The immune system is the body's line of defence against infectious organisms. It protects the body from substances that pose a threat to its physical health. An individual with a healthy immune system stands a better chance of fighting off infections (bacteria, fungus, virus, parasites), cancer and foreign substances.
How does the immune system work?
The immune system is highly complex and involves several organs and cells. The first line of defence consists of physical barriers such as the skin and the mucous membranes. Another key component is the bone marrow where immune cells, known as leukocytes (or white blood cells), are produced.
When the body fights certain viruses and microbes, it has the ability to "remember" invading foreign substances. This remarkable feature allows the body to mount a better immune response the next time any of these substances enter the body. It is the white blood cells, also known as B lymphocytes, that produce antibodies and have the ability to recognize and remember invading substances it has fought in the past. The action of these cells occurs mainly in the spleen and lymph nodes.
The mechanism of action in vaccinations uses immune memory: a small amount of weak or dead virus or bacteria is administered so the body can build up immunity in preparation for any future encounter.
What can affect the immune system?
Malnutrition is the most common cause of immunodeficiency. The elderly and people with certain medical conditions such as chronic and severe diseases (diabetes, lung disease, cardiovascular or kidney disease, cancer, HIV, etc.) also have weakened immune systems.
Certain medications, such as chemotherapy, for example, can also weaken the immune system.
How can I tell if my immune system is weak?
Certain symptoms may be indicative of a weakened immune system:
- Chronic fatigue due to lack of sleep
- Poor or slow healing sounds
- Propensity to developing infections
What can I do to strengthen my immune system?
- Eat a wide range of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables
- Practice good sleep hygiene
- Be physically active
- Avoid smoking
- Avoid stress
Can natural health products boost the immune system?
Although several natural health products claim to boost the immune system, studies have not yet produced any concrete and conclusive findings.
For more information, do not hesitate to speak to your pharmacist.