The Immune System: Your Body’s very own “Avengers”
From birth, humans are continuously exposed to pathogens like viruses and bacteria. Without an effective shield from these harmful agents, the human population would surrender to a state of infectious disease! The immune system is our biological shield against antigens (viruses, bacteria, basically all the nasty microscopic creatures who invade us without our awareness). Without delving too deep into the science, the immune system is made up of different cells that have different abilities to protect your biological function. Think of these special cells as Marvel superheroes where each cell has its unique superpower to create the “Avengers”: your immune system. Even as you read this, there is a battle of good and evil taking place in your body!
From the size of a 0.2 mm dust mite to the smaller 80 nm Ebola virus, it is evident that life-threatening infection can originate from the smallest of all living organisms. Infections spread through the air (flu virus), water (cholera), insect bites (Zika virus, malaria) -the risk is just everywhere. Studies on the anatomy of a sneeze by MIT revealed that there are 20,000 droplets per sneeze! (Bourouiba, 2014).
Jim Hughes a director of the CDC (Centre for Disease Control) says “The world favours the bugs; microbes have the advantage.” Bugs have evolved at rapid rates often to overtake our scientific research efforts against them. Our immune systems have, over time, become our most powerful evolutionary tool. However, with millions of microscopic pathogens (the bad guys) and only a few avengers, the odds are greatly against us. Fortunately, there is plenty we can do to make the odds in our favour. We can support our avengers by adjusting our life choices that revolve around our health and well-being (kind of making us the Nick Fury in this story of avengers). Below is a list of a few things to consider to boost your immune system.
How can you protect your immune system (so it can protect you!)?
- Eat a balanced diet– high in fruits and vegetables. Your immune system is not a single entity- it is made of a large group of cells. Hence eating the good stuff will ensure all the cells are getting what they need to defeat those pesky pathogens!
- Exercise EVERYDAY! Whether it is a 30-minute brisk walk or an hour of dance class, every effort counts in improving your heart health and controlling your body weight. Maintain a healthy weight – Click HERE to check if you are within your BMI range. If you are out of range (even slightly), consider adopting a healthy diet and exercise regime.
- Drink alcohol in moderation and don’t smoke! Too much alcohol doesn’t only dull your motor skills, it weakens your immune system making you vulnerable to viruses like HIV (Coghlan, 2011). Smoking one cigarette can reduce your life span by 12 minutes- didn’t mean to alarm you but if you do smoke consider quitting for a longer life (Brigham, 1998).
- Stress less! High levels of stress can cause terrible things such as depression, anxiety, and even heart disease. It has been proven that chronic stress can lower immune function, increase blood pressure and even cause cancer. Even everyday stress is enough to make your tummy upset. Hence it’s best not to sweat the small stuff. In a study (Simm, 2014) by the Centre for Healthy Aging Research in Oregon, a group of 1,293 men were followed for years. It was found that those who found everyday life over-the-top stressful, were three times more likely to die over the duration of the study than people who managed daily stress effectively.
- Get enough sleep! Adults require 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Consider this: in the first year of university in the UK, you are likely to come across the “Fresher’s Flu.” It sounds like a made-up illness students use to get out of lectures -but having experienced it myself, I can say it is a very legit, miserable experience! It’s a terrible cold that goes around first-year students. The causes? They range from lack of sleep, high alcohol consumption and stress -basically a recipe for disaster making a very sad immune system- enter Fresher’s Flu!
Overall, there is enough evidence to confirm healthy-living strategies promote a strong immune system. Sleep more, stress less, eat more vegetables, drink less booze and leave the rest to your avengers!
By Shradda Vadodaria