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What is your immune system?

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the immune system as “The bodily system that protects the body from foreign substances, cells, and tissues by producing the immune response.”

In layman’s terms, it means that the immune system is the body’s defense against any substance or biological threat that can be harmful. This includes toxins, viruses, parasites, biological matter, infections & bacteria. 

The main driver of the body’s immune system are white blood cells, that can be seen as the military of the human body. They are dispatched to fight against these threats.

Frequently used terms when talking about the immune system:

  • Immune response: The reaction of the cells and fluids of the body to the presence of a substance which is not recognized as a constituent of the body itself.
  • Antigen: a toxin or foreign substance that induces an immune response in the body.
  • Pathogen: A bacteria, virus, or other microorganism that can cause disease.
  • Antibody: A blood protein produced in response to and counteracting a specific antigen.
  • Lymphocytes: A form of small white blood cells.
  • T Cells: A lymphocyte actively participating in the immune response.
  • Phagocyte: A type of cell within the body capable of engulfing and absorbing bacteria and other small cells and particles.

What are the 2 types of immune systems?

  1. Innate Immune system – Defense mechanisms that come into play immediately or within hours of an antigen's (threat) appearance in the body. These mechanisms include physical barriers such as skin, chemicals in the blood, and immune system cells that attack foreign cells in the body.
  2. Adaptive immune system – The adaptive immune system recognizes specific pathogens or antigens and acts against them with maximum effectiveness. This subsystem of the immune system is activated in specialized cases when the innate immune system is inadequate. A good example of the adaptive immune system is the body’s response to a vaccine where the immune system learns how to react to and destroy specific types of pathogens.

How do you boost your immune system?

  • Eat enough vegetables and fruits – This will ensure a constant supply of vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay healthy. 
  • Exercise regularly – Exercise promotes healthy blood circulation in the body which is key to a strong immune system.
  • Maintain a healthy weight – Being overweight can make you more susceptible to certain diseases.
  • Use alcohol in moderation – Excessive amounts of alcohol weakens the immune system.
  • Get enough sleep – Your body can not produce adequate amounts of the cells needed to fight off infections if you do not get enough sleep.
  • Be pro-active to avoid infection – Take steps such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.
  • Get an immune boosting supplement – Supplements high in Vitamin A, B, C, D & E are effective in boosting immune response. Also, those that contain folic acid, fibre, amino acids, zinc, selenium and green tea. 

What are common habits that can decrease our immune system’s effectiveness?

  • Smoking - Smoking can break down your immune system and increases your vitamin C requirements.
  • Stress - Stress hormones suppress the effectiveness of the immune system.
  • Extreme exercising – Intense prolonged overtraining can lead to a compromised immune system. Allow your body time to recover.
  • Poor diet - Eating foods with too much sugar or not enough fruits and vegetables, can impair your immune function. 
  • Not getting your vaccines - One of the easiest ways to avoid certain illnesses is by getting vaccinated against them. Take your flu shot regularly.
  • Poor hygiene – Not maintaining good hygiene measures, like washing your hands, provides a place for bacteria to live and spread from.

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