Instruction manual to take care of the immune system

One of the components of the organism that we are interested in keeping in a perfect state of review is the immune system. Consuming citrus fruits, hydrating ourselves properly, sleeping the necessary hours and practicing physical exercise help to get it ready

Elizabeth Cortegano

ISABEL CORTEGAN Researcher, Carlos III Health Institute

"Read the instructions before you start using it."

Who has not noticed this phrase when opening the packaging of a new device? Sometimes we pay attention and others –too many, perhaps– we ignore the recommendation and start using the device intuitively, sometimes paying dearly for the consequences of that audacity.

What we all agree on is how great it would be if humans were also born with an instruction book. In fact, we scientists devote ourselves largely to deciphering how each cell, each organ, each system and each human apparatus works in order to write our own “manual”.

Understanding how everything works within us has many advantages, although the main one is that it allows us to take care of ourselves and lead a healthy life. This applies to all stages of life, but especially to childhood and old age. Childhood, as it is the best age to acquire good habits. And old age, because it is a very vulnerable stage in terms of health.

Immune system on point

One of the components of the organism that we are interested in keeping in "perfect state of review" is the immune system. It is a complex system, made up of many different types of cells that act in coordination with each other. To further complicate matters, these cells are found in different parts of our body.

When we are attacked by a pathogen, or an unforeseen alteration occurs, the cells of the immune system start up and organize the response to eliminate the agent responsible for the damage.

How can we help this gear to be well oiled? Here are some tips that help the immune system work effectively.

1. Adequate hydration

70% of our body weight is water. It is an essential component for the proper functioning of our body, of all organs in general.

In the specific case of the immune system, several factors are combined. On the one hand, water is essential for the correct circulation of the components of the immune system and the nutrients they need to function. On the other hand, it has been shown that states of low hydration make us more vulnerable to germs. Without going any further, in the specific case of covid-19, there are studies that show that with poorly hydrated cells weeks before exposure to the virus, changes occur in lung cells that favor infection.

2. Healthy and balanced diet, with little salt

The diet should be varied, eat everything in its proper measure. The consumption of legumes, vegetables and fruits, especially citrus fruits, is very important to take care of the immune system. Going further, regular consumption of orange juice has been shown to reduce inflammation.

In addition, there is evidence that both excessive salt intake and a high-fat diet weaken the immune system.

On the contrary, this is reinforced if our diet is rich in zinc, selenium and vitamins C, D or E.

It has also been shown that there is a close relationship between diet, the intestinal microbiota and the correct functioning of the immune system.

3. Restful sleep

Getting enough sleep is essential for good health. However, sleep problems are the order of the day in today's society. Among other things because anxiety and the permanent rush affect the ability to sleep in the way that both our body and our immune system need.

As if that were not enough, sleeping the necessary hours (from 7 to 8 hours) influences the correct functioning of the circadian rhythm (periods of light and darkness) and with it the action of some hormones such as melatonin, which in turn is very Important for the function of white blood cells, essential cells of the immune system.

4. Physical activity

Neither age, nor physical condition, nor even lack of time can serve as an excuse to stop exercising. According to the WHO, 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week is enough to have iron health.

With regard to defenses, the practice of exercise is related to the release of certain beneficial endorphins for the immune system, which mobilize immune cells and keep inflammation at bay. In addition, it has recently been discovered that movement stimulates the production of both bone cells and cells of the immune system.

5. Hygiene

It goes without saying that hygiene is another fundamental measure, starting with that of the hands (in focus since the pandemic) and oral health. Just as important as washing thoroughly is drying, otherwise the skin stays damp and encourages the growth of fungi and other microbes.

From the point of view of the immune system, the debate revolves around whether excessive hygiene in the first years of life is counterproductive by preventing the optimal functioning of the immune system for its maturation, thus increasing the appearance of autoimmune diseases and allergies.

6. Vaccination

In a way, vaccination can be defined as the "learning" to which we subject the cells of the immune system so that they are prepared when an infection arrives and know how to deal with it. This is particularly important in infections that can cause serious illness.

Vaccination is more frequent in childhood, because in this period our immune system is more immature and needs to learn. But it is also very important in the elderly or vulnerable. Age is a fundamental factor in the functioning of our immune system.

7. Optimism and nature

The WHO global health concept includes the importance of mental and emotional health for the physical health of our body. Therefore, it is also an important point to keep in mind. While the cortisol we release in stressful situations muzzles the immune system, there's evidence that being in a good mood boosts it. Sometimes it is enough to take a walk in nature or listen to music that puts us in a good mood to strengthen our defenses.

8. Goodbye to harmful habits

Finally, we must also avoid bad habits that damage our health. Alcohol abuse is demonstrably harmful. On the other hand, there is evidence that smokers have more infections and are more serious.

How can we know if we are taking proper care of our immune system? A negative indicator can be the appearance of infections continuously. In this case we must review the points described above and try to improve our habits.

And if the problem persists, it is always best to consult our doctor for a more detailed study and follow his recommendations.

This article has been published in The Conversation

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