Maintaining Your Immune System

Many adults understand the importance of controlling their weight, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. But many overlook the essential nature of keeping the immune system healthy.

The immune system functions to prevent infectious microorganisms, such as certain bacteria, viruses, and fungi, from invading the body. And it also works to destroy these microorganisms that manage to enter the body. Acting as the body’s main defense system, the immune system involves such organs as the adenoids, tonsils, spleen and thymus, as well as many types of cells, proteins and tissues. Also important to effective function are blood vessels and lymphatic vessels, which transport lymphocytes to distribute them in various parts of the body. Lyphocytes are a particular type of white blood cells that fight infection. They are essential to proper immune system function. Different lymphocytes fight infection in various ways although their protective function remains the same.

Antigens, in the form of microbes such as bacteria or parasites, enter the body, triggering the immune system. When antigens enter the body, the first line of defense is the dispersal of special leukocytes, also known as white blood cells. They identify the antigen in order to prompt the proper response. Once the antigen is identified, special antibodies are created, sending signals to the rest of the immune system. Other cells may also help to eliminate the antigen.

When the immune system fails to function correctly, the body is susceptible to a number of diseases. Immunodeficiencies result from a number of causes, including age, obesity and alcoholism. Allergies are considered immune system disorders, as are autoimmune diseases such as anemia and rheumatoid arthritis.

Individuals’ immune systems are all different, but typically they become more robust through adulthood because exposure over time to more pathogens, or disease-producing agents, increases immunity. As we age, the ability of our immune response diminishes, which then contributes to susceptibility to more infections and even cancer. Studies appear to indicate a link between nutrition and immunity in older adults. With the tendency to eat less and sometimes lacking variety in diets, adults may develop weakened immune systems.

Strategies exist to boost your immune system but there’s not a simple solution because the target is a system rather than a single entity. Although research has failed to provide answers to many questions surrounding the immune system’s relationship to lifestyle and environment, there are recommendations on choices likely to boost your immunity. Researchers from Harvard Medical School suggest stopping smoking; eating a diet that includes plentiful fruits and vegetables, getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing stressors, drinking in moderation, and adopting practices aimed at good hygiene, such as washing hands often. Foods rich in vitamin C, B6, and E can also help to enhance immunity.

Your health care provider can offer recommendations on ways specific to you that can boost your immunity. If you have concerns about your immune status or preventing disease, be sure to discuss them with your provider.

Author
Ithaca Primary Care

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