At a time like this, taking every precaution to stay healthy is imperative. Strengthening your immune system can help prepare your body to fight off sickness. But what exactly does the immune system do, and what steps can you take to help it perform properly? Learn more about your body’s process of protecting from sickness and discover how to boost your immune system naturally below.
What Does the Immune System Do?
The immune system is designed to detect and destroy foreign invaders inside the body like bacteria and viruses. When working optimally, the immune system can prevent sickness when we’re exposed to germs. Several factors like sleep, diet, stress and hygiene can affect the immune system’s performance, and any offsets in these behaviors can decrease immune function. Our bodies have two immune subsystems: innate, which fights harmful substances and germs that enter the body, and adaptive, which fights certain germs that the body has previously come into contact with.
The adaptive immune system can be activated by things the body doesn’t recognize as its own, called antigens. These are called antigens. When these antigens attach to special receptors on the immune cells (immune system cells), a series of processes is triggered in the body. Once the body has come into contact with a disease-causing germ for the first time, it usually stores information about the germ and how to fight it through antibodies. Then, if it comes into contact with the germ again, it recognizes the germ straight away and can start fighting it faster. Because the adaptive immune system is constantly learning and adapting, the body can also fight bacteria or viruses that change over time.
What Affects the Immune System
As we age, our immune response capability becomes reduced, which in turn contributes to more infections and more cancer. As life expectancy in developed countries has increased, so too has the incidence of age-related conditions. While some people age healthily, the conclusion of many studies is that, compared with younger people, the elderly are more likely to contract infectious diseases. This is likely due to the thymus atrophying with age and producing fewer T cells to fight off infection
Your first line of defense is to choose a healthy lifestyle. Following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward naturally keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from harmful environmental factors and bolstered by healthy-living strategies such as eating a healthy diet, not smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, exercising, getting an adequate amount of sleep, and taking general steps to avoid infection.
Increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, makes it difficult for the immune system to function properly. The American Psychological Association reports that 75% of Americans experience moderate to high levels of stress. In addition to the direct impact of stress on immune function, unmanaged stress can influence our sleep patterns, our mood, our dietary intake and our physical activity levels. All of these factors are associated with immune system function.
How to Improve Your Immune System Naturally
Infrared saunas have many health benefits that play in to helping boost your immune system naturally, including:
- Increasing White Blood Cell Production: The heat generated by an infrared sauna stimulates energy at a cellular level which, in turn, increases the body’s production of white blood cells. These cells form a component of your blood and act as your immune system’s first line of defense when infection strikes. When a harmful substance enters your body, white blood cells detect it and control the immune system’s response.
- Creating an Artificial Fever: Fevers help your body to fight off infection by allowing certain immune cells to work more efficiently and effectively, and increased temperatures trigger the body’s immune system response. Hyperthermia, or the exposure of the body to high temperatures, gives these cells the ability to destroy virus-infected cells and tumor cells.
- Releasing Impurities: When your body does not sweat enough, it holds onto potentially harmful toxins, chemicals, and impurities that were meant to be eliminated through sweat. A typical 20-minute session in an infrared sauna allows your body to flush out these impurities from the inside out so your immune system has less to fight off.
- Reducing Stress: Since high stress levels often result in a weakened immune system and, as a result, illness, reducing your stress levels is crucial when it comes to maintaining a healthy body. Regular use of an infrared sauna balances cortisol levels and relaxes the body and mind. This allows your immune system to work efficiently, without the hindrance of high cortisol levels.
- Improving Blood Circulation: The deeply penetrating heat of an infrared sauna promotes blood circulation throughout your entire body, providing oxygen-rich nutrients to your extremities. The increase in circulation pumps the blood towards the outside surface of your body, taking with it any bacteria or other illness-causing substances.
Like any fighting force, the immune system army marches on its stomach. Healthy immune system warriors need good, regular nourishment. Scientists have long recognized that people who are malnourished are more vulnerable to infectious diseases. Whether the increased rate of disease is caused by malnutrition’s effect on the immune system, however, is not certain. There are still relatively few studies of the effects of nutrition on the immune system of humans.
There is some evidence that various micronutrient deficiencies — for example, deficiencies of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E — alter immune responses in animals. While there is no one magical natural immune system booster, supplying your body with the necessary nutrients and vitamins can help set it up for success when it needs to fight something off.
Regular exercise is one of the pillars of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. Exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. It may contribute even more directly by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.
Ongoing stress makes us susceptible to illness and disease because the brain sends defense signals to the endocrine system, which then releases an array of hormones that not only gets us ready for emergency situations but severely decreases our immunity at the same time. Try things such as relaxation exercises, positive thinking, behavior modification, meditation, and finding social support to help reduce stress.
Your immune system is an incredibly powerful and useful system in your body that helps it fight disease and learn how to protect from future illness. Luckily, the most effective way to boost the immune system naturally is through a generally healthy lifestyle. There are no miracle pills to take or special treatments to do, just steps you can take to help support your body in being strong and able to fight off what comes its way.