Immunity is your ability to resist an infection or toxin. The immune system is responsible to protect you from diseases caused by pathogens like viruses and bacteria. It also includes your body’s capability to distinguish foreign substances(antigen) from self and to neutralize, eliminate, or metabolize harmful foreign substances.
A weak immune system puts you at higher risk of serious problems with COVID -19. Vaccine’s effectiveness also increases with better immunity. Some people who have chronic conditions and are immunocompromised may have adverse effects of vaccines. So it becomes important to boost immunity by any means. In fact, people who have good immunity can withstand COVID-19 without severe health issues
How does immune system works?
The immune system fights bacteria, fungi, viruses, and toxins on the skin, in the cells and tissues, and blood. There are two types of immune system: natural, (innate) immune system is immunity that one is born with and the acquired (Specialised) immune system.
Natural or Innate immunity
You are born with Natural or Innate immunity this immunity offers lifelong protection. The natural immunity is your first line of defence against infections. The natural immune response is fast and non-specific since it does not respond differently to viruses, bacteria, and toxins.
Your natural immune system consists of physical, chemical, and cellular defences.
- Physical barriers offer protection to your body through skin and membrane.
- Chemical barriers offer protection through chemicals like enzymes, tears, mucous, and stomach acid, sweat.
What is adaptive immunity?
Adaptive immunity is your acquired immunity against viruses, bacteria and toxins. The adaptive immune starts to act if the natural immune system is not able to fight with pathogens or toxins. The adaptive immunity is slow to react but is more effective since it is more accurate since it ‘remembers’ germs.
What are immunological memory and vaccines?
Immunological memory means our immune system quickly reacts effectively to germs and viruses that have been encountered previously. Memory cells, a cell derived from B and T cells are involved in your body’s ability to recognise the previous disease-causing agent.
immunological memory is the reason for vaccination is effective against infectious diseases. Once your body creates the antibodies necessary to kill a virus, the body is able to react quickly when it encounters them again in the future. So next time you vaccinate against COVID-19, your body’s immunological memory is the reason you are immune against it.
Healthy Lifestyle promotes immunity
Your first line of defence against infections and pathogens is a healthy lifestyle. Following a healthy lifestyle can help keep your natural immune system working properly. Your body, including the immune system, functions well when provided support by following healthy-living strategies:
- Exercise regularly.
- Eating a healthy diet consisting of vegetables and whole grains.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Don’t smoke.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
- Get proper sleep at night.
- Take extra care to avoid infection by washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.
- Minimise stress and manage it.
- Vaccinating helps the immune system to fight off infections before they harm you.
- Check up and cure any chronic symptoms as they weaken your immune system.
How is exercise important for immunity?
Regular exercise is one of the best tools for boosting immunity and immune response. Exercise detoxes the lymphatic system and gives your body the capability to fight millions of disease-causing viruses and pathogens. Even moderate exercise will benefit your immune system immensely.
Start your exercise with moderate intensity then as you get stronger and look for more challenging exercise .
Following are four exercises that will boost your immune system to fight against germs and infections:
A brisk walk of about 20 minutes is enough to keep your immune system functioning as it should. One study found that 1,000 adults during flu season and those who walked for 30 minutes a day were 40 percent less sick than those who didn’t. I have written extensively about walking since it’s the easiest exercise to start with and benefits the most.
Aerobic is recommended by most doctors for improving immunity. That’s because exercise strengthens your heart and drains toxins from your body.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT is the best exercise to get your heart pumping. It acts as a natural steroid for your immune system.
However, HIIT should only be done a few times a week, because if you do excessive HIIT it puts stress on your body and weakens immunity. Moderation is key to get the most benefit out of vigorous exercise.
Weightlifting and strength training gives your body stimulation that isn’t provided naturally, which increases flow of the blood in your body, relieves stress, and burns extra calories. The intensity of strength training has a significant-good effect on the immune system.
Why exercising the right way boosts your immunity?
Your risk of flu or infection goes down if you exercise correctly. But if you exercise for too long your risk increases dramatically higher than if you did nothing at all.
In a study, mice were infected with the flu virus and divided into three groups.
The first group: Did no exercise.
The second group: Did moderate exercise.
The third group : Did vigorous exercise.
After a few days:
50 percent in the first group died of the flu.
12 Percent in the second group died of flu.
70 Percent in the third group died of flu.
Why is intense exercise bad for the immune system?
The vigorous and prolonged exercise suppresses the body’s immune response right after you finish exercising. The longer and more vigorous your routine, the longer your immune system takes to recover. And that means you’ll get infected more often.
Your body thinks long periods of exercise as stress. This raises the levels of stress hormones which suppress the immune system.
You can do any exercise you like. It could be jumping rope, biking, or swimming. The key is to listen to your body. You should be exhausted but should not do it for a prolonged period.
Immunity and age
As people grow old, their immune system’s capability also diminishes, which makes them more prone to infections and cancer. As life expectancy has increased, age-related conditions too have also gone up.
While some people age healthily, compared with younger people, the elderly are more prone to infectious diseases and more likely to die from them.
Respiratory infections, including flu, the COVID-19 and pneumonia are a leading cause of death in old people worldwide.
No one knows for sure why this happens, but some scientists believe that this increased risk correlates with a decrease in T cells. Since people with age more than 70 produce fewer T cells to fight off infection.
People older than 70 show vaccines are less effective compared to children Despite the reduction in efficacy, vaccinations significantly lowers the sickness and death in older people when compared with those without vaccination.
Old people should also include moderate exercise and walk in their routine to boost the immune system, but not so long that it suppresses you immunity
There seems to be a connection between nutrition and immunity in the elderly. Since older people eat less and often with less varieties in their diets. So dietary supplements in addition to a few super foods could help older people maintain strong immunity.
Balanced diet to boost immunity
As an Army marches on the stomach, the immune system also needs a constant supply of required nutrients to perform efficiently. Scientists have long recognised that people who are malnourished due to a variety of reasons are more vulnerable to infectious diseases.
Several studies found that various micronutrient deficiencies of minerals like zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins like A, B6, C, and E reduce immunity in animals.
So, If you suspect your diet is not giving you all your micronutrient needs — if, for instance, you don’t like vegetables — taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement could boost immunity.
There are certain herbs which can also boost immunity however you need to be careful while buying it since their efficacy is not tested. But you can definitely try it for you and then continue if there is no adverse effect.
Foods and herbs boosting immunity
Citrus fruits and red bell peppers
Vitamin C is the most important nutrient for supporting your immunity. While vitamin C can’t prevent infections, it is often found that people with respiratory infections benefited immensely.
Research says you need to consume 200 mg of vitamin C per day for infection prevention. One medium orange has 70 mg and a medium raw red bell pepper contains 150 mg of vitamin C.
Almonds and sunflower seeds
Vitamin E plays a crucial role in immunity. This fat soluble vitamin increases the activity of immune cells to fend off disease causing viruses and bacteria. If you eat an ounce of sunflower seeds it gives half of the vitamin E needed by your body. almonds also contain a significant amount of vitamin E.
Carrots and sweet potato
These veggies are top sources of vitamin A. This nutrient is vital for the immune system since it helps to produce white blood cells. A medium sweet potato or a cup of raw carrots contain recommended vitamin A needed by your body.
Beans and pumpkin seeds
Zinc helps in production of certain immune cells and is crucial for the normal functioning of the immune system. One cup of beans has over half of the recommended daily intake for zinc, and pumpkin seeds are also rich in zinc.
Curcumin, found in turmeric responsible for its natural colour, is a potent anti-inflammatory compound. It also boosts the immune system and enhances antibody responses. Combine turmeric with black pepper to significantly increase curcumin bioavailability.
Walnut is the top anti-inflammatory nut, walnuts contain several crucial nutrients that support the immune system, including vitamins E and B6, copper, and folate. Walnut is also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acid.
Garlic has the potential to boost your immune system by increasing the production of your natural killer cells. Natural killer cells are responsible for innate immunity that fight against infections.Add Fresh garlic cloves rather while cooking veggies, soup, or broth.
Pomegranate juice boosts immunity because of its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory property. The flavonoid antioxidants found in pomegranate juice have also been shown to combat viruses, and decrease the length of a cold.
Green veggies have anti-inflammatory antioxidants and provide nutrients known to help the immune system, key nutrients include vitamins A and C, and folate. They also give immunity in the gut, the location of 70-80% of immune cells.
Ginseng root is proven to prevent infections like common cold, sore throat, and reduce cough. Research has found that ginseng can fasten the recovery from cold. a 200 mg of ginseng per day taken in powder or capsule form is the best way to boost immunity.
Eucalyptus and tea tree oils have antiviral properties that protect you against viruses and bacteria. Studies also found that lavender oil has a soothing effect, so it can help ease anxiety and improve sleep. Add a few drops of essential oil in a diffuser to boost immunity.
Supplements to boost immunity
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is one of the most popular supplements taken to protect against infection due to immune boosting properties.
This vitamin is crucial for various immune cell functioning and promotes their ability to protect against viruses and bacteria. It’s also necessary for cellular health, which boosts your immune system by replacing old dead cells with new ones.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant reducing oxidative stress against free radicals.
Supplementing with vitamin C has been shown to reduce the duration and severity of upper respiratory tract infections, including the common cold
Supplementing daily doses between 250 and 1,000 mg is recommended.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps your body in absorbing calcium. It is also crucial for the heart and avoiding depression, and certain types of cancer.
About 1 billion individuals in the world have vitamin D deficiency, which leads to decreased immunity and risk of diseases.
Supplementing with Vitamin D boosts the immune system and supports healthy bones. If you decide to take Vitamin D supplements, doctors recommend taking Vitamin D3 instead of D2 since they are easily absorbed and is 3 times more potent than D2.
Zinc has antioxidant properties, it retards oxidative processes and is anti-inflammatory so it is an ideal nutrient to boost your immune system. It is estimated that 1.1 billion people worldwide have zinc deficiency.
This is the reason why zinc supplements are vital for those who are deficient in it. If you decide to take this supplement make sure it is zinc Zinc Methionine , since Zinc Methionine is a chelated form of the mineral, which increases its bioavailability in the body.
70 percent of your immune system is in the gut. Unfortunately, many people don’t have healthy guts, which often can lead to a poor immune system. Probiotics can help good bacteria in your gut, reduce inflammation, thus helping in better digestion to absorb nutrients in your body.
This antioxidant lowers oxidative stress and reduces inflammation and boosts immunity of your body. Selenium is a very useful mineral for preventing bird flu and swine flu so it is very useful against infections.
It’s a blue-green algae available in powder or capsule form. Chlorella is rich in a large range of vitamins and minerals like Vitamin B12, iron, Vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, zinc, other B vitamins, Omega 3s, and fiber. Chlorella is a rich source of antioxidants which can boost your immune system.
7. Mushroom extract
Mushrooms are a super food containing B vitamins, selenium, Vitamin D, potassium, copper, iron, and phosphorus etc. Mushroom extract has been used for cancer treatment and anti ageing. So this supplement is really useful for boosting your immunity.
Stress and immune system
Stress is not easy to define and measure since a stressful situation for one individual may not be stressful for another. Instead of physical stress mental stress has become a number 1 problem in modern times. Stress is the reason for people going into depression, suicide and many other health problems.
Stress reduces the number of natural killer cells in your body, which fight the germs. Chronic stress can over produce stress hormone cortisol. This can reduce the body’s anti-inflammatory response and promote infections as per recent research.
Though stress is a part of life, we can develop healthier ways of responding to them.
Some techniques to reduce stress and boost immunity
- Organise your life so that you can deal with chronic stress due to a job or relationship. Get help from an outside expert who can understand your situation and give you the best advice.
- Regular exercise is the best way to reduce stress. Exercise puts pressure on your body and relieves mental stress. Exercise lowers the stress hormones and improves your mood.
- Spend more time with friends and family who help you and give you happiness. Sometimes both parties are looking to spend time with each other but none takes initiatives thus depriving each other of quality time. Remember spending time with family and communication is the best therapy.
- Learn to say no. Doing more than necessary gives you stress. So saying no often will destress you and relieve you from being overwhelmed..
- Listen to good music. Music relaxes your body and mind. Nature sound has a soothing effect so spending time in nature on weekends could be relaxing.
- Hobby or side project. Hobby or side project which helps you release creative juice is one of the best ways to reduce stress. If you like painting, writing, dancing, volunteering is good to reduce stress.
- While stressed, don’t go on drinking excessive alcohol, binge eating, or drugs. It’s not worth it. Instead, you can take a walk or punch a punching bag to release stress.
- Getting a nice massage is a good way to release stress. You don’t need to go to a massage parlor you can massage your partner and get a massage in return. Or you can get some nice massaging gadgets.
- Yoga. Yoga helps you reduce stress and anxiety. Yoga enhances your mood and diverts your mind from racing thoughts. Practicing yoga improves fitness by improving balance, flexibility and strength.
- Mindfulness. This practice involves sitting comfortably and breathing and being in the moment. This form of meditation is helpful for people suffering from anxiety and stress.
Sleep deprivation and immunity
Lack of sleep has adverse effects on the immune system and therefore you should have sufficient sleep. Adequate sleep supports your immune system so that it can be much more effective in fighting viruses and germs
Sleep reinforces your immune system’s ability to recognize and react to dangerous infections. When you are sleeping your breathing and muscle activity slows, thus giving up energy for the immune system to perform optimally. Sleep produces melatonin hormone which fights stress and inflammation.
Studies have found that those people with sleep problems have weaker immune responses after vaccination. In some cases, this reduces the vaccine’s effectiveness thus needing more doses.
The reason is sleep-deprived people’s bodies don’t have enough time to develop immunological memory, thus leaving them vulnerable to infections.
How to get adequate sleep to boost immunity
- Don’t watch TV and use mobiles in bed. The bed should be only used for sleep.
- Your bedroom should minimise undesirable noise, bright light, and extreme temperatures with tools like earplugs, window blinds, electric blanket and air conditioner.
- You should hydrate adequately to reduce awakenings due to thirst or urination.
- Napping during the day is good for you if needed, but it should not be more than 20 Minutes, since it can change your sleep schedule.
- Caffeine is a stimulant and is present in large amounts in coffee. You should not take Caffeine four to six hours before bedtime, since it may cause you to stay awake.
- If you drink alcohol it may reduce functional or nervous activity and help you fall asleep, it may cause you to awaken and is often responsible for nightmares and sweats.
- If you eat a light snack it may be sleep-inducing, but if you eat a heavy meal too close to bedtime, it may interfere with your sleep.
- Exercise is excellent for inducing sound sleep, but, if you exercise vigorously just before bed, it may interrupt your sleep.
Weather conditions and immune system
Seasonal changes are often triggers of various infections and diseases. Since you get adapted to a particular season when it changes, the body takes time to adapt. Since your body is not yet ready for a drastic changes in weather if not protected properly, the immune system is weakened and many infectious viruses can make you sick. In fact, COVID-19 viruses are also very active in seasonal changes.
How can you boost your immunity during the change of weather?
- Use humidifiers – If you live in cold, or dry weather, you can use humidifiers to reduce the risk of infections. Since humidifiers increase humidity, which may help reduce the spread of viruses, reduce asthma symptoms, and relieve allergy.
- Drink lots of fluids – Consume lots of fluids like soup, water, and fruits to hydrate the body, which will boost immunity and help in fighting infectious diseases.
- Vaccinate – Vaccinating is a good way to prepare the immune system against infection.
- Get plenty of rest – If you have some symptoms of infection take plenty of rest to boost immunity.
Chronic health conditions and immunity
Chronic health conditions are a worrying public health problem, accounting for about 60% of deaths every year in the world as per CDC. The immune system plays a vital role in managing and reducing chronic conditions.
Heart disease and cancer are at the top of the most prevalent chronic health conditions. A huge number of people are suffering from chronic inflammatory and allergic conditions, autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis, and chronic infectious health conditions like HIV and hepatitis.
COVID-19 is more severe in the case of an obese persons showing more severe symptoms, severe conditions, and death. An obese person is approximately 3 times riskier in terms of severe COVID-19. Each increment of BMI by 1 unit increased 12% risk of severe disease and obesity requiring ventilator support.
Diabetic patients are in general more prone to severe symptoms of flu and infections. Studies on COVID-19 found that those hospitalized with well-controlled sugar levels had a comparatively higher rate of survival.
If you have one or more chronic conditions then your immune system is weakened leading to complications from infections like COVID‑19.
Some chronic condition that reduces immunity:
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Liver and kidney disease
- High blood pressure
- Respiratory diseases like COPD
- A person on chemotherapy or radiation therapy
Things you can do to reduce the risk of developing a preventable chronic condition include:
- Don’t Smoke
- Do physical activity
- Reducing alcohol
- Eat balanced diet
- Manage healthy BMI
- Manage high BP
- Manage Cholesterol
Go for a regular check-up and manage chronic conditions. A chronic condition is a lifelong condition. However some chronic conditions can be reversed if switched to a healthy lifestyle.
Proper hygiene can boost immunity
Some people believe using hand sanitiser and other hygiene measures too often may weaken your immune system, by reducing your body’s exposure to germs and with it the chance to “train” your adaptive immune system.
Also kids who played with dirt in their childhood and were exposed to viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens early in life have stronger immune systems. This concept comes from observations that kids from poor communities who might be exposed to more pathogens tend to suffer less from allergies and asthma.
It doesn’t mean more germs and less cleanliness is better. But recent studies show there are multiple other factors responsible for the increased occurrence of these conditions.
Several studies reinforce that keeping your hands clean is one of the best ways to reduce the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19.
CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water regularly, if soap and water are not available, using hand sanitizer with minimum of 60% alcohol. If you wash and sanitize your hands a lot you need to use moisturizer lotion in your hand to reduce cracks and dryness
A strong immune system is the defense against all kinds of illness and infections, keeping the vitals of your body healthy. A strong immune system will help you recover quickly from the effects of any infection or illness. Getting the right nutrition early in life positively helps gut microbiota and to develop a strong immune system. You can boost your immune system by taking balanced diets of vitamins, minerals, and probiotics, and particularly by eating moderately.
Exercise can give your immune system a boost and adequate sleep helps the immune system to rebuild and replenish. Vaccines teach your immune system against viruses. It’s much better for your immune system to learn this through dead viruses than by catching the live diseases causing viruses.