How To Strengthen Your Immune System
Your immune system protects you from infection caused by bacteria and viruses. It does this through the body’s own layered defenses. When these physical barriers are breached, your immune system then goes into overdrive and adapts its response to recognize an infection and then attack the invading pathogens (harmful bacteria)
Several barriers protect the body from infection including mechanical, chemical and biologic.
The mechanical barriers are skin, lungs, intestines and genitourinary tract. The chemical barriers are antimicrobials, enzymes, and acids like gastric (stomach) acid and proteases (enzymes) found in the gut. This is why many doctors and most health advocates encourage the use of vitamins to strengthen the body and probiotics to specifically strengthen the immune system in your gut (remember acids and proteases). Because of this symbiotic relationship of beneficial bacteria in your gut, the healthy balance of bacterial populations acts as a major defense barrier to disease.
Inflammation is one of the first responses of the immune system to infection. The symptoms of inflammation are redness, swelling, heat, and pain. This inflammatory response triggers a chemical release of biochemical factors to recruit immune cells to the site of the infection to promote healing of any damaged tissue following the removal of pathogens. We have in our bodies natural killer cells (white blood cells) like leukocytes, lymphocytes and killer T cells that attack and destroy the offending agent and remove damaged cells.
Your immune system is involved in many regulatory aspects of the body. It interacts with other systems like the endocrine and the nervous system. This intimate relationship is why when you are stressed, your body is in a state of dis-ease and breaks down. Some vitamins, sleep, and rest go a long way to boost the immune system to increase our defense of disease.
And this, my friends, is why we need to keep our bodies in peak shape and our immune system running on all cylinders. Here are the six ways to strengthen your immune system.
1. Get enough sleep every night. It is during the seventh and eighth hours of sleep that the brain functions best to repair and rehabilitate.
2. Stay hydrated. You should drink approximately one ounce of per kilogram of body weight every day. In other words, take half your weight in pounds and subtract 10%. Listen to your body. Thirst is an early indicator of dehydration. Some water is OK, but un-sweetened electrolyte solutions are preferred.
3. Maintain an active lifestyle. Get at least 150 minutes of vigorous exercise every week. This amounts to approximately 30 minutes a day, five days per week. I’d love to see all my patients walk 10,000 steps a day, or at lease strive towards that mark. Get a Fitbit or Garmin step tracker and get to work.
4. Eat well. I recommend a vegetable-based, Mediterranean- style diet for optimum nutrition. At the very least, consciously cut out sugars and refined carbohydrates, like white bread and white rice. Stick to whole grains, but limit your portions.
5. Take your vitamins. I recommend most people take 5,000 IU of vitamin D and two-four grams of vitamin C (benefits are debated) everyday to keep their immune system strong. Because we can’t always rely on great nutrition, I also recommend a probiotic daily and/ or fortified yogurt.
6. Don’t go overboard. Your immune system needs to be worked out daily. Constant overuse of hand sanitizer, unless they are only alcohol based, can compromise your inherent defenses.
Dr. Tippet is founder of Comprehensive Quality Healthcare Providers, a concierge internal medicine practice, and he can be reached at 706- 510-3659.