What is an immune system?
The main function of your immune system is to attack pathogenic microorganisms and protect the body from disease. “Microorganism” is a collective noun for bacteria, virus and fungi.
The reason we have an immune system is to protect ourselves from diseases and illness. Usually, this happens without damaging the body, but when someone has an autoimmune diseases, the immune system can attack the body’s own healthy cells and destroy them. This could happen because the cells change character as the immune system attacks everything it perceives as pathogenic.
Your immune system has two main functions:
- To protect your body from pathogenic microorganisms
- To remove damaged and dead cells and tissues
Your skin is part of your external immune system. It keeps foreign bodies away by being impermeable and waterproof. But if you have scratches and wounds, bacteria might penetrate your skin.
With the help of the mucous membranes, containing antibodies and cilia in the throat, lungs and nose, we cough up foreign bodies. Stomach acid reduces the number of microorganisms we ingest through food and drinks, and body fluids like tears, oil from sebaceous glands and saliva contain antibacterial enzymes that can reduce the risk of infections. These are all part of your external immune system.
How to have a good and smart immune system
In addition to having a good immune system, you also need to have a so-called smart immune system. A smart immune system finds the necessary balance to prevent it from attacking the body when cells shift character, known as autoimmune diseases.
Most people have a balanced and good immune system, but from time to time, you can go through a period when your immune system is weakened. There could be several reasons for this, such as a period of sleep deprivation or stress, both of which can negatively affect your immune system.
To avoid getting sick, as a result of a weakened immune system, there are some precautions you could take. Make sure you get enough sleep. Go to bed a little earlier if you know you have an early morning or have trouble sleeping. If you are under stress, you need to take some time to consider what it is that is stressing you out. Is there anything you can do to avoid feeling stress? Ask others for help, if possible.
Both you and your immune system benefit from daily exercise and fresh air, especially during stressful periods. Whether you go to the gym or for a walk outdoors, you have some time to yourself and you get some exercise.
Good (but not too good) hygiene is also a key factor. Many bacteria are actually good for you. Ironically, getting sick could actually help you stay healthy in the future. The immune system also benefits from the odd cold, allowing it to be better prepared next time illness strikes.
What can you eat to improve your immune system?
There are a lot of foods and supplements you can take to boost or maintain your immune system. Focus on produce that contains a lot of antioxidants and vitamins/minerals. Examples are fruits, vegetables, herbs, berries, nuts and spices.
More specific foods that benefit the immune system include oranges, prunes, mackerel, yoghurt, blackcurrants, Brazil nuts, canola oil, dark chocolate and products containing omega-3, such as cod liver oil. The vitamin D found in cod liver oil contributes to maintaining the normal function of your immune system.
What to avoid
There are some things you should avoid if you want a well-functioning immune system. In addition to stress, sleep deprivation and washing your hands too often – smoking may also weaken your immune system considerably. A poor diet with lots of sugar and periods of overexercising can also be contributing factors to ill health.
If you maintain a healthy lifestyle, with a good balance, your immune system will remain strong, helping you to fight off disease and illness.