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11 tips to strengthen your immune system

Article image immune system defense

Simply put, the immune system is your individual protection against the environment or the variety of pathogens. Figuratively, the immune system can be compared to the computer's antivirus software, which is supposed to recognize different types of malware and then destroy them.

Unlike computer software, however, the human immune system is far more complex. It consists of two firmly functioning systems: the "innate immune system" and the "acquired immune system". Basically, these two immune systems differ in the type and speed of their actions - but the goal is no different: to protect your body from pathogens.

The innate immune system reacts more quickly to pathogens than the acquired immune system. It is more undifferentiated and less targeted, but still very effective in combating pathogens. For the recognition of pathogens, special surface features - so-called antigens - are mostly used. Antigens and antibodies have been widely known at least since the corona pandemic.

The specific immune system is more complex and specific in its immune defense. In addition, it can retain pathogens in its "memory" and react quickly to ward them off in the event of renewed contact.

The executive of the immune system is formed by the white blood cells (leukocytes). This component of the blood, unlike the red blood cells (erythrocytes), is not tasked with supplying oxygen to the body. In addition to the blood cells, numerous organs are also involved in the immune defense: lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, thymus and the so-called MALT system.

Rhinitis Immune system Cold

Immune system cells

Within the group of white blood cells, there are different cell lines that perform a variety of tasks.

Cells of the nonspecific or innate immune system:

  • Granulocytes: can recognize antigens, produce toxins against bacteria and cells, can surround pathogens and release messenger substances
  • Monocytes: "eat" pathogens, present antigens of pathogens in lymph nodes to stimulate specific/adaptive immune system
  • Macrophages: "mature" monocytes, predominantly similar capabilities.
  • Dendritic cells: present antigens
  • Natural killer cells: kill degenerated and virus-infected cells directly
  • Mast cells: Antigen recognition, allergic reactions

Cells of the specific or adaptive immune system:

  • T lymphocytes: recognize antigens
    • T-helper cells: help macrophages when pathogens could not be eliminated
    • T-killer cell: initiates cell death of degenerate and virus-infected cells
  • B lymphocytes: after activation, transform into plasma cells that produce antibodies

So much for the theory. But what exactly happens when the body comes into contact with a pathogen, for example a virus?

How does the immune system work?

Depending on whether it is a first contact or a repeat contact, the immune response is quite different.

The non-specific immune system can react within afew minutes and provides a local inflammatory response. It also initiates a number of other steps in the immune defense. These include the activation of the complement system, a system consisting of many proteins, which in turn have different tasks, phagocytosis and also a direct reaction to the pathogens.

Somewhat delayed, the specific immune system becomes active - a process that starts within a few hours but takes days to make the specific defense fully operational. In this process, precisely fitting molecules (e.g., antibodies) are produced, which are directed at recognizing and destroying the pathogen. The pathogens are then destroyed by the T-killer cells. If this step does not work, the T helper cells jump to the side in a supportive manner.

In lockstep, the body builds up the so-called "immunological memory". This consists of memory cells and specific antibodies. The immunological memory can last for a long time, sometimes even for life, and ensures that the same pathogen can be fought much faster and more specifically the next time it tries to colonize the body. This is quite plausible because the cells that would normally take days to produce already exist in the blood and "ambush" the specific pathogen.

Virus defense immune

So how can you support your immune system?

Basically, we can hardly avoid colds and other infections completely. However, with a well-functioning immune system, you can influence the course of the disease and prepare yourself well for the colder season and a possible cold.

For a boost to your immune system, we've rounded up a few tips:

Vitamins

Interestingly, the number of studies and scientific articles on the interaction between vitamins and the immune system increased dramatically during the Covid pandemic. We often read about vitamin D, but vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin E are also mentioned.

The supportive effect of vitamin D has been scientifically proven in studies conducted on respiratory infections. Here in particular, the Covid 19 pandemic brought a lot of momentum into the study landscape. There is also evidence for vitamins A, C and E, although the studies are not quite as clear-cut. These vitamins seem to be involved in viral infections and colds in particular.

Is support with nutritional supplements worthwhile here? As soon as there is a deficiency, definitely. Especially in the case of vitamin D, it is very easy to help with bioavailable drops.

Minerals

Minerals such as magnesium, iron, selenium and zinc play an important role in a well-functioning immune system. They can be found in some foods and can also be supplemented in suitable quantities. Make sure they are highly bioavailable!

What can the respective molecules do? Zinc has an antioxidant function in the human body. Iron deficiency disrupts antibody production. Selenium protects cells and, like zinc, has an antioxidant function. A magnesium deficiency leads to more inflammation and a weakened immune response. Magnesium is also important for the vitamin D balance.

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Balanced diet

Again and again, the balanced diet comes up. With a wide range of vegetables and fruits, the body can absorb a whole lot of important vitamins and minerals.

Green vegetables such as kale and spinach are rich in vitamins C, E and B2 - as well as folic acid, vitamin K, calcium and iron. Lentils and other legumes provide magnesium, potassium and iron.

Wash hands

It sounds banal, but it is extremely effective. This way, your immune system doesn't even have to deal with some pathogens. In addition, you interrupt a possible chain of infection and protect the people around you.

Drink enough

Sufficient drinking quantity is equally important. The mucous membranes cannot develop their full function in a dehydrated state. This is because certain substances in saliva and tear fluid eliminate some pathogens before they enter the body. Especially in winter, our mucous membranes tend to be a little drier from the heating air. Here you can help with the sufficient amount of liquid. Your body will thank you in many ways. Drink at least 2 liters a day or even more if you do sports.

Sauna

If you are not already a self-confessed sauna lover, you can think about spending a relaxing day in the sauna in the future. Saunas, in addition to many positive effects on the cardiovascular system, also provide an improved immune system. For example, in one study, the incidence of a cold was reduced by half.

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Movement

As you will have already noticed in our blog articles, exercise is a tried and tested means of promoting health in almost every situation in life. In addition to a good mood, resilience, stamina and good circulatory function, your immune system also benefits from exercise. It produces more white blood cells. If you don't want to do extra sport, you can easily integrate it into your everyday life. Choose to cycle in the morning and leave the car behind, take the stairs instead of the elevator or simply go for a regular walk and enjoy the beautiful autumn colors.

Stress Relief

Admittedly, this is a very individual topic, but some principles are quite universal. Stress is not only a burden on your psyche, but also on your body and on top of that on your immune system. The German Federal Ministry of Health recommends reducing stress to support your immune system. Try targeted time-outs in which you can concentrate on your breathing. There are now many useful apps for this that you can simply install on your smartphone. Other forms of meditation such as Pilates or yoga can also reduce your stress levels.

Sleep

Sleep is essential for your body. Sleep is irreplaceable for good regeneration, stress reduction and the production of immune cells. We have written a blog post on the topic of sleep, where you can find lots more information on the subject.

Smoking cessation

Smoking disrupts the natural function of the respiratory tract to rid itself of pathogens. Thus, a first defense mechanism of the body is switched off and pathogens multiply in the body that otherwise would not have entered in the first place.

Stay young

Immune system function, like so many things, declines with age. By maintaining a healthy lifestyle and following our longevity tips, you can keep your immune system going longer.

Sleep recreation regeneration
Sufficient and restful sleep is irreplaceable for a functioning immune system.

What are problems that occur with a poor immune system?

It is obvious: if the immune system is weakened or lacks essential nutrients, pathogens have a much easier time colonizing the body. Since the immune system is serial in many respects, even the disruption of one process is enough to weaken the entire system. It is perfectly normal to reach for the handkerchief more often during the cold season, or to spend a day or two in bed. However, if you take good care of and support your immune system all year round, the likelihood of more severe courses of disease is significantly reduced.

Is it worth all the effort?

Definitely! Not only your immune system will be strengthened, but also your health and well-being. Your resilience against diseases will improve and in all likelihood, you will march through the cold season much fitter and fresher. Many of the tips are very easy to implement and do not require much extra effort. Ultimately, you'll also gain time, because being sick in bed doesn't do anyone any good, of course.

Literature:

  • Hadizadeh F. Supplementation with vitamin D in the COVID-19 pandemic? Nutr Rev. 2021 Jan 9;79(2):200-208. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuaa081. PMID: 32679589; PMCID: PMC7454793.
  • Hof, Dörries: Dual Series Medical Microbiology
  • Parkin J, Cohen B. An overview of the immune system. Lancet. 2001 Jun 2;357(9270):1777-89. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(00)04904-7. PMID: 11403834.
  • Shakoor H, Feehan J, Al Dhaheri AS, Ali HI, Platat C, Ismail LC, Apostolopoulos V, Stojanovska L. Immune-boosting role of vitamins D, C, E, zinc, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids: Could they help against COVID-19? Maturitas. 2021 Jan;143:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2020.08.003. epub 2020 Aug 9. PMID: 33308613; PMCID: PMC7415215.
  • https://gesund.bund.de/gesunde-ernaehrung
  • https://www.bzfe.de/ernaehrung/ernaehrungswissen/gesundheit/das-immunsystem-staerken/
  • Laukkanen JA, Laukkanen T, Kunutsor SK. Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence. Mayo Clin Proc. 2018 Aug;93(8):1111-1121. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2018.04.008. PMID: 30077204.
  • Federal Ministry of Health: Guide to prevention and health promotion

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