According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 5% to 20% of the American population will get the flu each year. Additionally, adults have an average of 2–3 colds per year, with it one of the main reasons why they miss work and also why children miss school (1). That said, it’s important to ensure that your body’s immune system is properly equipped to fight off disease-causing viruses.
The immune system is the body’s first line of defense against disease-causing micro-organisms. Thus, when it fails, you’re more vulnerable to infections and diseases. The immune system is compromised by a number of muscles, nerves, and lymph nodes. They each work together, alongside white blood cells, to effectively protect the body against bacteria and viruses. There are a number of illnesses, such as HIV, and diabetes, that can affect the immune system. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that one does not develop these diseases.
Additionally, one may believe that they can use antibiotics to ward off illnesses and strengthen their immune system. However, this is not the case. Antibiotics are designed to fight bacterial infections, not viral illnesses like colds or the flu. Overusing antibiotics to address viral illnesses can increase the risk of antibiotic resistance. This is whereby antibiotics no longer possess the ability to effectively terminate bacteria. With a quarter of antibiotics being inappropriately prescribed, the World Health Organization cited their overuse as one of the biggest threats to global health and security.
Strengthening Your Immune System
Boosting your immune system goes beyond your diet. Read on to find out just how you can help strengthen your body’s first line of defense against illnesses.
Diet and the immune system
A healthy and functioning immune system requires a host of nutrients that can protect it and ensure its functionality. Thankfully, there are a number of foods that can provide these nutrients.
Quercetin is a flavonoid found in a variety of fruits and vegetables. These include apples, peppers, kale, tomatoes, as well as blueberries, and capers.
The compound helps to strengthen the immune system by helping to alleviate allergies and allergy symptoms by blocking histamine. Histamine is the chemical responsible for setting off allergic symptoms (2).
Omega fatty acids
According to findings published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, omega-3 fatty acids can serve to strengthen the immune system by enhancing the function of the B cell – a white blood cell that helps to activate antibodies.
To increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, try adding almonds, soybeans, walnuts, and chia seeds to your diet.
Rich in antioxidants, it should come as no surprise to discover that mushrooms can help to benefit the immune system. In fact, a study from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences noticed increased immunity in a group of people who had consumed a cooked shiitake mushroom every day over a period of four weeks (3). Additionally, a previous study from the OncoTargets and Therapy journal found that shiitake mushroom extract helped to improve immune function in women with breast cancer.
In addition to its antimicrobial properties, garlic also contains allicin which is its main ingredient. Once consumed, allicin turns into compounds that help to boost the body’s immune system. It does this by strengthening the white blood cells’ fighting capabilities.
One of the world’s favorite spices, turmeric can also serve to support your immune system.
Curcumin is a compound found in turmeric that gives it its color. Additionally, it is also the source of its many health benefits. In regards to the immune system, curcumin contains antioxidant properties that help to fight off free radicals. Additionally, curcumin also helps to boost the immune system’s inflammatory response, which then helps to ward off viruses and other threats (6).
Stress and the immune system
Stress is an everyday part of life, however, concern arises once this stress becomes chronic. Chronic stress leads to elevated levels of the hormone cortisol. According to research published in the journal Stress, cortisol can affect the body’s T-cells (white blood cells) by interfering with the T-cell’s ability to receive signals from the body.
That said, it’s clear that stress reduction needs to be of paramount importance when prioritizing your health. To do so, it is first important to identify the sources of stress before theorizing how to deal with it.
Meditation, yoga, using adaptogens as well as listening to music can each help to reduce stress and boost the immune system.
Build strong social bonds
According to research from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology and presented at the 2010 Experimental Biology conference, laughter serves to not only increase the production of antibodies but also activate the body’s T-cells.
It seems laughter truly is the best medicine, and who better to laugh with than family and friends? In fact, a 1997 study from Carnegie Mellon University found that the more friends one has, the less likely one is to catch a cold. While this study may seem a little outdated, a more recent one from the same university also found that the more friends one has, and the more frequently they hugged these friends, resulted in less severe illness symptoms.
One cannot underestimate the effect that strong social bonds can have on one’s health. After all, strong social bonds are one of the pillars associated with the Blue Zones – areas virtually free of disease and inhabited by residents who live to age 100 and beyond.
There’s no escaping it – regular exercise is pivotal to living a long and healthy life. In fact, an active lifestyle can serve to boost your immune system.
In fact, research published in the journal Aging Cell revealed that exercise encourages good circulation, which then mobilizes T-cells to protect the body against infections. Ironically, continuous rigorous exercising can also serve to weaken the immune system, and this is why it’s important to take regular rest days.
Get enough sleep
A study from the University of Washington Health Sciences department, done on 11 pairs of identical twins, found that twins with shorter sleep duration had a more depressed immune system.
If you’re struggling to get some much-needed shut-eye, try using essential oils to get your much-needed 7 to 8 hours of sleep.
Sing it out
If you find yourself coming down with a cold, belting out your favorite song may help.
A study by Tenovus Cancer Care and the Royal College of Music published in the journal Ecancer found that singing in a choir for just one hour boosts the immune system by increasing the levels of antibodies in the blood.
Adopting a more positive mindset could be the key to your longevity.
According to a study published in the journal Psychological Science, a group of first-year law students who became more optimistic displayed a boost in stronger and more active immune cells. Additionally, when their optimism dropped, so did the number of immune cells.
If you’re battling to remain optimistic and maintain your positive thinking, click here to find out how you can stay positive going forward.