Have you ever wondered what happens inside your body when you cut a finger or when harmful germs enter into your system? The minute something goes wrong or a foreign cells invades your body, the immune system immediately goes to work.
Think of the immune system as a figurative army complete with soldiers, commanders, weapons, and defense barriers. It is the function of the immune system to protect the body against all harmful substances that seek to destroy the body from properly functioning. Just like an army has many different parts and roles, the immune system is also complex. The immune system is comprised of different proteins, cells, and organs working together to protect the body. The major components of the immune system include the thymus, lymph system, spleen, white blood cells, antibodies, and bone marrow.
How Does it Protect Us?
There are two ways the immune system functions: through innate immunity and adaptive immunity. The innate immune system is immunity that is naturally within you when you are born. It provides your first line of defense by attacking foreign cells immediately when they come into your body. Components like the skin provide the first barriers to protect you.
In the adaptive immune system, the line of defense is more complex and target-specific. Proteins like antibodies attack specific “non-self” cells that have previously entered the body. The harmful cells are recognized, and then the antibodies adapt and form themselves in a way that can successfully take down the foreign cells. This type of immunity is more of a “learned” defense response. Cells are constantly adapting to protect the body against the harmful antigens that are also continually changing.
What Causes a Weakened Immune System?
Unfortunately, many of us know people suffering with weakness, fatigue and overall poor health. We are bombarded with many things that compromise our health and well-being on a daily basis. Germs congregate on the foods that we eat, on our cell phones and laptops, in our refrigerator, and on any surface. Often we only become aware of what our immune system does when it is not functioning properly. There are many things that contribute to a weakened immune system, including mental/emotional stress, oxidative stress, and the strength of the harmful invaders attacking us.
Stress: The T-Cell Killer
Mental and emotional stress lowers the body’s ability to fight off harmful antigens. Factors such as loss of a job, exams, bad marital relations, financial insecurity, and depression directly affect the ability of your immune system to function properly. Psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, and immunologist Ronald Glaser, PhD, conducted a study from 1982-1992 testing medical students during the three-day exam period every year for a decade. In this study they found that these students almost stopped producing T-cells and gamma interferon during the test-taking period, which are critical in the body’s everyday fight to remain strong and healthy.
Oxidative stress can also damage the body’s immune system. This occurs when the amount of free radicals in the body supersedes the body’s ability to detoxify the oxidants. When free radicals are left in one’s system, it negatively interacts with the DNA, leading to a variety of health issues. Antioxidants are necessary to combat these free radicals, and eating a well-balanced diet rich in antioxidants and vital nutrients can reduce oxidative stress.
What Can Help BOOST Your Immune System?
Fortunately, there are many ways to enhance your immune system function and to ensure healthier living. Things like being well-rested, eating the right foods, smiling, laughing and prayer/ meditation can increase quality and longevity of your life.
A diet rich in phytochemicals, antioxidants, vital nutrients, vitamins and enzymes is essential in boosting your immune system and decreasing oxidative stress. The National Cancer Institute funded a study to test the effects cruciferous vegetables had on the participants’ bodies. Cruciferous vegetables are rich in phytochemicals and nutrients. When the participants regularly ate 1-2 servings of cruciferous vegetables a day, their oxidative stress dropped 22%. However, when they stopped eating these vegetables, there was close to no change (.2%) in their oxidative stress levels.
Taking supplements that strengthen your immune system can also lead to an increased quality of health. Supplements like Active Hexose Correlated Compound (AHCC), a Japanese mushroom extract, has been proven to aid the body’s fight against antigens. Researchers at Michigan State conducted a study with 29 participants in which half the group were given 3 grams of AHCC per day. At the end of the study, those who received AHCC had enhanced T-cells and natural killer cells compared to the other group. The amount of antibodies was also higher, showing that they had enhanced immunity.
Surprisingly, prayer and meditation can also lessen the stress in your life and lead to a healthier immune system. Prayer actually decreases the level of activity in the brain, resulting in a more relaxed state. A study done at the University of Pennsylvania testing Buddhist monks during meditation and nuns in prayer also showed an increase the level of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with feelings of joy. Prayer also seems to have long-term effects that benefits one’s overall health. Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School indicates that continuous spiritual activity can actually deactivate genes that cause inflammation. Benson also suggests that a significant amount of doctor visits are actually due to high levels of stress.
There is good news. You have the option of choosing to incorporate things into your everyday routine to better your health. Educating yourself is the first step, making daily changes that align more with healthier goals is the second. And as your health improves, you may also experience an improvement in your overall quality of life. And laugh a little each day, because, “Laughter does good like a medicine should!”
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Schiffman, R. (2012, January 18). Why People Who Pray Are Healthier Than Those Who Don’t. Huffington Post. Retrieved March 30, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-schiffman/why-people-who-pray-are-heathier_b_1197313.html