ELEMENTS AFFECTING THE IMMUNITY OF OUR BODY
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The immune system of a human body basically consists of specific cells, organs, and chemicals working together against harmful stimuli in the form of toxins. Having a healthy immunity is vital for our survival in this toxic environment around us. As long as our immune system works evenly, we might not notice if it is working. But once it is unable to fight back the unrecognized germs, we fall ill.
As newborns, we rely on mother's milk for immunity as our immune system is immature for the first few months, and it gradually strengthens on the way encountering bacteria and viruses in the environment. Our lymphatic system summons and houses this protective army that includes:
- Lymph Glands
- Lymph tissues in the Gut
- Lymph Vessels
The lymphatic system filters the blood against the microbes and trains the immune cells to prepare for release into the bloodstream.
Now when it comes to encountering foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses or other microbial germs, optimally, our immune system detects them and prevents any illness. Recent studies suggest that we are all not equipped in the same manner when dealing with microbes. Although, several factors impede our immune system and disrupt its performance, like hygiene, age, genetics, diet, physical stress, and so on.
Our body also produces specific proteins called cytokines only during sleep to assist our immune system by regulating immune responses to inflammation and infections. We must try to sleep for a minimum of 7 hours as recommended for adults.
Sometimes we tend to overestimate our hygiene. Studies have been conducted to estimate the percentage of people washing their hands after using public restrooms, suggesting that only 67% of people wash their hands. It doesn't mean that all the 67% are washing as per the recommendations of Centers for Disease Control, i.e., scrubbing for 15 seconds with soap. It is also essential to take a regular bath to wash away the germs.
A wide variety of morbidities are related to emotional stress, including heart disease, hives, migraines, and even stomach issues. Science has been successfully able to study the relationship of the mind with the body.
Stress and anxiety are the two challenges that are plaguing our immune system. Many factors lead to stress, including workload, household responsibilities, relationship issues, studies, or mere anxious thoughts. High levels of cortisol (stress hormone) disrupt the functions of the immune system and influence our moods, circadian rhythm, diet, and physical activity. All these constituents are interconnected.
We know how important healthy food is for maintaining the body's normal functions. Whenever we turn to read about health, every article we come across is boasting the significance of including vegetables and fruits in our diet. Researchers suggest that vitamins C, A, E, B6, and B12 and certain minerals like zinc and iron help regulate proper immune function.
Vitamin D also boosts immunity and helps build strong bones. Low levels of Vit D frazzle our body depriving our healthy blood cells of a vital ingredient. Plant-based food provides enough fiber to lower the fats content in the body, which in succession improves immune function. Oils or a high-fat diet, on the other hand, can hinder germ-combating leukocytes or White blood cells (WBCs) and disturb the balance of bacteria in our Gut, which can help immune responses. Excessive use of sugar also decreases the ability of WBCs to destroy pathogenic substances creating a greater negative impact.
Fungal infections are comparatively more common among people with weak immunity. There are specific conditions when we have to take medications with side effects that might weaken our immune system, and we get prone to these fungal infections. Mainly corticosteroids and TNF inhibitors, which treat allergies, lupus, arthritis, Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS), or an organ transplant, weaken the immune functions making us susceptible to another disease.
Smoking, Alcohol, and Drugs
Drugs suppress the functions of the immune system leading to lung infections and inflammation. It causes breathing issues leading to severe coughing up colored mucus called phlegm.
Smoking from pot also inflames your lungs. Similarly, inhaling chemicals in e-liquids seems to suppress your immune system, particularly taken through the vaping process. Smoking has a major impact on our blood cell composition, affecting 35% of the population.
If you overdose on the alcohol once, your body's germ-fighting mechanism fails to work properly for at least 24 hours. The body's ability to repair itself slowly diminishes, leading to diseases like tuberculosis, pneumonia, liver disease, or in worst cases, cancer.
Our immune response becomes slow as we age, and our capability to fight invading pathogens is diminished. Many recent studies have found that older people are more likely to contract infectious diseases and more presumably die from them. Respiratory infections like Covid-19 and influenza are among the leading causes of death in the elderly (aged 65 or more) worldwide. Some scientists believe that this could be due to the thymus (two lobes that combine in front of the trachea) creating fewer T-cells to combat infections. In contrast, some scientists also believe that it's the bone marrow that produces fewer stem cells due to inefficiency over time. There also appears to be a close bonding between nutrition and immunity in older adults. Older people tend to eat less, which means they are taking fewer nutrients to provide them with the required strength to fight foreign stimuli.
Researchers are studying to find out how physical activities like regular exercise and brisk walks help in boosting the immune system. While we know that it helps improve cardiovascular health, balances body weight, and lowers blood pressure, physical activity also regulates our blood flow and ensures an effective lymphatic system relying on muscle contraction.
Being inactive at home or after work, leads to added anxiety and lethargy. Moderate exercise lifts up the mood producing more endorphins influencing major immune functions such as lymphocyte proliferation and antibody synthesis.
The immune system requires balance and harmony to function appropriately. There will always be challenging situations in front of us, but we need to be vigilant to fight them because health comes above everything. If you have a healthy immunity, you have a secure guarding mechanism against pathogens. The idea of augmenting your immunity is enticing yet proven elusive for many reasons. Research studies are still being conducted to explore the effects of different factors on the immune response. Let's stay connected, healthy, and happy.
As we enter the new year, countries around the world are preparing to start mass vaccination in an effort to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Multiple vaccine candidates have been approved by different health authorities worldwide, and some countries have already started vaccinating their citizens.
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