Flu Fighting – understanding your immune system

As the weather gets colder we’re just getting warmed up on our pet subject this month – fighting flu and boosting your immune system.  But do you really know what your immune system is made up of?  It’s a complex system with lots of different cells and chemicals doing a range of jobs from physically keeping bacterial baddies out of your body, to letting the rest of your body know when something nasty has invaded, to killing off those invaders as quickly as possible.

Here’s our quick tour of your immune system, along with some tips to keep it healthy.

Your immune system divides up into two parts – innate (non-specific) and adaptive (specific).  The innate immune system comprises all the parts you’re born with, or develop regardless of what kind of bacteria, viruses or other nasties you’re exposed to.  It includes things you might not expect to be part of your immune system like your skin, and the mucous membranes that line your mouth, nose and gut.  These form a physical barrier and though you might not be aware of it there are anti-bacterial/viral chemicals being produced at these barriers too.  Inside your body your immune system army has a number of different cells that help protect you too.  Some of these have great names like natural killer (NK) cells and macrophages.  These cells act in a number of different ways, for example macrophages literally eat up invaders and NK cells contain deadly granules that they release when they get close to a foreign cell to destroy it.

The innate immune system is a first line of defence, acting to deter invaders and to deal with them quickly regardless of who or what they are.  The same type of response is launched for a range of different undesirables.

In contrast the adaptive (or specific) immune system determines its response based on the type of bacteria, virus or other invader it comes across.  Put simply, this means different cells will respond depending on whether the invader they come across in the blood stream is a flu virus, chicken pox infection or meningitis.  The adaptive system can take a bit longer to get working than the innate.  Its cells needs to go through a chain reaction of identifying the invader, activating the cells that can produce antibodies against that specific invader, and then producing the antibodies which attach to the invader marking it out for destruction.

So how do you maximise your chances of stopping those nasties getting into your body in the first place, and making sure if any do sneak through your adaptive immune system is ready and waiting to attack?

1.  Keep those mucous membranes healthy

This means making sure your gut bacteria are well fed with plenty of dietary fibre from fruits and vegetables, and not impaired by refined sugars, alcohol and caffeine.  You also need to have enough protein in your diet as this is vital for cell growth and repair – make sure you have a source of protein like meat, dairy products, pulses, nuts and seeds with every meal and snack (you’ll find lots of nuts and seeds in the healthy snacks delivered in a Nutribox).

2.  Feed your immune cells

Like any other cells in your body immune system cells need a range of nutrients to help them operate at their best.  This includes minerals like zinc and also B and D vitamins.  Eating a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds and meats (for the non-vegetarians) helps supply this important nutrition.  Buy one new vegetable or try one new recipe every week to keep variety going

3.  Understand the stress factor

Even with the best diet in the world your immune system will struggle to work effectively if you’re stressed because the chemicals you produce can suppress immune function.  Take time for relaxation every day, make sure you get enough sleep (many of your immune cells regenerate overnight and need peace and quiet to get on with the job!) and don’t let stress take your immune system down.

If you want to try a Nutribox to help boost your immune defences this winter click here 

Image source – http://kellerac.deviantart.com

  • Ann White
  • 11 Nov 2013

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