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What is the Immune System?
The immune system is a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to defend the body against attacks by “foreign” invaders. These are primarily microbes—tiny organisms such as bacteria, parasites, and fungi that can cause infections. Viruses also cause infections, but are too primitive to be classified as living organisms. The human body provides an ideal environment for many microbes. It is the immune system’s job to keep them out or, failing that, to seek out and destroy them.
When the immune system hits the wrong target, however, it can unleash a torrent of disorders, including allergic diseases, arthritis, and a form of diabetes. If the immune system is crippled, other kinds of diseases result.
The immune system is amazingly complex. It can recognize and remember millions of different enemies, and it can produce secretions (release of fluids) and cells to match up with and wipe out nearly all of them.
The secret to its success is an elaborate and dynamic communications network. Millions and millions of cells, organized into sets and subsets, gather like clouds of bees swarming around a hive and pass information back and forth in response to an infection. Once immune cells receive the alarm, they become activated and begin to produce powerful chemicals. These substances allow the cells to regulate their own growth and behavior, enlist other immune cells, and direct the new recruits to trouble spots.
Although scientists have learned much about the immune system, they continue to study how the body launches attacks that destroy invading microbes, infected cells, and tumors while ignoring healthy tissues. New technologies for identifying individual immune cells are now allowing scientists to determine quickly which targets are triggering an immune response. Improvements in microscopy are permitting the first-ever observations of living B cells, T cells, and other cells as they interact within lymph nodes and other body tissues.
In addition, scientists are rapidly unraveling the genetic blueprints that direct the human immune response, as well as those that dictate the biology of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. The combination of new technology and expanded genetic information will no doubt reveal even more about how the body protects itself from disease.
Part One: Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle
Eat a healthy diet. Many people only think about their health when it is in danger; don’t wait until you are sick or injured to care for your body. Making healthy food choices on a daily basis is one of the best ways to maintain your cardiovascular health, improve your energy levels, and keep your muscles and bones strong. A healthy diet should be high in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, and low in excess sugar, fat, and alcohol.
- Citrusy fruits like oranges, tangerines, and tomatoes contain Vitamin C, which helps protect the immune system.
- Eat chicken, turkey, salmon, tofu, and other lean meats. These foods are rich in protein without the extra fat that is found in red meats and shrimp. Other protein sources included quinoa, kidney beans, and black beans.
- Read food labels. You’d be surprised to learn how much extra sugar is creeping into your bread, salad dressing, or pasta sauce. Reading food labels will help you make smarter choices at the grocery store.
Exercise regularly. Getting enough exercise improves your cardiovascular health, and greatly reduces the likelihood of certain chronic diseases.
- Children and adolescents aged 6-17 should get 60 minutes of exercise per day. Most of this time should be spent doing aerobic activities, while the rest of the time should be spent doing muscle-toning activities.
- Adults aged 18-64 need at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of aerobic exercise each week and at least two days per week of muscle strengthening activities like lifting weights.
- Older adults aged 65 or older with no existing medical conditions should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate exercise like brisk walking, andtwo or more days of muscle strengthening exercises.
Drink enough water. Water helps energize your muscles, improve bowel function, and balance your body’s fluid levels. You should drink 8 glasses of water every day.
- Avoid quenching your thirst with soda, alcohol, tea, or coffee, as these drinks actually dehydrate you.
Get enough sleep. Getting adequate sleep not only improves your mood and energy levels, it prevents strokes and helps you manage your weight. Strive for 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.
Get regular medical screening tests. This will help catch illnesses early on so that you can get the most effective treatment.
Be hygienic. Hygiene goes beyond looking and smelling your best. Taking the proper precautions can help prevent the onset and spread of infections or other illnesses.
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water. This is help get rid of any dirt, germs, or bacteria you may have picked up throughout the day. You should wash your hands after using the restroom, before, after, and while cooking food, after handling animals or animal waste, and before eating.
- Shower daily. If you don’t want to wash your hair every day, then invest in a shower cap and rinse your body with soap and water. Use a loofah or body sponge to remove excess dirt and dead skin cells.
- Brush your teeth twice a day, and floss every night. This will help prevent the gum disease Gingivitis.
- Carry antibacterial hand sanitizer and use it when you ride the bus, touch public door handles, and so on.
Manage stress. Stress isn’t just an emotion; it has physically repercussions, and chronic stress can negatively effect your immune system.
- Overcoming stress can be done in two ways, and will ideally involve a little of both. Avoid the activities and people that cause you extreme stress, if possible. While this will help, you must also learn how to cope with the inevitable ups and downs of life in a healthy way. Spend time doing relaxing activities like meditating, dancing, or having sex.
- If you think you have chronic stress, consider seeing a therapist or other professional to help you manage your condition.
Don’t smoke. Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, and increases the likelihood for stroke, heart attack, and lung cancer.Part Two: Special Foods and Supplements
Be skeptical of “immune-boosting” products. There is no scientific evidence that has proven that increasing the number or immune-fighting cells is a good thing. In fact, in some cases, increasing the number of certain “good” cells in your body can increase the risk of stroke.Medically speaking, the best thing you can do for your immune system is to live a healthy daily lifestyle and get proper and timely medical treatment for illnesses and infections.
Eat antioxidants. Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that help repair damaged cells in the body. Examples of antioxidants are Beta Carotene, Vitamins C and E, Zinc, and Selenium. These nutrients can be found in certain fruits or vegetables, or can be taken with a supplement.
- Beta Carotene is found in apricots, broccoli, beets, spinach, green peppers, tomatoes, corn, and carrots.
- Vitamin C is found in berries, broccoli, nectarines, oranges, strawberries, bell peppers, tomatoes, and cauliflower.
- Vitamin E is found in broccoli, carrots, nuts, papaya, spinach, and sunflower seeds.
- Zinc is found in oysters, red meat, beans, nuts, and seafood.
- Selenium is found in tuna, beef, and Brazil nuts.