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What is the immune system, and can we “boost” it?

Jul3rd 2020

With 2020 moving full steam ahead, and COVID-related changes to our lives evolving, let’s talk about the immune system, and how you can keep yourself healthy this year.

For starters, our immune system is composed of a group of organs, cells and proteins, which aim to defend our bodies against infections (caused by pathogens/germs/antigens).  It keeps track of every germ it has defeated so it can recognize it quicker if it were to enter your body again.  We have an innate immune system (one we are born with) and an adaptive immune system. The adaptive portion develops antibodies in response to detection of new germs.  Antibodies (aka immunoglobulin) are protective proteins produced by the immune system in response to an antigen (aka pathogen, germ).  Wait, what?  Let’s go over that again. Our bodies and immune systems have to be exposed to a pathogen/germ in order to create antibodies which then will attack and destroy said germ. (This is how vaccines work). 

So is it possible to “boost” your immunity?  Technically…no.  Your immune system is just that, a system. It’s a system which requires balance and harmony and the fact is we don’t have research to support any specific diet or supplement or lifestyle as having a direct and positive effect on your immune system.  What about supplements which say they “boost” immunity?  Those guys fall into either a vitamin or probiotic supplement. Only those who are suffering from a nutrient deficiency will see their immune systems benefit from supplementing with vitamins. Probiotics are gaining more popularity, as has discussion and research of our microbiome (totally different blog post).  They help support healthy bacteria living in your gut which can affect our immunity in both positive and negative ways.  

In general, the difference between those who rarely get sick and those who get sick often, are habits.  While there may not be a proven method to “boost” your immune system, scientists and healthcare providers agree, practicing healthy lifestyle habits, gives your immune system the upper hand. Listed below are some habits we have heard a lot about this year, but it never hurts to be repeated:

Wash your hands: we pick up, carry and transmit germs from surfaces we touch and we are most vulnerable to contracting those germs when they come into contact with our faces (nose, eyes, mouths).

Exercise regularly: keeping body in top shape, creates an ideal environment for your immune system to react, in the event it senses a germ. 

Get sleep: put down your smart phone, tablet, kindle, and go to bed.  

Meditate: manage stress and heart rate 

Get vaccinated: getting vaccinated against the flu and other diseases stimulates the immune system to protect against illness.  Vaccines teach our body to recognize certain pathogens so they can better mount a defense when they are encountered. 

So instead of spending money on supplements, put your money towards something else that will help you create daily healthy habits!

Lindsay Mercier, PT, DPT, OCS