Immune System: How does it protect you and strategies to strengthen it
Did you know how does the body protect you from getting sick? The answer is the immune system!
Our immune system plays an important role in keeping germs out of our bodies and protect us from diseases. Without it, we can easily fall sick.
What happens when germs invade your body?
Our immune system is made of many types of organs and cells specialised in fighting germs. There are three lines of defence within the immune system that are vital to protect our body from infections.
The first line of the defence comprises the skin, mucus layer, saliva, tears, and sweat. The skin act as a barrier against germs and prevents them from entering the body. The mucus layer produces mucus which helps to trap germs and, saliva, tears, sweat contain a type of chemical called lysozyme, which kills germs. (1-3)
The second line of the defence comprises a group of white blood cells that specialize in detecting and destroying pathogens. When a pathogen is detected, other white blood cells are alerted of the pathogen’s presence and an inflammatory response is activated. This causes fever, swelling, redness, and pain. These responses are important to destroy the pathogens and prevent them from reproducing. (1-3)
The third line of defence is activated to train other immune cells to recognized and attack the pathogen. Some immune cells are trained to remember and prepare for the next attack by the same pathogen. These are called memory cells. Besides that, antibodies are also produced and this helps in the elimination of the pathogens. (1-3)
What can we do to strengthen our immune system?
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables every day for a strong immune system. Fruits and vegetables contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals which are needed by our immune system to function well.
- Balance, variety, and moderation
Eat a balanced diet and vary your food choices in your meals for adequate vitamin and minerals intake. A simple way to achieve this is to follow the Malaysian Healthy Plate Method:
- Fill 1/2 of your plate with fruits and vegetables
- 1/4 of your plate with whole grains such as brown rice or whole-grain bread
- The remaining 1/4 with healthy protein sources such as lean meat, eggs, legumes or tofu
Source: Kementerian Kesihatan Malaysia
- Drink plenty of water everyday
Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water daily. Staying hydrated is important for your
immune system as water helps in transporting nutrients. (4)
- Get enough sleep
Getting 7 to 8 hours of sleeping time helps in strengthening your immune system. Lacking sleep affects our immune system, leading to decreased production of antibodies. (5)
- Avoid smoking and alcohol
Smoking and drinking alcohol can cause vitamin C deficiency and a weakened immune system (6,7)
- Be physically active everyday
Be active everyday in as many ways as you can and exercise for at least 30 minutes daily. Exercising helps to improve your immune system as it helps to reduce inflammation in the body and maintain immune cells. (8)
Other Immunity Boosters
- Vitamin C
A powerful antioxidant and one of the essential nutrients for a healthy immune system. It helps to strengthen immunity by stimulating the production of antibodies. (9,10)
- Vitamin D3
Commonly known as the ‘sunshine’ vitamin. Besides being beneficial for bone health, it is also linked to immune system health. Vitamin D3 helps to regulate immune response and the activation of T-cells, which is another type of white blood cell. (9,11)
A type of mineral essential to keep the immune system strong. It helps to fight infection and may prevent pathogens from replicating. (9,12)
A natural complex carbohydrate that helps to strengthen the immune system. It may protect you against colds and reduce symptoms.
A natural antibiotic and one of the richest sources of bioflavonoids and antioxidants. It has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. (13)
A type of herb which helps support immune health and may reduce the duration and symptom severity of flu and common colds. It helps to stimulate the production of white blood cells. (14)
- How does the immune system work? [Internet]. NCBI. 2020 [cited 17September 2021]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279364/
- Immune system explained – Better Health Channel [Internet]. Betterhealth.vic.gov.au. [cited 17September 2021]. Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/immune-system
- Macdonald K. The Immune Response [Internet]. Let’s Talk Science. 2019 [cited 17September 2021]. Available from: https://letstalkscience.ca/educational-resources/stem-in-context/immune-response
- Popkin B, D’Anci K, Rosenberg I. Water, hydration, and health. Nutrition Reviews. 2010;68(8):439-458.
- Ganz F. Sleep and Immune Function. Critical Care Nurse. 2012;32(2):e19-e25.
- Ueta E. The Effect of Cigarette Smoke Exposure and Ascorbic Acid Intake on Gene Expression of Antioxidant Enzymes and Other Related Enzymes in the Livers and Lungs of Shionogi Rats with Osteogenic Disorders. Toxicological Sciences. 2003;73(2):339-347.
- Marik P, Liggett A. Adding an orange to the banana bag: vitamin C deficiency is common in alcohol use disorders. Critical Care. 2019;23(1).
- da Silveira M, da Silva Fagundes K, Bizuti M, Starck É, Rossi R, de Resende e Silva D. Physical exercise as a tool to help the immune system against COVID-19: an integrative review of the current literature. Clinical and Experimental Medicine. 2020;21(1):15-28.
- Recommended Nutrient Intakes Malaysia 2017.Putrajaya: National Coordinating Committee on Food and Nutrition, Ministry of Health Malaysia; 2017.
- Carr A. C., Maggini S. Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017;9:1211.
- Aranow C. Vitamin D and the immune system. J Investig Med. 2011;59(6):881-6.
- Wessels I, Maywald M, Rink L. Zinc as a gatekeeper of immune function. Nutrients. 2017;9:1286
- Tao Y, Wang D, Hu Y, Huang Y, Yu Y, et al. The immunological enhancement activity of propolis flavonoids liposome in vitro and in vivo. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:483513
- Karsch-Volk M., Barrett B, Kiefer D, Bauer R, Ardjomand-Woelkart K, Linde K. Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst. Rev. 2014;2.