The immune system is a complex compilation of protective and disease-fighting cells that help keep us from getting sick. And while it may be something we take for granted, the immune system, much like the other systems of the body, is constantly at work keeping invaders at bay.
Here are six surprising facts you may not know about the inner-workings of your body’s defense mechanism and some tips to keep it up and running.
Illness symptoms prove your immune system is kicking into gear. Fevers and stuffy noses are often thought to be symptoms of a virus, but in reality these are the means in which your body fights infection.
A rise in body temperature is often your body’s way of killing off heat-sensitive germs and that annoying nasal congestion is the result of dilating nasal blood vessels, which allow for disease-fighting white blood cells to get to work. So rather than loading up on nasal sprays and fever-reducing cold formulas, give your body a chance to do its job using its own set of rules.
Sleepless nights may hit your immune system harder than you think. Nights of tossing and turning may result in more than bloodshot eyes or large dark circles, they may leave you more susceptible to colds and flus, too.
Research has shown that there is a reciprocal relationship between sleep and immune system-function, leaving those who log less hours resting more at risk for catching colds and other illnesses.
So instead of spending your hard-earned dollars at the pharmacy stocking up on extra doses of vitamin C, you may want to make sure you hit the hay at a reasonable hour, especially at the height of cold and flu season.
Autoimmune diseases affect women more often than men. If a little is good, then a lot is better right? That’s not the case when it comes to immune system function. When the immune system becomes hyperactive, it begins attacking the body’s own tissues, resulting in autoimmune disease development.
These complex illnesses are difficult to diagnose and often even more difficult to treat. Research indicates that autoimmune diseases attack women far more often than men (78 percent of those affected are women).
While researchers aren’t entirely sure why this happens, the role of female hormones and steroids are thought to be the main culprit.
Sitting out in the sun can be both beneficial and detrimental to proper immune system function.
Catching some summer rays may help improve your tan, but it also exposes you to UV-B radiation. Research has shown that exposure to these powerful rays supress immune system function, leaving your body more susceptible to invaders.
Yet, at the same time, slightly suppressing the immune system may inhibit the development of autoimmune diseases as well.
Furthermore, the body’s production of vitamin D comes directly from sunlight exposure. Vitamin D is a key player in immune system response, helping mobilize disease-fighting T-cells. So if you want to catch some summer sun, do so in small doses and be smart, sunburns are not cool.
Want a strong immune system? Be good to your gut. Surprisingly enough, the trillions of bacteria that inhabit our gut do more than just help break down and process our meals, they help keep us healthy, too. Our microbiota refers to the countless bacteria that reside synergistically in our digestive tract.
These beneficial bacteria are responsible for fighting off invaders looking to colonize and compete for nutrients in our digestive system. Researchers are learning more and more about the microbiota’s role in immune system function believing that maintaining a healthy digestive tract may keep other illnesses at bay.
We have fewer white blood cells than you would think. The adult human body houses about 5 liters of blood. A mere one percent of the millions of blood cells flowing through our veins are comprised of disease-fighting white blood cells.
This may sound troubling since we rely on these microscopic cells to keep our body’s healthy, but rest-assured, there are more than enough of these pathogen-fighters to keep invaders at bay.
The immune system is extremely complex and researchers are constantly attempting to unlock its many secrets. But one thing is for certain, a strong immune system is the key to staying healthy. Rather than turn to pharmaceuticals to battle cold bugs, here are a few ways to boost your immunity naturally.
- Eat a varied diet of organic foods. These are free of the toxins and chemicals that wear down the immune system.
- Practice yoga or other stress-fighting activities as stress is a major cause of decreased immune system function.
- Exercise regularly to help improve circulation, which also helps reduce toxin buildup and improves sleep quality, another key component to immune function.
- Be sure to include foods with live active cultures. These gut-friendly bacteria help keep the microbiota healthy and active.
- Turn to herbal remedies rather than pharmaceuticals. Echinacea, ginseng, astragalus and even garlic are natural immune boosters that lack the side-effects of many medications.