At this time of the year, we often feel run down and seem to be more susceptible to colds or viral infections. By the end of winter, we become tired of the weather and cloudy skies and feel that our immune defences are low. So what is immunity? Taking a brief survey amongst friends and family, the most interesting answer I received was: “Immunity is when I do something and get away with it”. This may be a good way to explain how viral infections occur: sometimes our immune system looses its resilience and doesn’t have the resources to fight a virus giving it the opportunity to establish itself in our bodies/cells and we feel ill. In short, “the virus got away with it, at least in the short term”.
We find plenty of information on how to “boost” our immune system in the media these days. This blog takes a step back by looking briefly at what our immune system consists of and then specifically outlines two areas in our body that play a big part in our immune response and how we can support them.
Our immune system is not a specific organ; rather it is an intelligent deployment of defence agents in the body to make up a system that allows our body to fight toxic or disease-causing organisms. Fighting disease is like a military operation using highly-trained intelligence agents. First we identify the enemy, then we mobilise the troops, which are deployed exactly where they need to be. This makes up our defence system. In our body, these agents originate from the bone marrow and the thymus and reside in the lymph nodes and in the intestinal epithelium, or gut lining. To keep it simple, I’ll mention two main types of agents that play a key role in this operation but there are many more:
Our ability to fight off bacteria and viruses depends on the resilience of our immune response or defence system. This depends on many factors some of which are:
Our largest internal defence mechanism is our gut, which provides approximately 80% of our immunity. Our gut is the most important barrier to the outside world inside our body and defends us in various ways. Here are two ways explained:
Our ability to deploy defence agents to infected cells also depends on how effectively we can circulate them through our blood and lymph systems. This in turn depends on the flexibility of our blood vessels, which is controlled by a chemical called nitric oxide that dilates our blood vessels. This speeds not only oxygen and nutrients, but also B- and T-cells, to the parts of the body where needed. Nitric oxide is produced within all of our cells; but the production tends to decline as we age.
So what can we do ourselves, to improve our own immune response? We can provide our body with nutrients containing Vitamin A, C, D, E and Zinc by eating colourful fruit and vegetables (see our blog “What powers your life”), get sufficient sleep and exercise and manage our stress levels; these are topics we will cover more in detail in the next blogs.
In addition, we can focus on:
The following diet and lifestyle choices may positively influence our gut health by:
Nitric oxide levels may be supported by:
Antje Kicinski is a registered Nutritional Therapist and Coach focusing on helping clients regain their energy and resilience by resolving their digestive issues and hormonal imbalances.