Activate the body’s defense mechanism

By: Helga María Guðmundsdóttir

The immune system is the body’s defense mechanism against pathogens like fungi, viruses, and bacteria. It also protects it’s own cells and bodily functions.
By strengthening the immune system, the body is better equipped to take on external pathogens. There are certain factors that weaken the immune system that we are unable to prevent, like aging. A vaccine can prevent us from catching certain diseases, but not all infections give us a warning before hand. It is therefore good to find ways to strengthen the immune system, and by doing so minimizing the risk of pathogens attacking our bodies.

What strengthens the immune system?

Sleep: We are all familiar with the feeling when we do not get enough sleep. We choose foods that spike the glycemic index quickly, seek out caffeinated drinks more, exercise less and feel rotten over all. Sleep strengthens the immune system and, therefore, we should be mindful of our routine, keep the temperature in our bedrooms comfortable, and limit screentime in the evenings. Where we lack the control over when we fall asleep, it is a good advice to wake up at the same time each day in order to set our circadian rhythm. By waking up at the same time each day it becomes easier to fall asleep at night.

A colorful menu: The main vitamins and minerals that the immune system needs are vitamins A, C, D, and E, but the minerals iron and zinc are also important in order for the immune system to be efficient. By consuming a varied diet, we are strengthening the immune system. By eating clean foods that grow on trees and choosing organic foods. It is good to keep the plate colorful and add extra vegetables and fruits to the recipe in order to add variety. Since sunlight is limited here in Iceland, we need to take vitamin D during the winter months, and some young women need to take in extra iron due to their periods. Some choose to take in multivitamins and cod liver oil on a regular basis, which can be a good habit. It is also a good advice to drink plenty of water and reduce the intake of added sugar and processed foods.

Exercise: A mere 30 minutes of brisk walking, daily, can help us strengthen the immune system. This is a simple but important part of boosting our health and can also provide us with pleasurable memories with friends and family. This advice comes with little expense but can provide great profits. Increased exercise strengthens both body and soul and makes it easier for individuals to fall asleep at night. Should individuals want to strengthen the body’s defenses even further, they should add strength training twice a week.

Stress management: Stress can have profound effects on the immune system and severely weaken the body’s defenses. Therefore it is valuable to keep in mind to try and avoid conflicts at all costs and create a calm and comfortable environment. Seek out time with those that make you feel good, share your time with those that have a relaxing presence and have a positive effect on inner well-being. It is also helpful to reduce distractions for example by dimming the lights, turning the phone off in the evenings or turning off unnecessary notifications. Drink soothing herbal tea before bed, reading a good book, and enjoy the moment.

Limit smoking and alcohol consumption: The negative impact of tobacco- and alcohol consumption is indisputable, and using those substances has a severe impact on the body’s defences. By far it is best to avoid drinking alcohol or smoking altogether or at least limit the consumption as much as possible.

Protect the body against infections: The skin makes it difficult for pathogens to enter the body and the mucous membrane hinders their way even further. One of the easiest ways for pathogens to enter the body is from our hands, that is, we touch polluted objects and proceed with eating and that way pathogens enter our bodies. We have come really familiar with hand washing in recent years which is one of the most effective ways to prevent infections. It is advisable to wash your hands after going to the bathroom, after arriving home, after taking out the trash, before cooking, and before eating. It is also advisable to cook the food thoroughly and keep in mind proper food storage methods and overall hygiene.

The immune system is a diverse and complex system, but these simple suggestions above can help improve the way you feel and reduce the risk of infections that require medical assistance. It is possible to start today by making small changes that are going to pay off later. By consuming less added sugar, improving sleep, exercising regularly, maintaining a varied diet, taking vitamin D, and reducing stress you are not only strengthening the immune system, but also improving your overall health in the long-run.

Helga María Guðmundsdóttir is a B.Sc. Nurse, M.A. Media Sc. and is studying Publich Health Science at University of Iceland.