The weather is getting colder, so we the time has come when we naturally start thinking about boosting our immune system and fighting influenza (which generally arrives at this time of year!) But do you really know what your immune system is?
THE IMMUNE SYSTEM is incredibly complex, and is made up of many different cells and chemicals, which do a range of jobs: from keeping the bacterial baddies out of our bodies, to letting the rest of your body know when something nasty has invaded, to killing off those invaders as quickly as possible.
Here’s my express tour of the immune system, along with a few tips for you to follow in order to help keep it healthy.
Your immune system divides into two parts – innate (non-specific) and adaptive (specific).
The innate immune system comprises all the parts you’re born with. It includes things you might not realise are part of your immune system for example: your skin. These provide physical barriers and are anti-bacterial. Inside your body your immune system has a number of different cells that help protect you too. Some of these have great names like natural killer (NK) cells and macrophages. These cells act in a number of different ways, for example macrophages literally eat up invading bacteria and viruses, and NK cells contain deadly granules that they release when they get close to a foreign cell to destroy it. The innate immune system is your first line of defence, and acts to deter invaders. Dealing with them quickly regardless of who or what they are.
The adaptive immune system determines its response based on the what type of bacteria, virus or other invader that it happens across. Simply this means different cells will respond depending on whether the invader they come across in the blood stream is a flu virus, chicken pox infection or meningitis. The adaptive system takes slightly longer to get working than the innate. Its cells needs to go through a chain reaction of identifying the invader, activating the cells that can produce antibodies against that specific invader, and finally producing the antibodies which attach to the invader marking it out for destruction.
So how can you maximise your chances of stopping the nasties getting into your body in the first place, and making sure if any sneak through your adaptive immune system is ready and waiting to attack?
1. Keep your mucous membranes healthy
This means your gut bacteria needs to be well fed with plenty of fibre from fruit and veg, and not impaired by refined sugars, alcohol and caffeine. You also need to have enough protein in your diet because protein is essential for your cells to grow and repair. Make sure you include protein with every single meal - something most of us are sadly lacking!
2. Feed your immune cells
Like any other cells in your body immune system cells need a range of nutrients to help them operate at their best. Minerals that are good for this include zinc, vitamin B and vitamin D . Eating a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds and meats helps. Buy one new vegetable or try one new recipe every week to keep variety going
3. Understand the stress factor
This is truly underestimated because even with the world's most perfect diet, your immune system will not work effectively if you’re stressed. This is because the chemicals you produce when stressed will suppress your immune function. Take time for relaxation every day, make sure you get enough sleep (many of your immune cells regenerate overnight and need peace and quiet to get on with the job!) and don’t let stress take your immune system down.
So to improve your chances of fighting flu this season… Increase your fruit and vegetable intake, try to eat a portion of protein with every single meal, reduce your consumption of refined sugars and alcohol and don't forget to RELAX.
To find out more about how you can improve health and nutrition contact me to discuss: firstname.lastname@example.org or 07833348623
Your guide to living whole and well. Emma Olliff is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, wellness expert, food lover, and advocate for healthy living!