creates toxicity that produces inflammation in which infection can thrive.

Our immune system is so intrinsic to our health that it needs to be cared for, built up, kept in good working order and for this occur we need to be aware of what we can do. In the end our health is our responsibility, no one out there can do it better than you.

The Editors of Prevention with Kim Galeaz, RD,CD: 2008: Disease-Proof your body: Rodale, New York

Andrea Moritz: Timeless secrets of health and rejuvenation. Ener-Chi Wellness Press, New York

Morgan, P: 1998. Natural remedies for allergies. Parragon. Bristol

Published Date: 16 Oct 2014