5 Tips for Boosting Your Immune System
by Matthew Powell
A Body Aware Specialist
I don’t mean to be contrary, but if you read anything telling you that X, Y or Z is a sure fire way of “boosting” your immune system, then what follows is either a lie or a guess.
That’s not to say that there is malevolence in their text, although in researching this article my visits to health food stores did almost result in me exclaiming, “Charlatans” in some kind of late 19th century fashion, but simply that there seems to be no conclusive, thoroughly tested, scientifically proven direct links between X, Y or Z and “boosted” immune function.
So here’s what we do know, and with these facts we can at least use prudent judgement when buying the products that seem to want to try and offer the secrets to the elixir of life and wellness.
1. Don't get old.
Alas, as we age, our immune system’s ability to respond with vim and vigour to wannabe infectious hosts from the outside and the inflammatory enemies within is compromised. Somewhat comically, this is in large part, due to the immune system losing its memory when coming across old foes.
“Do I know you? You look familiar. No? Well anyway it was nice to meet you, have a lovely day”.
You now have the flu.
2. Eat right.
The way to your immune system’s heart is through your stomach. Malnutrition, be it a lack of food or simply enough quantity without any quality, leaves you wide open to infection and disease. Your 5 (or more) a day are instrumental in this, as would be a multivitamin IF you can guarantee it’s absorption (unfortunately most of the vitamins and supplements out there are full of what they say they are, but they exit the body pretty much untouched). Again however, we are simply fortifying health, not immunity per se.
3. Don't stress the little things.
Stress is hard to quantifiably measure - if two people are stressed, who is the more stressed of the two? However it is accepted that a variety of illnesses and ailments, from skin irritations to heart disease, can be a result of emotional stress.
To separate types of stress and ascertain which was more dangerous, the boffins at Harvard studied the difference in social stress and physical stress. I don’t know why this amuses me, I think it’s the thought of a cartoonesque bully of a mouse, and the fact that this mouse “repeatedly threatened” but never injured the others, but it goes thus:
“Social stress can be even more damaging than physical stress. For example, some mice were put into a cage with a highly aggressive mouse two hours a day for six days and repeatedly threatened, but not injured, by the aggressive mouse — a “social stress.” Other mice were kept in tiny cages without food and water for long periods — a “physical stress.” Both groups of mice were exposed to a bacterial toxin, and the socially stressed animals were twice as likely to die.”
4. Hang out more.
Living in isolation will impair your immune system as studies prove that, when faced with virus or with antigens, less lymphocytes and antibodies are produced than when living in groups or when those affected have support networks or family and friends.
Regular exercise and the resulting improved cardiovascular health, reduced blood pressure, controlled body weight etc. etc. all keeps you fighting fit. Although this all points to improved health (rather than immune system) one’s improved circulation does directly, positively impact upon the system’s ability to fight infection quickly, efficiently and effectively.
Ok, so it might be pedantic, but the point is that to allow your body’s immune system to work to the best of its ability, the body itself must live in a healthy, harmonious state, and that the idea of boosting this immune system is just marketing. Load up on vitamin C by all means, it’s soluble so the excess will be removed, and the vitamin itself is a supporting actor rather than the lead in light.
As one American scientist writes, “The idea of boosting your immunity is enticing, but the ability to do so has proved elusive for several reasons. The immune system is precisely that — a system, not a single entity. To function well, it requires balance and harmony.”
Improving your immune system is therefore less about “boosting” it, but more about not depleting it. The average person produces way more lymphocytes than it needs, so with some sleep, a little exercise, a diet high in good stuff and low in bad stuff, spending time with people you like (with moderate alcohol intake), maintaining the right body weight and blood pressure, getting the occasional check-up for the things others in your family may suffer from, and remembering to wash your hands enough (yes, I mean you sir), you’re giving the body all it needs to stand up to the invading, pillaging foreigners from outside and in.
Oh, and don’t get old or spend time with nasty mice.
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