Strengthen your Defenses and the Immune System
Published: 15 June, 2015 - Updated: 27 October, 2022 | 4'
Food plays an important role in the development and preservation of the immune system. It is essential to have a balanced and adequate diet so that the immune system’s ability to act is optimal and it can efficiently fight not only infections, but also good immune function has an impact on important functions such as mental health and hormone regulation.
In short, being well nourished helps our health and the processes that take place in our body.
Do you want to boost your immune system? Take care of your diet
From a nutritional standpoint, a healthy immune system is absolutely critical to good health. An inadequate diet can affect the state of our defenses since our organism obtains the essential substances for the correct functioning of the immune system through food.
The World Health Organization states that “nutrition is one of the pillars of health and development. Improving nutrition involves promoting the health of children, mothers, youths and adults; strengthening our immune system; reducing complications during pregnancy and childbirth; reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases (such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease); and prolonging life”.
The relationship between a person’s nutritional status and their resistance to infection has been a known fact since 1846, when it was established that malnourished children had a dysfunction of lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) with the consequent deterioration of an immune system that could not defend the body from attack by pathogens.
What is the immune system and how does it work?
The immune system is a complex defense network of our body, comprising tissues, cells and organs, against potentially pathogenic external agents (viruses, bacteria, fungi, pollen, chemicals, etc.). These external aggressors will be recognized and eliminated by the immune system through an organized sequence of reactions or defense mechanisms.
In general, the defense mechanisms or immune response can be nonspecific and specific:
- The non-specific immune response is the first line of defense and is important in the fight against infection. It is composed of natural barriers, such as skin, mucous membranes, saliva enzymes, tears and nasal secretions, that have the capacity to prevent or break the integrity of viruses, bacteria or others.
- The specific or acquired immune response is only developed when there is a previous exposure to the foreign agent (antigens) and in it participates primarily lymphocytes (white blood cells) and the substances released by them, antibodies and cytokines.
The main function of the immune system is therefore to defend us against infections, but it does so in an integrated way, anatomically and functionally, with the nervous system and the endocrine system. A striking example of this integration between the three systems is the proven fact that situations of anxiety, depression and emotional stress are often accompanied by a greater susceptibility to infections and other diseases.
What factors weaken the immune system?
The main factors that can affect our defenses or ‘weaken’ them are poor diet, seasonal changes, consumption of certain medications such as antibiotics, or some chronic diseases.
Lifestyle habits also have a major influence on the well-being of the immune system, such as prolonged stress or anxiety, lack of physical activity, or the use of alcohol and tobacco.
There are some signs or symptoms that may indicate that the body’s defenses are low and it is important to pay attention to them:
- Excessive tiredness
- Weak hair or excessive hair loss
- Recurring infections such as herpes
- Frequently dry eyes
- Simple illnesses that take longer than usual to get better such as the flu
- Wounds that take too long to heal
That’s why taking care of your nutrition throughout the year is essential to avoid a marked or prolonged weakening of your defenses.
What does the immune system need to maintain a good functional status?
Food as a whole and the nutrients that make it up play a key role in the proper development and maintenance of the immune system. The role of some nutrients will be discussed in detail later on.
Therefore, the nutrients that are incorporated into your body through your diet influence the activity and condition of your immune system and this is called immunonutrition. Nutrients have immunomodulatory properties, that is, their presence and availability is key to normal immune activity, mainly due to two aspects:
- For the production of new immune elements for the proper development of immune responses (e.g. amino acids are necessary for the production of proteins during the acute phase of the defense system), and
- for its use in the phenomena of production of new immune cells, to build “an army” that attacks and eliminates the invading pathogen.
In people with certain nutritional deficiencies, the immune response is diminished and in the face of acute and/or chronic inflammation, energy expenditure and nutritional status are altered.
Guidelines to strengthen the immune system and keep your defenses ready
In short, to keep your defense system in good shape, it is advisable to follow some simple guidelines:
- Follow a varied and balanced diet, based on foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals.
- Get at least eight hours of sleep a day and guarantee a good rest.
- Practice physical exercise.
- Maintain a more relaxed pace of life as much as possible, avoiding stressful situations.
- Faced with exceptional situations that can affect the immune system, complement your diet with food supplements.
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